Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights belongs on every horror fan's bucket list

Photo credit: OCTAVIAN CANTELLI
Photo credit: OCTAVIAN CANTELLI

Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Orlando, which this year runs for a record-breaking 43 nights until October 31, is a paradise for horror-movie fans.

And this year’s event, which brings back a house based on the most iconic Halloween movie of all time, might be the best yet.

For the uninitiated, the main attractions of Halloween Horror Nights (the annual spooky takeover of the Florida theme park) are 10 large horror mazes.

These are huge haunted-house installations, complete with actors and extensive practical and special effects, scattered around the parks behind cleverly disguised facades.

Photo credit: Ali Griffiths
Photo credit: Ali Griffiths

Around half the mazes are based on existing franchises and are usually built in partnership with their original creators, ensuring an impressive level of detail.

Oh, and to get from one house to another, you have to walk through five outdoor 'scarezones' full of very committed actors ready to scare the living daylights out of you.

There’s plenty to love at Halloween Horror Nights this year, but our highlight is undoubtedly the return of a maze based on Halloween.

Photo credit: OCTAVIAN CANTELLI
Photo credit: OCTAVIAN CANTELLI

John Carpenter’s 1978 classic is a genre-defining movie, and its unsettling cinematography, eerie pacing, iconic performances and eardrum-piercing soundtrack are all legendary.

Part of that legacy is that constant feeling of being pursued that runs through the entire film. Literally, in terms of the story of Laurie being stalked through her neighbourhood, but also in its dedication to a shot composition and editing style that never eases the audience's tension.

The challenge for the brains behind Halloween Horror Nights then is translating this mood into an immersive, walkable experience.

Luckily these brains a) have been crafting horror stories within the mazes for 30 years and b) clearly love Halloween more than nearly anyone else in the world.

Photo credit: OCTAVIAN CANTELLI
Photo credit: OCTAVIAN CANTELLI

From the moment you walk through the door of the Halloween horror maze, it’s clear something special is happening. John Carpenter’s score is pumped through the entire building at an almost deafening volume and you start, just like the film’s prologue, in the home of Judith and Michael Myers.

It’s hard to overstate how much walking through the maze feels like you’ve stepped inside the film. Every prop, actor, and moment contributes to a feeling that's about as close as you can get to watching the movie for the first time.

There’s a particular moment in the maze that absolutely floored us both times we visited.

Photo credit: OCTAVIAN CANTELLI
Photo credit: OCTAVIAN CANTELLI

A minute or so in you turn a corner and find yourself standing on an overgrown lawn, looking up at (what appears to be) a full-scale model of the Myers home.

The size of the build and the sensation that you’ve walked back onto the original set is mindblowing.

And that’s before you’ve clocked that you’re going to have to walk down the side of the house, along a path blocked by fluttering white sheets on washing lines. It’s a terrifying and incredible feeling.

These pinch-me moments are a hallmark of the Halloween Horror Nights mazes, but something about the Halloween setting makes it feel different. It's basically the ultimate version of a haunted house, thanks to that feeling of being pursued we mentioned earlier.

Photo credit: OCTAVIAN CANTELLI
Photo credit: OCTAVIAN CANTELLI

In most of the rooms you walk through, a Michael Myers (or two) is waiting just out of sight, ready to pounce, causing you to scream and shriek and generally make very good friends with whatever stranger is in front of or behind you.

The Halloween house also pairs nicely with another new maze - Horrors of Blumhouse, which is based on The Black Phone, and Freaky (both excellent films).

In contrast to Halloween, Black Phone and Freaky feel like extremely modern stories. Freaky is a subversion of classic slasher stories, elegantly flipping the gender roles of hunter and prey that defined the genre for so long.

Photo credit: ROBERTO GONZALEZ
Photo credit: ROBERTO GONZALEZ

You might expect these respective Halloween Horror Nights mazes to feel massively different, but there are key similarities between all of them.

Both Horrors of Blumhouse and Halloween have you retread key moments and scenes from their original films – for instance, appearing and reappearing in the basement from The Black Phone, or creeping past an alarmingly convincing Ethan Hawke mannequin (we asked, we couldn’t take it home).

It is interesting though, to walk in the footsteps of these horror protagonists and feel the way your power as both audience member and protagonist varies in each setting.

Photo credit: OCTAVIAN CANTELLI
Photo credit: OCTAVIAN CANTELLI

For instance, in contrast to the fear that surrounds Laurie’s story in Halloween, we are encouraged to outwit and outsmart the scares in Freaky and The Black Phone.

This way in which Halloween Horror Nights invites you to embody the characters from your favourite horror films is what makes the event so memorable – and weirdly powerful.

If watching a scary movie at home is cathartic, allowing us to confront our darkest fears in a safe setting, then walking the streets and corridors of those films is an externalisation of that. It’s that feeling turned up to 11.

And, just like the best horror movies, Halloween Horror Nights is best experienced with friends. The tagline for this year’s event is "Don't Go Alone" and we honestly can’t recommend that enough. Trust us when we say that being chased down the street by a man wielding a chainsaw is a singular bonding experience.

The other houses based on existing properties this year are Universal Monsters: Legends Collide, and a really inspired collaboration with musician The Weeknd (The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare) based on the music and videos of his 2020 album.

The original houses on offer at HHN are Spirits of the Coven, Bugs: Eaten Alive, Fiesta de Chupacabras, Hellblock Horror, Dead Man’s Pier: Winter’s Wake, and Descendants of Destruction.

Plus, if you need a break from the scares, there are also two full-blown theatrical live shows, as well as an abundance of unique food and drink options.

The through-line between all of the mazes and performances (and snacks) is the sheer amount of creativity that the minds at Universal Studios pour into every aspect of Halloween Horror Nights.

At the top, we described the event as a paradise for horror fans, and so much of that comes from the team on the ground.

Everyone involved in putting together the scariest night of your life clearly absolutely adores the genre they’re playing with.

So why not grab your spookiest friends and book a trip? Who knows, you might bump into Michael Myers.

Tickets for Halloween Horror Nights and Universal Orlando are available via the official website. 7 nights in Orlando are available to be booked through Virgin Holidays with a 3 Park Explorer Ticket from £1,525 per person - including scheduled Virgin Atlantic flights from London Gatwick direct to Orlando, room only accommodation at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort.

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