The official tagline for Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights 32 is “See you in the fog.” How magnificently on-the-nose is that? It’s almost Halloween, and those blessed fog machines are BACK ON fiends! My annual pilgrimage to the horror Mecca complete, I’ve returned once more to report my findings. Let’s rank the 10 haunted houses of Halloween Horror Nights 32!
10. Dueling Dragons: Choose Thy Fate
“Two warlocks of great power were turned into dragons after trying to take Merlyn’s spell book. Now you and your friends are caught in their epic battle. You must choose a path and a victor.”
Longtime travelers to Universal Studios will surely appreciate Dueling Dragons. Themed after the legendary rollercoaster that opened with Islands of Adventure in 1999, the haunt expands on the lore of the Fire and Ice dragons from the ride.
Guests are transported back to medieval times, dropped in the middle of a vicious battle between two warlocks. Trolls, fire and ice monsters, and of course a dragon or two await you behind every corner. The maze isn’t terribly frightening compared to others, but offers plenty of story and spectacle for seasoned fans of the sister park.
9. Chucky: Ultimate Kill Count
Hot at the Shop:
“Chucky, the serial killer doll, is back for a new gorefest! He’s hijacked his own haunted house with all kinds of bloody hijinks. You and your friends must try to survive his ultimate kill count.”
The first house to be announced all the way back during HHN 31 last year, Chucky: Ultimate Kill Count features the titular character and Horror Nights mainstay “hijacking” his own attraction. Divided into two houses by a short outdoor jaunt, the first half contains Universal’s attempt at a Chucky maze. Unsatisfied with the results, the killer doll invades the second half of the maze, terrorizing the scare actors amidst scenes from the popular Syfy/USA TV series.
A practical effects champion, I’m pleased to report that puppets and even a full animatronic or two are the true stars of this maze, with the added bonus of the legendary Brad Dourif having recorded dialogue specifically for it. The maze lacks the astounding set pieces many HHN houses are known for, but scenes from both the movies and the TV series deliver fun easter eggs for fans of the longstanding franchise. It does feel like an opportunity was missed here though.
8. Stranger Things 4
“You’ll need your squad to resist Vecna’s gruesome curse. Like Eleven, now’s your chance to stop him once and for all as you take on the scariest season of Stranger Things yet.”
The popularity of the Stranger Thingsseries most definitely translated to it’s HHN house, as the wait time for this maze rarely dropped under 80 minutes during my few nights attending. I don’t foresee that changing.
The third house to be dedicated to Stranger Things since 2018, Stranger Things 4 spans the season 4 appearance and dominance of Vecna. Very few details from the most memorable scenes of latest season are missing, sure to please fans of the show. For the uninitiated, the stunning imagery and multiple appearances of the hideous villain alone are enough to warrant a trip to the “Upside Down”. Not to mention the final scare, guaranteed to send you running up that road, running up that hill. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
7. Dr. Oddfellow’s Twisted Origins
“You won’t be able to resist going inside Dr. Oddfellow’s menacing menagerie of twisted oddities. But the price for you and your friends is steep: the cost of your souls to feed his immortal power.”
You simply can’t go wrong with a circus-themed haunted house. Billed as an origin story for longtime festival icon and HHN 32 centerpiece Dr. Oddfellow, those who dare enter are dropped at the doorstep of a travelling carnival set during the dust bowl of the 1930’s.
Murderous clowns, classic carnival freaks, and the titular ring master escort you though the sicko circus. Built in one of the smaller structures of those used for HHN (a permanent tent, coincidentally), the space is fitting for the theme and adds a hint of claustrophobia to an already uncomfortable experience. Especially if you have a fear of clowns, and honestly, who doesn’t?
6. The Last of Us
“You and your squad will encounter the haunting and overgrown world of the video game in a brand-new, terrifying way. Stay silent if you want to survive a multitude of Clickers, Hunters and more.”
Based on the insanely popular video game (not the equally popular Max series) The Last of Us house has prompted very mixed reactions from visitors, at least according to social media. A stroll through a very destroyed Pittsburgh, we see each stage of the Cordyceps infection progress through the population. Whether it be a panicked animatronic screaming “I’m not sick!” or a fully fungus-y Clicker, the scares hit strong with this one.
If you’re unfamiliar with the source material, don’t fret. I’ve personally never played the game, yet the story is self explanatory enough to follow, and I left enamored by the visually glorious post-apocalyptic universe. For those who have played, get excited. Having the honor of escorting my resident TheLast of Us expert sister in-law through, her assessment of the haunt ranked even higher than mine. The makeup work and insane detail of the Clickers and Stalkers proved a highlight for us both. Universal’s dedication to immersing fans into IP’s is well known, and the level of fine detail put into IP’s at HHN are no exception.
5. The Darkest Deal
“Blues musician Pinestraw Spruce will have to face the music after meeting with The Collector and trading his soul for musical glory. You and your squad learn the terrible price of fame.”
This is where the list really becomes difficult to rank, as this house deserves to be higher. The Darkest Deal is a spot on representation of what makes Halloween Horror Nights a must-see event, year after year. An original concept house, the simple premise of a musician selling his soul for fame is crafted into a breathtaking and terrifying trip to the Mississippi delta during the early blues era.
Lounges, graveyards, and hell itself are just a few of the locations guests walk through as they follow the rise and fall of Pinestraw Spruce. The house is light on gore but real heavy on terror, packing some of the most terrifying scare actors of the year. The demons and The Collector (aka devil) are pure nightmare fuel, following Pinestraw and YOU until the debt is collected. Everything great about HHN, including mesmerizing sound design and awe-inspiring scenery, are found in this house.
4. Yeti: Campground Kills
“You and your friends are about to venture into a 1950s campground overrun by huge, menacing yetis who rip apart anyone who gets in their way. You must flee to the ranger tower to escape.”
Yeti: Campground Kills lives up to its hilarious premise and then some. Campy in both appearance and theme, a family of yeti deliver carnage on a group of 1950’s campers for killing one of their young. Most definitely the funniest house of the bunch, it’s also one of the goriest. Imagine a later Friday the 13th entry that replaced Jason with bloodthirsty, hairy bigfoots.
Another highlight for the creative talent behind the houses of HHN, a sound studio was fully transformed into a dense wooded campground for Yeti: Campground Kills. Tents, trailers, bait shops, and cabins are all incorporated into the awe-inspiring environment. While meant for laughs, the haunt still strikes the perfect balance of humor and horror. It’s one of those attractions that after you’re through, you wish a feature-length movie about it existed. If that’s not criteria for a top-rated haunted house, I’m not sure what is.
3. Universal Monsters: Unmasked
“Descend into the Paris Catacombs, where you and your squad will face a new horde of Monsters: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Phantom of the Opera, the Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Invisible Man.”
Halloween Horror Nights always goes above and beyond with their Universal Monsters houses, and 2023’s might be the best one yet. Perhaps the most elaborate house of the 10, guests begin in the rainy streets of Paris before entering a dim, curtained opera house. There’s also, you know, monsters. A LOT of monsters. The stars of the house are most definitely The Phantom of the Opera and The Invisible Man, as they get the most unique sets and scares. Don’t sell The Hunchback short, though, as he gets what may be the best scare of HHN 32.
Above all, Universal Monsters: Unmasked takes the crown for most unrelenting house of the year. The scares arrive and never give you even one second to gather yourself. The haunt may also be the most revisited house of the year, as it’s breathtaking sets and compelling story deserve as many walk-throughs as your aching feet will allow. Kudos to Universal for taking such great care of its beloved monsters and raising the bar for their house year after year.
2. The Exorcist: Believer
“Two missing girls have been found with no memory of what happened to them. But wherever they went, the ultimate evil has returned with them. Enter the most terrifying scenes from the new Blumhouse film.”
Maybe it’s the recovering Catholic in me, or perhaps a result of some other deep-seeded fears, but Jesus H. Christ was this house terrifying. And as a longtime horror fan numb to most scares, I don’t use that word “terrifying” lightly. Billed as a living trailer of sorts for a movie yet to be released, The Exorcist: Believer follows the known premise of two young girls disappearing in the woods and returning home possessed.
To best describe it, using a combination of classic The Exorcist scares, batsh*t brilliant and gory sets, and an ungodly unnerving sound design, this house felt real. Preying on the fear of demon possession coded into our very beings either by religion or the 1973 classic, the haunt takes the terror a step further by trapping you with it in spaces we recognize as safe. The primal fears this house evoked from me go far beyond the confines of religious horror. To Blumhouse, the designers, and whoever else was involved, all I can say is mission accomplished – this house has my excitement level at a 10 for the October film release. If The Exorcist: Believer is half as horrifying as it’s HHN counterpart, hold onto your butts. Hands down the scariest house of the year.
1. Bloodmoon: Dark Offerings
“In a Colonial-era village, moon-worshippers witness a blood moon at their fall festival. They take it as a sign to hunt down any non-followers, including you and your scream squad.”
I haven’t been able to confirm, but word is that Blood Moon: Dark Offerings was created by the same talent behind last year’s legendary house Dead Man’s Pier: Winter’s Wake. It sure seems that’s accurate. In similar fashion to last year’s spectacle, guests enter to the eye-popping sight of an entire village, this time a colonial era settlement bathed in the glorious orange glow of a blood moon. Gory and scary as all hell, guests proceed through the town amongst human sacrifices in various stages of completion. Jump scares are not relied upon, but instead merely add to the fear of the inescapable static environment before you.
It cannot be overstated how well done Blood Moon: Dark Offerings in it’s entirety is. The jaw dropping scenery designs proceed into more unique and gruesome sets than the ones before, Beauty aside, the unnerving sense of evil and dread also escalates step by step through the house. Simply put, the creator(s) responsible for Blood Moon and Dead Man’s Pier pushed right past the boundary of well done haunted houses, elevating them into a true art form.
There you have it! Once again, Halloween Horror Nights delivered everything a fan of horror and scary good times could hope for. Will you be attending this year’s festivities? Keep tabs on your favorite houses and spill the beans over on the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord, Twitter, Threads, Instagram, or Facebook!
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