‘Tis the night before Christmas, my precious mouses, and today we’ll be talking about some haunted houses.
I know. It’s a terrible rhyme, and my timing couldn’t be more off. This post is for all the people who like Halloween more than the winter holidays. And because this is just how my posting schedule worked out and I didn’t want to wait all the way until next October to drop this. So if you’re already growing exhausted of figgy pudding and the same ten Christmas carols playing over and over on the radio… I hope this post is an ample escape!
Today, we’re going to be talking about the 2021 Halloween Horror Nights haunted houses. There were 10 houses in 2021, so I will try to keep my reviews as concise as possible. As this is a review of haunted houses, I would like to warn everyone right now that the descriptions and reviews will contain gore and evoke disturbing images. Thus is the nature of horror. Please don’t read on if this is something that triggers you or makes you uncomfortable.
The Haunting of Hill House
Our first house was one of the major, featured houses: The Haunting of Hill House. This incredibly popular Netflix show based on the Shirley Jackson book of the same name is an easy choice for a haunted house. It was also consistently one of the two longest lines, so I was glad we rope-dropped it.
Without any context from the show, I’d say this was a pretty solid house. When we entered, we entered into the front yard and then the house, so there was a moment of transformation before the spooks really began. Scares included a hall of hanging women with window blinds that would jump up and down and an overall soundtrack with vocals that was fairly unique to this house. I think I would have been much more impressed with this house if I’d seen the show or read the book (I know, behind as usual) but even without that background knowledge, it was a solid haunted house and very well-produced.
My personal favorite scare actor in The Haunting of Hill House was the pregnant woman by the crib, near the end of the walkthrough. The pregnant belly prosthesis they wore had something squirming in it, and it was very disturbing. The performer also sold it very well. This scare was not there on our second walkthrough, so I’m glad we she it on the first go ’round.
My most anticipated haunted house this year was Beetlejuice. Although I realize that the character himself is very, very, very problematic (I try to keep in mind its his problematic ness that makes him a villain above all else), this film is a Halloween staple and I watch it every year. Like The Haunting of Hill House, Beetlejuice was one of the featured houses this year so a little extra oomph went into the production of this house. It’s also a returning house from the limited 2020 Halloween Horror Nights, so Universal had time to perfect this one.
It did not disappoint! The Beetlejuice haunted house was in no way scary, but it absolutely delighted me. With the exception of not seeing the black-dress-Lydia scar actor, everything else was running perfectly and this house had some cool stuff. When we walked in, it was like piling into a carnival show, with Beetlejuice in his striped suit repeating some popular dialogue from the film and heckling the audience. The scare actor did an excellent job mimicking Michael Keaton’s voice, and I was delighted.
Walking through the Beetlejuice haunted house was like walking through all the key moments of the film. All the quotable dialogue was present. I almost missed the “Dayo” scene because it was on the ceiling, making it the only haunted house where any of the scares were above you.
Really awesome effects? Where to begin! The swirling hallway is a personal favorite, the fact that both Danny Elfman’s soundtrack and Harry Belafonte’s music were prominent. The huge Beetlejuice snake head and the giant sand worm were absolutely amazing and Beetlejuice was one of only two houses that had an effect like this that really took things to the next level. I could have gone through this house over and over and over again if the line wasn’t so long and my feet didn’t hurt so much by the end of the night. This was my favorite intellectual property house by far.
Puppet Theatre: Captive Audience
Puppet Theatre: Captive Audience was my favorite original Halloween Horror Nights House. Maybe it was because of the story, maybe the production. I know most people really liked a couple of the other houses better, but I just thought this one was so interesting.
You enter an old theatre that was destroyed in an earthquake many years ago. When the earthquake hit, a puppet troupe and prima ballerinas had been performing, and so when the theatre was ruined in the earthquake they were trapped inside and presumed dead.
This haunted house focused specifically on the puppet troupe, following the puppeteers and their disturbing puppets as they slowly went mad and began to maim, kill, and (?) cannibalize the patrons and other performers trapped with them. My first walkthrough, I spent a lot of time actually looking for the ballerinas because I figured they’d be zombified or something, but no. They were generally dismembered and/or hung. Puppet Theatre: Captive Audience has a few different levels of horror. There’s the basic, human fear of being buried alive like these performers were, there’s the creepy puppets, and there’s the monstrous survivors. All well executed, and the production very much felt like a small-town theatre, green room and all.
My favorite scare actor in this house was the performer trapped in a glass cage performing various lines from Hamlet to a skull. While not actually scary, I appreciated the reference, because seriously, how can you do a haunted house in a theatre without including that classic scene? Not sure if the cage was because of COVID restrictions or if it was intended like the performer is being kept in a box like a toy (I’m assuming COVID though)… but it was still interesting.
Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives
This year’s Universal Monsters house was inspired by The Bride of Frankenstein and serves as a continuation of that story. Spoilers here – at the end of The Bride of Frankenstein, the Frankenstein Monster is killed. As this haunted house begins, we witness the moments just after that fatal ending. The Bride regrets the Monster’s death, and sets about repairing and reviving him.
To do this, she needs blood from the brides of Dracula. She proceeds to capture the brides, drain them, and revive the Monster… but Dracula’s brides aren’t thrilled by the whole thing, so of course they escape and attack.
We actually took a daytime tour which included this house and we learned about all the easter eggs from other Universal Monster films hidden in the details, which was very cool. The tour guide also shared that all the scare actors in The Bride of Frankenstein Lives were female except for the very last scene when the Frankenstein Monster comes back to life.
My favorite scare actor in this scene is the flying bride of Dracula. While not particularly scary, the affect was neat and honestly when we saw the harness and everything in daylight… it looked like fun.
HHN Icons Captured
For the uninitiated (like myself, a few months ago) Halloween Horror Nights has its own collection of original characters and stories. If you’re planning to go to the event and you haven’t been before, read up on these because you’re going to run into houses like HHN Icons Captured that are meaningless without the background information.
HHN Icons Captured was a gruesome lair featuring a few of the different classic icons. Off the top of my head, I recognized The Director, Jack, Chance, and the Usher. I believe there were a bunch more in there, though, and if you know the lore, you’d catch them all!
One of the more interesting things about this house was that the ending changed throughout the night, day by day. At the end, there was a throne and the icon who sat on the throne would vary. When we went through the house, it was Chance.
Objectively, this was a gorgeously designed house with a lot of small details and a constantly fluctuating environment. Halloween Horror Nights fans would have loved it – for someone very ignorant of the lore, I appreciated it from a technical perspective, but it didn’t have that extra oomph for me.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Texas Chainsaw Massacre was … hah, um? Okay. So we watched the original 1975 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre before heading to HHN because I had never seen it and wanted to be prepared for this house. I thought the movie was boring and I was not prepared.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre haunted house was not so much scary as it was disgusting. Gross, gross, gross. We entered through the gas station/barbecue and went on to wander through the house itself. There was a section where I couldn’t breathe, the stench was so foul. While on ofur daytime tour the next day, the tour guide informed us that the smell was “blood and feces”. EW EW EW.
I honestly think the designers did a good job pulling the audience into the movie – the scenes were easily recognizable and detailed. The chainsaw-bearing scare actors didn’t scare me only because it is an old haunted house trick, and I was mentally prepared for it. The did a good job, BUT I never ever ever want to go through that house again.
Welcome to SCarey: Horror in the Heartland
Welcome to SCarey was the most underwhelming haunted house I’ve probably ever been in. Outside of the truly excellent entrance sign, pictured, this house was chaotic and boring.
I think the concept of Welcome to SCarey is great – all of the Halloween Horror Nights icons originated from Carey, Ohio. Taking a walk in the twisted homeland of these characters could have been very interesting. Instead, the designed packed too much into too little, and somehow offered nothing as far as story and background goes. One YouTuber I follow mentioned that the Undertaker’s Daughter, Cindy, was featured in the house somewhere. My understanding is there were once rumors that she’d be an icon herself. Either way, I couldn’t have identified her, that’s for sure
I want to say that those more familiar with the HHN icons and the general lore would have liked this house better, but the online consensus seems to be that Welcome to SCarey was a flop. And I concur.
Case Files Unearthed: Legendary Truth
In my personal opinion, Case Files Unearthed had the BEST storyline. It was harder to pick up at nights with all the scares, but when we went through this house in our behind-the-scenes tour… I loved it.
The concept was that a conspiracy theorist started digging into a series of paperback horror novels based around cursed objects (“totems”). The story jumps back and forth between present day and the 1930s when the author was discovering these totems. The film noir style here is STRONG and I loved that, but also, I really appreciated the detail and thought that the designers put into building this house? Everything is so, so intricate – I mean, look at this picture. That’s a cork board half-hidden on the wall behind some boxes. So many small details!
The best part of this house, though, was when it jumped back into the 1930s to just outside the Kitty Kat Club. This scene is actually in the park (over by Revenge of the Mummy) and to keep it real, the designers pulled out the original park blueprints to recreate the street exactly. Super awesome. The story was really up my alley as well, but I conceptually love film noir.
The Wicked Growth: Realm of the Pumpkin
Another very cool house, The Wicked Growth stood out as different from all the rest because of its general New England farm country aesthetic. The house won best of HHN 2021, and I completely understand why. The design was wonderful, and a couple of the scares actually got me. Twice. In the same place. Because I don’t learn.
The story revolves around the pumpkin lord and the sister witches working to sustain him. Vines trail through the house, becoming larger the closer you got to the end and the pumpkin lord himself. Like Beetlejuice, Wicked Growth had a very cool giant pumpkin mechanical scare that I absolutely loved.
If anyone from 2021 deserves to reached HHN Icon status, I think it’s the Pumpkin Lord. A unique and interesting character, I believe he only needs a little more story to reach it – Wicked Growth is very much an origin story. Oh. And do note ‘Lil’ Boo, in the photo! This pumpkin from the house façade got internet famous for a little while.
Revenge of the Tooth Fairy
Finally, the tenth and last house! Like Case Files Unearthed, Revenge of the Tooth Fairy was a house it was more interesting to visit during daylight. Despite all this, it remained my second-to-least-favorite. The story is interesting enough – a kid decides he’s not going to give up the tooth that has fallen out and the tooth fairies will have none of that so they massacre his whole household and turn him into a tooth fairy.
I think the entrance to this house was the most interesting, seen in part on the right. It started out as a pop-up book before transforming into reality. However, the dialogue for the whole house remains on the walls in the same pop-up script so the story continues to be told invisible writing as well as audibly.
If anything, I think the Revenge of the Tooth Fairy was just a little too long. There were a few scenes that felt extraneous as I don’t necessarily believe we needed to go through all the servants quarters as well as the family home. I was a bit bored by the time it ended.
Ten houses, and a glorious mix of original, intellectual property, and Halloween Horror Nights lore to chose from. If you’ve made it this far, you’ll know I enjoyed most of the houses and the one I REALLY DIDN’T ENJOY, I still appreciated the efforts of the creators.
This year has proven that an event like this is fun for me and I’d go again. I think I would prefer to go earlier in the season, not quite Halloween time in an attempt to mitigate some of the crowds. I know this event can be rowdy since alcohol is available. We were lucky and did not have a bad experience in the way, but it’s something I would continue to be wary of myself in the future, since it’s a known possibility.
Otherwise, it was fun and I’d definitely go back!
This will be the last purely HHN post – next week we’ll be talking about food at Universal. This will include a couple HHN snacks, but not many. I hope you come back.