Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights
Franklin Roosevelt once said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Wrong. When it comes to Orlando’s Universal Studios, you might find yourself slightly more concerned with hordes of zombies, bloodthirsty werewolves and demented space-soldiers from the future ready to rip your heart out with their bare hands.
You see, it’s that magical time of year when Universal pulls out all the stops to scare the living daylights right out of you. Their 23rd Halloween Horror Nights event is now open, with eight all-new, disturbingly real haunted houses, made up from some of the most terrifying TV and movie franchises in popular culture.
So when Total Film got an invite to cross the Atlantic to have our flesh ripped from our bones and our bodies torn limb from limb - figuratively speaking of course - we obviously leapt at the chance. Luckily, we managed to make it home in once piece to tell you exactly why Universal Studios lays claim to the most blood-curdling, spine-tingling horror experience this side of the Hell Mouth.
An American Werewolf in London
“What’s happened to civilisation?”, legendary director John Landis is asking a room full of journalists, ourselves included, a mere hour or so before Halloween Horror begins. “Everyone is saying ‘this is so gross, this is so gory, this is so scary’. And everyone including myself are saying ‘this is great, this is my idea of a good time’.”
We’re in a room with Mr Landis because his 1981 classic An American Werewolf in London has been transformed into an all-new haunted house for this year’s Halloween Horror Nights and, unashamedly, for us it’s the main attraction.
Universal Orlando’s entertainment team partnered up with the film’s critically acclaimed writer and director himself to pay homage to one of the greatest lycanthropic stories ever told.
You’ll follow American college students Jack and David backpacking across the moors of old Blighty on a misty, full moon night, before they’re attacked by a supernatural creature that kills Jack and leaves David with its horrific curse. You know where this one is going. When the full moon rises again, the killing spree continues, only this time the blood is on David’s hands.
Halloween Horror Nights gives you, the willing victim, the chance to actually step inside the film and experience a retelling of this frightful classic for yourself. All the way from that attack on the moors, through to the hospital nightmares and the bone-crunching transformation of poor, hapless David.
You’ll find yourself cowering in corners of narrow corridors and clinging onto your equally helpless companions for dear life as you encounter David’s vicious werewolf form as he wrecks blood-soaked chaos throughout London’s underground. Believe us. We came out of this one bruised from the tight grip of our colleagues who just couldn’t believe what was unfolding in front of them. Oh, and remember that cinema scene in Piccadilly Circus? We’re still having sleepless nights from living it first-hand.
Evil Dead 's haunted maze is guaranteed to leaveyou running, screaming and, if you’re anything like us, collapsing on the floor and clutching your chest, trying to process some of the horrors you’ve just witnessed.
Producers Rob Tapert, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell – the creators of the original Evil Dead – all reunited together to help bring this year’s terrifying vision of the classic film to life. It means it’s about as authentic an experience you’re every likely to get.
If you’ve never seen the film, what’s wrong with you? It’s a cult classic that follows five 20-something friends who turn a remote cabin in the woods into a blood-soaked chamber of horrors after awakening an ancient demon. An ancient demon you’re going to have to face off against, we might add.
The Cabin in the Woods
Ok, now it’s time to talk about that other cabin in the woods.
Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's 2012 shocker was pretty much the closest thing we’ve had to a modern scare-fest classic since, well, as long as we can remember. And with frightening foundations centred around entrapment and isolation, it makes perfect sense that it would serve as the basis for one of this year’s most horrifying haunted houses.
In The Cabin in the Woods , the fate of a group of college friends on a getaway to a remote cabin is sealed the moment they walk through the door. Ironic really, considering that our fate was sealed the moment we stepped foot in this haunted house – a fate of screaming at the site of our own shadow and inspecting every nook and corner for the next creature from the great beyond poised to jump out into your path. Needless to say, this one turned us into a bit of a nervous wreck.
Remember the menagerie of blood-thirsty monsters and the all-out carnage upon their inevitable release? And emember that man-like Hell Lord with saw blades running through its face? Well – it chased us. The Hell Lord chased us. It escaped from captivity and hunted us down throughout this haunted maze.
Universal actually partnered with the director and co-writer Drew Goddard on this one to make sure all your favourite monsters – from the vicious Sugarplum Fairy to the Dollfaces – were as authentic as possible.
For the Resident Evil house, Universal collaborated with video game creators Capcom to create a horrifyingly authentic house. Throughout this one we found ourselves playing the role of desperate survivors inside the viral catastrophe that is Raccoon City. As we journeyed through, we encountered all manor of vicious creatures from the franchise, such as Lickers, hordes of zombies, packs of Cerberuses and even Nemesis himself. Luckily there are a few friendly faces, such as Leon and Claire, who’ve got your back along the way.
The Walking Dead
We know, we know - it’s not a film. But that doesn't mean Universal Studios didn't go all out with this one. For the second consecutive year, The Walking Dead ’s own-brand of the undead, “walkers”, were resurrected for an all new house based around season three of the award-winning TV show.
With the prison as the main setting for season three, it was inevitable, really, that its dimly-lit and narrow corridors were to be recreated for Universal’s own evil bidding. But Rick Grimes isn’t here to watch your back on this one. You’re left to wonder aimlessly, in the wake of the zombie apocalypse, before finally stumbling across Woodbury and the gruesome secrets it conceals.
Hundreds of actors are recruited and transformed into the actual walking dead, with make-up and production values worthy of featuring in the show itself. In fact, many areas of the park are transformed into some of your favourite scenes from the show. You’ll find yourself walking the perilous streets of Atlanta from series one and even, if you dare, through Hershel’s dismal barn.
And the rest...
Remember when we mentioned demented space soldiers from the future ready to rip your limbs straight from your body? We weren’t kidding. Universal Studios have also come up with a few of their own creative haunted houses from their incredibly sick imaginations. The production values and the storytelling throughout are such high quality that they could easily be the basis of film franchises in their own right.
The soldiers, for example, are taken from one of Universal Studios’ own original tales called Havoc 2: Derailed. And then there’s La Llorona , a 500-year-old legend that has haunted millions of people in Latin America for generations - a horrifying tale of murder, tragedy and fatal love, which starts out in an old Mexican chapel.
This is the closet thing you’re ever going to get to experience life in a horror movie. It’s not about shouting “It’s behind you” at a TV screen anymore. Thanks to Universal Studios the impossible is possible, and it’s waiting for you to give it a try this Halloween and the next – if you dare.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Seven nights in Orlando with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Heathrow direct to Orlando, accommodation at the 4V+ Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando on a room-only basis with car hire included (insurance extra) starts from £1,340.
Price is per person, based on two adults travelling and sharing a standard room, including all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges, which are subject to change.
To book: www.virginholidays.co.uk , 0844 557 3859 or visit stores located in Debenhams, House of Fraser, Tesco and Sainsbury’s stores nationwide.
Buy your Universal 3-Park Bonus Ticket, giving you unlimited admission to both Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure, plus Wet n’ Wild waterpark for up to 14 consecutive days. This also includes all-club access to Universal CityWalk. Tickets from £119 per person.
See www.universalorlando.co.uk for more information and to buy tickets now.
Halloween Horror Nights ticket prices
The Frequent Fear Pass entitles one guest admission to all of the following: 2013 HHN Event Dates: September 20, 21, 26, 29 & October 3, 6, 10, 13, 16, 17, 20, 23, 24, 27 and 31. The Halloween Horror Nights event begins at 6:30pm and closing times vary.
Prices start from £60.
See www.universalorlando.co.uk for more information and to buy tickets now.