Ranking All Ten Houses at Universal Orlando Halloween Horror Nights 31
Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights is legendary in the theme park community for being the scariest, most immersive Halloween event in the game. As a big fan of haunted attractions and a newly-relocated Florida resident, I knew I had to take the opportunity to experience the event. I had a blast at the event, it felt like the event was created just for me. I ended up getting the Rush of Fear Pass which granted access to the event through all of September, and visited six times. Below is my full ranking of all ten houses, and my rankings of the sets and scares.
If you have not experienced HHN 31 yet, be aware there will be spoilers in this review, as well as some horror imagery. Let’s get started with the house ranking.
1. The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare
Going into HHN 2022, The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare was by far my most anticipated house. Based on one of my favorite albums of all time, I knew The Weeknd’s macabre style of music videos would be perfect for a haunted house, and the end result was an incredibly fun, and of course, scary walkthrough ripped right from the twisted mind of the pop star. The experience of this house starts before you even enter the doors of the massive building that houses the set. The queue line is by far the most energetic I have waited in, and I found myself hoping there would be a long line so I would get to experience it for as long as possible. The fog and concert-style lights provide an upbeat ambience for the queue, and The Weeknd’s latest hits are blasting through speakers, inspiring many queue-wide singalongs throughout my visits.
Once you enter the maze, you are immediately immersed in the style of the music videos (and viral Super Bowl performance), some sets taken right from the videos, and some added on to expand the world and create a cohesive story. The scares are creative and fun, the highlight being the very end, when multiple mannequins of a mangled Weeknd stand waiting before the exit, and you are unsure of which are real scareactors until they are inches from your face. Also included in the maze are “horror-fied” remixes of popular Weeknd songs, and if Universal doesn’t officially release these after the event I will be very disappointed. Overall, the fun atmosphere, creative scares, and use of The Weeknd’s visual style made After Hours Nightmare the maze of the year for me.
You may notice that I gave Halloween five stars in every category, yet is is number two on this list. This is solely for personal preference, because I am such a big Weeknd fan, but make no mistake, Halloween is a perfect haunted house. Objectively, Halloween is the best house of the year, and the best haunted house experience I have had. 1978’s Halloween is the original slasher film, and to this day is one of my favorite horror films. This house is a recreation of scenes from the movie, and I have never had an experience quite like this where it truly felt like I had stepped into the movie. There is even a “cold open” scene with a young Michael giving you a great scare before you quite literally walk through the title sequence of the film as the iconic theme plays. The sets are recreated flawlessly down to every inch, and Michael Myers is hiding behind every corner.
This house had all three of my favorite scares of the year, the first being a scene set outside, where you can see Michael slowly approaching, and as you are about to turn the corner out of his sight, another Michael jumps out from the opposite direction. The creative team placed a decoy Michael just so they could be one step ahead and get you from the other side. My other favorite was inside the house, when you are walking in between the iconic closet battle between Laurie and Michael. You are surrounded on both sides, and Laurie and Michael are fighting on either side of you, creating a very effective double jump scare. Finally, the last scene of the house is almost exactly the same as the Weeknd’s final scare, with mannequin Michaels mixed in with real actors. But in this house, there are mirrors around the room to make it look like there are Michaels everywhere, and floating glowing pumpkins loom over the scene. The effort put into this house makes it the best house of the year, and I will never forget the experience of actually stepping into one of my favorite horror movies.
3. Dead Man’s Pier: Winter’s Wake
Dead Man’s Pier: Winter’s Wake was the fan favorite house this year, with every HHN fanatic raving about it, and placing it among the all-time great houses in Horror Nights history. And there’s no argument from me. Quite simply, this house had the most impressive sets I have ever seen. From the moment you enter the maze, you are inside a spooky New England waterfront village, and the sets seem to go on forever, and it genuinely feels like you are standing in a full town. As you walk through each scene, the sets get bigger and more impressive, complete with an actual wrecked ship in the center, complete with a ghostly violinist at the helm. Also throughout the house is real rain drizzling down from above, and partnered with the wind and fog effects, perfectly sets the mood. The costumes and makeup on the scareactors is incredibly impressive, between the crew of the ghost ship, the town residents covered in barncales a la Davy Jones’ crew, and the terrifying diving suits. This is the most high-quality maze by far, and while it isn’t the most scary, the ambience and sets are enough to propel this to the top 3 for the wow factor alone.
4. Descendants of Destruction
Set inside a post-apocalyptic New York City subway, Descendants of Destruction excels at worldbuilding and very impressive sets, including an actual downed subway car that is hanging off the tracks from above, and one car is open, allowing you to walk through as you traverse the underground ruins. This maze has different sections, and each one gets more impressive. Before you enter the subway, you will see the converted subway station, and how signage, gates and meters have been converted into makeshift weapons to fight off the monsters lurking below. When you enter the subway car, you get a glimpse of the creatures inhabiting New York, as they try and make you a permanent resident of the train yard. Then, you’ll exit through a cave section where the creatures are melded with the nature and fungi around them, in an extensive black light scene with the best jump scares in the maze. Descendants of Destruction is the sleeper hit of HHN 31, with not much buzz around it, but everyone who came out of the maze agreeing that it packs a serious punch.
5. Bugs: Eaten Alive
Other than Halloween, Bugs: Eaten Alive consistently had the longest wait time of the event, sometimes being posted as high as two hours. I think the reason for this is that bugs are a very common fear, and if you are offput by creepy crawlies, prepare to have nightmares for months. As someone who is not very afraid of bugs, other than spiders (and boy is there a spider scene in this maze), I was not expecting to get as many scares, but I ended up falling in love with the storytelling of the maze. Each year, Horror Nights has a house that they call “horror comedy” and this was that house for this year, and is a satire of the retro-futuristic style of the 1950s. The story of this house is the ExterminAir air conditioner that produces a mist designed to kill bugs by making them enlarged and unable to spawn more bugs, but as expected, making giant bugs doesn’t turn out so great, and your tour of the house of the future is rerouted to behind the scenes, where the bugs have overtaken the exhibit. To me, this had a similar ambience to the Fallout video games, where the 50s whimsy is met with blaring alarms and mutated monsters. The scares in this house are very creative, such as a pitch-black hallway where it feels like bugs are falling on you from the ceiling and crawling around. If that sentence alone made you say, “nope”, then this house will definitely get under your skin. So to speak.
6. Hellblock Horror
Another original themed house, Hellblock Horror is the first house you see when you enter the park, and it’s overall very good. While nothing stands out other than a very extensive strobe scene that made me dizzy each time I walked through it, Hellblock Horror is a solid house with some great scares and neat costumes. Themed after a mutant prison during a jailbreak, there are lots of blaring alarms, rattling prison cells, and creepy masks and makeup. Rumor has it that this was originally going to be themed after the newest Evil Dead movie before the movie was delayed to next year, so props to the creative team for creating an effective and impressive haunt on short notice.
7. Fiesta De Chupacabras
Fiesta de Chupacabras was the first house I experienced at Horror Nights, and my first walkthrough was very different than my next one. That’s the trend with many of these houses, on one trip you could get all the scares, and the next one you miss all of the action. When I went through Chupacabra the second time, I had a much better experience. The sets are very impressive, with a full village square being built out, and populated with masked villagers looking for a sacrifice. The many animatronic Chupacabras are very impressive, and scared me every time. There is also some clever usage of shadows and projections in the house, and while the scares aren’t prefect, the ambience is very spooky and the twisting path through the village was a standout among the many sets at HHN 31.
8. The Horrors of Blumhouse
Blumhouse has partnered with Horror Nights in the past, and this year they have teamed up again to bring two recent horror hits, Freaky and The Black Phone, to life. Both of these are perfect fits for the event, Freaky is a fun and inventive slasher, and The Black Phone thrives on its eerie atmosphere and iconic masked villain. This was the most hit and miss house for me, I walked through four times, and only one of the those times was the ideal scare experience. But, those were some of the best scares of the whole event for me, so I have to factor in all the times I experienced this house. The house is basically two houses in one, and I think that Freaky has some more clever scares, but The Black Phone is a much creepier atmosphere and more effective scares.
9. Universal Monsters: Legends Collide
One of the most prominently featured houses of HHN 31 was Universal Monsters: Legends Collide. The idea is just plain cool: Dracula vs The Mummy vs The Wolfman in an epic showdown amidst the mummy’s dig site. Plus, there is a different winner each time, so you never know who will make it out of the maze victorious. I think the scares in this maze were a little repetitive, and it feels like the mummy is featured in 90% of the maze, and then the other two characters show up at the very end. However, I will say that I did get the coveted “triple scare” where all three were fighting directly over my head, and it was one of the best scares of the event for me. The set is very impressive, especially the first scene where you enter the dig site and see the massive statue and excavation equipment. This maze also seemed like some of the closest that the scareactors would get, they will be directly in your face.
10. Spirits of the Coven
The only disappointment of the event for me was Spirits of the Coven. The idea is great, 1920s flapper witches operate covertly out of a speakeasy and bring bar patrons to their dungeons. However, the problem with this maze is simple: it’s just too long. At about 8 minutes in length, there are too many moments where nothing is happening, and there are not enough scareactors to keep the action throughout the maze. However, the sets in this maze are phenomenal, including a working minecart and different sections of the converted speakeasy that feel huge. The scares are also very repetitive, each scare is just an actor screaming, or pretending to scream over a prerecorded track. It’s a shame that a great idea and fantastic sets fell flat because of the overly long maze layout and lack of actors. Spirits of the Coven is still worth walking through, but felt like a step below the other nine mazes.
So, that’s my ranking of all ten houses at Halloween Horror Nights 31. If you’ve gotten a chance to visit the event, what were your favorite houses or scare zones? Let us know in the comments below!