Halloween Horror Nights 32: Initial Ratings and Review
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 last year’s event, I went back as soon as I could to experience all the new scares HHN 32 has to offer. As of now, I have experienced the event 3 times, and have at least one walkthrough of each house. I’ll update my review at the end of season, but below is my preliminary ranking and review of all ten houses. If you haven’t been to the event yet, be warned because there will be minor spoilers.
1. The Exorcist: Believer
The surprise of the year for me came in the form of this year’s Exorcist house. I hadn’t really been that excited about it going into the event, it seemed like a pretty generic theme and it’s based on a movie that hasn’t been released yet but when I walked through it the first time, I was blown away. The scares in this house are absolutely top notch, there are at least two full jump scares that get me in each room. The scares are also very clever and have good variety, it’s not just the same type of scare over and over. I think another reason I responded to this house is that it is very realistic, you’re walking through a regular house, and with the exception of some very scary demon scenes all the situations are grounded in real life.
And yes, what you’ve heard online is true, there is a scene in this house that evokes a certain… scent that I didn’t smell the first few times I went through but on my most recent visit I definitely smelled it. It is disgusting for sure, but it also goes the extra mile to make you all the more uncomfortable, adding to your vulnerability to get scared. Overall, this house is the standout of the year for me, and seems to be the same for almost everyone who has gone through. It perfectly captures the scariest aspects of a haunted house and has a very immersive set and great costumes.
2. Stranger Things 4
This was my most anticipated house of the year, and it did not disappoint. I am a big fan of Stranger Things, and there wasn’t a house based on the show last year, so this was my first time going through a Stranger Things house at HHN. The thing that I took away most were how good the sets were, they looked like they were lifted right out of the show and created the perfect environment. This house is sort of improperly named, this is really the Vecna house more than the Stranger Things house, most of the show’s characters don’t appear in the house but that’s understandable. The Vecna appearances are never repetitive though, and there are some really good scares apart from him as well.
Stranger Things 4 isn’t the scariest house, and it may be because I just missed the timing for a lot of them, but I was just so impressed by this house’s ability to recreate the world of the show and the extravagant sets. The imagery of the house will definitely stick with you whether you’ve seen the show or not, the scenes are very memorable and even though I’ve only been through it once I still rank it so highly because of this. If Running Up That Hill was featured more prominently in the house, that may have sealed the deal for my favorite since that song has become synonymous with this season, but even without Kate Bush I would highly recommend visiting the Upside Down this year.
3. Universal Monsters: Unmasked
A theme that has become a staple of recent Halloween Horror Nights is the Universal classic Monsters. This year, the house takes you deep into the Paris catacombs to face the likes of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Phantom of the Opera, the Hunchback of Notre Dame and the Invisible Man. The reason this house stood out to me was because of the sets and the costumes. This house has some of the best scenic environments of the year, and some seriously inventive scares, including one that I won’t spoil, but steals the show for one of the coolest scares I’ve seen.
I rated this house higher on scares than Stranger Things, but placed it lower because I like the Stranger Things IP more, and I missed a lot of the scares in Monsters. However, if these scares are timed right on my next walkthrough, I could see this house moving up maybe all the way to number one. Monsters Unmasked is a great example of what Horror Nights is about and what Universal can do: the set design, costumes, lighting and sound, scares and ambience are all firing on all cylinders.
4. Dueling Dragons: Choose Thy Fate
For coaster enthusiasts like me (and probably you, if you’re reading this website), this was one of the more exciting ideas presented for Horror Nights. Despite the rumors in the coaster community that this would feature actual coaster track from the B&M inverts previously found at Islands of Adventure, there is no track to be found but there is still plenty of good in this house. I really like that this house is focused more on the fantasy genre than horror, it’s something very unique for a haunted house and while it isn’t as scary, the visuals and sets make it stand out. The costumes are incredible and very unique, they seem very theatrical and even incorporate some technical elements.
The gimmick of “choosing your path” is a bit overemphasized, it’s really just for the last few moments of the house that you’re given the choice, but it makes the house feel even more unique and will increase the popularity for guests to try and get both endings. The sets are also massive and very detailed, they really make you forget you’re in a soundstage and seem to go on for miles. The giant dragon heads that shoot smoke are also a really cool touch, and will be very memorable.
5. Dr. Oddfellow’s Twisted Origins
As the icon of HHN 32, Dr. Oddfellow stars in his own house as well as in the main scare zone at the front of the park. This is one of the two houses staged inside two large tents behind Men in Black Alien Attack, and this house takes advantage of that by projecting a circus tent on top, which is a very fun detail. Twisted Origins feels the most generic out of all of the houses, which is not a bad thing, but many haunted attractions have a house with a clown/carnival theme, so it didn’t seem like there was a clear or unique story to this house. Universal is able to elevate the concept with their state-of-the-art sets and costumes though, so even though the theme is familiar, the house feels fresh.
One thing I really enjoyed was how much this house leaned into the illusion side of the carnival theme, there are some very clever scares and it’s impressive how well they are integrated into circus tricks and props. If you are scared of clowns, you already have a built-in fear for this house, and even if you aren’t there are many opportunities for jump scares. This house feels the most cramped and narrow, which works to its benefit to get the most out of every square foot inside the tent, but also to add the maximum amount of scares. Overall I really liked this house and it fits perfectly in the middle of this year’s lineup.
6. The Last of Us
Other than Stranger Things, The Last of Us consistently gets the longest lines of the night, so it took me a few nights before I got to experience this house, but I am very glad I did. I have not played the Last of Us video games or seen the HBO show, so I had no prior knowledge of the IP and this was essentially an original theme for me. The thing that impressed me the most about this house was the amount of scares I got, I seemed to be in the right spot for every jump and effect. I liked the sets in this house a lot, while it may seem like a basic post-apocalyptic zombie type environment to me since I haven’t played the games, that doesn’t mean the scene work isn’t impressive, and I felt very immersed.
I have one very minor nitpick with this house, and that is that a lot of the scare sound effects were the same or at least very similar, usually just a grunt or a growl, which did get repetitive. I really liked the costumes for the Clickers in the house, they were incredibly detailed and very large, which always is a bonus when Universal can make the monsters seem very large. I think if you are a Last of Us fan you will really enjoy stepping into the world, and even if you aren’t you’ll still find plenty of scares.
7. Yeti: Campground Kills
I was very intrigued when I saw that this house was announced, and until I experienced the house for myself I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I think this house is a cool concept, but I don’t really feel like it stood out enough to make an impression. A major positive for this house is the set, each room is incredibly detailed and there is a scene with a lake that makes the show building look massive. This house is also great for scares, there isn’t anything groundbreaking but there doesn’t always have to be, it’s still very effective.
I think the yeti costumes are very impressive but there isn’t a lot of variety. In the story, I believe it’s supposed to be the same Yeti that is terrorizing the campground, so it makes sense from a story perspective but it would’ve been nice to have some more diversity in the types of scares. The story also isn’t the strongest here, for instance I didn’t know that the house was set in the 1950s until I read it on the website while researching this article. Overall though, Yeti: Campground Kills is a fun addition to HHN 32, even if it may not be talked about for years to come.
8. The Darkest Deal
Darkest Deal is maybe the most mysterious house of the year, it’s almost impossible to tell what’s in store just by reading the name or seeing the facade. This house revolves around a blues musician selling his soul to some sort of dark spirit in order to achieve fame. I really commend the HHN creatives for going with a more in-depth story for this house, I think it is very difficult to communicate that in the short time we have inside each room but for the most part it comes across even if we miss the details.
The sets in this house are good, there wasn’t a specific scene or set that blew me away, but everything is very realistic and works to support the story. I like how the music is incorporated into the house, and it sets a creepy foreboding tone throughout. There isn’t as many scares here as some of the other houses, but each one is planned very well and got some of the biggest jumps out of me.
9. Bloodmoon: Dark Offerings
Bloodmoon is probably the most disappointing house of the year so far for me, and I think it’s mainly because of how much people hyped up this house. I think the disconnect for me is that every time I’ve gone through I have missed almost all of the scares, which doesn’t always affect my opinion but it did in this case. I think the sets and atmosphere here are great, there is a great buildup and it’s creepy as hell, but I feel as though it doesn’t really pay off. Bloodmoon seems to have a lot of suspense, but without the shock.
This house is extremely gory, which I really like and I appreciate all the creative ways that they use the colonial cult setting. There is one room inside a church that is very effective, and capitalizes on the type of scare that gets me the most, where there are many decoys with a few real actors that will jump at you. Overall, I’m deciding to look at Bloodmoon not as a disappointment, but as the house with the most room to grow for me, and I look forward to going into this house more throughout the event to look for more to appreciate.
10. Chucky: Ultimate Kill Count
Other than Stranger Things, this was my most anticipated house of HHN 32. The Chucky TV show that this house is based on is one of the most entertaining shows I have ever watched, in the so-bad-it’s-good sort of way, and it’s complete campiness is tailor made for Horror Nights. However, I don’t feel as though the house does the show justice. On paper, this house is exactly what I had hoped for, a very meta concept where Chucky takes over his own haunted house and starts killing the actors and guests walking through. Unfortunately though, I don’t think this comes across and if I didn’t read that this was the story beforehand I wouldn’t have known.
I will give this house credit for using animatronics and some very cool puppetry throughout, it’s a very unique concept that I appreciated from a creative perspective but did not lead to many scares. I only was able to do this house once, but I did not find it scary or think the set was very memorable, so I am really hoping Chucky improves for me.
So that’s my initial ranking of all of the houses this year, I’ll be doing another brief ranking at the end of the season to see how my opinions have changed and after I have more time to reflect.
Other than the houses themselves, I have some scattered thoughts about the event, as well as some tips and tricks.
- Start with The Last of Us, and end with Stranger Things. The Last of Us gets a consistently long line, but by the last hour or two of the event Stranger things didn’t have as much of a wait.
- One thing I think is very odd is how almost none of the sound stages have any sort of facades or signage. Not having a large Stranger Things sign at the entrance of the house so that everyone can post it online seems crazy to me.
- Something else I think could use improvement is the ambience in the queues. I understand that almost all of them are in backstage areas, but there needs to be some music or something to keep the wait time from feeling so long in those never ending switchbacks.
- I think the food this year is very good, and I love that Minion Cafe is open for the event.
- The wait times can be a bit deceptive at times, if a line is posted at 45 minutes that seems to be the best time to get it, because it’s not usually that long. Anything above that is probably true but anything under that is suspect.
- Start in the back of the park to optimize the crowd levels, rope drop Last of Us, then head to Monsters, Oddfellow and Darkest Deal.
- I don’t get the hype for Nightmare Fuel, and I wouldn’t recommend seeing it if you only have one night at HHN. There are some great illusions and fire tricks, but I think the show (and Universal fans) think it is a lot edgier than it actually is. The lagoon show last year was much more impressive and seemed to fit the event better.
- The merch this year is also great, and the tribute store is one of the best Universal has done, don’t miss it.
- The Death Eaters are an awesome addition to Diagon Alley. Nowhere to hide anymore!
- The scare zones are pretty good, but there isn’t a standout other than Vamp 69, which is by far the most popular.
- I’m constantly impressed by the quality of this event, and how Universal Studios park is essentially two different parks, one during the day and one at night. Kudos to the entire HHN creative team, cast and crew for the behemoth effort that is hosting this event.