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A mix of new frights, classic creatures and villains, as well as The Weeknd’s rave party from hell headline Halloween Horror Nights 2022 at Universal Orlando Resort. The annual fright fest debuted Labor Day weekend at the Florida theme park. Its west coast companion opens Thursday, Sept. 8 at Universal Studios Hollywood.
We visited the Orlando park to check out this year’s lineup and we left feeling thoroughly traumatized. There are 10 different haunted houses, five scare zones (including one featuring the Pumpkin Lord and his evil minions), a pair of live performances, and a scary-good menu of horror-themed snacks and drinks.
The overarching theme for this year is celebrating all things Halloween, everyone’s favorite haunted holiday. “We’re leaning into all the tropes surrounding Halloween,” is how one of Universal Orlando’s creative directors put it during a presentation for media right before our RIP tour of the houses. Much like previous installments, Halloween Horror Nights 2022 combines houses based on popular IP such as the legendary Universal Monsters, Blumhouse, and Halloween’s unkillable Michael Myers, together with original concepts. This year, those brand-new, deliciously diabolical storylines involve a bug infestation, a village festival celebrating the Chupacabra, and perhaps the biggest attention-getter, The Weeknd’s own haunted house.
The full lineup of Universal Orlando’s haunted houses this year includes The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare, Halloween, The Horrors of Blumhouse, Universal Monsters: Legends Collide, Spirits of the Coven, Bugs: Eaten Alive, Fiesta de Chupacabra, Hellblock Horror, Dead Man’s Pier: Winter’s Wake, and Descendants of Destruction.
If you have ever attended Halloween Horror Nights, you know to expect jump scares around every dark corner. The Halloween house, designed as a tribute to John Carpenter’s iconic 1978 film, is particularly adept at frightening you out of your shoes as a knife-wielding Michael Myers repeatedly comes out of nowhere.
The Universal Monsters: Legends Collide house puts you in the middle of a three-way skirmish between a trio of cinema’s greatest creatures: Dracula, the Mummy, and the Wolf Man. By the end of the experience, one monster emerges victorious. In a nice twist, the winner changes nightly (The night we attended, the Mummy came out on top, having spiked Dracula to a wall and decapitated the Wolfman).
All of the houses are terrifying, but the original concepts are truly inspired. The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare is without question the centerpiece of this year’s event. It takes its inspiration from the music videos of the best-selling artist, who is a horror aficionado. The Weeknd (real name: Abel Tesfaye) collaborated directly with the HHN creative team to devise the disturbing and blood-drenched experience. The best way to describe it is a rave club gone stark raving mad. Longtime HHN fans know the event has a history of getting maniacally creative with bathrooms. Well, the Weeknd’s haunted house features a bathroom so gross, it will make you nostalgic for the Porta Potties on the final day of a three-day music festival.
The Bugs: Eaten Alive is a 1950s slice of kitsch in which you're surrounded by a horde of bugs. Flies, roaches, maggots, spiders, and other insects are all part of this experience. It takes place inside a future home that supposedly comes with a cutting-edge bug extermination system. Suffice it to say, there are still a few bugs in the system. We checked out all 10 haunted houses during our visit, and this house had the loudest blood-curdling screams, and it wasn’t close. If there were bets to be made on which haunted house will be the first to trigger a panic attack, this would be the odds-on favorite.
The Descendants of Destruction house is like a demented take on Thundarr the Barbarian. Remember that early '80s cartoon, where a runaway meteor destroys Earth? A similar conceit powers this experience, as a meteor has left the planet a radiation-filled wasteland. Inside an abandoned NYC subway station, you see the results of decades of mutation. This house has one of the most creative set designs, with flashing lights adding a disorienting sensory experience. By the time you leave here, you’ll think twice about riding the subway ever again.
Halloween Horror Nights is famous for not repeating houses. Each year brings new ideas to the table. Even when IP makes a return – such as Halloween and Michael Myers – the creative team always finds a new twist. This year, an old scare zone concept was repurposed and turned into what we feel is the most creative design of HHN 2022.
Dead Man’s Pier: Winter’s Wake is an expansion of the Dead Man’s Wharf scare zone from 2016. It combines a fantastic set design, terrifying creature costumes, and sound effects to make for a genuinely spooky atmosphere. The storyline involves a New England fishing village that is overrun by zombie fishermen — the same characters from the previous scare zone. The big finish ends with the widow of the ship’s captain playing the violin on the bow of the sinking fishing ship.
While the design work for HHN 31 is uniformly excellent, from the sets to the gloriously detailed gore and the costumes (special shout-out to the Chupacabra puppets for haunting my dreams for the next few months), we would be remiss if we did not point out the great work by the scare actors. They do an excellent job of timing the jump scares and stalking you throughout the scare zones.
Halloween Horror Nights has a 43-night engagement at Universal Orlando Resort, from now until October 31. Click here for information on single-night tickets, the guided R.I.P. Tour and the behind-the-scenes experience.