Halloween Horror Nights 23 is a very strong year from the event. I'm a hard core fan, but I felt that 22 was a bit weak, so I'm thrilled with this year's great comeback.
The event has all the usual elements that make it a premier Halloween attraction, and this year there are three things in particular that I like:
1) The way the intellectual properties are used. I always get nervous when Universal uses a lot of intellectual properties at the event, even though some of my favorite houses from years past have been IPs. This year's mix is particularly heavy on such properties, which raises expectations to a meteoric level.
Thankfully, the creative team really came through with the IPs this year. An American Werewolf in London is a textbook example of how to translate a horror movie classic into a haunted house, complete with realistic wolves that will have you careening off the walls in terror. I was getting a bit bored with it after the first two weeks, since brilliant puppets alone can't carry a house for multiple walk-throughs, but the scareactor energy won me back this weekend.
I was worried about having another Walking Dead house, but I really enjoy this year's version, which is rich in detail (you'll love the governor's heads) and which is in the parade building this time around, which means it doesn't suffer from having too much light before sunset like it did when it was in the Disaster queue last year. I had one of my best scares in that house when, as the first one through for the day, I was the victim of a coordinated Walker attack in the finale.
The other IP houses have enough detail to delight fans. In particular, I'm loving Evil Dead, which is both detail- and scare-packed, although Cabin in the Woods and Resident Evil hold their own.
2) The details aren't skimped on in the non-IP houses. During IP-heavy years, I always worry that they'll get all the budget, and the set design in the other houses will suffer. This year, La Llorona proves that it's not the case. The facade is the most richly detailed I've ever seen on a sprung tent house, and the inside is lovingly crafted to draw you into the progressively more eerie world of the murderous madre. I try to soak in as much detail as possible each time I go through, but the ample scares make that more difficult.
Havoc Derailed is also a design marvel. The sets are somewhat repetitive because of the theme, but you can help but be impressed that the creative team managed to actually create a train wreck in the Disaster queue.
The only non-IP house that doesn't wow me is Afterlife because it feels recycled from The Inbetween, and its ending is totally devoid of scareactors, or really of anything but a ramp after the vortex tunnel. Fortunately, La Llorona and Havoc more than make up for it.
3) The house count is back up to eight. Last year there were only seven haunted houses. While one less might not seem like much, that's one less draw to help spread out the crowd. Also, I like to feel like I'm getting my money's worth, so it's always an annoyance to feel like something's been taken away.
This year, even though the Jaws queue is now gone, it's been replaced as a house site by a fourth sound stage house. While I'm very happy about that, it also ties into one of the four things I dislike about this year. You can read that list by jumping to this article.