It's an odd year for Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida, at least in terms of being a hard-core fan. They've always used intellectual properties throughout the event's history, and some of my favorite houses have been IP based, from franchises like Nightmare on Elm Street to lesser-known movies like Doomsday.
After feeling that last year was rather weak, I was concerned about the permeation of The Walking Dead and numerous other IPs, but the event continues to hold its own. Would I like scare zones with something other than Walkers? Yes, and I feel that the chainsaws really, really need a much bigger presence, but it's not as bad as I feared it would be. As for the haunted houses, they're holding their own.
The only unusual thing for me this year is that my ranking keeps changing. Normally I have consistent favorites, but as week four of the event progresses, my opinion is fluid. However, I do think that a couple of clear winners are finally emerging. Here's my latest ranking:
When all is said and done, I think my two overall favorites will be An American Werewolf in London and Evil Dead. Because they're sound stage houses, they have expansive sets, and of course Werewolf is full of the intricately detailed title creatures. Evil Dead has lovely set design, too, and is packed with aggressive scares that remain consistent. In some houses, I'll have some great walk-throughs and some that are lackluster, but Evil Dead is consistently good.
I'm still enjoying The Walking Dead, too, because it continues to be energetic and aggressive. Granted, it's usually the first house I go through, right at opening time, so the scareactors still have plenty of energy. However, it's still been full of scares even when I go through it later in the day.
I wasn't impressed with Afterlife early on, and I still don't like the fact that it doesn't have any true finale, but its aggression level seems to be rising so I find myself enjoying it more on each walk-through. I'd prefer more disorientation, on the level of the former Dead Exposure house, or even The In Between, but the scareactors have settled into a good groove and are working well with what they have.
I'm still enjoying La Llorona and Havoc, although I ranked them higher at the beginning of the season. They've remained consistent, while other houses have matured over the past four weeks and worked their way up for me. Both of these houses are locked into a theme more than an evolving storyline like the IPs (the urban legend of the child murderer for La Llorona and the wrecked train for Havoc), so that puts them at a bit of a disadvantage compared to IP houses that tell a full (albeit very abbreviated) story.
That leaves Cabin in the Woods and Resident Evil, both of which are competent houses, too. They just haven't given me the "wow" factor that my favorites have. Cabin started out very strong for me, so it will be interesting to see if it hits a stronger stride later. Resident Evil is actually growing on me more each time I go through it.
Those are my latest rankings which could easily change in the coming weeks. It's an interesting year for Halloween Horror Nights, but one in which the IPs are being used very well.