This year, the plans for Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida raised a few eyebrows when the park revealed that it was theming all of its scare zones to The Walking Dead. Normally, each scare zone has its own theme, and last year the event abandoned set scare zones to turn every spot in the park into fair game for scareactor invasions. This is in addition to a Walking Dead-themed haunted house.
I've experienced the first two days of Halloween Horror Nights, so here are my thoughts on what works and what doesn't in having a unified theme:
1) The set design is very elaborate. I very much enjoy noticing all the details as I stroll around the park, which is literally like strolling through different seasons. Things like the camp and the tank are impressive, and Walking Dead fans just love recognizing iconic scenes from their favorite show. I also like the addition of the walk-through burning barn, which is like a mini-haunted house (beware, as there are scareactors inside).
2) The make-up is very well done. Probably only geeks and Walking Dead fans really notice this, but the make-up is different for different seasons to reflect the worsening decay. The Walkers in the scare zones also move in accordance with their place in the time line.
3) The scareactors are bringing a lot of energy to their roles. While the details are great, I'll admit that it felt a little boring to having Walkers, Walkers, and more Walkers as the only things to encounter anywhere in the park. I love a wide variety of scare zones with widely diverse themes. However, I'll admit that the scareactors keep this from becoming as big of a problem as it could be. They're energetic and aggressive, so they always keep things lively. I hope they're able to maintain that energy throughout the long, exhausting season.
4) The scareactors venture beyond the streets. 2012 wasn't one of my favorite Halloween Horror Nights years, but one thing I liked was that almost nowhere was off limits. The whole park was a scare zone, and you encountered scareactors everywhere. This year. I was dining in Finnegans and two Walkers promptly invaded the restaurant. I was very pleased to see that and hope it continues all season and encompasses other areas, like the stores.
5) The Chainsaw Drill Team doesn't have a big enough presence. I love the Chainsaw Drill Team, and even though they don't exactly fit into the Walking Dead theme, they're still around this year. Unfortunately, I only saw them on my first visit, even though I was in the park from opening until closing time on the second day. I'll be very disappointed if they don't have more of a presence.
I already had one of my best moment of the season with them when a guy who looked and talked just like Lamar from "Revenge of the Nerds" ran up to me and hid his face on my shoulder in terror as we walked through chainsaw territory. Of course, the scareactors saw this and immediately attacked, and he fled down the street screaming wth a chainsaw in hot pursuit. Priceless.
To sum things up, would I rather have scare zones with different themes? Yes. But is the pervasive Walking Dead theme enough to hurt the event. No. It's an intellectual property-heavy year overall, but the houses and scare zones are very well executed. 2013 is off to a strong start, and I'm hoping to keeps that momentum all the way through November 2.