But what are the main differences between Orlando and Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights mazes? While Hollywood’s mazes understandably emphasize film and TV properties like Stranger Things and Ghostbusters with only two original concepts – The Curse of Pandora’s Box, and Holidayz in Hell (given the park’s smaller acreage compared to Orlando) – five of Orlando’s 10 haunted houses are entirely original creations that, according to Universal Studios Orlando’s Manager of Creative Development and Show Direction, Lora Sauls, spill directly from her team’s twisted minds. If you want to flee a tribe of rampaging Yetis or witness a flock of bloodthirsty, bird-like monsters feast on the corpses of Roman gladiators, you’ll need to brave the Orlando park’s take on the annual fright-fest.
Get a look inside the Stranger Things Halloween Horror Nights maze below:
“These original stories come from our show directors, our designers… they are thinking of this stuff all the time,” Sauls says. “They are digging into their nightmares, they are digging into the inspirations they’ve gotten from their favorite horror movies, comic books, and even real-life incidences.”
We got the opportunity to tour these original, often disturbing creations at Orlando’s media preview, and found they featured some of the event’s best – and bloodiest – frights.
Both Universal’s Orlando and Hollywood parks feature haunted houses based on the studio’s iconic stable of monsters, but the former stars a significantly larger cast of creeps or, as Sauls calls it, a “monster stew.” While the west coast attraction is entirely focused on Frankenstein and Wolf Man, Florida gets that gruesome pair along with the Mummy, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein’s Bride, and Dracula.
All the monsters are far scarier than anything we’ve seen in their respective film and TV appearances, sharing more similarities with serial killers than their classic incarnations. It’s Dracula’s rather unsettling scene, though, that’s most likely to recur in our future nightmares. Appearing in a Gothic castle, he can be seen draining the jugular of his latest victim. But that’s not the scary part. It’s the discarded parts and pieces of his previous meals – complete with exposed bone and dripping viscera – that’ll forever alter your image of the charming bloodsucker.
Get a look inside some of Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights mazes in the gallery below:
Nightingales: Blood Pit
If this maze’s subtitle doesn’t make it abundantly clear, it contains enough blood to put a slaughterhouse to shame. A sort of prequel to the event’s Nightingales: Blood Prey experience from 2011, it once again unleashes a species of bird-like monsters that are drawn to the decaying flesh of the recently deceased.
It makes sense then, this year’s take unfolds beneath a gladiatorial arena, where plenty of fresh meat is just waiting to be consumed by the creatures’ toothy, beak-like maws. The humanoid/avian hybrids are terrifying, especially when they’re ravenously tearing through the remains of a horse. It’s the maze’s claustrophobic layout, including tight corridors and low ceilings, however, that’ll have you relieved to reach its exit.
This original attraction trades blood and gore for a familiar cemetery setting and more traditional jump-scares. While its parade of pop-out corpses don’t fuel the most inspired frights, they still raise their fair share of goosebumps. The maze’s story trumps its scares, however, unraveling a social-media-gone-wrong tale of two teenagers who wind up on the wrong end of a ghostly curse after vandalizing the graveyard.
The many surprise encounters provide satisfying, quick-hit frights, but it’s the sight of one of the teen’s final moments that’ll stick with you. Lying in an upright coffin, a girl – face contorted in fear – clutches a smartphone, while her mother screams for her doomed daughter from the device’s display.
Watch the trailer for HHN’s Ghostbusters maze below:
Depths of Fear
The first thing that strikes you in Depths of Fear isn’t the fish-like monstrosities that have run amok in the maze’s undersea research station, but the sound of a blaring alarm warning of an impending implosion. Apparently the egg-spewing mutants turning the crew into fish-zombies can’t be contained, so the powers-that-be above the surface have decided to detonate the station and all its current occupants.
Depths of Fear brings a number of sickening scenes to life, from recent victims who’ve had their entrails freed to up-close interactions with those further along in their transformation from human to…something else. It’s that continuous, deafening alarm – and its accompanying countdown clock – though, that really makes this one, er, tick.
Yeti: Terror of the Yukon
Stories of the Abominable Snowman and Bigfoot have been told countless times, but those tales usually focus on a single such creature. Yeti: Terror of the Yukon pits you against an entire tribe of the towering beasts, as you attempt to escape a post-Gold Rush era settlement that’s also awoken on the wrong side of a blizzard.
Probably our favorite of Orlando’s original mazes, this one contains multiple, clever encounters with the fanged and clawed creatures, bone-chilling weather effects, and a cast of cowering settlers who are clearly as scared as we are. It scores big blood-and-gore points, too, for the Yeti snacking on the intestines of a still-alive victim, as well as the monster that ventilates a camper’s mid-section with its massive mitt.
For more from Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights, read our behind-the-scenes tour of Universal’s Ghostbusters maze and our breakdown on the HHN Us maze (and whether it reveals anything about Jordan Peele’s unpredictable thriller). Plus, watch the trailer for Universal’s Us Halloween Horror Nights maze below: