Mulliga's Haunted Halloween 2012 - Halloween Horror Nights 22 - There Is No Way Out (of the crowds)
Another Halloween, another season of supernatural spooks and scares. As always, Shangrila Towers celebrates October with a series of ghoulish posts. Let's kick off this year's festivities with an annual Halloween tradition - Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights...
Given how much time and money Universal spends on HHN, it can be easy to forget that the whole thing is subject to the demands of the host theme park. This year's iteration only featured seven haunted houses instead of the usual eight, for instance, because the "Jaws" attraction was demolished and its queue area was unavailable for building a house (construction has already started on what is presumably the newest Universal Studios attraction, "Harry Potter and the Truckloads of Tourist Money").
The practical effect? HHN was more crowded than I've seen in years, with relatively long wait times for houses and huge flocks of people choking the event's streets. This year's iteration didn't have a single coherent theme, so I think I'll just run through the park house-by-house (spoilers ahead).
The Walking Dead: Dead Inside - This house was predictable but fun, with scenes pulled straight from the first and second seasons of AMC's adaptation of TWD. You'll see the iconic deserted hospital Rick wakes up in, zombie-infested Atlanta, and the Greene family barn, among other things. Our visit was made extra-special by an appearance from Greg Nicotero outside the attraction (yes, that Greg Nicotero).
Welcome to Silent Hill - The "Silent Hill" franchise helped define survival horror, and this event is the first time its world has been translated into haunted house form. Universal chose to draw mostly from the live-action movie instead of the game, which seems like a missed opportunity to me (the terrifying radio static and fog of the first game doesn't really come through). You'll run into Pyramid Head and the nurses, though, so all is forgiven.
Alice Cooper: Welcome to My Nightmare - A series of vignettes (loosely) inspired by Alice Cooper songs and imagery from his album of the same name. It's more weird than scary, since it's hard to be frightened when you're rocking to "School's Out."
Penn & Teller New(kd) Vegas - The comedy/3D house of this year's HHN, complete with videotaped segments specially done by your favorite libertarian magician/funnymen, Penn & Teller. The whole thing is a twisted take on Vegas tropes - a Technicolor irradiated Vegas buffet, a mutant Elvis impersonator, a post-apocalyptic quickie wedding chapel, etc. It's not a bad house, but the 3D seems sorta purposeless.
Universal's House of Horrors - Classic Universal monsters never go out of style, and this house uses black and strobe lighting to present the old standbys - Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein's Monster, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I love classic horror, but this house is a bit low budget, with some underwhelming rooms, and not worth visiting more than once.
Gothic - A trip through a gargoyle-protected cathedral. There's some great effects here (look for neat stuff in a candle-filled room and a starry overlook), and the architecture is on par with the branded houses. Good one to knock out when the more famous houses are getting slammed.
Dead End - This is, for all intents and purposes, a generic haunted house. Ghosts, ghosts, and more ghosts. Quite skippable, if you're running low on time.
As always, my crew and I checked out the two stage shows at HHN. This year's "Bill & Ted" was decent; there was an election-year centric plot and the requisite awful pop culture one-liners. The other show was the "20 Penny Circus," magic for people with questionable tastes. It wasn't much of a magic show (there were some obvious ringers selected from the crowd), but it fit the HHN spirit and allows you to sit down a spell.
All in all, I think HHN 22 will go down as one of the weaker years in the pantheon (and this is coming from someone who dressed up as Rick Grimes for Dragon*Con). See you next year...