Oh, yes folks, it's that time. My full thoughts on HHN XXIV. Alas, another Halloween Horror Nights has come and gone. The fog machines have run out of juice, the sights and sounds in the streets have been silenced and taken away; only to make way for something scarier, Christmas decorations. This year, I will break down the event into four parts: The Good, The Bad, Other Stuff, and Final thoughts. So first...
The biggest strength of HHN XXIV, was the Houses (as they really should be). Only one, really wasn't very well done. The others, were fantastically done, with one being a really good effort. If you've followed my rankings over the course of the event, then you know some things changed here and there.
This year was the best collection of Houses since HHN XXI. I loved the Houses that year, and while this year not all were knock 'em out the park good, it's a very strong line-up. So without further blabbering, let's get on to the list for this year. It works the same way as before. I will rank from least favorite, to my favorite.
8. DRACULA UNTOLD: REIGN OF BLOOD
7. FROM DUSK TILL DAWN
6. ROANOKE: CANNIBAL COLONY
5. THE WALKING DEAD: END OF THE LINE
4. AVP: ALIEN VS PREDATOR
3. GIGGLES & GORE INC.
2. DOLLHOUSE OF THE DAMNED
THE TRUTH IS LEGENDARY
This. This is how you do a completely interactive guest experience. Yes, even with Legendary Truth's legendary tech issues, this experience showcases the best of what the creative forces at HHN can do with an experience like this. Legendary Truth returned for the final four days of the event. They were testing a pretty nifty app, which I'm assuming will eventually replace the online game-play as well. Yes, the tech was iffy, and the app seemed to have issues with certain types of phones. However, it was nice to have it back even for a bit. Bringing in the Scare Actor's in the streets, as well as utilizing the Houses without having to scan a card at the end, is a great way to go in the future.
The best part though, was the awesome treat they gave Legendary Truth players after they finished their tasks with the app. I'm not sure if I can, or can't say exactly what it was, but this is how you treat your loyal fanbase. This is what you do to create an interactive, in-park experience for guests. Legendary Truth has a very intricately woven story to go along with the game-play, and the extra experience really showcased what something like this can be, with such a broad story going on.
In general, the extra experience was to experiment with new technology Legendary Truth may use in the future, for game-play in the park. If they do use some of this stuff (unless the greedy suits do what they did this year to Legendary Truth again), it could be something special. If the Powers That Be were smart, they would really figure out a way to find a cohesive bond between LT and the marketing team. Use this as a selling point for customers who want something a little extra in the park. It is infinitely more realized, and less a shameful attempt at a marketing ploy. These people who put on Legendary Truth, know what they are doing. They put The Compound to shame this year, even with only four days. Use them in the future, and don't let the suits and the marketing team, attempt anything like The Compound again, but we'll get to that in a moment. Bravo Legendary Truth. Bravo.
PEOPLE, PEOPLE, EVERYWHERE
There are a few things that need to be addressed with HHN XXIV this year, that are not so good. The biggest negative for me this year was the crowds. I've been attending HHN for a long time. This year was by far, the most crowded I have ever seen it. I've heard some people say this is because Universal is overselling the event; which is true, along with overselling Express Passes. However I think it goes deeper than that.
The addition of The Walking Dead continues to be A HUGE crowd bringer. I don't care what anyone says. Two Houses this year, consistently had wait times at, or exceeding, 2 hours or more- even on slow days. The Walking Dead always had a 60 minute, or more wait at the start of the event. I'm talking even before 6:30. Part of this could be blamed on Finnegans Stay and Scream. In the early days of HHN XXIV, guests were let into AVP early from the Stay and Scream area. About halfway through the event, that changed to The Walking Dead. It caused wait times to balloon to 120 minute wait times very early on in the night. However, the long waits for The Walking Dead go deeper than that.
There were a few days when The Walking Dead had 120 minute wait times, while the other three Houses up front, had 20 minute wait times or less. At 6:30. Last year, The Cabin In The Woods, which had its entrance where From Dusk Till Dawn was this year, had a 45-60 minute wait time pretty consistently once the gate opened. It was made abundantly clear that people just bypassed From Dusk Till Dawn, and made a B-Line for The Walking Dead.
From Dusk Till Dawn never exceeded 20 minutes when the gates opened from what I witnessed. In fact, the House never really had wait times that were abhorrently bad. For the most part, it was pretty manageable. I'm not saying it didn't occasionally get insane, but it was consistently the House with the smallest wait time. That's pretty telling when it's the first House you hit when you enter the park. I only saw the line get insane for From Dusk Till Dawn the Sunday of Hell Week. Even then, the wait time was 60 minutes, while The Walking Dead and Halloween, had 185 minute wait times on that night. At 12:00AM.
I made it a point to check and compare the wait times at 6:30, every time I attended the event with the Houses at the front of the park. Every single time, The Walking Dead had a 60 minute wait or more, and the other three Houses had 20 minute or less wait times. Now, you could argue that nobody cared about From Dusk Till Dawn, which is why people would bypass it. That then raises the question of Dracula Untold. SPOILER ALERT: Dracula Untold was by and large the worst House at HHN XXIV, yet during the nights I attended had wait times consistently at 60 minutes or more.
All of this brings me to a point, and a controversial issue amongst HHN die-hards. IP's work. Be it The Walking Dead, Halloween, or Dracula Untold, the familiarity of a named property brings people to the event. All of the IP properties this year, sans From Dusk Till Dawn, had consistently long lines. The biggest winner outside The Walking Dead, was Halloween. It pretty much always matched The Walking Dead's 3 hour wait time on busy nights. AVP consistently had 2 hour or more wait times on busier nights. Most of the original content Houses never really to my eyes, got up to those numbers. I did see Giggles & Gore Inc. reach 120 minutes on the Sunday of Hell Week, but I never saw it go higher than that. So despite that one time, the original content Houses never really had crazy lines.
Obviously, I didn't attend every single night, but I did walk through the HHN fog 20 times. For me, that's a pretty good gauge of averages, minus the occasional spike here and there. I'm not one to scoff at IP properties. I dig them, and based on what I witnessed, the general masses will attend with the prospect of a named property. Even Dracula Untold; a film that wasn't released until midway through the event, had the name which I'm sure lured people to the House. It's Dracula. During Halloween Horror Nights. At Universal Orlando. It was just a shittier version of him unfortunately when you got inside. The same could be said for AVP. Yes, it wasn't a single House based on one of the characters, but both marquee names were there. And both the AVP films, as well as Dracula Untold, were poorly received by critics and the movie going public.
Still, the one constant in all of this, is The Walking Dead. People came for that. The lines showed it, even on less busier nights. And as much as I hate to be bearer of this bad news, I'm pretty confident we will see The Walking Dead return in the near future. The Powers That Be behind the scenes at HHN, had already started testing the waters with a prospect of the return of The Walking Dead. For me personally, I don't mind. I hate the show with a passion, but as long as the House is done right, it doesn't bother me. Those crowds though...
SO-SO SCARY SCARE ZONES
Fans rejoiced when it was revealed that Scare Zones would be returning this year, to it's more recognizable form. Then they kicked the HHN gods in the ass when it was revealed that only four Scare Zones would be at the park. Granted, one of those Zones would be huge, with a street show thrown in for good measure. Another Scare Zone would also house a street show.
I had a few issues with the Scare Zones this year. Two of the Zones, were plagued by changes. One such change I am referring to, is of course, the Bayou of Blood sacrifice show removal. I'm not going to debate why they did it. However, the removal of the show was a bad move. The Scare Zone overall was pretty weak to begin with, so the taking away of something extra there, just brought the place down. I liked the costumes, but there just wasn't enough actors in there. The place was also too dark to really see anything. Most of the Scare Actor's didn't do much either. They really didn't make too big of an effort to try and scare you. Bayou was just a huge disappointment of a Scare Zone.
The other Scare Zone that had changes, was MASKerade: Unstitched. I'm still not entirely sure of the reason (I'm still told, it was because an actor on stilts tripped and fell on a guest though), but fog was taken out of the Zone, as well as the lighting brought up a notch. It ruined the mood in Unstitched horribly. The Scare Zone was minimal to begin with, so the little nuanced details in there helped it. It added to the creepy vibe. With that taken away, it rested in the Scare Actor's to do their best. And they did for the most part, but it never regained that creepy mood.
Face Off: In The Flesh, and The Purge: Anarchy were my two favorite Scare Zones. While Face Off was nothing more than a glorified photo op, the minions who walked around the Zone really gave it an effort in there. They changed dramatically after the first weekend of the event, and upped their intensity. It was a fun place to hang out, take photos, and just have fun. The Purge: Anarchy was the strongest Scare Zone for me. Every actor brought it, they were into their roles, and it was a ton of fun. And the auction show was a nice touch too. I also really dug the kidnapping portion as well.
Still, all in all, the Scare Zones were weak this year. With next year being the 25th anniversary, I hope they bring Scare Zones back, as well as bring everything they got to them. With all the controversy over the past three years, especially when it comes to the Scare Zones, they needed to knock it out of the park with them this year. They failed to do that in my opinion. Not saying they didn't give it the old college try, but it turned into a feeble attempt, especially with all the changes.
THE COMPOUND #HASHTAG #EXPLOITATION
I'll try and keep this brief (yeah, not gonna happen). The Compound was a terribly conceived marketing ploy to try and garner free advertising, by exploiting HHN guests on social media. It was a true testament to where the money minds behind the scenes are coming from. It stood out like a sore thumb, and was truly dreadful in its execution.
Controversy over the game throughout the run was high (mostly due to Legendary Truth being pushed aside for this garbage), but it all came to a head on November 1st (more on that in a minute). You see, the people who are only interested in money and advertising, and who created The Compound for those two reasons alone, forgot to think a few things through. First and foremost, Legendary Truth players weren't going to participate. The suits might have thought they would (pretty sure those cryptic radio messages were meant to lure LT players in), but a vast majority of them saw through this slick marketing tool very early on. The Compound meet-up, raised a bunch of red flags when most of the "winners" were theme park bloggers, and writers, who could be wined and dined for free publicity.
Secondly, they made a horrible mistake in realizing who would actually be "playing" The Compound. Let's break this down. It's highly unlikely someone on vacation, or visiting for one day, would be there just to play. Sure, you might have the occasional guest curious enough to try it, or the super-fan who may only be in town for one day, give it a whirl. However, The Compound happened every night of HHN. It's reasonable to assume by that fact alone, most players would be Frequent Fear Pass holders, or Rush of Fear ticket holders, or both. And not to mention veterans of visiting the event.
That being said, let's look at the Frequent Fear Pass controversy that erupted on November 1st. The Frequent Fear Pass has been in existence for a long time now. I myself, have been buying the Frequent Fear Pass since 2004. In the past, HHN would release dates throughout the course of the event; if ticket sales were low on a certain night, they would allow Fear Pass holders to attend. One such day that has been added many times before, is the final day. It literally has become a tradition for that last day to be opened and allow Frequent Fear Pass holders in. It happens all the time.
What happened November 1st, was not good. Angry Compound players flooded the HHN social media pages, in a backlash for not releasing November 1st for Frequent Fear Pass holders. I play Legendary Truth. I know what it's like to want to finish to the end. These Compound players were denied. Not only that, they were used as a sick and twisted marketing tool. I've been attending HHN for a long time folks. The last day of HHN is ALWAYS dead (pun intended). The decision to not release Frequent Fear on November 1st, was done on purpose. It was not driven by ticket sales, no matter what spin is being put out there.
On the surface, this is a gross misjudgment of who would actually be participating in The Compound. The majority of these players, were probably veterans of HHN (and knew of the tradition of opening the last day as well), with Frequent Fear Pass tickets. By doing what they did, they alienated their core group of players. However, it's not a misjudgment at all; the money hungry suits knew what they were doing, as this was never supposed to be any kind of "game". The Compound was nothing more than a sick marketing tool, where guests were used and in the end, made fools of. Have guests run around the park for an hour, take photos, place them on social media, and hastage everything HHN and voila, free advertising.
Everything was designed to just market Halloween Horror Nights with The Compound. Right down to the RSVP thing on Facebook. Players were supposed to "enlist" for that specific days Compound task on the website right? Then why was Halloween Horror Nights' official Facebook page, just posting for people to RSVP on specific days of HHN? Which were the same RSVP pages that The Compound site linked guests to, who were "enlisting" for those specific days games? And with no mention of The Compound at all in those Facebook posts? No, this wasn't a game, and I'm kind of sickened at how HHN used their paying guests like this.
Back to the Frequent Fear Pass for a moment. November 1st was not busy. At all. So if the decision to open the final day in the past has always been driven by ticket sales, why change it now? Why suddenly say nope? Especially with this vast "social media experiment" known as The Compound, still going on? Yes, Universal is under no obligation to open anything, your days are listed on the ticket. However, November 1st met the criteria set in years past, so why? One of those theme park bloggers who was wined and dined at the Compound meet-up, even referenced how dead the park was on November 1st through Twitter. The HHN Twitter account, had to quickly counteract the Tweet.
Let's look at last year for a moment. They literally used Legendary Truth, as a marketing ploy to get people to buy a Frequent Fear Pass. They advertised to customers: buy a Frequent Fear Pass and you would automatically be eligible to participate in the games in-park. Can you imagine if last year HHN didn't open the last day for Frequent Fear Pass people? On the last night of Legendary Truth investigations? After advertising Legendary Truth with the Frequent Fear Pass? Yeah, that wouldn't have gone over well either. Not to mention it was another poorly conceived tactic by marketing to just try and make more money. The Average Joe had no clue what the hell was going on in park. They just knew that the Frequent Fear Pass is a good value to attend on multiple days.
So that brings us back to just how poorly conceived this thing was. Who exactly was this marketed to? Your die-hard fanbase? Nah, they are too busy waiting for Legendary Truth. The tourist attending for one night? Nah, they are too busy waiting in 3 hour lines. And they are only there for one night, yet the Compound happened every night of HHN. If this thing was to be played every night, then wouldn't it make sense your Frequent Fear Pass customers would be the ones to play? Or let's play devil's advocate for a second. Perhaps somebody was indeed interested in playing, then bought a Frequent Fear Pass just to play multiple nights. Then who? Who was supposed to be playing this thing? The Compound was fishy from the start, and was a blatant attempt at free publicity, masquerading as an in-park experience for guests.
Let's talk about the whole November 1st debacle again. The decision to not open Frequent Fear on November 1st, was done to see just who would actually pay the 80 bucks to get in on the last night. There have been rumblings for a few years now that the Frequent Fear Pass will either be done away with, or changed eventually. This whole tactic that was done on the last night, was aimed at those loyal individuals, who buy a Frequent Fear Pass every year, who attend as often as possible, and yes Universal, spend a lot of money at Halloween Horror Nights. And some of those people bought it. They literally bought it hook, line, and sinker, paying the money to experience the final night of the year. These Compound players just got caught in the middle.
Bottom line, I've given a lot of money to HHN over the years. I've been a staunch defender of this event for 15. The argument die-hard fans have made over the past 3 years about Universal and HHN not caring about its fans, or its product anymore and just wants money, showed its ugly head with The Compound. Their motive with this game was quite clear, and even shook me as a tremendously huge fan of Halloween Horror Nights. My faith in the decision making process behind the scenes, is gone. It's hard for me to say that, but I've always prided myself on being honest. Forget the fact that The Compound was just a poorly put together experience. It was a sickening display of exploitation of HHN's paying customers, driven by the worst intentions possible. People were used as a marketing tool, and that's sad. Be careful Halloween Horror Nights, your greed is showing.
I won't go into too much detail about Rocky Horror. It's Rocky Horror. I will say that I don't think the Rocky Horror Picture Show tribute, will be around much longer. There have been some bumps in the road over the past two years, when it comes to callbacks. I think the show in general scares and confuses the normies as well. I just hope when the do replace it, they replace it with something good. Please no 20 Penny Circus, or Brian Brushwood...
Bill & Ted this year was a mixed bag for me. I thought the show last year was funnier, and more a return to form. This year was hit or miss. Some stuff worked, other stuff fell flat. I get that Universal likes to take jabs at Disney with this show a lot, but I think it went a little overboard. The jokes got stale after a while. Nothing to me really stood out, or was even that memorable. Even the music used this year, wasn't anything special. So many other tunes could have been used. I don't really want to say this year was lazy, as the show wasn't as bad as in years past, but it was a pretty flat show.
SOLID HOUSE LINE-UP, BUT WEAK IN GENERAL
If it weren't for the strong Houses, HHN XXIV would have ended up a dud of a year. The Scare Zones were mostly weak, and some were plagued with changes for the worse. Other odd quirky decisions, especially made in daily operations, also made me scratch my head sometimes. The final days brought Legendary Truth back, which was a good thing. However, The Compound was disgusting, and the crowds were scary. You know something is wrong when you are waiting 45 minutes in the EXPRESS LINE.
I'm disappointed in a lot of the decisions I saw being made this year, for the sole purpose of making some cheddar. I leave HHN XXIV conflicted as a fan for the first time ever. It saddens me, as a person who spends all year living and breathing this event. I really don't want to jump on the Haterade train for HHN, and I won't. But I gotta tell ya, I may be double thinking whatever happens from here on out. I'll be scrutinizing a lot of decisions as we movie forward.
I would also like to make mention of all the wonderful fellow HHN fans, I got to hangout with this year. HHN has become a macabre family reunion of sorts the past few years. I always look forward to meeting other fans like myself. We all love the event collectively, and it's nice to experience Halloween Horror Nights, with some of the best people in the world. I do want to also thank the great Mike Aiello and his team, I know everyone does work hard to try and bring us the best event they can.
That wraps up HHN XXIV, and now it's time to look to next year. Seems like we may have some surprises coming, or perhaps, we don't know jack...
HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS XXIV
HHN LEGACY OWNER