For the most part, Universal’s slate of haunted houses this year is a success. “Halloween” is a pitch-perfect homage to John Carpenter’s 1978 classic. “The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare” will surprise Horror Nights purists, as the collaboration between the event and singer Abel Tesfaye is appropriately disorienting and surprisingly gory. “Spirits of the Coven” is also a stand-out for its immersive theming and storytelling.
“Bugs: Eaten Alive” strikes a good balance between creepiness and campiness, as its over-the-top bug designs elicit both screams and chuckles. “Fiesta de Chupacabra” also makes good use of puppetry to convey the titular folk creature while also honoring the various Hispanic and Latinx communities that call Orlando home.
However, one house is undeniably the best of the bunch. “Dead Man’s Pier: Winter’s Wake” is both aesthetically gorgeous and teeming with startling scares. It also stands as perhaps the most depressing house the Universal Orlando team has created, and if there is one house that absolutely must be experienced at the event, it is “Dead Man’s Pier.”
Some houses, unfortunately, are not quite as effective. “Horrors of Blumhouse,” which features scenes from “Freaky” and “The Black Phone,” has some very disconnected scene transitions that suck the tension out of the experience, as well as some obvious cast absences (sorry, there are no Vince Vaughn lookalikes in the “Freaky” section). “Universal Monsters: Legends Collide” also feels more like solely The Mummy’s story instead of the crossover with Dracula and The Wolfman teased in promotional material.