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Scare scale: Ranking the best houses of Halloween Horror Nights

We ranked these houses based on spookiness

Halloween Horror Nights 2021 (McReynolds)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Halloween Horror Nights opened for its 30th year to some terrifying screams Friday night at Universal Orlando Resort.

After a pandemic-related absence of almost two years, fans were eager to once again experience 10 sinister haunted houses, five scare zones and two all-new shows.

Horror fans had to pack a poncho as the beginning of the evening had some lingering rain showers, but it later cleared up for a fantastic sold-out opening event.

For its highly-anticipated 30th year, Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights unleashed a legion of horror legends, pop culture greats and haunting original stories. Some of this year’s haunted houses are inspired by the movies, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” Netflix’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” Tim Burton’s “Beetlejuice,” and “The Bride of Frankenstein.”

Diabolical surprises lurk around every corner in some of the scare zones this year, including “Seek and Destroy,” “Gorewood Forest,” and “Lights, Camera, Hacktion: Eddie’s Revenge.”

News 6 producer Landon McReynolds and morning reporter Ezzy Castro had the opportunity to experience the event, hear from the show creators and rank their favorite houses.

They put together a guide of everything you need to know about this year’s event, including where each house stands on their “must do” list.

See their full reviews and rankings below.


Houses

HHN Icons: Captured

Landon’s ranking: No. 1 | Ezzy’s ranking: No. 2

(Universal Orlando)

The most notorious Halloween Horror Nights icons in Universal Orlando history will join forces to inflict unimaginable terror upon guests in the all-original haunted house – Halloween Horror Nights Icons: Captured.

“This house is one that I think all the horror fans will love. The classic icons of years past -- all in one house -- were fantastic. We’re talking Jack, Chance and even most recently, Lady Luck. Look out for the Undertaker. You have been warned! So glad our tour guide left this one for last because it ended the night on such a high note,” McReynolds said.

Universal said the sinister new experience will thrust guests into a monstrous “Hell of Fame” where they’ll face The Caretaker, The Director, The Usher, The Storyteller, Jack the Clown, Chance and more.

“I actually got a sneak peek ahead of opening night, and I was very curious about this house since Universal brought some of the HHN icons back this year,” Castro said. “I think bringing Jack back was awesome! The storyline here is fantastic. I did jump a few times! P.S., the smell of popcorn was great!”


The Haunting of Hill House

Landon’s ranking: No. 3 | Ezzy’s ranking: No. 6

(McReynolds)

Enter the decaying remains of an aging mansion that lives – even if all who dwell there are long dead. Step right into Netflix’s supernatural masterpiece, The Haunting of Hill House.

“Fan of the show? You will absolutely love this house! The façade is beautiful, and there are a ton of scares throughout. I would honestly say, take it slow and look around (which is not something most scared people do),” McReynolds said.

As guests walk through the maze, they will see iconic scenes from the series, including the omni-powerful Red Room -- the heart of Hill House, the infamous Hall of Statues, the terrifying ghost in the basement and several apparitions, including the Bent-Neck Lady.

“If you have watched this show on Netflix, then chances are, you’re going to be excited for this house. What I liked was that it was very spacious. So take your time with this one,” Castro said.


Puppet Theatre: Captive Audience

Landon’s ranking: No. 4 | Ezzy’s ranking: No. 10

(McReynolds)

Get ready to step inside a creepy abandoned old theater from early 1900s San Francisco. A puppeteer and a ballet troupe have been trapped there ever since, and they’d kill for an audience. Whether you’re a puppet or a patron, that’s your cue to scream. They will take any body they can find.

“This was actually the first house we did on opening night. All I remember was this quote, ‘The show must go on,’” Castro said.

The creators said some of the haunted house’s prominent characters are not only the demented puppets, but the giant red curtain in the theater. Officials said the curtain can be seen in multiple rooms as guests see the horrors backstage, in the orchestra pit and even where the audience would sit.

“This house is just creepy. Dolls, a terrorizing theater and gore. The outside had another beautiful façade to it with the theatre collapse and burning,” McReynolds said. “I do remember seeing a few cool spots in this house. The room with the puppets hanging, and the moment you step in front of the curtain for the brief moments.”


Wicked Growth: Realm of the Pumpkin

Landon’s ranking: No. 2 | Ezzy’s ranking: No. 9

(McReynolds)

The beloved tradition of Halloween has more sinister roots waiting to be unearthed, and the grower of this ritual, the Pumpkin Lord, is preparing for his yearly human harvest in “Wicked Growth: Realm of the Pumpkin.”

“We all have our version of the pumpkin king -- but don’t get ‘twisted’ in this house,” Castro said. “Also, I think guests will enjoy the nice smell of pumpkins. (It’s a) good way to start off Halloween. This is the house where I had my first scream of the night.”

Universal said guests will find themselves trapped in an endless maze of traditional Halloween domains, including a dilapidated haunted house, an ominous graveyard and even a wicked witch’s cottage that is all overrun by ruthless creatures engulfed in a ghastly pumpkin growth.

“Ezzy and I had two different views on this house,” McReynolds pointed out. “However, I thought this house was fantastic. Vines are taking over the walls, and as you get deeper and deeper inside, you get closer to the Pumpkin Lord -- and that moment you find him is great. Also, that entrance is on point.”


Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives!

Landon’s ranking: No. 9 | Ezzy’s ranking: No. 4

(Universal Orlando)

Returning from last year’s daytime run, Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives picks up where the 1935 classic film, “The Bride of Frankenstein,” left off, thrusting guests into chaos as the Bride becomes an unstoppable scientist and begins her mission to revive Frankenstein’s monster.

“I was fortunate enough to experience this house last year during the daytime event. Nothing much had changed for me. It’s an awesome house, don’t get me wrong, with plenty of good jump scares throughout, but I had just done it before,” McReynolds said.

Castro added, “(I was) glad to see the Bride of Frankenstein had her own house this year. I loved seeing all the other brides throughout the house.”


Revenge of the Tooth Fairy

Landon’s ranking: No. 8 | Ezzy’s ranking: No. 5

(McReynolds)

Also returning from a run last year is “Revenge of the Tooth Fairy.” The house will entice guests to uncover the darker ritual behind an innocent childhood tradition. Long ago, parents struck a bargain with vicious, goblin-esque tooth fairies to protect their children from these evil creatures who crave pearly whites. All children must give up their baby teeth or pay a gruesome price. Guests will step into a heinous realm of blood, teeth and gore, where these fairies extract their toothed bounty by force -- and the only way out is to hold in their screams and keep their mouths shut.

“This house was my favorite during last year’s daytime event. The original house has a beautiful storybook façade that transports you into this evil story about one boy who says no to the tooth fairy. Loved it!” McReynolds said.

“I really enjoyed the start of this house, because you’re reading a fairy tale at first, but don’t get too comfortable,” Castro advised. “Things get gory real quick.”


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Landon’s ranking: No. 6 | Ezzy’s ranking: No. 3

(Ezzy Castro)

Inspired by the 1974 slasher film, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” guests will walk through a harrowing and intense experience as they try and escape the horrifying character, Leatherface. Guests will embark on a killer journey through a series of familiar scenes from the film -- and eventually fall victim to a family of cannibals.

“I’m not a big fan of the movie, but creators did a great job making sure this felt like Texas! Like I said before, it wouldn’t be Halloween Horror Nights without the chainsaws, and this house has plenty of them. So get ready! It will be loud in there,” Castro laughed.

“The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of TEXAS! Get ready to sing that song -- with a little bit of blood and guts thrown in. This house is sick, twisted, and had me holding my breath at points,” McReynolds said.


Beetlejuice

Landon’s ranking: No. 7 | Ezzy’s ranking: No. 1

(Universal Orlando)

Get ready to say his name three times!

Guests will wander checkered hallways and through the model graveyard as the infamous bio-exorcist, Beetlejuice, haunts you at every turn.

“This house was so much fun. I was very excited to check this one out, because I grew up watching this movie and I’m a fan of Tim Burton movies. The house brings Beetlejuice back to life. Also, if you feel like dancing, you’ll have that moment to do so to the ‘Banana Boat’ song,” Castro said.

The Beetlejuice haunted house will let people enter the world of Tim Burton’s famous 1988 film. Last year, fans of the popular character had a short, limited two-day opportunity to experience the house during Universal’s daytime Halloween event.

“This house is a lot of fun! I love the level of detail the creators pulled from the film. One of the highlights I remember is the afterlife waiting room. I would not miss this house,” McReynolds said.


Case Files Unearthed: Legendary Truth

Landon’s ranking: No. 5 | Ezzy’s ranking: No. 7

(Universal Orlando)

In “Case Files Unearthed: Legendary Truth,” guests will step into the well-worn shoes of the infamous Boris Shuster, who is the elusive private eye investigating the supernatural as he endlessly searches for clues to a series of strange occurrences throughout New York City. Falling further into the shadowy, dark world of the paranormal, guests will face an overwhelming onslaught of ghouls, poltergeists and terrors, all while trying to solve the biggest mystery of them all.

“You go back in time with this one. Between the 1940s, then back to 1991,” Castro explained. “My favorite part of this house was the ‘40s bar/club scene.”

“As our tour guide said before we entered this house, it’s truly for the Halloween Horror Nights fans who have noticed small hints over the years,” McReynolds added. “‘Hell on Earth’ has been unleashed, and there are a bunch of good scares throughout the house. (I) loved the stories that unravel as you move through.”


Welcome to SCarey: Horror in the Heartland

Landon’s ranking: No. 10 | Ezzy’s ranking: No. 8

(McReynolds)

Some of the most haunting original stories from Halloween Horror Nights over the years have been set in the mysterious town of Carey, Ohio, and this year, “Welcome to SCarey: Horror in the Heartland” will combine these stories and bring them to life once again in a first-ever haunted house that pays homage to the event’s 30-year history.

“Our tour guide called this the anniversary house for horror night fans. I don’t think it was really scary, but it was just fun to walk through,” McReynolds said.

“I thought it was cool how creators brought back ‘Meetz Meats’ from ‘Leave it to Cleaver.’ That part of the house was ... interesting,” Castro explained.


Complete Rankings

Jack the Clown at Halloween Horror Nights opening night on Sept. 3, 2021 (McReynolds)

Ezzy’s favorite houses:

  1. Beetlejuice
  2. HHN Icons: Captured
  3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  4. Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives!
  5. Revenge of the Tooth Fairy
  6. The Haunting of Hill House
  7. Case Files Unearthed: Legendary Truth
  8. Welcome to SCarey: Horror in the Heartland
  9. Wicked Growth: Realm of the Pumpkin
  10. Puppet Theatre: Captive Audience

Landon’s favorite houses:

  1. HHN Icons: Captured
  2. Wicked Growth: Realm of the Pumpkin
  3. The Haunting of Hill House
  4. Puppet Theatre: Captive Audience
  5. Case Files Unearthed: Legendary Truth
  6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  7. Beetlejuice
  8. Revenge of the Tooth Fairy
  9. Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives!
  10. Welcome to SCarey: Horror in the Heartland

Scare zones

30 Years, 30 Fears

Halloween Horror Nights opening night Sept. 3, 2021 (McReynolds)

The most infamous characters from past Halloween Horror Nights scare zones will reunite to take over the Avenue of the Stars in “30 Years, 30 Fears.” Guests will enter a gory reunion where the past has come back to haunt them with creatures of blood and bone, beastly monstrosities and chainsaw-wielding fiends lurking around every corner.

Lights, Camera, Hacktion: Eddie’s Revenge

(Universal Orlando)

Eddie Schmidt, Jack the Clown’s diabolical brother, is returning to Halloween Horror Nights to film a gory Hollywood sequel in “Lights, Camera, Hacktion: Eddie’s Revenge” – except this time, the monsters are real. Vampires, evil clowns, creatures from the watery depths and other horrific beings from events past will roar on the scene where guests will make their short -- and painful -- cameo.

Gorewood Forest

(McReynolds)

The heartless and iconic Terra Queen is back, and her wicked plans to remake the world in her terrifying image will take root in Central Park, transforming it into the grisly “Gorewood Forest.” Guests will find nowhere to hide from her menacing minions as they harvest fresh blood to feed her ever-growing power.

Seek and Destroy

(McReynolds)

In “Seek and Destroy,” guests will find themselves in a New York dystopia where a ruthless alien cyber regime is led by The Controller, who has taken over and is relentlessly scanning the city streets for humans and turning them into fuel.

With the regime’s loyal followers hiding in the darkness, endlessly hunting for new victims, guests must either join them or be destroyed.

Crypt TV

Crypt TV (Universal Orlando)

Inside “Crypt TV,” a dark universe of monsters that reside on-screen and in their pockets will come to life. In this nightmare world that’s overtaken San Francisco, creatures of all shapes and sizes exist, including The Look-See, the Sunny Family Cult, Harclaw and Miss Annity. Now, they’ve been brought to life in a world of fear that will engulf any guest who enters.


Live shows

Marathon of Mayhem: Carnage Factory

(Universal Orlando)

Universal said the brand-new nighttime lagoon show will transform the expansive Universal Studios lagoon into renowned visions of fright, highlighting some of the top names in horror and Halloween Horror Nights history that are featured in this year’s event.

Halloween Nightmare Fuel

Halloween Nightmare Fuel show at Halloween Horror Nights (Universal Orlando)

The fiery new show will feature nocturnal creatures, aerialists of the night and frightful fire performers that are all set to pulse-pounding rock, metal and electronica music.


Universal said due to popular demand, event nights are expected to sell out and tickets should be purchased in advance.

Halloween Horror Nights runs through Oct. 31.

Click here for tickets and information.

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About the Author:

Landon joined News 6 in 2017. He grew up in Southern Illinois and graduated from Southern Illinois University with a bachelors degree in TV and digital media. When he is not at work you can catch him at one of Orlando's theme parks or the beach. Before working at News 6 he worked for stations in Miami and Fort Myers.