we made our triumphant return to halloween horror nights! honestly i’m pretty sure we’re gonna try to do this basically every year if we can.
we also watched all the movies the licensed property attractions are based on beforehand because that’s the kind of fucking nerd i am. you know this.
dracula (movie 1931)
i’m finally actually reading dracula thanks to the internet phenomenon that is dracula daily, so i spent a lot of the early part of the movie cracking jokes like “this is just like bram stoker’s novel, dracula!”
i’m always happy for any excuse to revisit this movie, because it’s just a stone cold classic. bela lugosi is the definitive dracula, and his confrontations with van helsing here absolutely sizzle. there are plenty of other great (and plenty of other not-so-great) film adaptations of bram stoker’s novel, but i think this is always going to be the definitive one for me.
it’s also super obvious that it was based on a play adaptation, and i honestly think that’s part of what makes this such a timeless classic? it’s so heavily reliant on a great script and fantastic acting from the aforementioned lugosi, and that’s just always going to be the kind of movie from this era that has the best chance of withstanding the test of time. a-rank
the mummy (movie 1932)
okay this wasn’t quite as boring as i remembered it being but it was for sure as racist as i remembered it being. and like, apart from all that it was just kind of not a super great monster movie?
like, it was fine i guess, but i’d really like a more… mummy-y mummy? rather than just boris karloff in brownface under “dead guy” makeup. idk.
i get that that would kind of limit the kind of story you can tell, but it’s not like this was an amazing, unmissable story. i’m almost certain the writer who gave us the definitive film version of dracula could’ve figured something out that’s more fun than this. c-rank
the wolf man (movie 1941)
i remembered this being boring and kinda somber, but nah it’s actually just a pretty straightforwardly fun werewolf movie with plenty of ridiculous hijinx, but like, with all the incredible production design and strangely comforting cinematography of a universal monsters movie.
yeah, of course there’s stuff i don’t like. talbot is a creeper who spies on a woman with a telescope and then tries to get her to go on a date with him by just literally refusing to take no for an answer. also there’s some casual racism against romani people, because of course there is literally all of these movies have casual racism in them. also i made fun of talbot so hard when he was transforming. like, “no! no! i don’t want to be a hot furry! noooo!”
on a positive note i totally forgot and was super surprised that they gave his wolfman form digitigrade feet! hell yeah.
also shout out to bela lugosi for playing both a vampire and a werewolf in two of the first seminal motion pictures about both. dude played a mean game of movie monster bingo. i feel like we could’ve given him a more creative name then “bela,” though. and i don’t super get why his bite turns talbot into a wolf-man but he himself just fully transforms into a wolf. shrug! b-rank
universal monsters: legends collide (theme park attraction 2022)
so, yeah! they opened the gates for halloween horror nights about half an hour early (my understanding is they open it basically as soon as they’re ready, so they oftentimes end up being a little early) and it took us a while to get through the line. the lines for the halloween haunted house and the weekend haunted house (more on that later) immediately exploded to over an hour wait for both, so we headed for universal monsters: legends collide.
we passed through some of the scarezones on the way there, but didn’t really stop to enjoy them because we figured we were better off getting in a line as soon as possible after opening, but i still got to be adorably (and kinda flirtily) shy & scared when some of the scare actors jumped at me, so that was cool.
while we were queuing up for the universal monsters haunted house, the sky just absolutely opened up. a few people in line whipped out ponchos, we were equipped with umbrellas. the rain honestly did kinda suck in the sense that it sometimes limited how much we could interact in line, but we also knew it would likely drive some people away and make some of the lines shorter, so that kind of changed our strategy for the rest of the night honestly.
in spite of the umbrellas i did get pretty soaked waiting in line for this one, but eventually we put away our umbrellas and put on our masks (the pandemic is still a pandemic no matter what certain presidents who shall remain nameless have said, y’all) and made our way inside.
this mashup of three monsters didn’t have an obvious, epic story like last year’s bride of frankenstein house, but it didn’t do anything to dissuade me from the belief that the universal monsters house is just always going to be a must-see house every year. and honestly the story that it did have wasn’t half-bad, it might’ve even made a better monster mash movie than house of frankenstein or house of dracula? dracula basically preys on wolf man’s strange desire not to be a werewolf by sending him an anonymous letter about an amulet that can control the power of the sun while the mummy is woken by a high priest to protect said amulet. dracula is hoping to exploit the confusion to steal the amulet for himself to give himself the power to prey in the day as well as at night.
as always the scenery and costumes were just phenomenal. in addition to the just generally great production values of the setting, there were specifically some really cool anubis statues. i’ve mentioned before that usually my strategy in these haunted houses is to hide behind my partner to encourage the scare actors to see me as a weaker target and bully me, but since the universal monster houses are less about the spooks and more about the awesome scenery and attention to detail, i ended up deciding to take the lead for this one.
and yeah, even though he’s hardly one of the hotter werewolves out there, i still totally shyly waved or threw heart emojis at some of the wolf man scare actors we came across. no shame here.
halloween (movie 1978)
i kind of don’t really have anything new to say about halloween?
i will reiterate as i often do that if you’ve only seen it once and didn’t really care for it it’s probably worth giving it a second viewing, because it took me two viewings for it to really “click.” i think more modern slashers (which this paved the way for) have trained me to expect more to “happen,” whereas halloween is much more about the vibes. and even on my first viewing before it clicked for me, even i wasn’t too dense to notice that john carpenter’s score is just phenomenal.
oh, i guess there is something i don’t think i talked about in my previous reviews. it becomes much more obvious in later movies, but wow dr. loomis really is the secret villain of this series. he is just the fucking worst psychiatrist ever. every story he tells that’s supposed to hammer home how scary michael is actually tells me that he is just completely awful at his job. what’s that, you say? he’s “evil incarnate”? interesting, interesting. what’s the diagnostic criteria for “evil incarnate”? what’s the treatment protocol for it? i mean, besides apparently *checks notes* … heavily drugging him before you take him to court. the fact that these movies aren’t in on dr. loomis being the fucking worst is honestly the worst thing about them.
but yeah, other than that this movie just does everything right. you spend just long enough with all the characters to get a feel for who they are and develop some kind of attachment to them, all while michael kind of creeps around in the background and occasionally pops up like a creeper but doesn’t really do anything at first. and then he just starts slowly, silently, remorselessly mowing through them.
it’s no wonder that the industry has been aping this thing for over 40 years now. it’s just perfect. long live the slasher movies. a-rank
halloween (theme park attraction 2022)
by the time we got out of the universal monsters house it was just pouring rain, and in spite of our umbrellas we got pretty soaked, but we also saw that all of the haunted houses had unbelievably short waits. i think the wait for this one was something like 35 minutes, when it has pretty consistently been averaging over an hour even on slow nights.
this was seriously a charmed couple of days for theme park excursions. we were actually coming off of a much more ridiculous day where we had been to all four disney parks and ridden the most popular ride in three of the four. the number of things that had to go right for us to have that day were just ridiculous. the biggest thing that broke in our favor is that rise of the resistance had been closed all morning but they just happened to open it back up right when we were walking past it, making it very nearly a walk-on. after riding a ton of rides in hollywood studios we hopped over to epcot to score a virtual queue spot for cosmic rewind, hopped right over magic kingdom to ride haunted mansion, then over to animal kingdom at which point it started pouring rain and as a result flight of passage ended up being basically a walk-on??? then we rode na’vi river journey twice (the secret best ride, YES I KNOW IT’S POPULAR TO HATE ON IT BUT Y’ALL ARE WRONG SORRY), and finally hopped back over to epcot for cosmic rewind.
according to my partner’s fitness tracker we walked almost 30,000 steps, but when all was said and done, we had ridden 13 rides (one of which we rode twice). not bad for the day we were going to the park “just because” and weren’t really in a particular rush to do anything. i also conquered my fear of rollercoasters to ride both rock ‘n rollercoaster and the aforementioned cosmic rewind. turns out i really like launchcoasters?
seriously, though, you could go to disney a hundred times and never have as much luck as we did that day. it’s just wild. and as if to hammer home just how truly ridiculous the day had been, literally right as we were walking past spaceship earth they did the little ceremony they do every night when they turn on the exterior lights. at that point we just literally laughed and looked at each other and said, “this is ridiculous, right? it’s completely ridiculous.” and it was.
so, yeah, the rain chased people out of lines, which was awesome because our original plan was to do one of the licensed haunted houses (which ended up being universal monsters) at the beginning of the night and then save our longest line (probably halloween) for the end of the night. instead, here we were just over an hour into our night and already about to knock out two of what should have been the longer waits.
i’m going to be honest, even though i love halloween and i was sure they were going to do a good job, i wasn’t actually super excited for this haunted house? it kind of mirrored my experience with the beetlejuice house last year. like, again, i knew it would be very impressive and i would like it, but my thinking with these always ends up being more or less “they’re just going to recreate some of the best scenes from the movie, right?” and my inclination is always to think that i’m going to get more out of the houses that aren’t based on licensed properties or the universal monsters house where it’s based on a licensed property but they’re explicitly telling their own story, right?
there is certainly a lot of truth to that, but wow were my expectations for this house not nearly high enough. they just nailed this one. which makes sense because they for sure threw a ton of resources at it, but i’m still just beyond impressed with how they not only recreated a lot of the best scenes from the movie but just really, truly made you feel like you were there, like you were a part of them and actually experiencing them. the scare actors were on point. seriously, this was just incredible.
also after the recreation of the opening scene where a clown-masked michael kills his older sister, they had a title card??? like, there was this pitch black room with the actual freaking title card from the movie brightly illuminated and it was conceptually adorable but also just damn impressively moody and i actually just cannot believe how effectively they translated this movie into a theme park attraction. i’m actually in awe. i know they do this with at least one of these movies every year, but it’s still hard not to feel like “how did they do that???” every single time.
freaky (movie 2020)
this was my second time watching this, and it pretty effectively crystallized my opinion that this movie kinda rules? this is an even more direct “[other movie], but horror movie!” than happy death day, though it was apparently directly inspired by happy death day and color me 0% shocked. but as you can probably tell from the title this one wears it on its sleeve a bit more and i really want this sort of thing to catch on tbh, like yeah sign me the fuck up for the truman horror show or ferris buehler’s day getting murdered or whatever the fuck.
i still like happy death day better because i’m kinda always gonna go for a masked, mysterious killer over “oh yeah he’s just clearly a serial killer, we kinda just imported serial killer dot jpeg,” and i just vibe with it a lot more in general, but there are also some things in freaky’s favor. like the fact that while i initially rolled my eyes at the white girl protagonist’s best friends being a black girl and a gay guy, they actually stuck around for the whole movie and weren’t just there for one or two scenes establishing that the protagonist has friends so those friends can get murdered. plus it turns out the actor who played the gay guy is an enby, so that freaking rules.
there’s also some great bondage in this, which isn’t the case in either happy death day movie, so there is that. although happy death day is much moreso kinda low-key nonspecifically horny the whole time like slashers often are, and freaky doesn’t quite have that vibe as much? so there is that.
again, though, i just really like this new wave of slashers and wish we got new ones more often! even when they’re just kinda okay i pretty much always end up really liking them. b-rank
the black phone (movie 2021)
this feels like it could be one of those late 70s to early 90s blockbusters with child protagonists type deals where it works in pretty much any genre (like how e.t. is a “scifi” movie and the sandlot is a “sports” movie) but they plopped a crime/horror plot onto it instead. this is not a criticism, by the way. i freaking loved the setting and characters, and the throwbacky sort of vibes of having everyone dealing with school and bullying and whatnot.
i did find it pretty damn infuriating that by the time the main action of the movie was getting going five children had been abducted and apparently no precautions were being taken to do anything to, you know, put a stop to it? mandatory buddy system? escorting kids to/from school? hell, canceling school for at least a week or two? something? anything? this isn’t a criticism of the movie, really. just a feeling i had while watching it.
also, the protagonist siblings’ father was an abusive piece of shit and i really hope they didn’t forgive him. they appeared to basically ignore his tearful apology at the end of the movie which, y’know, good.
other than him (and the kidnapper, obviously), all the characters are awesome. you really feel for the protagonist as his friends (or at least acquaintances) start dropping like flies. starting with the kid who hit a home run against him in little league at the beginning of the movie. i loved how he (literally) tipped his hat to him all cocky-like while he was rounding the bases but also complimented his pitching when they were shaking hands afterwards. if this were a different genre of movie we would fast forward to them in college or something and they would be a couple.
also obviously i loved the boy named robin who loved movies and was the toughest kid in school and protected all the other kids from bullies. no that’s for sure not my vibe, but it’s still always great to see someone with my name being all awesome, you know? like he’s exactly the kind of kid i would’ve had a crush on at that age. in a movie that’s notable for amazing characterization across the board, his was still noticeably great.
if you’ve read the summary you know a big part of the movie’s plot is that once the protagonist himself gets kidnapped, all the previous victims are able to communicate with him via the titular black phone. i just love love loved all the solidarity the former victims showed through these interactions. some of them i’d describe as combative solidarity, like basically bullying him into not giving up.
honestly though, this movie would’ve been super awesome even if it were just a slice of life drama and the crime/horror plot never showed up. even though i knew it was kind of its entire deal, i genuinely hated it every time a kid disappeared, because all the characters and relationships in the movie are so much fun to follow, and you just start really liking them and wanting them to be happy and okay. yeah, okay, i guess it’s kinda like that’s exactly how horror movies are supposed to work, shhh. b-rank
the horrors of blumhouse (theme park attraction 2022)
it was still raining when we got out of halloween but wait times were nevertheless starting to go up. but the last licensed house we wanted to do still had about a half hour wait so we decided to jump on that before it got longer. and then all we would have left for the rest of the night was original concept houses, which would be a huge, unexpected load off.
the horrors of blumhouse was much more the kind of experience i expect to have in the haunted houses based on licensed properties. it did a great job of recreating scenes from both movies it’s based on, sometimes in pretty clever ways. mashing both movies up into one house was a pretty good way to get mileage out of both of them, because i don’t think either one could have carried a house on its own honestly. but as much as i appreciate the effort that went into this one, it just wasn’t that scary? and unlike the universal monsters houses, it doesn’t really offer anything else to make up for its lack of scariness?
i don’t know. probably the fact that we did it right after the fucking incredible halloween house didn’t do it any favors, but at the end of the day this one just really didn’t leave much of an impression on me. it was fine.
haunted houses & scarezones (theme park attractions 2022)
the only licensed property haunted house i haven’t mentioned yet was the weekend: after hours nightmare, and i’m sure it’s great because they probably put a lot of resources & effort into it but it was nevertheless a pretty easy skip. neither of us listen to the band, the overall concept of having a haunted house based on an album seems kinda weird tbh, and word of mouth had this as one of the longest lines every day so it was basically the same situation as stranger things in 2019 or that other netflix series neither of us watched last year.
so that just leaves the always-awesome original houses! of those, we only missed out on dead man’s pier: winter’s wake and descendants of destruction. both of them sounded pretty up my alley (especially dead man’s pier), but we only had time for so many!
the ones we made it to kicked ass as always, though. the first one we made it to, as the rain was starting to truly calm down, was fiesta de chupacabras. the story here is basically that a village is luring clueless tourists in so they can kidnap them, kill them, and feed them to the chupacabras to avoid being preyed on themselves. there’s some fantastic bondage & murder imagery going on throughout, which if you’ve been following me for long you know i’m hella into because i’m that kind of a weirdo. i kinda wish the villagers had more explicitly threatened us with the same fate, but it was pretty heavily implied! also the chupacabra animatronics were fantastic.
next up was spirits of the coven, which it will likely shock no one is the one i was the most insistent upon not missing. the general idea is that it’s the 1920s and a bunch of witches are running a speakeasy that lured in men to be kidnapped & murdered to be used as ingredients in their “witches’ brew.” obviously i don’t love the heteronormativity there, but whatever! the setting was awesome, the costumes were awesome, and as long as they also accept enby victims i love the implied peril of the whole thing. and there’s even some great bondage imagery towards the end with some of their victims’ eyes & mouths sewed shut! gnarly.
after this the rain basically stopped and they finally started to run the scarezones again, so as we were making our way through the last few haunted houses we started taking our time going through all the scarezones because honestly they’re just as fun as the haunted houses in their own way? i don’t have any specific notes on any of them, but yeah they were all on point as always seems to be the case!
we were both running out of steam when we made it to our penultimate haunted house, bugs: eaten alive. i find bugs genuinely gross & creepy irl, while i oftentimes find giant & monstrous bugs super hot, so i knew one way or another this house would probably be quite a bit of fun and i’d probably feel some kinda way about it. it ended up being weighed more heavily towards the latter, especially with the last few stretches of the haunted house taking place in this absolutely awesome set with this huge honeycomb and some badass web effects.
last but very much not least was hellblock horror, which as its name implies is a house whose concept is that a bunch of monsters are locked up in cages and, rude oversight!, i’m not locked up with them??? okay this is a rather silly & dumb quibble, but i would’ve liked a lot more restraint imagery given the theme of this one!! but oh well. on a positive note, one of the last rooms is dominated by a single huge cage with a swamp yeti inside of it and despite there being plenty of other people in the room the monster made sustained eye contact with me while i cowered cutely, so yeah i think i won halloween horror nights?
seriously, though, i had a blast as always. well, to the extent that a sample size of three can be described with words like “always.” i’m so profoundly glad this has become a tradition for my partner & i, and i’m already excited for the next time we go!