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28 October 2019, 11:44 | Updated: 28 October 2019, 11:46
Demogorgans, Yetis and Proton Packs at the ready, Universal Studios is ready to frighten the life out of you, as Chris Golds found out when he dared to visit their Halloween experience.
I couldn’t believe what we were witnessing… the ceiling was falling down around us, people were screaming, and there was a metallic smell in the air.
Lights were flickering on and off as if all the power was being drained from the network and music was blaring loudly in the background from abandoned speakers.
I was terrified… but also full of nervous energy. We were standing right next to ‘Eleven’ as she was using her superpowers to keep a snarling Demogorgon, with its face splayed, pinned up against the wall.
I was having the time of my life in the brand new ‘Stranger Things’, haunted house at Universal Studios Orlando.
It’s just one of 10 brand new horrifying creations at a two month long scare fest. ‘Halloween Horror Nights’ turns massive sound stages into walk through – live action experiences.
It’s described as the world’s premier Halloween event and it’s easy to see why. For 29 years the theme park that created ‘The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’ has brought to life some of the biggest names in horror and cinema in the most heart stopping way.
The world-famous theme park is used to scaring people and no one does scary like Universal. After all, they even invented the horror movie genre.
It makes for a thrilling visit any time of the year, but Halloween comes alive at their Horror Nights as I recently discovered.
With this being their 29th year, I curiously dread to think what they will create for their 30th anniversary year. I know the team has already started working on it, but I don’t think my voice will be able to handle the screaming… or will it?
Back to Eleven. Among the smoke and the flashing lights we could see the whites of the teenage girls’ eyes as she was struggling to keep the strange creature under control using her telekinetic powers. It was amazing to watch this famous tv moment in real life with every one of my senses battering me into thinking I really was in that classroom back in 1985.
It’s clear the design team at Halloween Horror Nights have worked hard alongside the creators and producers of the Netflix show to make sure everything is as authentic as it is on the real set.
As a huge fan of the series I truly felt like I was in Hawkins. No spoilers but if you thought watching what happened at the end of Series 3 in The Starcourt Mall was jaw dropping, it’s another thing altogether experiencing it in the flesh.
Catching our breath as we leave The Stranger Things house, we head off to our next adventure.
Out of nowhere, something jumps out at me with a neon chainsaw. After I’ve done my best to recover from an embarrassing yelp, I laugh out loud. I realise it is just one of Universal’s menacing ‘scare actors’. It’s their job to unnerve you as you make your way through the different districts of the park.
We’re on the Avenue of Stars. It’s as picturesque as it sounds during the day, but by night it’s a medley of 80s inspired horror scenes, and a blend of sinister synth music, fog and bright neon lights is putting us right in the heart of the action.
You’ll need to keep your wits about you (I’m still not sure I was prepared to experience some of the shocks in store) on the Streets of Hollywood is the Vanity Ball. It’s a gruesome catwalk show featuring models who have suffered at the hands of a crazy plastic surgeon. Here, beauty really is pain, and if being in the front row of this catwalk doesn’t make you think twice about a little nip-tuck, I’m not sure what will.
Wondering if we had the strength to carry on, we arrived at our next house. There’s clearly something strange going on in this neighbourhood! I was giddy with anticipation as the sci-fan in me stepped back in time to 35-years-ago.
We were in New York ready to battle the dead alongside four famous paranormal investigators - Peter, Ray, Egon and Winston. Could we really be about to fight the ‘Stay Puft Marshmallow man’ in the ‘Ghostbusters’ house?
Feeling brave for the first time that night I was ready to give it a go. The retro thrills from the iconic movie start in the gangs HQ, the ‘firehouse’. The phone rings, Janine jumps to her feet shouting in her New York accent ‘We Got one’ as the famous theme tune fills the air. “Who ya gonna call…?”.
Moments later we are quickly through into the New York Public Library as ‘Slimer’ bursts out of a wall creating havoc with books and paper flying everywhere. I wanted to see all the detail, but I also wanted to keep my head down and get out of there. My bravery was short-lived. I’m putting it down to being caught in the cross-fire of one of the Ghostbusters’ proton packs, which had left me feeling weak.
I needed a drink to calm my nerves. Luckily, Universal have catered to guests’ every need with bars and food stalls on every street, offering everything from beer to spooky cocktails and mocktails and a whole range of themed yumminess.
As well as the houses based on movies and TV shows, the twisted minds of the Universal team have this year created four original houses for thrill-seekers to scream their way through.
My favourite of these was ‘Yeti: Terror of The Yukon’ which stood out for being so visually impressive. We found ourselves transported to an isolated log camp in a remote part of Canada that’s clearly uninhabitable. What could go wrong?
Creeping inside, we felt as cold as you could be in the ‘sunshine state’ of Florida. Was it the special FX or the chilling terror of the legend of Yeti? I’ve never been so scared of snow! And that’s exactly what Halloween Horror Night is about. You can’t help but spend all evening creeping around nervous, but excited, to see what is around each corner.
Staying close to your friends and family you’ll find yourself clinging onto each other in some bizarre conga line, terrified, but laughing and convincing yourself you’re prepared for what is about to happen next.
As if the scare zones and the houses aren’t enough to give you nightmares there are also two new state of the art shows to enjoy. The most arresting was ‘Halloween Marathon of Mayhem’.
Springing forth from the depths of the Universal Studios Lagoon, giant water screens show iconic moments from Ghostbusters, Stranger Things and other iconic horror movies alongside more than 100 water fountains, awesome special effects, projections, bright lasers and pounding music. It’s a feast for the senses, there was so much to see I wanted to watch it all over again as soon as it finished.
If your adrenaline cravings still haven’t been met, many of the park’s rollercoasters stay open all night including my favourite The Revenge of the Mummy. Based on The Mummy movie franchise you’ll experience dramatic twists, drops and turns in this indoor rollercoaster.
Just like in the film, an evil mummy has risen for from the dead to cause havoc on cursed thrill-seekers. It’s one of my favourites because of the incredible special FX. You’ll be left hot and bothered once the ceiling appears to catch fire!
Fans of the boy wizard can join Harry Potter as he visits his vault deep in the bowels of Gringott’s Bank from JK Rowling’s magical world. Not everything goes to plan though on Harry Potter and Escape from Gringott’s as muggles go into battle with Dragons, Bellatrix L’Estrange and he who shall not be named ‘Voldermot’, alongside Ron and Harmonie on the thrilling rollercoaster.
Pick up your 3D goggles for this innovative ride that mixes all the excitement of a rollercoaster with the thrill of a simulator in front of massive screens.
With all the heart-pounding fun, you’ll need to make sure you look after yourself, and we chilled out at one of the Universal Studios Florida hotels.
We stayed at Loews Sapphire Falls Hotel which is just a short, free, boat ride away from all of the action at the three epic theme parks. Rooms are modern, colourful and spacious with everything you need to relax after the thrills and horror of the night.
It’s a Caribbean inspired hideaway with waterfalls at every turn designed to make you feel as calm as the summer breeze, which is certainly required.
It’s as far away from the world of the Stranger Things ‘upside down’ or the snow-capped mountains of the land of the yeti as can be.
Don’t forget, if you stay in one of the Universal hotels you can grab that early park access to avoid the crowds and have more time to pack in the fun, and there is nothing more fun than being a little, or very scared.