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Now in our eleventh calendar year!
PCR #553 (Vol. 11, No. 44). This edition is for the week of October 25--31, 2010.

"Conviction"  by Mike Smith
Friday the 13th: The Legacy Part 2  by ED Tucker
Halloween Horror Nights 2010: Been There -– Glad It’s Back  by Brandon Tomasello
October's Album of the Month, Swans-My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope......  by Terence Nuzum
The Great Yokai War  by Jason Fetters
They're Dead .... They're The Walking Dead .... .... .... .... .... .... .... Mike's Record Shelf by Mike Smith
Guest Editorial:
Halloween Horror Nights 2010: Been There -– Glad It’s Back
By Brandon Tomasello

I feel it is important to lay some quick ground work about my Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) experience. I give due deference to anyone who has been attending this annual event since its inception in 1991 under the title “Fright Nights”. I myself have attended since its third year and have traditionally anticipated its annual arrival with more fervor than Christmas. My opinion of HHN has depressingly diminished over the past few years. I contest that the reason is not due to the idea that nostalgia is never as good as reality. To the contrary, I can pinpoint exact reasons as to why the HHNs of yesteryear are better than the most recent editions. I won’t list them here, but to sum it up there are two things I want from a HHN and it centers around their mazes, not the scarezones or shows: I want to be scared or at least close to it; and I want the design to be creative. Last year HHN failed so badly in both that I seriously contemplated not returning this year.

This was a hard concept to face for me. Seventeen years in a row –- to not attend would mean the end of a meaningful time of my life. Could it be that HHN turned a new leaf and will give me I want? Nay, what I need? They weren’t off to a good start. The website didn’t present the theme until just short of 30 days before opening night - surely a sign of a low degree of thought and planning. I normally host a trivia show on Thursday night. It was suddenly cancelled. Instead of paying $60 for a ticket and $60 for the absolutely necessary express pass on a weekend, I would only have to pay $40. The trade-off is that the park closes earlier on Thursday and Sunday: 6:30 pm to midnight, for a total of 5 ½ hours to do 8 mazes. On October 5th I purchased two tickets for myself and my best friend, Jeannine, for October 7th. The fact that I was able to purchase two tickets only two days prior seemed like a good sign that Universal didn’t over sell.

Jeannine, her daughter Krysten, and Krysten’s fiancée, Billy, met me at the perfect launching pad for HHN, Margaritaville. They arrived to find me quite happy. We departed at 6:15 [tip: they always open the gate 30 minutes before schedule] and the entry was effortless. The theme for HHN 2010 is Twenty years of Fear, where “Fear” is the iconic mascot, sort of a demonic fleshy looking alien. In hindsight, the only place you’d find it is on the website – I certainly didn’t see Fear at the event.

We began counter-clockwise from the entrance with …

  1. Legendary Truth. Nice maze to begin the evening. They are getting back to basics here – a good sign. They took full advantage of corners to scare you with. But the ghouls were just people wearing glow-in-the-dark theater masks. Next was …

  2. PsychoScareapy. Getting better. Where Legendary Truth was pretty much a haunted house, PsychoScareapy was, as the name implies, a haunted asylum. Where the former was par for creativity (a good thing), psychoscareapy stepped up the atmosphere with patients in full Universal-studio quality make-up. Fear factor was high as monsters strike from all areas including above and below. One of my two favorite mazes, along with …

  3. Hades, which we entered after experiencing the Mummy ride. This was the most impressively designed maze, beginning with the ominous entrance. Fear factor was again high, but with monsters larger than life, reminiscent of the ghost of Christmas future in Scrooged.

Because I had the feeling that others in my party may get tired of mazes one right after another, we sacrificed two haunted mazes (Havoc and Zombiegeddon) in order to ride Jaws (always a favorite), Men in Black, and The Simpsons ride. After The Simpsons the next haunted house was …

  1. Catacombs – this looked to be a promising maze with a great entrance and wonderfully detailed design … and then halfway through the maze it was as if the creators forgot to finish the job. I don’t mind dark if there is a purpose other than lack of design. This was a definite anti-climactic letdown.

  2. Hallow’d Past – the line up to this maze was so incredibly foolish it affected the entire night (see below). One enters a warehouse/museum of the most recent HHNs mazes, including the Saw mask and pigs head - interesting at best. Thankfully they utilized the spinning tunnel and this year’s house-of-mirrors portion was dark enough to be relatively effective with scary clowns.

  3. Orphanage – upon the recommendation of a staff member, we raced to make it to this maze before the midnight closing, having heard that Zombiegeddon was subpar and gas masks aren’t scary to me so we decided against Havoc. We heard that there were actual parts of the burned down orphanage that were still on fire. Wowzers! What a lame house. There were hardly ANY ghouls to jump out. As for creativity, everything was burnt. Yay! Terrible way to end the evening.

I can sum up my experience in two sentences. If you’ve never been before, go to this year’s HHN – to an extent it makes up for the past two years. If you’ve been before, you can take it or leave it – mostly leave it – because it doesn’t rank as high as an average HHN.

If you’ve never been, here are some tips to remember. On a Thursday or Sunday night you cannot enjoy all of the rides and scarezones and shows and mazes without an express pass, so just do the mazes. You may expect up to 60 minute waits for maybe 3 of the mazes, typical of the first 3 weeks of October. That time gets longer the last two weeks of October. The 6 mazes and three scarezones we experienced were fun. If you can squeeze in a show, choose Bill and Ted which the past two years have been terrible but at least it will reflect the past year’s pop culture events for a modicum of entertainment value. If you go on a Friday or Saturday, don’t, tickets are $120. You must think of it that way because to go without an express pass would be tremendous waste of time and energy.

If you’ve been before, my verdict would be: don’t bother going this year. I’m glad I went just so I could recommend that. By no means is it as bad as the past two years. Last year was an overall disappointment except for the Wolfman and the vampire maze was decent. Two years ago HHN had fanciful designs and fascinating costumes with nary a sign of scariness. The bar has been lowered enough for newbies to appreciate this year’s edition, but for us veterans the overall experience is one that I would expect from a lower priced venue. We remember hanging ghouls jumping off of the ledge down towards the spectators WITHIN the haunted maze. They had great misdirection in an exorcist type bloody bed. Even about 5 years ago they had a house called Pitch Black where you went through a maze that was absolute blackness walking through tight hallways of black fabric where you could hear the ghouls right next to you. This was an incredible assault on the senses that culminated in a pupil blinding, neon lime green room where the ghouls would jump at you also disguised in neon lime green. This was both creative and scary even though it was low-budget. This year? It just hardly compares. Again, Universal created a standard haunted house and scarezone experience which was satisfactory for $40 and unsatisfactory for $120. The wait-line setup for Hallow’d Past was simply stupid. A 30-minute wait-line ended up being 50 minutes because they converged the express line and the regular line at an foolish point. The potential for fear in Orphanage and the design of the Catacombs was tremendous, amplifying the resulting disappointment of both of these mazes. They're on the right track to bringing back the HHN quality of the past, but this year, maybe veterans should try Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens.

To comment on this or any other PCR article, please visit The Message Board. "Halloween Horror Nights 2010: Been There – Glad It’s Back" is ©2010 by Brandon Tomasello. Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2010 by Nolan B. Canova.