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Poe & projections put the 2011 edition of Universal Orlando Halloween Horror Nights over the top

Poe & projections put the 2011 edition of Universal Orlando Halloween Horror Nights over the top

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Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary ...

Copyright Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved

If you experience this year's edition of Halloween Horror Nights at the Universal Orlando Resort, you'll definitely feel a bit weak and weary as you wander towards the exits around the stroke of midnight. Not because you'll have been pouring over some "... quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore." But rather because you'll have just spent an evening exploring all of the great haunted houses & scare zones which have been set up inside of Universal Studios Florida for the 2011 version of this seasonal hard ticket.

So what are the must-sees at this year's event? To be honest, when it comes to the mazes that Universal Creative has put together this time around, it's hard for me to pick an absolute favorite. If only because each haunted house has their own sinister charm.

Frosty frights await within the walls of "Winter's Night: The Haunting of Hawthorne
Cemetery." Copyright Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved

Take - for example -- "Winter's Night: The Haunting of Hawthorne Cemetery." This HHN 21 maze impresses because of its clever use of forced perspective, not to mention its realistic atmospherics. By that I mean: it's easier to buy into the idea that you're exploring this ghost-filled graveyard in the dead of winter when the soundstage which this maze is set up in is kept so cold that you can actually seen your own breath.

Likewise, the size and scale of "The Forsaken" (which starts off in an Old Spanish and eventually takes Universal Orlando visitors across a rocking ship's deck right in the middle of a rain-and-wind-swept storm) is very impressive. And then when the crew of Columbus' lost-and-long-forgotten fourth ship come rising up out of the depth to exact their revenge ... Having all of those green-eyed scareactors suddenly come lunging out of the darkness at you is a genuinely terrifying moment.

Steve Gonsalves and Dave Tango, stars of the hit Syfy Channel series, encounter some
of the cursed souls found within "The Forsaken." Which is one of eight haunted house
s featured at this year's Halloween Horror Nights. Copyright Universal
Orlando Resort. All rights reserved

But of all the mazes at this year's Halloween Horror Nights, the one that is the most ambitious - both in its design choices as well as the extremely clever ways that it frightens HHN attendees - has to be "Nevermore: The Madness of Poe." You see, the gimmick of this particular maze is that Universal Studios is taking you on a trip through the mind of Edgar Allan Poe. And as he slowly loses his grip on reality, so do you.

As you make your way through "Nevermore," you'll find yourself encountering all sorts of imaginatively staged moments from such classic Poe tales as "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Cask of Amontillado" and "The Pit and the Pendulum." But as Edgar's descent into madness begins to pick up speed, the art direction for the latter scenes in this maze get progressively wilder. Until - in a really neat twist - we find ourselves right back where we began our journey in "Nevermore." Which is in Edgar Allan Poe's writing room. Only this version - with its huge tottering columns of books and distorted writing desk - looks like something that tumbled straight out of Tim Burton's brain.

Universal Orlando visitors have a not-so-great moment with Mr. Lincoln as they explore
the Presidents Day portion of "H.R. Bloodengutz presents Holidays of Horror."
Copyright Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved

That's what I think I like most about Halloween Horror Nights 21 at Universal Studios Florida. The folks at Universal Creative don't just go for the easy scares. They look for brainy but funny ways to frighten the bejesus out of you. Take - for example - "H.R. Bloodengutz presents Holidays of Horror," which puts a silly but sinister spin on the holidays. Or - better yet - "Nightingales: Blood Prey," which sends you stumbling through this realistic set of trenches from World War I. Only to then bring you face-to-face with a group of shape-shifting banshees, who - while they're disguised as nurses - pretend to bring comfort to those who have been wounded on the battlefield. When what these otherworldly beasts really want to do is feast on the dead and the dying.

But if you truly want to experience the next generation in scares, then be sure and head on over to Acid Assault (which is located in the New York City section of Universal Studios Florida). Here the folks at Universal Creative have assembled this truly impressive set of projections. Which - when presented in sync with this scare zone's booming audio soundtrack - really give you the impression that all of these iconic NYC structures are crumbling away, falling down right in front of you.



Of course, you can only get this mixture of high tech terror & clever storytelling if you visit Halloween Horror Nights 21. Which is now entering its final weeks at the Universal Orlando Resort. The nation's premier Halloween event will be presented on select nights now through October 31st. To be specific, October 13 - 16th, the 19 --23rd  and the 26 - 31st. And as we get closer to Halloween, Halloween Horror Nights tickets will get harder and harder to come by.

And if you haven't yet arranged admission to what many horror fans have called " ... the ultimate Halloween experience," I think I know a few folks who can help you out.

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