Ready to feel the sudden chill in the air? The vague smell of pumpkin spice? The terrifying sound of The Last Of Us clickers? Vecna’s shadow slowly lurking behind you? Well, now you can, because the most wonderful time of the year, Halloween Horror Nights, has arrived at Universal Studios! Once again, CinemaBlend was invited by the Orlando theme park to brave every single haunted house and it’s time to share which attractions are most worth getting scared out of your senses for in 2023.
After being CinemaBlend’s final girl at Hollywood Horror Nights to rank 2021’s event where The Ultimate Purge Terror Tram had be running for the hills, and then The Weeknd house surprisingly impressing me the most last year, this time I ventured to Universal Orlando’s edition of HHN for the first time ever, and wow was I impressed. Like, seriously, you’re going to have a good time either way if you dare to go to the spooky seasonal event. Nonetheless, it’s time to rank my subjective opinion of every haunted house based on what I’d recommend the most, knowing full well that those queue lines can get long and treacherous, and decisions must be made. Here I go:
10. Chucky: Ultimate Kill Count
For context, when I was a kid, I was absolutely terrified of Chucky. In fact, I remember going with my family into the old House of Horrors at Universal Studios Hollywood, and once I saw Chucky, we all tried to turn back in complete fear. Oh, how far I’ve come! That, and Chucky: Ultimate Kill Count just didn’t hit like the other houses this year.
The concept behind this one is a bit of a meta one, as it follows Chucky possessing prop doll versions of himself to make sure some real kills are being counted in his own haunted house. If you are a huge fan of the horror icon, by all means, check it out, but of all the houses, I actually would classify this one as a disappointment.
9. The Exorcist: Believer
With The Exorcist: Believer set to come out in early October, this is an extra special house for Universal because as the company called it, the house serves as a “living trailer” for one of the season’s most anticipated upcoming horror movies. It's a clever bit of marketing that leaves me intrigued about David Gordon Green’s latest horror reboot.
The house has exorcisms for sure, mostly of scary-looking young girls along with demons or the devil himself? It’s definitely reminiscent of The Exorcist house from a couple years ago that emulated the original movie. Because the new movie isn’t out, I don't totally get what the plot line of this house is right now, but the vibes were creepy and I'm interested to see the movie and make the connections.
YETI: Campground Kills
I really wasn't sure what to expect from a Yeti haunted house, but I have to say, this one exceeded my expectations. Compared to the other killers and creatures on the list, I’ll admit the idea of a Yeti haunt my dreams doesn’t necessarily boil my blood. That being said, this house, which is set in a 1950s campground, really got a big scare out of me from the get go when a giant Yeti popped out at me.
This is a fun house that is bloody and funny all at once, as it tells the revenge story of the Yeti’s getting back at vacationing families after one kid terrorizes a baby Yeti. It's not often that a haunted house can get me to empathize with its monsters and laugh too!
7. Blood Moon: Dark Offerings
Another original haunted house at Universal Orlando’s 32nd Halloween Horror Nights is Blood Moon: Dark Offerings. This is a house that feels like a tribute to horror fans who really love a twisted slow-burn movie from the genre, likened to 2015’s The Witch. This one takes place in a Colonial-era village where a Satanic cult is sacrificing non-believers to the Blood Moon during a Fall Festival.
Much more than the other ones I’ve mentioned thus far, I really feel like Blood Moon creates a feeling of fear and danger throughout the experience. There’s also this unsettling rhythm to the whole haunted house that really emulates a A24 horror movie.
6. Dueling Dragons: Choose Thy Fate
Before the Wizarding World of Harry Potter landed in Universal Studios, there was a hang coaster there from 1999 to 2017 called “Dueling Dragons” which is the inspiration for this haunted house. I personally had never been to the closed attraction, but the other guests around me who had experienced it were seriously hyping it up and had me wishing I had a time machine to see “Dueling Dragons” back in the day.
Even without having any nostalgia associated with the attraction this house paid tribute to, I highly recommend this blast of a house. It's like stepping into a ‘80s Choose Your Own Adventure book where guests are caught between magical fire and ice beings. Halfway through the medieval-set house, guests are given the option to choose between two paths and experience one of four endings to the maze. My ending had Merlin popping out and telling me I’d just saved the kingdom, which made me really happy.
5. The Last Of Us
One of the most highly-anticipated haunted houses of the season is The Last Of Us attraction based on the beloved Naughty Dog game on the year of its 10th anniversary. It also comes the same year that HBO’s incredible series starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey broke all of our hearts too. This house does an incredible job of taking guests into the game and bringing to life the various degrees of infected.
Not unlike 2021’s The Haunting of Hill House attraction, there’s a melancholy energy about The Last Of Us between some great scares and easter eggs from the game that I also learned about when I walked through the attraction with the game’s co-creator Neil Druckmann before experiencing its scares and rather disgusting smells. Though I must warn, if you’re not a fan of the game or TV show already, this house may not impress you, as it’s very much geared towards those who are familiar with the world.
4. Dr. Oddfellow’s Twisted Origins
Every year, Universal Orlando chooses an “icon” as its mascot of sorts for the year, and 2023’s is Dr. Rich Oddfellow, a fearsome circus entrepreneur. In addition to Oddfellow lurking across the theme park’s scare zones during the event, he has his own haunted house with Dr. Oddfellow’s Twisted Origins. The original house is set in a place called the Carnival of Thrills, which apparently taking place in a rural Midwest town in 1939 during the Dust Bowl.
What sets this house apart from many of the attractions I’ve mentioned before is how it draws you into a fun house that is simultaneously terrifying and beguiling all at once. There are so many really clever scares in this one that really grabbed this seasoned Horror Nights attendee into a feeling of immersion and terror, including one room that makes you feel like knives are being thrown your way. It really is twisted in a great way.
3. Universal Monsters: Unmasked
Another Halloween Horror Nights tradition is the annual Universal Monsters haunted house, which I always enjoy, but this one in particular is a showstopper. When you enter the house, the house transports you to Paris, from the Paris Opera House to the Catacombs. It’s a very cinematic experience as you come into contact with The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Invisible Man and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.
Considering all the monsters being shared here, I actually would even go in twice if I could to see all the details being intertwined here. It’s quite atmospheric and seriously scary. There's even a stunt in the house where Quasimodo literally falls from a bridge overhead at you, but just out of reach. Bravo, Universal, this one is a huge accomplishment for sure! Everyone who worked on this deserves a round of applause.
2. The Darkest Deal
And speaking of a round of applause, one of the best haunted houses of 2023 in my opinion, and just shy of my absolute favorite, is The Darkest Deal. It’s another original one that establishes a really interesting world in just a few minutes that makes me want a movie, TV show and video game based on it. Call me crazy, but I might be in love with this haunted house!
The Darkest Deal is about a young blues musician residing in the Mississippi Delta, who decides to trade his soul for fame and fortune. While all his dreams come true, he pays a large price by being dragged to Hell itself and meeting other musicians who paid the same price as he did. I can’t even believe a haunted house like this exists. It’s seriously so dark and deep, whilst also being really fun and exciting to walk through. Halloween Horror Nights really outdoes itself with this one.
1. Stranger Things 4
The award for best Halloween Horror Nights haunted house at Universal Orlando this year (in my opinion, of course) goes to Stranger Things 4! If you are a fan of the Netflix series, run, don’t walk to this attraction, because it is an absolute legendary haunted house. Stranger Things 4 beautifully adapts the fourth season of the show with a tremendous amount of detail, care and epicness, and I want to live inside it!
Not only does it really spotlight fan favorite Eddie Munson throughout, it recreates so many great moments from the 2022 season featuring Eleven, Max, Dustin and so forth. Vecna is crawling all around the space and the scare actors were absolutely brilliant at every turn. It really makes one feel like they are experiencing Stranger Things, and I'll never forget all the jaw-dropping moments of this attraction!
Now, it’s your turn to decide which haunted houses you will walk through! Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights is open now through November 4!