Halloween Horror Nights 2 review
Special TPR edition; adapted from original post at http://dejiki.com/2012/10/uss-hhn2-review/
When night falls this October, Universal Studios Singapore will succumb to the harrowing forces of horror once again. Enveloped by the sinister powers of the Puppetmaster and his legion of evil, the park has transformed into several domains of fear where terror dominates and nightmares never end.
Resorts World at Sentosa and Universal Studios Singapore has turned up the standards for Halloween Horror Nights 2, outperforming what they have achieved last year with more impressive efforts in theming, concept and scares. There are a LOT more scare actors this year and the entire park was open for guests to roam... or run.
I had a fantastic experience attending Halloween Horror Nights 2 at USS with my sister and two fearless friends. Here is my review and trip report for one of the must-go events in Singapore.
Before I forget: I would like to thank all scare actors for their amazing performances that created an incredible atmosphere and experience during Halloween Horror Nights 2. A BIG Thank you for those who posed for my photos!
The entire park is open this year, with 10 attractions running and 3 new Haunted Houses to experience. The Dreamworks zone (Far Far Away and Madagascar) do not have any scare actors, theming or special effects. They provide a more direct path to The Insanitarium Haunted house. Scare zones this year are extremely elaborate and a great deal of effort went into the detail and execution. I felt that all of them surpassed the original scare zones in 2011, except for Total Lockdown.
RWS advertised that there will be a "a frightful maze of five highly immersive scare zones" and three haunted houses, but there were only three scare zones: House of Dolls, Total Lockdown and Bizarre Bazaar. On the Event Guide, they are grouped together with Haunted Houses as 6 "Haunted Attractions". This is quite mystifying, because there is no theming or scare actors at Sci-Fi City and The Lost World. There is no explanation for the two missing scare zones, and on some marketing materials the term "five [...] scare zones" has been reduced to just "five zones", despite all 7 zones were open (and 6 of them had attractions running).
The three haunted houses this year were incredible and the scare level definitely went up by a few notches. Death Alley is still short, with its very limited space to work with, but is quite a satisfying experience. I hope the park increases the number of haunted houses next year. As for the other two mazes, scroll down for a brief write-up on the walkthrough experience. The mazes this year use a lot of effects, including a fair bit of water as well, so be prepared.
It's the park's second Halloween Horror Nights and it has not used characters, themes and elements from existing films and video-games. Instead, Universal Studios Singapore has developed its own characters and themes.
The concept this year feels a little scattered compared to 2011. Having the Director and "The Final Cut" are very safe ideas, but placing guests as victims of multiple "horror films" (scare zones and haunted houses) works naturally with the concept of a Universal Studios theme park. I understand that the Puppetmaster is this year's icon (and supposedly "controlling" the other three characters), but it is hard to see any connection beyond his House of Dolls. After walking out of the first zone, the other houses and mazes appear to be exist independently. He does have a very short (and VERY easily missed) appearance in another scare zone. That is just nit-picking on my part, but the HHN events in the US were more well developed with a broad theme for each year (except of course, this year).
One complaint this year is that the park sells a lot of flashy accessories (from lighted wands to swords) that guests could bring into the haunted houses. The lights from these toys were so bright that it ruins the effect of the Haunted Houses. Some of the park crew stationed inside would ask the guests to switch them off, but I observed that it was not strictly enforced.
Crowd control could also been better. The House of Dolls was very difficult to walk through because of the amount of props and sets there. There was also some crowd flow issues with the Dungeon of Damnation, causing the walkthrough to slow to a halt at the very first room. The short event hours (4 hours) caused many guests to be very conscious (and upset) of the long waiting time.
For the second week of HHN2, event hours are extended to 1AM. So now it's 8:00PM~1:00AM - five hours of fun!
Opening Night was not a sold-out night, but the park was already very packed. Wait times for attractions go up to 90-120 minutes. It might be wise to get Halloween Horror Nights Express passes, but do note that they cost $40 this year. The reason the price doubled (from last year's $20) is because they could be used in all 10 attractions and 3 haunted houses. Be aware that while event ends at 12AM, the queues for attractions only close at 12AM (sharp!), hence you may still have some extra time to enjoy the park's attractions and haunted houses.
Complaints on short event hours and long waiting time for attractions
While the locals here are accustomed to queues (be it for new smartphones, concert tickets, hello kitty toys or FOOD), there has been countless complaints about the waiting times for HHN2 haunted houses. I have received feedback that HHN2 was very crowded and there was barely enough time to even visit all of Haunted Houses. I have also experienced it myself, waiting in line for more than 90 minutes for the Dungeon of Damnation. Many guests felt cheated that they could not experience all the attractions that were operating - although frankly, that's just... obtusely unrealistic. Some even said that they were only able to visit one Haunted House - and that's it for their night.
I felt that the crowd and waiting times were still manageable on 19/10/2012, but on 20/10/2012 things were totally different. It was announced to be sold-out and it was rumoured that more than 15,000 guests attended the second night. The heavy rain before 8PM meant that some areas of the park were wet and not ready for guests. Wait times for Haunted Houses were very long, up to 2.5 hours. The queues had to close at 12AM sharp as there was still a long queue of guests. This means that many people were unable to experience more than one Haunted House during the 4 hours of event time.
Universal Express for Halloween Horror Nights 2 (S$40)
Valid for one use at each following attraction per pass:
Dungeon of Damnation, Death Alley, The Insanitarium, Monster Rock, Transformers: The Ride, Battlestar Galactica: Cylon, Battlestar Galactica: Human, Accelerator, Revenge of the Mummy, Jurrasic Park Rapids Adventure, Enchanted Airways, Shrek 4D. (Not valid for use on Canopy Flyer)
Ratings for each Scare Zone and Haunted House
I will be rating each scare zone similar to how Steve Rowin did for his review of Universal Studios Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights in 2011. Essentially, three scores: The Story concept - how compelling and engaging the narrative is. Presentation scores the production values for theming, including props, special effects and scare actors' costuming and make-up. Scare Factor rates how scary each zone or house was, including scare actors' performance.
There are three scare zones this year, taking place at Hollywood, New York and Ancient Egypt. The Lost World area (leading towards Waterworld) acts as a mini scare zone with random encounters with scare actors dressed as mental patients.
RWS claims that there are 350~400+ scare actors this year, but take note that most characters are played by multiple actors (usually two actors to each role), and they take turns to perform. Not all characters are available at the same time, so you will need to revisit a scare zone to find them all.
House of Dolls
The opening scare zone promises to intrigue and horrify, and indeed it does. There are multiple sets here, each filled with freaky abominations crafted by the Puppetmaster - the icon of Halloween Horror Nights this year. Apart from that, there are so many roaming "friends" of the Puppetmaster, from the twisted porcelain dolls to the life-size, to "almost perfect" figures.
Park guests will witness the Puppetmaster's fascination for perfection and uncover the truth behind his life-like dolls and the disappearing visitors that ventured into his workshop. There are also morbid toys displayed in the creepy cabinets, and strange objects that you probably won't find a child playing with.
The Puppetmaster keeps himself to his elaborate stage, the "Now Showing" platform at the end of Hollywood Boulevard. This is where he, and his aide, strings up and traps his latest victims (for souvenir photos).
Overall, this zone is an impressive undertaking of the classic "killer toys" genre of horror - with a mash-up with the Puppetmaster's obsession to craft "perfect human-like dolls", that is reflective of a horror film called "Dead Silence". There are several talented scare actors here that are pretty convincing "dolls" - watch out for the one on the "clockwork" set.
Scare Factor: ★★★☆☆
Link: More photos and a walkthrough video of House of Dolls
Total Lockdown looks like a nod to last year's Post-Apocalyptic Rage. I would say that it could be a prequel because this zone portrays an ongoing disaster scenario, whereas Post Apocalyptic Rage could be what happens after - a zombie outbreak. A helicopter crashed into the city, while a truck was destroyed, spilling its radioactive contents.
The title for this zone is a video screen. Look closely and you may see glimpse of the force behind this disaster.
The streets of New York were bathed in chaos, filled with destroyed objects and signs of biohazard. Demented civilians, shell-shocked by the crash, prowl the streets. Here, they scream from the pain caused by the radiation poisoning, or mourn for their loved ones. The military and police patrol the street - enforcing the quarantine.
I felt that this scare zone could've been a lot more. The props were more impressive, but the scare actors were not as scary as infected/zombies in Post-Apocalyptic Rage. However, as the scare actors are not zombies in Total Lockdown, they could talk, run and react a lot faster to guests. In fact, most of them would just run away most of the time.
At first glance, this zone does appear to lack scare actors. However, there could be the same number as roaming zombies last year, but as the scare actors here are split into "victims" and "quarantine enforcement" groups (that don't quite interact with park guests), the streets may seem empty. In fact there isn't much going on in front of the New York Library, unlike last year. Or well, the lack of engaging scare actors (and amount of interaction) in Total Lockdown could be part of the disaster/quarantine experience.
Scare Factor: ★★★★☆
Link: More photos and a walkthrough video of Total Lockdown
This scare zone has improved a lot from last year's "The Edge of Darkness", which seemed more like the "edge where the budget and ideas ran dry". In 2012, the park made Ancient Egypt into a TRUE scare zone.
There's all sorts of weird things happening, a cart full of body parts (not even bodies!) and bizarre objects and even more eccentric characters. There is a snake woman, an anthropomorphic seer and some peddlers selling... well, stranger things. It almost feels like an Ancient Egypt adapted last year's Carn-Evil, and it was well executed. There's supposedly a flash mob dance, but I wasn't able to watch that.
However, this zone is extremely cramped (and rather small and short) so it is difficult to really see what's going on. It's because how the entire Egypt zone is planned out.
Scare Factor: ★★☆☆☆
Link: More photos and a walkthrough video of Bizarre Bazaar
Similar to last year, the haunted houses are located at Stage 28 (behind New York) and New York Lagoon Path + Water Street (New York). This year, a new house was built at the Waterworld queue.
Dungeon of Damnation
The experience of Dungeon of Damnation begins from a cave. Guests climb out of the "cave" right into the drawbridge leading into the Dungeon. This scene is pretty cool because there's a moat and all (and bursts of FIRE coming out from the water). There, they meet the Undertaker, who directs them through two paths. He doesn't really do anything except to welcome guests (in the most discreet way) into his Dungeon. Both of them lead to the same corridor of skeletons.
This Haunted House has a lot of graphic imagery. Well, it is meant to depict a realm of death. There is a corridor of filled with skeletons on its walls, and another with a lot of disembodied, talking heads. There are some interesting and very scary rooms here, including one filled with rotating spike pillars, floors strewn with "maggots" and big rotating grinder (be aware of the wheel's spokes that may separate a group). Be prepared for numerous tight passageways filled with dangling heads and body parts.
My favourite part is a "jump and glide" scare actor. There's also a room where the walls will give you a surprise. I'll leave you to find out what and where these are, but let me just say this: You should always be careful, and look in all directions before walking around in the Dungeon of Damnation.
Approximate Walkthrough time
Scare Factor: ★★★★★★★
(Yes, that's right, 6 stars for presentation and 7 for the scares!)
Death Alley takes place in New York's harbour path, leading towards Water Street. This is a short but intense experience. The layout is very cramped (even in the day) and there is an abundance of scare actors ready to attack. The haunted house experience starts from a street food bazaar, filled with twisted hawkers, eventually leading into Water Street. There, the morbid "Pleasure Inn" welcomes its latest victims... to be enchanted by its grotesque courtesans.
would say that this Haunted House was pretty alright, until the "Pleasure Inn" scene, where the amount of scares and props just drops to barely anything. There was too much to see in the first half of this Haunted House. Overall, this "Haunted House" is just full of strange and creepy things, e.g: mad chinese opera performer, deranged butchers that go chop-choppity-chop as you walk near them, street vendors selling "人肉汤" (lit. human meat soup) and not really any real scares unlike the other two.
Approximate Walkthrough time
Scare Factor: ★★★★☆
Doctor Dementia runs The Insanitarium, a venue for cruel therapies and gruesome experiments. The experience starts off with the prison portion, with some encounters with the "criminally insane" inmates. Some scenes include a morgue, electric chair chamber, a video surveillance room, Doctor Dementia's room (which is very cramped!), a disorienting padded cell and a few rooms with haunted tables.
As this is pseudo-hospital/prison (or an asylum trying to be a hospital), be ready for graphic imagery of gore, cuts on skin and well, random parts of bodies scattered around. There is A MAJOR water effect in one of the rooms here, be prepared for a SPLASH!
I felt that this Haunted House was really long. There were countless rooms and it never seemed like it was going to end. Definitely an abundance of scare actors here, and they attack from all directions.
My favourite room in this haunted house is actually the final room, with (I think 5) locked doors, each with an exit sign above it. Suddenly, all the lights start to flicker... as if taunting victims that there is no escape.
Also, it might interest you that there is a "on-ride camera" hidden in one of the rooms and photographs can be bought at the exit.
Approximate Walkthrough time
Scare Factor: ★★★★★★
(Yes, that's right, 6 stars for presentation and scares!)
This is a condensed+edited version for TPR. Full entry can be found here: http://dejiki.com/2012/10/uss-hhn2-review/