Clouds roll in, casting an ominous shadow on an otherwise peaceful Friday afternoon. As warm bodies begin to file through the gates, pinnacles of the horror genre stare on. Freddy and Jason, this year’s special guests, preside over the procession, practically grinning at the jumpiest members of each group.
To the tune of a haunting accordion, hundreds of willing victims march through the gates of the 25th annual Halloween Horror Nights (HHN). This year, HHN will include more haunted houses, jump scares and roaming chainsaw gangs than ever before.
Walking into the park, guests are greeted by dozens of jaunt and bloody figures, many of whom find joy in the screams of anyone who has the misfortune of looking scared. Five sections of the path around the event include high concentrations of such frightening characters.
Near the entrance to the Freddy vs. Jason house, a young woman’s blood curdling scream pierces the air. She’s wearing a bloody T-shirt with shorts, and she’s backing through the crowd. Her terrified eyes are focused on a tall, broad-chested man with a hockey mask and machete.
She desperately begs passers-by for help and dodges a swing from the immense figure. She’s clearly afraid and continues to scream as she ducks another swipe of the machete.
Once again screaming, she breaks into a run with Jason at her heels.
With five areas dedicated to interactions like this, the park has a scare for just about everyone, and Show Director Charles Gray said the key is finding what’s scary.
“Surprise always scares people, so how you create a distraction and how you create the surprise is kind of the science behind the creative,” he said. “What am I going to use to distract your eyes and your attention so I can pop out from the other side and scare you?”
The event is certainly not shy in creating distractions. With fog pouring from every crevice, the streets between attractions are almost as scary as the houses. Removing the formula of a haunted house makes for a frightening night trying to stay in the middle of a group of familiar people to avoid the gangs of chainsaw-wielding strangers.
This year, for the first time, HHN resurrected a house from a previous year. Fan-favorite “An American Werewolf in London,” which first appeared in the park a few years ago, is back.
Stepping into the house, it looks as though a team of sociopathic interior decorators were set free, did their worst to the living room and stayed behind to show off their handiwork. Every room of the immense house is smoke-filled and nerve-racking as the shadows threaten to jump out at you and the curtains conceal axe-wielding murderers.
Bringing to life the greatest fears of every section of the population, the houses also promise anxiety-building wait times that make you question the good judgment of getting in line in the first place. An express pass is certainly advisable.
For those afraid of the supernatural, HHN presents the “Insidious,” “The Walking Dead” and “An American Werewolf in London” houses, each with 3-D elements to make the skin crawl. Fog sets the mood while string and other objects hung from the ceiling prick the senses.
As for those with fear based in reality, houses based on “Freddy vs. Jason,” “The Purge” and HHN mascot Jack await. In each, a bevy of horrors wait around each corner and strobe lights illuminate just the terror you didn’t wish was at the end of the tunnel.
A clearly psychotic gentleman in a suit and Reagan mask mocks and prods guests as they line up to take part in “The Purge” house. His sick laugh echoes through the house once you enter.
With each echoing step further into the event, guests are treated to entertainment and scares of every kind. Live shows like “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure” and “The Carnage Returns,” featuring Jack, everyone is sure to enjoy the experience.
HHN will run for a record 30 nights, with the last night held Nov. 1. Florida resident tickets can be purchased online for up to 50 percent off with UPC codes specially-marked cans of Coca-Cola. For more information about Florida resident and general admission tickets, visit the event’s website,