'The Last of Us,' 'Stranger Things,' 'Chucky' and more run rampant at Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights, running select nights through Nov. 4
Halloween Horror Nights is reminding us to never go alone.
In its third year post-COVID, the 32nd annual Halloween spooktacular at Universal Orlando Resort has found both new and old footing, tapping into what it has arguably always done best with its theme-park events — original creative content — while leveraging several intellectual properties (IPs) that have managed to be lifted to an impossibly fresh level.
Aside from five Scare Zones — all designed to tell the twisting story of this year's icon, Dr. Oddfellow — 10 haunted houses, a death-defying live show, tons of themed food and drink and more are scattered throughout the specially ticketed evening event at Universal Studios Florida, running on close to 50 select nights from now through Nov. 4.
As for the featured IPs, horror fans will rejoice over titles like The Exorcist: Believer, Chucky: Ultimate Kill Count, returning favorite Stranger Things (this time focusing on its fourth season) and, of course, The Last of Us.
And scare wise, there's something for everyone. As Lora Sauls, Universal Orlando Resort's Senior Manager of The Creative Development Group and Show Direction, tells PEOPLE, "Of course every year we want to just go bigger, go better, go more horrific with our intellectual properties, but also we just want to write amazing original-content stories."
She also notes how a focus on Dr. Oddfellow — who made his first appearance at HHN more than two decades ago — is "something setting this year apart so much" from the ones that came before it.
"He's truly controlling the entire Scare Zone program with his journey of becoming immortal and he's inviting all of you who love fear and just soak up fear to follow his journey," she says. "He's a man of deceit; he likes to tell lies, so he may offering you immortality, but he really is just going to ultimately make you part [of an exchange] for your soul."
Below, you'll find a list of this year's 10 haunted houses ranked from least to most scary in the opinion of this writer, who has attended Halloween Horror Nights most years since 2002 and is familiar with the IPs, the lore of the event and Universal Orlando itself.
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human-interest stories.
10. Dueling Dragons: Choose Thy Fate
This house is stunning in both design and execution. It's a testament to the lifelong Universal fan, who (like me) rode the original Dueling Dragons roller coaster at the Islands of Adventure park — that has since been re-themed once, before being replaced by Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure — and wants to relive those medieval memories.
"There are some graphic things in nature, but it's just a fun story of two competing warlocks fighting over Merlin's spell book," Sauls tells PEOPLE.
If you want to be transported into a fantasy world that maybe isn’t what you quite expected as the main character — with a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure vibe, featuring a Fire vs. Ice callback to the original attraction queue — this maze is perfect for you. If you’re looking for screams and don’t have a nostalgic attachment to the original Dueling Dragons coaster, you might not get as much out of it.
9. The Last of Us
This might be a controversial opinion, but the house based on The Last of Us — very specifically the video game and not the TV series, per se — isn’t super scary. But it’s a true homage to the game, down to a perfect replication of the sound the clickers make.
Is it fun? Absolutely. Do you root for (non-Pedro Pascal) Joel and Ellie (Bella Ramsey in the TV series) as they fight for their lives? Of course. But the chill-down-your-spine factor doesn’t get quite there — and that’s okay. It doesn't have to. The scenery, casting, music, etc. all more than make up for it.
And The Last of Us is a popular IP for a great, and unique, reason: It goes beyond horror in the type of humanizing way that the zombie genre arguably hasn't quite mastered before.
8. Chucky: Ultimate Kill Count
Admittedly, I may have put this house at No. 9 or 10 if I’d only seen some of the later movies in the Child’s Play franchise, but it (expertly) recreates some of the scenes from the original films that I watched (probably way too early) in my childhood that are still seared into my memory, so it gets a bump. Keep your eyes peeled for a particularly iconic Jennifer Tilly scene from (the very underrated) 1998 comedy-horror classic Bride of Chucky!
My main complaint for this house is that the first half transports you right into the movies, but the second half feels very random. I was hoping to see something substantial from the most recent season of the show — or even from the upcoming White House-focused season! But no such luck. (I still want to do it again.)
7. Universal Monsters: Unmasked
One thing Universal has no shortage of is monsters, and they have leveraged that fact most years, inserting traditional horror icons into their houses like Dracula, the Wolfman, etc.
The fact that they can continue to play on this classic theme and remain fresh — this time with newcomers Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Invisible Man, the Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame — is impressive. And this time, we get to do it all in Paris!
The biggest scare factor in this house is the Invisible Man, from the bandaged face to the creepy voiceover that sounds too sane to actually be sane ... not to mention the strobe lights that activate at just the wrong moment, when he’s a little too close for comfort.
6. Stranger Things 4
Any other year, I probably would have ranked HHN’s Stranger Things houses a bit less scary. But season 4 of the hit Netflix show leaned into traditional horror more than its predecessor installments and, as a result, felt like it lent itself perfectly for a house at this event — and Universal took full advantage in re-creating its most iconic scenes.
The design and layout of the rooms, the casting, the perfect use of music and lighting — everything about this year’s house made you feel transported into 1986 Hawkins, Indiana, in the best (and most bone-chilling) way possible, and was my favorite Stranger Things house at HHN to date.
Slight spoiler: You may see more than one version of Vecna.
5. YETI: Campground Kills
This house has been kind of marketed as the “funny” one for 2023, meaning there is usually at least one of those every year. So I went in expecting to laugh the way I have in the past for horror-comedy-type houses like 2009's Leave It to Cleaver.
But no laughs were in sight, as this house felt the closest to real life to me in the sense that it involved an entire family in the monster's path, doing something as innocent as camping.
What you don't see was almost as creepy as what you do, as the standout portions of YETI: Campground Kills involve genius use of silhouettes paired with screams — backed, of course, by a remote expanse of forestation inside which no one can hear said screams.
4. Dr. Oddfellow's Twisted Origins
The main-attraction accompaniment to the intertwined Oddfellow-story-focused Scare Zones, this maze offers a traditional carnival-istic feel with some oddities (out for blood, naturally) thrown in for good measure.
HHN is no stranger to the creepy-carnival aesthetic, having leaned into clowns many times in the past with icons like Jack and by leveraging IPs like Killer Klowns from Outer Space. But the popcorn-butter glean in Twisted Origins only serves to distract unwitting guests from the fact that Oddfellow is lurking in every seemingly safe space to procure your soul.
3. The Darkest Deal
This, admittedly, was the house I was least excited about, as I'm not a huge music person and the storyline synopsis reads, "Blues musician Pinestraw Spruce will have to face the music after meeting with The Collector and trading his soul for musical glory."
But the (beautifully executed) bluesy backdrop is enhanced by an aesthetic and chill factor not entirely unlike the From Dusk Till Dawn house at HHN 2014, in the sense that we're all just here for a good time and suddenly realize maybe we were lured on false pretenses.
All I can say is ... watch your back.
2. Bloodmoon: Dark Offerings
Who doesn't love a good kill cult? In this Colonial-era house, a blood moon influences a bunch of moon worshippers to turn on anyone who doesn't follow their beliefs, with no one spared.
I don't know if it was the old-timey setting that reminded me a bit of The Witch (2016) or the chilling sounds of frantic stabbing piercing the air seemingly at every turn, but every second of this house gave me an unsettling feeling that I couldn't shake for the rest of the night.
"It's probably not one for the kids," Sauls tells PEOPLE.
1. The Exorcist: Believer
Confession: the original Exorcist movie never really scared me much, and the previous house based on that film that HHN did in 2016 was one I loved but didn't feel particularly shaken by compared to some others that year. I even watched the original film a few weeks ago in preparation, as The Exorcist: Believer doesn't hit theaters for several more weeks.
The haunted house based on the new film — which will mark Ellen Burstyn's return to the franchise for the first time since the first movie, 50 years ago — has been marketed as a "trailer" of sorts for the upcoming sequel, so it was hard to go in without knowing what to expect.
I will say there are scenes you might expect, but the scareactors' proximity to guests as they walk through the house paired with a feeling of complete loss of control gives it the No. 1 spot on my list — and that probably would've been the case even if it didn't include the staircase that original fans will recognize and, like me, immediately nope their ways past.
Tickets for Halloween Horror Nights 32 — as well as upgrades like Express Pass, Frequent Fear Pass, Rush of Fear Pass and more — are on sale now at universalorlando.com/hhn.
For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!
Read the original article on People.