Miami can breathe easier. The zombie apocalypse has relocated — at least for now — to the north.
The undead are stars of Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights 22 and Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream in Tampa, where they have plenty of grotesque company in vampires, clowns, gargoyles, serial killers and radioactive Elvises.
Universal has the biggest draw with a house based on AMC’s hit series The Walking Dead. From the station wagon outside that bears a message for poor Sophia, to the hospital, department store and barn scenes inside, the production does not disappoint.
The house and surrounding area are crawling with walkers who lurch and growl relentlessly. The ebb and flow of undead traffic is enough to make a fan want to stay put and watch the drama, but Halloween Horror Nights features six other houses this year as well as a new twist on the traditional “scare zones.”
Namely, there aren’t any.
“There’s no boundaries, there’s no scare zones, there’s no escape,” said Lora Wallace, a show director.
Where fearsome characters were confined to specific areas in the past, this year they roam with no limits — five legions of them.
“You’re waiting in line for the house and they scare you,” said Kyle Link, a longtime attendee from New Smyrna Beach. “We’ve always wanted that.”
Added his wife, Lisa: “If only they could go in the bathrooms.”
(For the record, Wallace didn’t rule out that possibility.)
If there’s no escape from marauding monsters, there’s also no getting away from branded horror. This year, four houses at Universal Orlando bear recognizable names: The Walking Dead; Silent Hill, based on the movie and video game series; Penn & Teller New(kd) Las Vegas, from the magicians; and Alice Cooper — Welcome To My Nightmare, based on the rocker’s music.
With the exception of Walking Dead, most of these houses are more interesting than truly terrifying. Penn & Teller’s is fun, with an interactive twist (that rope that says do not pull? Pull it). A post-nuclear Elvis impersonator prompted shrieks and laughs.
The Alice Cooper-themed house might be most appreciated by his fans; same goes for Silent Hill, though the falling ash, smoky odor and variety of creatures are creepy.
House of Horrors pays tribute in black and white to classic Universal creations including Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster; it’s an almost nostalgic throwback. More elaborate (and modern) is Dead End, a decrepit old house haunted not by actual events but by neighborhood lore.
The most gorgeous of the lot is Gothic, a cathedral under renovation that is packed with hostile gargoyles. The scenes are so pretty that it’s easy to get lost in the detail — which is exactly when one of the statues will appear and freak you out. This house should come with a special word of warning: Look up.
For Kyle Helvig, a 40-year-old truck driver from Minnesota who has attended Halloween Horror Nights every year since 2002, Gothic was the standout in part because it didn’t borrow from any established franchise.
“A lot of the truest Halloween Horror Nights fans, they like originality,” he said.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure, however, borrows heavily — and hilariously — from pop culture. The stage show is a worthwhile diversion for its Siri-and- Zooey Deschanel exchange alone: (Siri, frustrated: “I hope there is a zombie apocalypse and you’re in Miami.”)