Most theme parks are designed for laughs, thrills and family fun. When Halloween Horror Nights takes over Universal Orlando each fall, though, the organizers have an entirely different type of fun in mind — the type that will have you screaming rather than laughing and running away from attractions rather than toward them. That’s because the attractions at this event are terrifying haunted houses … 10 of them, to be exact.
I recently returned from my first visit to Halloween Horror Nights 2023 and had a chance to experience all 10 houses. To help you prepare for your visit, I’ve ranked the houses from my favorite to least favorite.
Rather than provide a scale of how scary each house is, I instead based my rankings on how excited I am to go through a house again (which I’ll be doing in a few short weeks). The houses that topped my list were those that were well designed, told a great story and, of course, provided a decent dose of scares.
Even so, rankings are subjective. My list could be totally different from yours, and that is part of the fun of this event. The production value of every house and the overall transformation of the park is unparalleled in the theme park world. There are no bad houses, and there truly is something for everyone.
Read on to see how my rankings compare to yours … if you dare.
Halloween Horror Nights 2023 haunted house rankings
1. Universal Monsters: Unmasked
Universal essentially created the modern-day horror genre, bringing classic monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein and the Mummy to the big screen in the early to mid-1900s. With such a deep well of dastardly characters to choose from, Universal often features its classic monsters at Halloween Horror Nights.
This year’s iteration features the Phantom of the Opera, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Invisible Man and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde facing off in Paris. All four characters are causing murderous mayhem above and below the streets of Paris in iconic settings like Paris’ opera house and the Paris Catacombs.
There’s just something about seeing these grotesque monsters juxtaposed against the beautiful City of Lights — both full of history and lore — that made this house feel almost like a love letter, albeit a very scary one that had me screaming around every turn.
There were some gory scenes and unique scares in this house, but it was also the type of house that you want to do again and again because the story, the set design and seeing classic horror characters were worth the scares.
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2. Dr. Oddfellow’s Twisted Origins
In addition to pulling from its own films, along with pop culture movies and TV shows, Halloween Horror Nights has built its own extensive lore with original characters that have appeared in various haunted houses throughout the years. This year, Universal introduced an all-new icon: Dr. Oddfellow.
When you enter this house, you are entering a 1930s-era circus where Dr. Oddfellow has invited guests (that’s us) into the big top for a more sinister, late-night show featuring acts that a daytime crowd may find … displeasing. As it turns out, once you are inside, the “acts” are a series of outrageous murders and Dr. Oddfellow’s true motivation is revealed. You can get Dr. Oddfellow’s full backstory on the Discover Universal podcast, but he is essentially collecting souls to gain immortality, and you are next on his list.
You don’t have to be an expert on Dr. Oddfellow’s backstory to rate this house highly, but it does add a deeper level to the house that I appreciated. You’ll even notice a few nods to HHN’s most infamous icon, Jack the Clown, including a glimpse into his origin story (hence the plural “origins” in the name of the house).
Universal nailed the creepy carnival vibe, with more clowns than you can fit in a clown car, silly-yet-startling sound effects, beastly creatures and, yes, some quite gruesome deaths. I distinctly remember walking through a room with one of those carnival knife-throwing wheels, and the knife-throwing sounds were so realistic I thought I was in danger of being struck.
Dr. Oddfellow is an intriguing addition to HHN’s lineup of icons that I expect we will see again in future years.
3. Stranger Things 4
The latest season of “Stranger Things” was, in my opinion, the scariest and most unsettling yet. The main characters are now in high school and college, but these are far from your everyday teens. While they are grappling with bullying, relationships and finding their identities, they are also battling literal evil in the form of Vecna, Season Four’s primary antagonist.
If you are a fan of the hit science fiction horror series, you will be blown away by how accurately this house recreates memorable scenes from the show. But it wasn’t only the physical settings and characters that felt familiar; it was the emotions I felt while watching the show. Yes, there are plenty of scares — many in the form of Vecna himself — but there are also moments that brought me right back to the tears I cried when seeing them on screen for the first time.
This house had a good balance of scares, epic battles between good and evil, and fan service moments. If you aren’t a fan of the show, it may land lower on your list, but if you are, you’ll walk straight from this house to one of the merch stands to purchase a “Hellfire Club” T-shirt.
4. Yeti: Campground Kills
Some Halloween Horror Nights houses have a storyline that can be difficult to follow while you are getting the wits scared out of you. Yeti: Campground Kills is not one of those houses. The premise is simple — a 1950s campground has been overrun by yetis, and because it’s a haunted house, these yetis have a tendency toward violence.
There are yetis waiting around every twist and turn, but those aren’t the only scares in this house. The residents of the campground are “dying” to get out and sometimes quite loudly. There are also some gags that elicited a laugh and a scream from me simultaneously, something I didn’t know was possible until now.
As you can imagine, being mauled by yetis is quite gory, and you can expect a lot of blood and guts from this house. But the yetis are pretty cool to look at, even if they are terrorizing innocent campers.
5. The Darkest Deal
This was one of the houses I was most excited about leading up to the event. It is another of Universal’s original houses, this one being a play on the trope of selling your soul for fame and fortune. Universal refers to the entity promising this fame and fortune as The Collector, but I think we all know who they are referring to here.
When you enter the house, you meet a down-and-out Mississippi blues musician who, at his wit’s end, strikes a deal with The Collector. As the musician’s star rises, he gets closer and closer to fulfilling his contract and facing an eternity in an underworld even seedier than the clubs he was playing when he sealed his fate with The Collector.
I admittedly was hoping for even more music from this house. The musical moments, while good, felt short-lived and overshadowed by everything else that was happening in the house. If you don’t do gore, you’ll appreciate the lack of it in this house, though there are plenty of demons popping out at you to make up for it.
6. Dueling Dragons: Choose Thy Fate
If you visited Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure theme park between 1999 and 2010, you probably remember a roller coaster called Dueling Dragons. Riding on this dragon-themed dueling coaster, you could choose between one of two tracks — blue for Blizzrock, the ice dragon, or red for Pyrock, the fire dragon.
Dueling Dragons: Choose Thy Fate follows a similar storyline to the ride. Blizzrock and Pyrock are dark wizards who were turned into dragons after trying to steal Merlyn’s spell book. The two dragons are locked in a battle of fire and ice … and you are caught in their crosshairs.
The house is visually stunning, with a massive castle as the backdrop, spellbinding fire and ice effects, and chilling depictions of Blizzrock and Pyrock. This house has no gore whatsoever, which is a nice change of pace if you are doing all 10 houses in one night.
Near the end of the house, you really do get to “choose thy fate” and decide whether you want to follow Blizzrock or Pyrock into battle with Merlyn. Will Merlyn prevail, or will he be defeated by the evil warlocks? The choice is yours.
7. The Last of Us
Since its release in 2013, “The Last of Us” video game has been critically acclaimed for its in-depth, emotional storytelling and outstanding game-playing experience. The game now has a sequel and inspired a hit TV series on HBO.
The house is based on the first installment of the video game, following main characters Joel and Ellie as they navigate a post-apocalyptic world overrun by “the infected,” humans who have been infected with the fungus-based Cordyceps infection. As you step into their world, you, too, are being stalked by the infected in all their forms — from runners to clickers to stalkers.
I haven’t played the game, but I recently watched the series and was blown away by how accurately Universal recreated the infected. They looked even more grotesque and sounded even more disturbing than they did in the show, and they were certainly scary when they came lunging toward you. That being said, there wasn’t much about this house that excited me other than seeing the infected live(ish) and in person.
I did go through this house with two friends who are super fans of the game, and it was higher up on both of their lists, likely due to the deeper connection they made with the characters and story by being so fully immersed in the game.
8. Bloodmoon: Dark Offerings
If I were ranking Halloween Horror Nights houses solely on how scary they were, Bloodmoon: Dark Offerings would have been all the way at the top of this list.
The house is set in a Colonial-style village where most of the town’s residents worship the moon. When a blood moon rises over their fall festival, they take it as a sign to kill any nonbelievers and sacrifice them to the blood moon. You are in the unfortunate position of being an unlucky visitor in town while they are gathering body parts for their “harvest.”
There is not one moment of levity in this house; it feels truly evil to the point that I wondered if this moon-worshipping cult could be real. The scares in this house come just as much from the murderous villagers jumping out at you as they do from the deeply unsettling feeling that digs deeper into the pit of your stomach with each step.
In other words, when you combine corn stalks, candles, animal skins and a cornucopia of body parts, you get a terrifying haunted house that you won’t be able to forget when you exit the house and return to the safety of a theme park.
9. The Exorcist: Believer
The Exorcist: Believer house is based on the newest film from Blumhouse, the same production company behind hit horror films like “Us,” “The Black Phone” and “Get Out.” The story is a continuation of the original 1973 “Exorcist” film, following two young girls who went missing and returned with a new friend in tow (and by “friend,” I mean a demonic entity).
I had low expectations for this house because the movie doesn’t release until Oct. 6, 2023. Part of the fun of haunted houses based on films and TV shows is revisiting familiar characters and settings. With no opportunity to see the film and familiarize myself with the story beforehand, I had my doubts about how much I would enjoy this one. It turns out I was right.
The two girls — and the evil within them — were terrifying, and it’s never a good day when you bear witness to an exorcism. With no context, however, I felt like I spent most of my time in the house trying to understand the storyline. I will give this house this year’s award for “worst smell,” which, rather than describing, I will keep a mystery for you to solve after you visit.
10. Chucky: Ultimate Kill Count
Like many millennials, I was far too young to be watching horror movies the first time I was exposed to “Child’s Play” (by my after-school babysitter, no less). The serial killer doll has since spawned many sequels and a TV series. Chucky: Ultimate Kill Count celebrates all of Chucky’s many, many kills and was designed with an intriguing meta angle.
The first half of the house is meant to be a typical haunted house, but in the second half, the “real” Chucky is disappointed that nobody actually dies and decides to kill everyone who comes through the haunted house.
I was excited by the idea of this house, but the whole thing was so chaotic it was impossible to keep up with the storyline. I will give this house major points for gore and the sheer body count, but with so many things happening at once — including scenes from the Chucky series playing on TV screens — I was so overstimulated that I couldn’t even process being scared.
Sound like a scary good time? It really is. For every scream, there are a dozen more laughs shared with the friends who survived the houses. And, luckily, there are a lot of other things to do during Halloween Horror Nights if you need a break from screaming your head off.
There are five outdoor scare zones that aren’t quite as scary as the houses, delicious food themed to the haunted houses and a monster-themed night club called the Dead Coconut Club (located outside the park gates at Universal’s CityWalk). Plus, some of the park’s most popular rides stay open during the event.
But we all know the real reason guests come to Halloween Horror Nights is for the houses. While these rankings are based on my personal opinion, I hope you get a chance to experience them for yourself and form your own rankings. See you in the fog!