Hi, my name is Shelby, and I’m a Halloween Horror Nights chicken.
Sure, I love a good psychological thriller or monster movie. I’ll watch Alien or Poltergeist or The Shining whenever I get a chance. I love Stranger Things and think Get Out is one of the most important movies of the last decade.
But there’s something about being put in the middle of those stories that makes my entire being scream
“NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE.”
I caved this year and bought a Frequent Fear pass to HHN at Universal Studios Orlando.
So why did I do it? Because the Frequent Fear pass pays for itself after two visits. Because I’m proud of my roommate and other friends who committed to being scare actors this year. Because Shelby Denham’s art gives me life and I’m obsessed with it. (And because waffle sundays.)
But I’m not the only chicken out there.
This tip sheet is for everyone dreading having to go to HHN on a date or with that group of friends you cannot say “no” to. Take the tips you need; they’re written from the perspective of a relative newbie who wants to help out other chickens.
1. Do your research.
Each year of HHN brings a slew of new house concepts alongside really popular IPs. This year’s most popular houses are the ones people know best: Stranger Things, Poltergeist, the Blumhouse films.
I find it’s way easier for me to go into a house knowing what to expect in terms of plot and characters than if I had no idea what was going on.
For example, I was mentally prepared to see the Demogorgon because I love Stranger Things. If I’d never seen the show before? I would’ve cried.
Even the original houses and scare zones have backstories to them posted by Universal Studios each year.
Knowledge is power, fellow chickens. Learning about the stories you’ll experience (just a little bit) before throwing yourself into them could help enormously.
2. Know your limits.
People have two switches in their brains: Fight or Flight. Most chickens fall into the latter category.
I do not.
When put into confined spaces, I swing at whatever is coming toward my face.
This is where “know thyself” comes in handy. Literally. I make whoever I’m with either hold my hands or my wrists.
(And to that Jack I tried to swing at in The Shining last year, I’m really sorry. A friend let go of my hand for like two seconds, man, and you came out at the wrong time.)
If there are certain things you cannot handle about houses, don’t be afraid to have your friends help you along. And always remember there are illuminated exits throughout each house if you need to escape.
3. Ride a ride.
Need to stick your head above the swamp juice and escape the loud ambient music for a second? Go ride a ride!
Universal keeps a handful of their most popular attractions open during HHN. And, because everyone is busy in a scare zone or in line for a house, the wait times for the rides are 30 minutes or less!
Taking a breather between houses in Diagon Alley is one of this Slytherin’s favorite things to do. Highly recommend.
4. Go with friends.
If you’re reading this list, there’s a good chance you’re in an HHN predicament because of friends. And this section isn’t a “don’t go to HHN alone” point.
Go with genuine friends. Don’t go with people you’re trying to impress. (That’ll backfire.) Don’t go with people out of spite or to prove a point. (They won’t care.)
Go with real, genuine friends — a group of people where everyone wants every single person in the group to have an enjoyable night.
5. Go second-to-last.
With HHN, you can successfully throw out the whole “don’t be first or last” rule. You’re walking single-file (and DON’T be that turd who tries walking two-by-two), and the actors trigger their own scares.
After a handful of houses being in the middle, I can tell you being second in line is NOT my favorite spot. Especially if the person in front of you WHO YOU THOUGHT YOU TRUSTED TO LEAD YOU positions you in the prime spot for scares. (Ben, I’m returning your Christmas presents…)
I’ve found a lot of success with going second-to-last in a group, though. With other styles of haunted houses or mazes, the rule of thumb is to not be on the end.
But HHN actors normally won’t trail the last person in the group simply because of how busy everything is inside. If you’re toward the end, you’ll probably catch the tail end of a few scares — and it’ll lessen the impact of the house overall.
6. Scare Zones vs Houses
Scare zones are a great place to enjoy the atmosphere of HHN without the claustrophobia of a house. If you need a breather, go watch carnies with chainsaws have fun spooking people by the Simpsons ride. Stick to the sidewalks. Most of those scares happen in the streets.
7. Shell out for Express if your anxiety levels make waiting worse.
I’m an anxious person. If I’m not worrying about something, I’m worrying why I’m not worrying about something. So when I’m given 40-65 minutes (or longer) to wait for something I know I’ll be scared of, my anxiety kicks into overdrive.
Long lines aren’t bad if you’ve got great friends or Xanax. But for some, long lines only lead to more time fretting, nail biting, and hair twirling while you dream up scenarios of your impending doom.
If you’ve got the money to spend and it’s worth the investment to not panic in line, buy an Express pass. The waits are so short for the houses that there’s barely any time to think about the spooky stuff inside.
8. Make eye contact with the actors.
Don’t be creepy about this rule, but if you spot someone in a house about to make a scare, I’ve found giving a little headnod is a silent way of saying “I see you, I respect you, and I hope you have a great night.”
(This is probably a load of crap, and my friends who are scare actors are probably laughing at how ridiculous this advice is.)
Will it stop them from doing their job and jumping out at you? No (duh). But it’ll remind you that underneath the bloody prosthetics is an underpaid performer, sweaty and tired.
9. Earplugs help.
I learned this tip from a close friend of mine who’s been a scare actor for a few years. He normally avoids the houses if he doesn’t have some sort of hearing protection with him.
This year, I experimented with his suggestion. My wireless running headphones do a bangup job of blocking out excess noise, so I used them rather than high-quality earplugs. I did, after all, want to hear some of the fun quips and ambient music.
I went through my first house — Stranger Things — sans headphones and WOW DID I REGRET THAT DECISION. Each Demogorgon has the loudest possible audio cue, and my ears were ringing the entire time.
The next house I did was Scary Tales, headphones in, and I loved it. I heard enough of the dialogue not to miss the clever twists. I wasn’t jumping at each crash or bang since they were dampened.
Chickens, earplugs or headphones are your friends.
10. Have A drink, but DO NOT get drunk.
Please please please PLEASE do not compensate for your chickenry by tapping into “liquid courage.”
If you want a drink or two to loosen up, go for it. But the last thing any guest should be is a slob who slurs profanities at every actor or (worse yet) walks into an actor’s scare hole.
11. Remember the ‘rules’ of Halloween Horror Nights.
The scare actors don’t want to touch you.
None of this is real.
None of them are actually serial killers (I don’t think…).
They want you to have as much fun as they’re having during their shifts.
12. Say “no.”
I hate disappointing people more than I hate haunted houses, which is often how I find myself in these situations. HOWEVER, I still say no to certain houses.
This year, I refuse to do Dead Exposure. I love my friends working in that house from afar. I don’t do well with extended periods of strobe; seizing doesn’t sound like a fun way to spend my night.
If your friends understand your limits, they’ll be cool with you sitting one or two houses out. Great friends will push you enough to try new things but never too far to hurt yourself in the process.
13. Don’t be a turd.
Treat everyone you see with respect. Don’t point out where the scare actors are in a house.
And for the love of all that is good, DO NOT PUT YOUR HANDS ON A SCARE ACTOR.