It’s called the Seven Year Itch for a reason.
This is the time when the relationship slips into a moment of decline, where one party loses interest and opts for something different.
Some say it’s a superstition without merit, but Universal Studios Singapore (USS) is one of the few companies who knows better than to mess with superstition, and it is taking the seventh iteration of its highly successful Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) very seriously, giving it a nice soft revamp, a mini facelift of sorts and a new way to crap your pants.
Having gone through quite a few of them over the last few years, and having been able to compare HHN to its American counterpart in Los Angeles, it is safe to say that this year’s showcase, while not its most impressive (that still goes to HHN2), it is the most polished one yet.
And it is because of the small things.
For those of who have heard but not experienced HHN, this is the one time in a year where USS decks some permanent displays with horror motifs, and turns areas into haunted homes – experiential zones with actors playing the roles of demons and ghouls whose very job, aside from ushering the crowd through, is to scare the bajeezus out of attendees.
There are technically two groups of staff in every haunted zone – the scare actors in their horrorific make-up, as well as ushers in uniform to guide human traffic across the linear path through each home.
The scare actors can be positioned behind false walls, doors and props, and would suddenly pop up to scare you. It is your job to identify these areas, and anticipate the reaction from these actors. And the moment you see a uniformed usher, you know where the “safe” spot is, as the haunted area is so small, it would be inconceivable for a spot to support the presence of two people, so you know there’s nothing scary as long as you see an usher.
This year, both the ushers AND the scare actors seemed to have taken lessons in camouflage, as it was obvious that their presence were no longer that easy to identify. The ushers were lone wolves who stood quietly in the shadows, overwatchers who no longer needed to have their presence seen or felt. They were just… there, and it became rather disconcerting to realise that I could not longer spot some of them from afar. A few of them managed to conceal their presence to a point where I only saw them when I was practically standing right next to them.
And all they do is smile, in their eerie way.
As for the scare actors – these jokers still pop out from false walls, compartment and behind props… but wouldn’t you know it – some of these obvious false walls and hidden area were empty. And as you stand there wondering if you mis-identified the spot – yep, you got it – someone else from another spot behind you would pop out and scare you. In fact, these “fake” spots are so frequent, it is highly likely that the actors would alternate their positions, so that the same walkthrough might generate a different scare experience.
And that’s just the beginning. Walk through the Death Mall and you’ll recognise familiar shelves and store fronts. It’s an evolution of HHN taking local culture and settings, and using them as a basis for scares. It’s obvious that Western werewolves and zombies scare us but only up to a certain point, but nothing beats the imagination of meeting a vengeful Asian spirit in a familiar, comfortable setting, like a supermarket stocked with Milo and instant noodles.
Then the concept of the mall also changes, as you walk right into a cineplex, complete with TVs playing the trailer for mother!, the latest horror movie starring Jennifer Lawrence. And wait… is that the smell of butter popcorn. And the red seats in the cinema… doesn’t a cinema chain here use red chairs? This is Golden….
One has to give it to the organisers behind this year’s HHN, as they have toned down the screaming actors and are using more natural looking props to up their game.
Pilgrimage Of Sin
Next on the list is the scare zone leading from the diner to the Transformers ride. This area is always a favourite of mine, as you wonder what one can do with this finite space. Again, subtlety is key here. There are the roving monsters, and the tortured humans, but this display is not interactive. The actors are not there to scare you, shout at you or bother you. They are like actors in a mini play, walking their path and oblivious to the public around them. That’s what makes this walk through scary, as the well made up actors are not doing what is expected of them. Their ignoring of you ups the heebejeebies.
And yes, the amount of time spent on the make up for the preview is also a notable ones. The intricate costumes of the Orc-like demons are well done, even if some of them look like they went to Ikea to buy a rug, in some vain demonic attempt to badly cosplay as Jon Snow.
Make The Cut
Next is the Korean themed pop nightmare. The whole fetish with K-Pop culture, or G(ore)-Pop is an obvious take on the Asian obsession with beauty. And this is the whopper, because it was here that terrified the crap out of my wife. One of the scare actors had a Scare Pet in her hand – you know, one of those cute looking soft toys that can turn in snarling gremlins at the push of a button? She was so enamoured by the ability of a toy to turn from good and evil, that she was focused entirely on it, and didn’t real that sliding wall display that came down to reveal a snarling scare creature.
It always pays to pay attention to your surroundings.
This display fascinated me. It was apparent that USS upped the wardrobe budget for HHN7, as there was a certain quality in the clothes each actor wore, including their detailed make-up. And the art of using beauty products to create a mess of gore on someone’s face is the most apparent in this haunted home, or palace. The scares here are actually not as impressive as meeting the evil, disfigured Empress face to face. Sure, her gesturing arms and folding fingers shoved in your face are a little over the top, but just take a look at her make-up. The hair, the costume, the diseased tears and gnashes on her face. Did I mention her extremely detailed costume? The haunted house even threw a spotlight over her, as well as an usher who practically screamed at everyone to walk on by without taking any photos.
If there is one house you need to visit, it’s this one, not because of how scary it is, but because of how horribly amazing the presentation is.
Inside The Mind
If you’ve been to enough HHN, then you would know of the event’s most recognisable prop – the spinning room. This is where you walk on a metal ramp but all around you, the room spins, as if you are walking through the barrel of a gun that keeps rotating. HHN never fails to make use of this one and while I understand the use of a significant investment, it’s time to give to retire this prop, or at least give it a rest.
If you’re familiar with the original Scream movie, and know the rules of identifying someone dying in a horror film, such as having the person venture out alone, or having sex in the film, then you realise that this prop is the equivalent of that.
There are some pretty nifty mind games in this display, but once you see the spinning room, you forget everything else because recognition takes over.
For those of you who prefer a little less Orientalism in their haunted zones, and want some Western gore, Hex is for you. The whole Shamen schtick is not that bad, though there is a repetitive nod to the whole thing.
If you run out of time, or are planning your route, visit this last.
And no HHN is without a regular song and dance, but this year, we get two, but they are not your usual routines.
The use of the theatre is always a welcome one, because it’s air conditioned and a great reprieve from the sweltering heat. Here you have some performances of amazing superhuman feats, of performers and acrobats. While I am not a fan of the scripting, the body contortionist is the one to look out for.
This is the guy who is basically double jointed, and is able to twist, frame and contort his body in many amazing and downright freaky ways. After seeing him twist his joints and body in so many ways, you will walk out believing how painful it must be.
7 Sinisters Red Carpet
This is the night’s opening number, and the first thing you will see when you enter the park. The premise of a red carpet gone wrong seems quite natural for USS though, given that it has hosted the likes of Chris Hemsworth and his co-stars before. In this case, the stars of a horror movie descend onto the park, and one of them flies… well… he gets ripped and consumed by the seven horror entities of the movie that these actors are playing.
There are some posturing and preening going on, but for the most part, the 7 Sinisters gives a great introduction of what the park and HHN are offering this year.
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