VIDEO REVIEW: Halloween Horror Nights 2016 at Universal Studios Singapore

Haunted houses, photo-friendly scare zones for the perfect wefies with the ghouls, an eerie March of the Dead ─ there's plenty to see, do and be scared of at this year's Halloween Horror Nights.



Universal Studios Singapore's annual Halloween Horror Nights has always been the headline event among local scarefests, and for this year is no exception.

This time, the number of haunted houses has been nudged up to five and carefully researched to make the set and costumery vivid and detailed. After the success of last year's Singapore-centred Halloween Horror Nights, this year's edition largely takes inspiration from Asian lores and superstitions.

Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights - Hawker Centre Massacre

Photo: Universal Studios Singapore

The local representatives are Hawker Centre Massacare, where a radioactive food poisoning has turned the hawkers and customers into flesh-eating zombies; and the notorious Old Changi Hospital with a full onslaught of torture chambers, bloodthirsty soldiers, and vengeful prisoners. 

Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights - Hu Li's Inn

There's also Hu Li's Inn, the lair of the archetypal Chinese hulijing (fox spirits). Decked out with all the grandeur of Old Shanghai, the lavish cabaret hall proves to be just a false front for the shape-shifters to seduce and snare their preys. 

Bodies of Work is a macabre exhibition by an artist who tries to immortalise his dead family, complete with dismembered bodies and hanging limbs.

Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights - Salem Witch House

Photo: Universal Studios Singapore

Finally, there's Salem Witch House, where the coven has been awakened to unleash their vindictive fury. If you've grown up on a diet of R L Stine and Christopher Pike, you'll definitely love this one. 

When it comes to set designs, Universal Studios is unparalleled and it shows. Everything seems so very true-to-life, with numerous turns and dark corners that fill you with suspicion and trepidation. Even when "nothing" happens, it's the constant state of high alert that reinforces the fear factor and keeps you quaking on tenterhooks.

What's particularly noteworthy is the brilliant acting of the 400 member-strong cast. Instead of resorting to cheap tricks like boo shocks and chasing ghouls, Halloween Horror Nights pushes the buttons with tension-filled silences, point blank and spine-chilling eye contact, and masterful punctuations of pitiful outbursts from the ghouls. 

Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights - Old Changi Hospital

Photo: Universal Studios Singapore

The poignant theatrical direction is doubly important because when the theme park is overrun by crowds and you can observe what's happening to the people ahead of you, things like monsters that jump out to scare just wouldn't cut it anymore. Universal Studios' mastery, however, lies in the way that they can still instill horror even when everything (okay, not quite so) is laid out in plain sight.

At times, you might see the people ahead of you try to get past the freaks and demons, and you can see the creatures' taunting actions, but when it's your turn, it still feels dreadful. The actors never actually touch you (they're not allowed to, and neither should you), but their silent invasion of your personal space still wrecks havoc with your mind.

But that's not to say the surprise element is gone; there's still plenty, from doors that suddenly open to creatures that lie quietly waiting in the dark, to brilliant diversion tactics that lull you into a false sense of security. 

The familiarity of concepts like the Old Changi Hospital and Hu Li's Inn also helps in making the haunted houses feel especially real. For instance, entering the compound of the hospital will suddenly bring to mind all the spine-chilling tales you've devoured in the  infamous True Singapore Ghost Stories books, and those memories are quite enough to set your imagination wild ─ all before you actually encouter anyone or anything. 

And when you just need a breather from all that adrenaline rush, there are numerous interludes that stay true to theme but still gives your thumping heart some time to normalise. 

Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights - Suicide Forest

Photo: Simply Her

At the Suicide Forest scare zone, the undead walking around in all their gory glory for your obligatory wefies. Yet in spite of all the camera action, the atmosphere is still mournful and dark, thanks to the brilliant actors who stay in character throughout. If you prefer selfies, the ghastly lights and banyan trees are a great backdrop too.

Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights - March of the Dead

Photo: Simply Her

We were particularly smitten with the March of the Dead procession too. Led by Lady Death, the march is lined up with shrouded slaves, a band of corpses, walking skeletons, dancing ghouls and coffin bearers. Gone is the usual bang and flash of USS parades; instead, the mood is eerie and melancholic, almost hauntingly beautiful. 

Halloween Horror Nights 6 runs from Sep 30 till Oct 31 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Operating hours start from 7.30pm and vary from day to day. Check for full ticketing info.