Halloween Horror Nights 2023: Reviewing the Scare Zone Monsters!
Written by Jonathan Wojcik
haunts are intended to only startle visitors for a few brief seconds, and they have to fit in relatively cramped conditions between jump scares. The free-range ghouls of a Scare Zone
need to be impressive even in full, extended view, and even in broad daylight for those early bird visitors. If what you really want to see are some fantastic looking costumes of imaginative monsters, then the Scare Zones offer even more of interest than the houses, at least in theory.
Halloween Horror Nights are still meant to be experienced after dark, opening to the public only after six in the evening. That's already nightfall by the end of October, and the Scare Zones are quickly obscured by a mix of fog machines and lighting effects. The ambiguity certainly makes the monsters more surreal and atmospheric, but it also means that most of my own photos would have looked like this one, and keeping my flash on would have in most cases looked even worse, so we'll be relying on the brighter, more professional glamor shots shared by various other visitors on social media.
We'll also be skipping over the Scare Zone Vamp 69,
not because anything was wrong with it, but because I can't offer any thoughts on creature design for a zone whose creatures were almost entirely 60's hippie vampires. Funny,
though, and the various vampire actors dancing to 60's rock really gave it their all.
The first Zone we personally passed through, Shipyard 32 is supposed to be a seaside port where Horror Nights character Doctor Oddfellow
shipped in the various monsters, artifacts and miscellaneous oddities he collected from around the world. Now, they've allegedly broken free from their warehouse and begun to rampage!
Shipyard 32 has some of the "subtler" monsters of 2023's non-hippie-vampire zones, but not in a bad way; just some slightly more human-like creatures, such as this ghastly little Tooth Fairy with bulging, alien looking black and red eyes. These work especially well for the goal of actually freaking people out, since they can look almost human in the disorienting lights and fog.
These don't all have official names that I'm aware of, but this white-skinned, hairless and noseless ghoul has a gaping, nearly circular maw with multiple rows of teeth. It overall feels a lot like an off-brand Flukeman
from the X-files, but a mouth with that many teeth is more lamprey than fluke! This one is truly meant to be seen in darkness, where you won't notice the bright white cloth between the latex costume pieces.
This name comes from the fan wiki, and maybe it is what they called it behind the scenes? A humanlike figure in bloodstained clothes, with a head like some sort of rat-dog-baboon, indeed devoid of hair or fur. Another that has a humanlike outline in the dark, until you get good and close.
Twisted Maw Man
Probably the coolest of all the "more human shaped" creatures, this one even wears a mostly normal looking black hoodie, so you really only know he's a monster when you see him face to face, and then what you see is a swirled vortex of flesh that used
to be a face. It even appears to have both a smiling mouth and huge, black eye at first glance, but the "eye" is just more of the mouth
, twisted Uzumaki-style into a deep, spiraling funnel!
This is your typical "Nosferatu" style bald-headed, pointy-eared vampire with grey-blue skin, but as common as that is, it's another great looking original monster mask. This character didn't usually wander around, but would reach out from within one of the stranded "specimen" cages.
What else do you find at shipping ports? Exotic fruits, of course! This lovable ghoul has what appears to be a giant hedgeapple or quite possibly a Jackfruit
for a head, but the particular way it's rotting gives the impression of a huge, gaping mouth and vague, distorted facial features, thickly erupting with little yellow fangs that seem derived from seeds! Was this the creature's form when it was originally captured, or was a piece of fruit brough to life by one of the escapees? Either way, it's a wonderfully original concept with a great looking monster mask!
This beautifully ominous figure is one the many stiltwalkers traditional to the Horror Nights Scare Zones, allowing them to loom more than twice the height of a regular person. This one's stilts are fully hidden under a tornado-like swirl of black and grey, tattered fabric.
You're not likely to ever notice the finer details of a nearly monochrome character towering above you late at night, but the Twisted Soul has gnarled, broken fingers, deep dark eyes and a semi-twisted mouth, not nearly as extreme as Twisted Mouth Man of course, but I feel as if the latter is likely what happens to the victims of this specter.
You technically already saw this one, because I used her as my example of how blurry most photographs are doomed to turn out. She's actually the fourth bat-creature stiltwalker at Orlando Horror Nights, and they're all a little different, but generally look like they all belong to the same "race" of towering, veiny brown bat monsters.
Having seen the other Man Bat Creatures
on the wiki, I have to say 2023's is the best looking yet. They all have faces similarly derived heavily from actual vampire bats with the same massive gremlin-like ears and shiny black eyes, capturing a persoality that's both menacing and frankly adorable, but hers has the nicest details and paint application. The design also adds a cute tuft of greyish fur down the back of the otherwise hairless cranium, which kind of reminds me of Chapin's free-tailed bat, Chaerephon chapini.
This zone has a more abstract concept than the rest, involving a "Zodiac Dimension" taken over by Doctor Oddfellow in his attempts to become immortal. It's really just an excuse to theme some costumes around zodiac signs, but nothing can really prepare you for just how far the artists went with that premise, because the results are actually on par with and strongly, strongly reminiscent
of modern Tokusatsu
monsters and villains. Seriously, check these out:
Universal Orlando Official Photo
What did I tell you? That's 100%
straight-up Toku Villain! Cancer's full body, highly detailed rubber costume looks just like a Crustacean exoskeleton with crab legs for "ribs," hooked blades for hands, and a wickedly menacing helmet shaped like a crab's broadened upper carapace, with six eyes peering from a wide, black visor-like gap. There's another pair of larger eyes on the top surface, and the yellow-ringed Zodiac symbol - shared by all these demons - situated in the center, which ends up looking almost like a big cyclops eye from a distance.
What really brings this all together is the gorgeous paint job. Paler on the underside, like an actual crab, while the rest is a rainbow of blue, purple and pink hues like the inner shell of an abalone.
If this were
a band of Super Sentai or Kamen Rider villains, I feel like Sagittarius would be one of the higher ranking generals of their evil leader. He just kind of has that vibe to me. He wears clothes, but not so extravagant he couldn't fight in them, and his head is a filthy looking skull between that of a human and a horse, with greasy looking black hair. It's the kind of brooding, gothic design I could easily see for that second-in-command who's all too eager to prove himself to his dark master, even though you know he'd usurp their power in a heartbeat if ever given the chance.
I almost wasn't sure what this design was going for, and almost mistook it for some kind of monster "bird" at first! Shame on me! Aquarius has the cracked, algae-stained skull of a monstrously exaggerated sea turtle,
with an oversized lower jaw full of jagged little teeth, while the upper jaw tapers into a truly nasty looking beak. The rest of the costume features shimmering green "scaly" looking fabric and transparent, seaweed-colored veils that dangle from the arms.
A subtler one, but still very cool! Aries has a simple costume with tufts of fur, clawed hands and red rib-like bands around the chest, while the head is sort of like a if you took a ram's skull and distorted it into a knight's helmet. The eye sockets are totally gone, while the nasal cavity has been stretched into what would be the helmet's "visor," honestly one badass
looking mask for how simplified it is.
If Sagitarrius is the sketchy, scheming villain with an inferiority complex, you know Leo is that otherwise outstandingly loyal one whose sense of honor prevents him from carrying out any morally cowardly orders. More interesting than you would expect from the design of a lion man, his snarling feline face is mostly hairless and deeply wrinkled, like a sphinx cat, with purple flesh and a collection of small, devilish horns erupting from his scalp. He has an almost pained looking expression, too, like maybe he's still aware on some level that this isn't his natural form.
this entity wears strange, golden headgear sporting two large, black feathers and three different Zodiac signs, none of which feel like they factor directly into the design, per se; the head is human shaped with no recognizable facial features; just a mass of glittery green tinged, chitinous-looking roots or branches in a symmetrical, intricate pattern reminiscent of like, I don't know...a tapestry rug? Sorry to those who read these but can't see pictures, I'm completely botching my attempt to describe this. It's like someone carved the shell of a scarab beetle into a something between a knight helmet, a lacey doiley and a cluster of tiny snakes. I know Doctor Oddfellow is canonically in charge of whatever's going on here, but this feels like one of several stronger candidates for a big boss.
I almost overlooked this one, but frankly I don't want to skip any of this bunch. Virgo is a vicious looking winged demon whose pale, bony, snarling face looks stripped of most tissues, yellowish sinews holding the jaws together and pure white little eyeballs sitting in her skull sockets. Her barbed, green-tinged cranium exposes pinkish tissues through an ornate pattern of bony cavities, and she has lots of tiny fangs behind metallic green lips. She also has rotten half-skeletal bird wings, and an outfit that emphasizes bright green lizard-skinned cleavage for good measure, all in all like a cross between a harpy and an exceptionally edgy take on Spider-man's Green Goblin.
I DON'T KNOW
The fandom wiki features this character in the Dark Zodiac image gallery, and I believe I saw this one when we walked through this area ourselves, but I have no idea which Zodiac sign it's supposed to represent, since I've never seen the costume's insignia. This unsettling being wears blue and gold robes with a serene human face carved into the stony looking blue mask, but the face splits horizontally just under the eyes, and then the lower half splits again vertically down the middle, leaving space where you can just see dark red mucle tissue with barely any mouth opening. Subtle.
You really wouldn't know exactly what you're seeing in the dark with this one. With the crescent moon carving on the forehead, I think this one isn't
any of the constellations, but possibly just represents the moon?
Another three-for-one! This figure has a similar sort of face to the other "triad" demon, with the shiny exoskeleton mask all carved full of delicate channels, but the top of the head continues into a huge, flaring vase-like crown that also looks like part of an arthropod carapace, which makes sense as one of the three zodiac symbols atop it is Cancer, while the other two are Aries and Virgo. Does that mean those three answer to this guy? I'm not sure. The sides of this crown thing each have three chitinous hooks, and chains of beads resembling water droplets dangle from each. A suit as majestic as it is sinister, the convoluted facelessness really sells this and its counterpart as impenetrably inhuman characters, no doubt full of dark and dastardly machinations!
At least one more of these triad figures existed, but had more or less the same head as the first one we looked at, with a slightly different gold doohickey on top.
Bad ASS. I think this was another one out and walking around during our visit, but I couldn't have possibly told you what it looked like at the time. Gemini wears a large, golden skull mask adorned with bloody spikes, but it's splitting open to reveal the gorier, grodier, more organic skull underneath, a single humanlike eyeball gazing from the lidless, ragged hole in the center of its forehead! There's no hint of eyes at all in the skull's pitch dark sockets, but the golden mask is shaped so the cyclops eye could still peer out if it closed back up. This is TOO rad to be nothing but a minor character in a single Halloween display. This is another
one cool enough to be the Big Bad, or at least exceptionally high up in the ranks.
Pisces is traditionally depicted as a couple of fish, but Dark Zodiac pisces is more like a warped and diseased mermaid, a woman covered in grimy purple fish scales while most of her head has erupted into coral-like branches! I feel like the artists may have drawn inspiration from their work on the Last of Us masks to design this goopy, fungusy looking corruption, and between the gnarled fingers of "coral" are tons of tiny, blackish barnacles of course! I suspect everyone who reads my website knows that individual barnacles are crustaceans, like crabs and lobsters, an entire little "bug" inside every little volcano-shell, but a bunch of people react with surprise every single time I say this anywhere on social media, so I guess I'll be saying it every time barnacles come up as a subject until every last one of you knows once and for all what kind of animal a barnacle is.
...And corals, of course, are related to jellyfish! This gal has a whole mushy skull full of jellies and bugs!
You know, I've never paid that much mind to astrolomagical signs myself, but how great is it that us late-October babies actually get the only spooky bug one? Appropriately, Dark Zodiac Scorpio is both one of the most sinister and the largest
character, which makes me want to say SHE would be the Big Boss of this hypothetical Tokusatsu Villain Team, but then again I might just be biased. Her costume does stand out from the others in overall style too, however; they're all colorful, fancy, ornate looking mystical beings while Scorpio is just this vicious looking pale-skinned woman with jet black latex, four clawed arms, and a single giant pincer claw sprouting from around her waist, like a couple of gigantic mandibles where her stomach should be. What's more, she's the only Dark Zodiac stiltwalker,
towering over the rest!
Up close, Scorpio's makeup even includes prosthetic fleshy "arthropod jaws" at the corners of her mouth, and sometimes the costume included a rubbery black hat with four horn-like scorpion legs. All the Zodiac Demons look "villainous," sure, like they all definitely kill people, but Scorpio looks the most murderous
about it, if you at all get what I mean.
There's one last reason I'm pretty sure Scorpio calls the shots, and that's simply the entrance she made as filmed be Instagram user Unfriendlyhero here
, where she's escorted into the scare zone by a bunch of the Zodiac zone's black-clad, faceless chainsaw minions. Yeah, that's right, chainsaw minions.
These really ARE a Toku Villain army! They've even got the mooks!!!
Jungle of Doom
Dark Zodiac may have the most epic concept, but I wanted to save JUNGLE OF DOOM for last, because it has some of my favorite creature costumes out of the entire event. And how couldn't it?! It's a JUNGLE OF DOOM! That brings to mind things like venomous animals
and killer plants
, right? The Horror Nights team thankfully had precisely the same idea. This will be quite a bit shorter to review than the Zodiac, but you'll understand in no time:
Entirely distinct from the species of bat person
we've already seen, this smaller creature's snarling, eyeless bat head is strangely textures like it's also grown from wood,
and its torso looks like a tangled mess of black, muddy tree roots!
Rotten Wood Creature
A subtler but equally cool design is this creature made entirely of ragged, blackish wood, with few distinct facial features other than the rows of skeletal white teeth!
This stiltwalker is covered in blue, red and yellow "plumage" with a head like a grotesque cassowary!
I love the slimy yellow strands dangling from the gaping beak, and the fact that there's a huge centipede crawling out of a wound in the bird's skull, but what makes it ghastliest of all are those realistic, glassy little bird eyes. They left the animal's actual face a lot more naturalistic, rather than giving it some twisted and demonic scowl. The result feels far more unsettling and for more like a tortured and unnatural being.
Floral Skull Demon
The first of several more plant-based beings, this one has a fanged, nondescript animal skull for aface with four beady, orange eyes, while the entire back and sides of the skull are forming into many layers of leathery, black and orange, orchid-like flower petals!
Multi-Eyed Flower Demon
This FANTASTIC character wore white and gold clothing from the neck down, but the flesh of its hands and face consisted of slimy green, goopy looking plant tissue with a mouthful of yellowed fangs and six reptilian eyeballs, each situated in a barnacle-shaped blue and green flower bulb, in turn surrounded by little mossy red fronds, and topping it all off are the giant, realistically rotten looking brown leaves that sprout from the back of the neck, framing the whole head! The detail on this mask is INCREDIBLE, each eyeball-bud even varying from one that's closed up tight to one that's flaring open widest!
This time, I'd like to start off by showing you what I
saw, and unfortunately the clearest image I could get at the time. Jungle of Doom was the last of either the Haunts or Scare Zones that we passed through on our final hour of the event, and I honestly felt the entire trip would have been worth it for having seen this single giant insect creature alone, a superb choice for a stilt character and obvious star of the jungle scenario. But as with every other Scare Zone monster we saw that night, there was no appreciating the breathtaking craftsmanship of their costumes through the artificial fog.
In full splendor, this entity is more than simply an off-looking preying mantis squeezed into a humanoid shape; its chitinous facial plates form the visage of a human skull between its massive, black insect eyes, it has a crest of bright yellow feathers, the two mantodean claws on its shoulders emerge from strange, pink-lined "cups" and the splotchy, veiny, green and red body feels patterned as much like the surface of a carnivorous plant as an insect's exoskeleton, like a hybrid of human, mantis and maybe a Nepenthes,
if you ask me!
There were still a few more Scare Zone monsters at Horror Nights 32 than I found the time (or suitable images) to cover here, but I'm fairly confident I've gathered all the most exciting. Having looked around the photo archives of previous years, I can also confidently say this is a more amazing selection than any I ever missed out on, even if the visibility issues meant that I kind of still
"missed out" on them, even standing right in front of them.
On the other hand, that really does add kind of its own fun to the experience; the kind of quick, tantalizing, uncertain glimpses you might really
catch of something unnatural in a foggy jungle, or a foggy shipyard, or a foggy zodiac monster street party. Monsters and their fog
, am I right?! I get it, though, even as a mere human, I definitely count fog among my top three favorite lurking conditions.
Seeing what these costumes really look like through all these superb shots, I'm truly blown away by the amount of hard work and ingenuity that went into a cast of creatures that would be seen so briefly (if at all) by the vast majority of visitors, and likely never to appear in any media or merchandise beyond this single event. These are designs that could have once had action figures flying off the shelves, easily carrying their own comic franchise or animated series.
Even if I actually had to squint to tell which way most of them were even facing, I really feel lucky to have been able to share space with some of these brilliant costumes. Brilliant as they are, though, they apparently have some stiff competition from the Universal Horror Nights held in Singapore, which even had its own entirely different "Dark Zodiac" Scare Zone:
Scare Zones have even stiffer competition, it seems, from Japan:
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