Universal Studios: Halloween Horror Nights run-throughs
Here's a quick rundown, mostly spoiler-free, of all eight haunted houses at Universal's Halloween Horror Nights, as seen on Wednesday's dress rehearsal.

THE IN-BETWEEN -- It stands out in my mind, even after I mocked it for claiming to be 3-D. (Aren't they all three-dimensional?). It features trippy, special effects that start with the traditional vortex and work up from there. Folks exiting were very excited about what they'd experienced. Overheard: "The whole house is a drunk person's nightmare."

H.R. BLOODENGUTZ PRESENTS HOLIDAYS OF HORROR -- The year's "comedy" house incorporates vintage TV and holidays, including the little-seen horror scenes involving Presidents Day and Arbor Day.

SAWS N' STEAM: INTO THE MACHINE -- This house felt the most personal – as in personal attacks. I liked that the characters used their own voices a lot, not so dependent on special audio effects for scares. (Side note: High number of scare actors using grunts this year, and one that sorta belched?) This house had some gross dismemberment imagery – in water.

THE THING -- Loud and strobing house, complete with spaceship, based on upcoming movie. It was our night's first exposure to the fourth dimension of liquids.

THE FORSAKEN -- Strong beginning, excellent room in the middle, funky disorienting ending. Green-eyed monsters.

NIGHTINGALES: BLOOD PREY -- You're in the trenches with blood-seeking ladies with orthodenture issues.

NEVERMORE: THE MADNESS OF POE -- Interesting-looking rooms that reflect the increasing madness of the writer. Angry bird alert!

WINTER'S NIGHT: THE HAUNTING OF HAWTHORN CEMETERY -- It's a graveyard and all that goes with it, plus a man cut in half.

We didn't experience all the scare zones, but I liked GROWN EVIL (stilts, more birds). Gruesome creatures and a great projection on the New York street buildings work well in ACID ASSAULT. The NIGHTMAZE scare zone has moveable walls and nearly invisible black-clad characters. 7 is a great photo opportunity with actors. YOUR LUCK HAS RUN OUT shows off Lady Luck in different ways. Look for even bigger stilts in CANYON OF DARKNESS.

There's not an official scare zone in the usual spot in the front of the park by Shrek, presumably because of the closer quarters created by the construction wall for the Despicable Me attraction.

We also saw a set of DEATH DRUMS, which features two sets of scaffolding that drive through the streets armed with percussionists and flanked by cloacked figures – who turn into writhing, flesh-showing dancers. It's "Stomp" meets "Blast" meets Mardi Gras parade.

We didn't see "Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure," but, of course, it's back. Halloween Horror Nights officially opens Friday and runs 25 select nights through Oct. 31.