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Halloween Horror Night at USF: An Inside Look


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Part 1: What’s Behind the Mirror?

Universal Florida’s Halloween Horror Nights won a “Golden Ticket” for best theme-park event this year, which is hardly surprising. For my money, it is the single best time of year to visit USF. But what makes Halloween Horror Night the highly anticipated event that it is?

 

I think the answer is the passion of the people at Universal who put on the show, as was made quite clear during a conference call with Michael Roddy, Director of Show Development, and Michael Aiello, Show Director. These two guys have what they call “the greatest job in the world”—scaring the hell out of you during Halloween Horror Night.

 

“It’s a big toy box for us,” they said. If you can call such stuff as nightmares are made of “toys.” (NOTE: My notes got a bit scrambled during the call, so I can’t really attribute some quoted material to one Mike or the other.)

 

It also helps that HHN, unlike many parks’ “Haunts,” is never the same event twice. “Repeat last year?” said the two Mikes. “Never even comes into play.”

 

The urban legend of "Bloody Mary” takes center stage at HHN this year. She’s a brand-new “icon” for the event, taking her place alongside other such hosts as Jack the Clown and the Caretaker. But why Bloody Mary? Universal decided that a “strong female icon” was the way to go this year, and their research revealed that Bloody Mary, a vengeful spirit that dwells in a world behind the mirror, was “the second-highest rated urban legend.” Eighty percent of people in all age groups were aware of Bloody Mary, and of how you can invoke her by repeating her name several times while standing in front of a mirror. But, even better, Mary’s origins are unknown, which gave Universal’s creative staff plenty of room to develop a completely original back story about her.

 

Mary works alone, though. When asked about rumors that other HHN icons, such as Jack or the Storyteller, would be making guest appearances, the answer was “no.” “It’s bogus information,” they said. “It was time to let Jack [and the other icons] take a rest.”

 

In fact, during this year’s HHN, it will be impossible to escape Mary’s presence, whether in the houses or on the streets. She will always be there, somewhere, watching. Her billboards have already touched a nerve with some Florida mothers, who found Mary’s image too frightening for children—even as the billboards whip by in a 70-miles-per-hour blur.

 

Mary has, indeed, “touched a nerve,” they said, possibly because you can’t see her eyes. This is rather “unnerving,” as the “eyes are the pathways to the soul.” This reaction, however, is proof that Universal is “definitely doing something right” this year when it comes to HHN. And, by the way, the event isn’t for kids under the age of 13.

 

Halloween Horror Night Web site: http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando/index.html

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Part 2: What’s Lurking Down the Street, in the Darkness?

The sheer scale of the whole bloody event is what has both Mikes most excited about HHN ’08. “We stepped away from the street program last year,” they said. “This year, the street program is huge! We’ve taken over the whole property!” Guests won’t have to enter a haunted house to be scared this year. The scares begin as soon as guests walk past the main gate, thanks to six new scarezones.

 

These zones all follow through on the “mirror world” of Bloody Mary by offering distorted, refracted versions of pop culture. For example, The Path of the Wicked shows what would happen if the Wicked Witch had taken control of Oz. I got five words for ya here: “Watch out for flying monkeys!” American Gothic takes guests into the darker side of American pop culture—the domain of such writers as Hawthorne and Poe and characters such as the Headless Horseman. And pity the poor Alices who get caught in Asylum in Wonderland.

 

Guests missed the scarezones last year—this year, the zones are back with a vengeance.

 

Halloween Horror Night Web site: http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando/index.html

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Part 3: What’s Waiting Beyond the Door?

When it comes to planning HHN’s haunted houses, each year Universal asks, “What’re we gonna do to blow people’s minds away?” The answer is to give guests that “Universal detail” they’ve come to expect.

 

Each haunted house is a “mini-movie” in three acts. All have an extensive back story (running four to five pages), and each character in each house not only has a name, but also their own story. This definitely raises HHN’s quite a few notches above over theme-park “Haunts.”

 

So, what can we expect to encounter in the haunted houses this year? Well, to take a cue from the stage version of Sweeney Todd, “What happened then—well, that’s the play,/And he wouldn’t want us to give it away.” But Mike and Mike did share a few details and thoughts during the call.

 

When asked which house would be this year’s “goriest,” the two MIkes found it tough to give just one answer. Interstellar Terror would, indeed, be very gory, as would Body Collectors; then again, the Creatures house looks “like we dipped the whole place in blood.” In fact, today was “Blood Day” in the houses, when they figure out how much splatter they need—and where. It all depends on what’s appropriate. “We love gore,” they said, “but it can be overdone.”

 

Scent is another tool of the horror trade. Who could forget the more aromatic qualities of one room in Psychoscareapy last year? Again, they’re using smells that are “true to the environment” they wish to create. One has visions of the two Mikes “testing vials of scents” in an effort “to get each other to puke.” As for specific smells, you’ll just have to sniff them out yourself.

 

Look for a mix of old and new technology, too. “We’re always looking for the newest thing,” they said, and there will be “lots of really cool things this year.” But sometimes, the oldest tricks of stagecraft, such as Pepper’s ghost and lighting on a scrim, are still the best way to go.

 

Doomsday is the one house taken from an actual movie this year—an “end-of-the-world” tale that’s part 28 Days Later, part Road Warrior, and all nightmare. Although this movie was a Universal property, there was “no pressure” to use it. But it did seem to fit in well with the Bloody Mary theme, they said. (The movie does, indeed, offer a distorted view of a society falling apart—not to mention cannibalism. Hmm—could be some interesting smells there.)

 

And what about the “panda head”? Yes, there have been some photos online of what appears to be a panda costume. Is Kung Fu Panda going to be part of this year’s Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure show? The two Mikes would “neither confirm nor deny” this rumor, but they did point out that a giant bear is part of one of the houses this year.

 

HHN continues to grow in popularity. Will Universal actually add more Halloween Horror Nights per week some day? Who knows? “We’re not good at math. We’d love to run this seven days a week,” the two Mikes said. “But after Halloween, it all goes away. We’re in mourning for all of November.”

 

Many Halloween Horror Night fans feel the same way, gents. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us.

 

Happy Halloween! See you on the other side . . .

 

Halloween Horror Night Web site: http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando/index.html

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What? You mean they were talking about Florida? Damn!

 

 

^^But seriously. folks, to answer your question, I was just representing TPR on of a conference call with a few other theme-park-related Web sites. Sure beat the hell out of the boring conference calls I have to take at the office.

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WOW looks really spooky and scary.

i would love to go to it.

ive been to one like that in maddame tussands in london but it was only like 3 minutes.

xoxox

THIS IS A QUESTION TO ANYONE WHOS BEEN THERE:

1) are the houses that there in like real houses or like things they can take down?

2) if someone gets real freaked out can they take them out or do they have to walk the whole way?

 

xoxox

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^The "houses" are basically elaborate sets built in either the park's soundstages or in large tents. There are ample opportunities to bug out if you become too freaked (not to mention plenty of security personnel).

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Everything sounds great this year! Now they can add their own twists to stories and urban legends they have chosen, which will be great.

 

I'm pretty sad that Jack had to go, but change was needed and Bloody Mary will be a great new mascot. I mean, is there anyone who wasn't afraid of her when they were younger? There are probably now many people who are still afraid of her... for good or bad I do not know.

 

The Asylum in Wonderland scarezone sounds very interesting to me. A lot of the scarezones mentioned on the website this year really catch your attention. Such as The Skoolhouse (Yes, Skoolhouse is how it was spelled... makes it creepier), American Gothic (Lizzie Borden is you guide, what is better than that?) and even Streets of Blood captures the attention of those either wanting to be scared (or wanting to get away).

 

Out of all the Haunted Houses being made, I believe that Reflections of Fear featuring Bloody Mary and Body Collectors: Collections of the Past will both stand out the most in the park.

 

I feel that the Body Collectors theme will be great also. No one really knows what to expect from them, and no one knows what they look like. So there can be a whole story to work with for them.

 

This year at Halloween Horror Nights seems like it will be a great thrill with monsters popping out from any direction and new scares just waiting to be seen! Can't wait to see how everything will turn out.

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I LOVE that USF chose Bloody Mary as their icon this year. I remember having ulimate fears as a child because of her. I even recall a time when I tried to say her name three times in the mirror at midnight, but I got so afraid by the second time that I ended up peeing my pants. I always heard different background stories about her as well. My grandma tells me that in Louisiana everyone tries to summon Bloody Mary Worth to see a glimpse into their future. And when I was in middle school, my teacher told me that the TRUE background story to Bloody Mary was the story of Queen Mary I.

Although her background story is unsure, and many believe different stories, the point is, people believe in it and fear her no matter what.

USF really hit the spot this year! Kudos!

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