Stakes? Check. Silver bullets? Check. Survival guide? If you're brave enough to attend Universal Studio Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights, you better believe you'll need a survival guide. Complete with a detailed history of the event, this book is all that stands between you and them.
For over 25 years, Universal's Halloween Horror Nights has been the pinnacle of holiday events in Orlando. You won't find Mickey there (he's too scared!), but you will find the bloodiest, goriest, most intense thrills of your life. Christopher Ripley pulls back the shroud and tells the history of every HHN event, from the earliest Fright Nights to what to expect (and how to survive) this year's event.
Prepare to read in mortal terror:
GET THE STORIES BEHIND THE SCARES!
Where It All Began: The West Coast
A New Player in Town
Jumpstarting the Shark
From Ravenous Rats to Actual Ravenous Rats
Halloween Horror Nights II
Halloween Horror Nights III
Halloween Horror Nights IV
Halloween Horror Nights V
Halloween Horror Nights VI
Halloween Horror Nights VII
Halloween Horror Nights VIII
Halloween Horror Nights IX
Halloween Horror Nights X
Halloween Horror Night XI
Halloween Horror Night XII
Halloween Horror Nights XIII
Halloween Horror Nights XIV
Halloween Horror Nights XV
Halloween Horror Nights XVI
Halloween Horror Nights XVII
Halloween Horror Nights XVIII
Halloween Horror Nights IXX
Halloween Horror Nights XX
Halloween Horror Nights XXI
Halloween Horror Nights XXII
Halloween Horror Nights XXIII
Halloween Horror Nights XXIV
Halloween Horror Nights XXV
Halloween Horror Nights XXVI
The Future of Halloween Horror Nights
Appendix A: Untold Tales of Halloween Horror Nights
Appendix B: House Locations
Manufactured in Sandusky, Ohio, circa the late 1950s, I jumped off the shelf and moved to Los Angeles at the tender age of 20 to become a movie star. I did not become a movie star, but I did work as an improvisational comedian. I spread my comedic wings at a small dance studio near a hamburger stand in West Hollywood and became a member of the long-running improvisational comedy group, Off the Wall. In that little hole in the wall in Hollywood, I was blessed to work with the illustrious Robin Williams, John Ritter, Andy Goldberg and the Emmy Award-winning writer of M*A*S*H, Cheers, The Simpsons, and Frasier, Ken Levine. I retired from performing at the age of 29 and moved to a glorious small town in northern California caled, Stinson Beach.
After three years in the land of great white sharks and wine spritzers, I responded to a classified job listing in the San Francisco Chronicle for “Entertainment Professionals Wanted” and sent my resume off to a PO Box with a 91608 zip code. Six months later, I received a call from Universal Studios Hollywood. Universal flew me to Los Angeles where I met my new boss, Peter Alexander, the company’s vice president of Shows and Special Effects. Within two weeks, I moved back to LA and joined MCA Planning and Development, now known as Universal Creative.
Universal relocated the entire project team to Orlando to build Universal Studios Florida. I found myself looking at a small tropical jungle filled with alligators, swirling pools of mosquito-infested water, and snakes. I remember thinking, I have sinned and God is punishing me by sending me to this swamp; what the hell have I done?
Eventually, Universal Studios Florida opened and, as the entire world knows, nothing worked. My next adventure was to babysit two non-functional attractions. My trailer was next to Jaws and as we all sat around waiting for Universal to bring in a team to fix the broken shark and gorilla, I would answer the phone as follows: “Jaws, Kong, Julie, how can I help you?”
In the late summer of 1991, my dear friend Amy Henry, also part of the original Florida team, asked me if I was interested in a temporary project management position for an event called Fright Nights. Of course I said yes.
I moved my borrowed computer and a folding table to an abandoned trailer that had served as the break room for the closed Fievel stage show. My first task was to find a sword swallower, a fire eater, and a human pincushion. I also had to build a culvert (so Elvis could appear as if he were rising from his grave) at the Bates Motel for the Beetlejuice Dead in Concert show, design a backdrop for the Paul Revere and Raiders show stage, and find someone to design a dress for a woman who was going to be placed in a coffin filled with rats at The Dungeon of Terror, which in my opinion is still the scariest haunted house ever created.
Lacking adequate funds, we begged, borrowed, and pilfered everything we could find to build the event. Fright Nights exceeded everyone’s expectations, and I actually saw Jay Stein, founding father of Universal Florida, smile. After Fright Nights, I went on an East Coast promotional tour for the movie Fievel Goes West and somehow kept myself employed at Universal by picking up little projects here and there, including a re-write of the Ghostbusters Attraction and a stint as an actor in Earthquake.
One day I received a call asking me to put together some creative ideas for a second Fright Nights. I found myself back in a trailer, with a borrowed a computer on a folding table, and started typing again.
The treatment for Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure came first, as I really loved the element of time travel associated with the film. I could just see the Terminator and Freddy Krueger coming out of the phone booth as part of the show. I wanted to bring back the hugely successful Dungeon of Terror with a new design and improved special effects. I wrote a haunted house treatment for The People Under the Stairs based on the Universal film of the same name, since I knew the scenic elements from that film were perfect for a really creepy haunted house. Fright Nights II needed more scareactors, more entertainment on the streets, and just more things that shocks us and send chills down our spine.
I turned in my creative brief and thought, okay, they will either like it or think I am just nuts. They liked it and wanted even more. I was now the official producer of the newly branded Halloween Horror Nights. I quickly called on my friend, art director John Paul Geurts, to help. He re-designed the Dungeon and completely designed The People Under the Stairs. My next call was to project manager Tony Peugh, for I knew we needed a small army professionals to pull this thing off. And the rest, as they say, is history.
I served as the producer of Halloween Horror Nights and many other special events for the next five years. I love Universal Studios Florida and trust me when I tell you that part of my DNA is buried in that soil.
After leaving Universal, I acted as a creative consultant during the design/development phase of Universal Japan. I have lived and worked in Las Vegas, Texas, and have now found my way back to Orlando.
Halloween Horror Nights was such an amazing thrill ride for me. We would spend months creating the weirdest and most wonderful experiences we could (and often on a shoestring!). Working closely with the team we had and the team that continues to build our nightmares to this very day, I know they are having the best time of their lives, just we like we had. So much blood, sweat, and tears go into making this event, and that’s why we’re all so proud of its success over the years and just how much love there is among fans for what is surely the world’s greatest Halloween event.
If you’ve just picked this book up and have no idea what Halloween Horror Nights is, then allow me to explain. It is an annual event held at the Universal Studios Resort in Orlando and in other Universal locations around the world (although this book is mostly concerned with the events in Orlando). It is a separate, after-hours, hard ticketed event that is directly aimed at teenagers and adults.
The event has, over the past 25 years, morphed into the world’s largest and most detailed experiential Halloween party. Its rich history is captured within this book, along with a survival guide that explains how to get the most out of Halloween Horror Nights, and still make it out alive.
Christopher Ripley was born in the UK but has been travelling to and living in the US for many years. He has been attending both Universal Studios Florida and Hollywood for over 20 years. He authored his first book in 2015, Halloween Horror Nights: The Unofficial Story & Guide, which went on to become a bestseller.
Since then he has setup the popular HHN blog hhnunofficial.com, become a co-presenter of the Scarezone podcast (a dedicated HHN podcast) and Dis After Dark (Europe’s most downloaded Florida theme parks podcast), has ghostwritten a number of books and articles, and has three additional books in the pipeline, all related to Universal Studios.
If you want to find him, he’ll be tip-toeing through the tulips outside your window…
The build to each new HHN starts months in advance, and involves creativity, construction, and politics, in equal measure.
HHN24 was not even over before Universal began teasing HHN25 through its social media on Halloween night. The video was the same as the one from HHN24, followed by an announcement of the 2015 dates and then a brief shot of a shadowy figure lurking in the background. It was a familiar shadow: Jack was back! Universal wouldn’t officially announce the clown’s return until May. Mike Aiello, director of entertainment for the event, told the Orlando Sentinel:
Among all the characters that have headlined Halloween Horror Nights over the last 25 years, Jack represents the event in the purest way possible—he is the embodiment of all the tricks and the treat.
Aiello also announced that the event would run for a record 30 nights and would employ double the number of scareactors than it had the previous year. Universal was making it crystal clear that the 25th anniversary event would be the biggest, wildest Horror Nights ever.
On May 20, the same day as Aiello’s announcement, the park launched the official website with the news that this year’s event would boast a record nine houses, five scarezones, and two shows. It was rumored that this information was released so early because of a document leaked to the fan community that included the names and themes of the houses.
In June, Universal announced that Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees would be returning to the event, after their last successful stint in 2007, or Carnival of Carnage. Aiello told the Orlando Sentinel:
Guests walking through the house will first see Camp Crystal Lake. The first portion of the maze features “all Jason” and his various kills. Fans of the brand will recognize many of the scare scenes from the movie franchise. The second portion focuses on Freddy as guests are transported to Elm Street through the dream realm. The maze ends with guests caught in the middle of a Freddy and Jason fight, complete with machetes and Freddy’s knife glove flying, as the two battle it out to a gruesome, bloody end. The maze’s end should appease both fandoms. Each set will alternate between Freddy emerging victorious and Jason pulling out the final win.
Whereas the film, Freddy v Jason, left the outcome of the battle ambiguous, with Freddy still “alive” at the end, the house would present a definite winner each night, alternating between the two. It was said that every 45 minutes there would be a cast change and each cast would have “their winner” in order to keep things fair. Two stuntmen were employed to film a number of the battle sequences in the same soundstage; these scenes would be projected in high definition onto the walls of the house, to the beat of an epic soundtrack, making guests believe they truly were in the middle of a fierce battle.
Various Jasons, played by some of the record number of scareactors, would pop out at unsuspecting guests right from the house entrance. All of the Jason scareactors selected for their body size, with a height requirement of 6’3” to 6’8”. Elaborate sets, detailed environments, and an experimental underwater scene were all added, as well as full-sized mannequins depicting some of the most famous kills from the two franchises.
In July, Universal announced a house based on the popular film franchise Insidious, for Sprung Tent 2. It didn’t make headlines, but fans couldn’t be happier and pondered how such a house might be built and what it would contain. Universal released a cryptic description:
Enter “The Further” and travel through all three parts of the Insidious saga. Denizens of the afterlife try to find their way back into the world using the living to guide them. The house isn’t haunted--we are.
Some fans were disappointed that the house would be located in one of the Sprung Tents. These tents were seen by many as the poor relative of the event’s soundstages; however, Universal had tricks up its to enhance the tents with two experimental devices that the houses did not share.
The first would remedy a major problem: lights leaked into the tents from outdoors, making the experiences inside less desirable until nightfall. In response, Universal installed a number of blackout sheets, both to the ceilings and the walls. Second, Universal provided for a scare outside the exit of the tents, making use of the greater amount of outdoor space that the tents had available. Guests would exit a tent and walk along a straight platform to the path leading back to the park, talking about what they had just experienced, and totally unaware that behind the crates stacked along the path hid the Lipstick-Demon, who would occasionally pop out, giving them a final, unexpected fright.
Shortly after the Insidious announcement, word came that The Walking Dead would return for a fourth year, and this time based on the fifth season of the show. Many houses start off with huge facades that gradually become confined and narrow as guests are funneled along tight corridors, but not this house. Every show scene would maximize as much head room as possible, in particular during the supermarket floor cave-in scene in which the characters fall through the rotten floor into a basement filled with water and bloated, but still flesh-eating zombies. Here guests would encounter another first: scareactors in the water who would at guests from specially created pools. Almost no guest noticed the actual lifeguard sitting above the entrance watching the actors as they performed.
The next house to be announced, with more gusto than any of the other ones, was the return of a house based on The Purge, which Universal billed as:
This year’s Purge is more brutal than ever. From the moment you step inside the house, dozens of vicious vigilantes will descend upon you as they exercise their right to purge.
Mike Aiello told the Orlando Sentinel:
Just like in the film, guests will find themselves within arm’s reach of the most sadistic collection of killers imaginable. Their only want and need is to express their right to purge and purge they will.
The house sparked debate within the fan community as rumors swirled that it had been added at the last minute. These rumors seemed well-founded, as when the event opened the house looked to have been recycled from a house originally planned for Ghostface, from the non-Universal Scream franchise. No one is sure why Ghostface wasn’t part of the event, or whether in fact his house was given over to The Purge, a Universal property. Regardless, it was a hit with most guests. An interesting fact about the house was the use of “fake” guests, in which scareactors disguised as guests would be pulled from the audience to have their throats slit. This tactic had not been seen at Horror Nights for many years. The throat slice would be a recurring theme across all the houses this year, with at least one victim in each house dispatched in such a manner.
Continued in "The Complete Survivor's Guide to Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights 2016"!
Not every idea for an icon passes muster, which is what happened in 2008 to the horrific but forgotten Nathaniel Crow.
For Halloween Horror Nights in 2008, Mike Aiello wrote a concept for a new icon Nathaniel Crow, who would be linked to backstories of various past icons who were associated with the Carnival of Carnage.
In a windswept, desolate land, Crow would attempt to grow and sell the pumpkins, though these would invariably rot quickly whenever he picked them. He eventually meets Jack, who tells him that the land is cursed and that nothing will ever proposer there. Jack pays Crow for the rights to put his carnival on the land for the 2007 Horror Nights event.He subsequently pays Crow to put his carnival on his land for the 2007 event.
Eventually, Crow is seduced by the horrors of the carnival; the sights, the sounds, and the smells invigorate his soul and give new purpose to his existence. One by one, many of those who visit the carnival disappear, but Crow does not, and instead he witnesses more acts of horror and madness. When he asked Jack why he does not die while others do, Jack says, “You’ll see.”
When the carnival leaves town, Crow goes back to tending his dry, barren soil. He becomes filled with hate. Upon coming across a tattered poster advertising the old carnival, he begins to bleed from sheer rage, and the blood composes itself into a mysterious rhyme on the poster:
Forgotten are the ways of old
traditions blood black and cold.
Up through dirt roots grow and burst,
evils’ return, you’ll see what came first.
When ravens and crows made the night black,
Pumpkins were carved to keep the evil back.
When the howl of the wind sent shivers down spines,
Graves of our dead covered in vines.
When black cats crossed paths and wolves howl,
True witches did more than laugh and scowl.
Your time has come, Nathaniel Crow,
outside the box you’ll think, you’ll grow.
Terrors traditions in ways you will demand,
Halloween’s true self is at hand.
Continued in "The Complete Survivor's Guide to Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights 2016"!