Halloween Horror Nights returns to Orlando for a 22nd year of scares
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 16:09
You can feel your heartbeat pound as your steps quicken around a dark corridor. All you want is to reach the end of the maze, but the surrounding screams confuse your direction and you stumble into the wrong corner where you suddenly find yourself face to face with a decomposing, bloodthirsty zombie.
If this sounds like a waking nightmare, well, good. That’s exactly the effect organizers are hoping to achieve with this year’s Halloween Horror Nights event at Universal Studios Orlando.
“This is what Halloween Horror Nights is famous for: recreating authentic environments,” said a Universal Orlando representative at this past week’s Halloween Horror Nights 22 media preview. “We put you inside because we want you to suspend disbelief and believe that you’re actually there.”
Halloween Horror Nights 22 will showcase seven houses. They include the original creations, Dead End, Gothic and House of Horrors, which will feature classic horror movie monsters such as Frankenstein and the Wolfman, and the four collaborative houses, Silent Hill, Penn & Teller New(kd) Las Vegas, Alice Cooper — Welcome to My Nightmare and the highly anticipated AMC’s The Walking Dead. The event will also have two shows for visitors’ viewing horror: the annual pop culture reference-laden Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure and a visiting show, The 20 Penny Circus’ Magic for People with Questionable Taste.
This year’s HHN event has been the subject of much speculation among horror and theme park enthusiasts alike, primarily because of the slow and limited release of information about the event from Universal Orlando. Two of the main rumors surrounding HHN 22 have turned out to be true, as organizers confirmed that there will be no icon character for the event or any marked safe zones from roaming scare-actors as in years past.
Members of the design team for this year’s HHN stressed that they did not make the decision not to include an icon character lightly. “In the past we’ve done icons and had a thematic element to tie everything together. We wanted to change it up this year a little bit because all of these brands that we’ve partnered with kind of speak for themselves this year,” said Michael Aiello, the show director of house content for HHN. Aiello said that in working with the entertainment for this year’s event — AMC’s Walking Dead, Konami’s Silent Hill, Penn & Teller and Alice Cooper — the design team felt that not having an icon was the best shift to take. “To try to tie all of these elements together with one theme this year, we felt, would do them a disservice,” Aiello said.
T.J. Mannarino, a design team member who has worked with HHN for the past 16 years, agreed. He said that working with this year’s commercial properties to design the houses has been a pleasure, mentioning that the companies tend to know their audience and what it wants very well. Fans of the Silent Hill game, for example, will encounter recognizable villains such as the nurses and the sadistic Pyramid Head. Mannarino said one of the greater challenges is coming up with material and structure for the original concept houses.
“We’re always trying to figure out: What is the best way to bring characters and environments to life that nobody’s ever seen before? How do we not repeat ourselves? We try to find characters and environments that we’ve never done before and to a level that nobody’s seen anyplace else. It’s all about spectacle and environment,” he said.
Thanks to the new approach of having no safe zones for those looking to avoid scare-actors, there will be plenty of spectacle and environment for this year’s attendees. Universal Orlando has reinvented its street experience with the overarching Legions of Horror theme, featuring five groups of characters designed to strike fear into the unsuspecting park guest’s heart. There are vampires from every time period and part of the world, half-animal, half-man beasts, bloodthirsty warriors wielding large swords and looking for revenge, escaped female prisoners (all of whom are only too happy to be in possession of chainsaws), and traditionals, or familiar staple characters of Halloween, such as ghosts, goblins, witches and scarecrows.
Why the decision to eliminate safe zones? Lora Wallace, the show director for the streets of HHN, said it was all about the element of surprise. “It was something new and different,” Wallace said. “People come to Halloween Horror Nights to get scared, and sometimes the best way to get scared is to not know where you’re going to get scared or what’s happening. It’s that unknown that’s the scariest, and that’s what we’re feeding off of.”
Tickets start at $41.99; the event opens on Friday. Visit www.halloweenhorrornights.com for more information.