Upon entering Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights XX: Twenty Years of Fear, there is no turning back. The sun hazily sets in the Orlando sky and you realize you’ve entered a twisted world where the ghastly roam and screams are prized.
Welcome to your worst nightmare.
Each year from late September through the end of October, Universal Studios Orlando transforms its namesake park into a nightly spectacle filled with haunted houses, scare zones (special areas that guests must pass through that are filled with freakish characters) and live shows.
“It’s pretty scary but it’s fun,” said Jennifer O’Toole, 23, of Delray Beach. “I have been to Halloween Horror Nights a few times before and it’s interesting to see what direction they will take each year.”
Traditionally, Universal has organized the event around a specific icon in both its Los Angeles and Orlando theme parks, using it as a figurehead for the year’s general concept. However, this year marks Halloween Horror Nights’ 20th anniversary. Despite pressure from fans to create a “best of” commemorative event, Universal decided to combine the past with the present, using an original icon named Fear.
“If we were going to use icons from the past, it wasn’t going to be a reunion year,” said Patrick Braillard, a member of the Halloween Horror Nights creative team. “We wanted to pay homage to those past characters, but have them serve a higher calling. So we took icons from the past- Jack the clown, the Caretaker, the Storyteller, the Director and the Usher- to correspondingly represent the five aspects of Fear that complete the cycle- chaos, death, legend, sacrifice and vengeance- and now Fear is out. And it’s going to be awesome.”
Braillard explained that during the creative process, fear seemed to be a common link between the many successful icons of Halloween Horror Nights and was integral in this year’s culminating event.
“We have a huge whiteboard and we write all our ideas on it,” he said. “Everything kept coming back to ‘fear is here’- that’s why people come here, to get scared. And now it is the 20th year of fear- where Fear comes from- it’s alive and has always been here.”
The creative team at Universal truly does hope to inspire fear, working on each edition of Halloween Horror Nights up to a year in advance. Special attention is given to intricate details in all aspects of the event, even the “scharacters’” costumes.
concept to execution, so it does take a long time. We are constantly overseeing and start actual production in about Feb. or March, it takes a while to make that many costumes. We’re probably starting on next year’s concept next week.”
“On the actual nights to get ready [for Halloween Horror Nights] it’s like a ballet,” explained Lora Wallace, another member of the Halloween Horror Nights creative team. “It’s very chaotic from 4:45 p.m. to 6 p.m., when everyone is getting ready, with the blood station over here and the prosthetics station over there. It takes hundreds, if not over 1,000 people to put this event on…and it is more than just entertainment too, like the operations crew. It’s a huge team beyond the actors.”
With Halloween Horror Nights XX, visitors can expect the extraordinary, and, of course, to experience fear like never before.
“We have to show fans we’re taking the event into the next two decades,” Braillard said. “This year, there are no victims [in the haunted houses], everyone in a costume is an aggressor [to make the experience more intense]. They want to hurt you, they want to kill you and you’re going to scream.”
Each haunted house features a different theme and back-story. This year, there are eight different houses, including an orphanage with creepy children hell-bent on revenge, a trip through the gates of Hades, a mental institution for the criminally insane, Parisian catacombs filled with the angry dead, a visit with “dogs of war” soldiers who want your blood, a zombie Armageddon, an estate haunted with violent spirits, and of course a stroll through the “hallow’d past” with Halloween Horror Nights character favorites making an appearance.
Nicole Wilson of Atlanta, Ga., 29, happened to be visiting Universal Orlando with friends during the opening weekend of Halloween Horror Nights and decided to find out what all the hype was about.
“It’s been fun but scary,” Wilson said. “We’ve been to five haunted houses. The scariest was definitely the “Dogs of War” one. They did a really good job with all the lighting and the way it was set up, and how they painted the men’s faces. It was really scary, but it was the best.”
Jennifer Rodriguez, a junior at Lynn University, felt the “Psychoscarepy: Echoes of Shadybrook” was by far the most frightening attraction.
“I didn’t like the insane asylum one, it was very scary,” Rodriguez said, visibly shivering. “It was really dark in there with strobe lights, so one minute it would be totally dark and you couldn’t see a thing and the next someone would pop up in front of you. It was so freaky.”
University of Miami junior Max Mann felt the event as a whole was not particularly scary, but one haunted house did catch him off-guard.
“I was walking through one of the doors in the Hades haunted house and got caught in this mesh thing hanging from the ceiling,” said Mann. “I lost my footing and then some dude who looked like the guardian warrior from ‘Legends of the Hidden Temple’ came out of nowhere and scared the [heck] out of me. They won’t touch you but sure come pretty close. It was so dark and there was random fire coming out at parts.”
Halloween Horror Nights XX also features six “scarezones” with varying themes and two live shows: a comedy, “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure,” and an illusionist magic show, “Brain Brushwood: Menace and Malice.” A few of the rides remain open during the event, including The Simpson’s Ride, Men in Black Alien Attack, Jaws and Revenge of the Mummy.
Daniella Fernandez, a junior at UM, is an avid fan of Halloween Horror Nights and has been attending the event for as long as she can remember.
“I like the adrenaline rush; I’m really into horror movies and I like to be scared,” she said, breaking into a wry smile. “I like to test them because I don’t get scared easily.”
Fernandez feels everyone should visit Universal Studios for Halloween Horror Nights at least once, even those who shudder at the thought.
“I definitely recommend it. Everyone should go because it is a totally different experience than anything else,” she said. “And it’s fun anyways to go away for a weekend, all just to celebrate Halloween.”
Danielle Kaslow may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT: Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights XX: Twenty Years of Fear
Dates: Oct. 20-24, 27-31
Hours: Fridays and Saturdays 6:30 p.m.-2 a.m., Thursdays 6:30 p.m.-1 a.m., Wednesdays and Sundays 6:30 p.m.- midnight.
WHERE: Universal Studios Orlando- 6000 Universal Blvd., Orlando, Fla.
COST: General admission $74.99, Florida residents and annual passholders admission Sunday-Thursday $39.99, Friday $49.99, Saturday $64.99.
Express passes (to skip the regular lines) are available for an additional $39.99-$79.99, varying with specific dates.
OPTIONAL SIDEBAR IF ROOM-
Car- From Miami, take Interstate 95 North to Florida’s Turnpike State Route 826 West. Merge onto Interstate 4 West, then take exit 75B to South Kirkman Road. Universal will be on your left. The trip takes approximately four hours and is 237 miles from Miami. The tolls will cost approximately $23 roundtrip.
Air- Flights leave from Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International and Miami International Airport regularly to Orlando International Airport. A direct flight is one hour in length and prices vary by airlines.
Bus- A variety of bus lines offer direct service from Miami to Orlando. Each line offers different amenities, options and pick-up times, and range in price from $25-60 for a one-way ticket. Just a few of these bus lines include: The Orlando Miami Bus (Miamitourcompany.com), Florida Sunshine Shuttle (Floridasunshineshuttle.com), The Florida Express Bus (Thefloridaexpressbus.com) and Red Coach USA (Redcoachusa.com).