Preview of unique sights and frights promised for Halloween Horror Nights 2011 at Universal Orlando

in Entertainment, Theme Parks, Universal Orlando

When guests take a chance and test their luck at Halloween Horror Nights 21 beginning on Friday, Universal Orlando is ready to deliver a series of fright-filled experiences, many of which have never been seen at this or any other event of its kind. At the recent first-ever official Horror Nights “tweet-up,” some of the twisted minds behind Horror Nights shared a few hints about what fans of, and even average visitors to, the popular scream-filled event will notice as something distinctly new.

Halloween Horror Nights creators Kim Grommell, TJ Mannarino, and Rick Spencer took a Universal Studios stage after park hours to talk about this year’s haunted houses, scare zones, and characters, tell the stories behind them all. But not every visitor to the event knows, or necessarily cares, about the stories that each experience tells. Most go to Halloween Horror Nights to scream – and scream a lot. So how do these designers keep the event fresh, year after year, appealing to both the fans who want to know every gory detail about each experience as well as the average guest who is simply looking for a fun and spooky night?

For 2011, Grommell, Mannarino, Spencer, and the other team members who help create Horror Nights have focused on inserting an exceptional level of detail and originality into every experience. And while they didn’t want to spoil all the surprises at the tweet-up, the trio did offer some details about new elements they seemed to be most proud of:

  • This year’s Halloween Horror Nights icon is Lady Luck and while she doesn’t have her own themed haunted maze, she will be present in her “Your Luck Has Run Out” scare zone where every choice guests make is a wrong choice, putting them in contact with “both” sides of her persona. In fact, the rest of the haunted houses in the event are loosely based around the notion that someone, at some point in time, made a poor decision, and is now paying the ultimate price.
  • A highly-anticipated haunted house this year is called “H.R. Bloodengutz presents Holidays of Horror” and at the tweet-up it was revealed that uniquely twisted holidays seen in this TV program gone bad will include the “Feaster Bunner,” a “Ho Ho Homicide,” and “Thankskilling.” It begs the question: Who’s carving? (And who’s being carved?)
  • In a curious twist of fate, Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando and competitor park Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream event both feature haunted mazes called “Nevermore” based on Edgar Allen Poe short stories. While the Universal group couldn’t speak on behalf of the Busch team, they did say they first thought of a Poe house three years ago, shelving the idea until November 2010, when planning this year’s event. So how did the idea end up in Tampa? “Great minds think alike.” The designers called it “strange luck,” noting that even with two Poe houses in Central Florida, it will be interesting to see the different angles from which they are approached at each park. To see a preview of Universal’s take on Poe, watch the teaser video below from the tweet-up.
  • 3D is all the rage in Hollywood right now but it’s been in use in haunted houses for years. Horror Nights designers claim to have created not only a great 3D house this year in “The In Between,” but also what may end up being one of the most most talked-about rooms at the whole event. They didn’t want to spoil the surprise, but did offer that somewhere within this house, multi-colored lasers will really play tricks on guests’ eyes.
  • Guests venturing out into the more-than-balmy Florida weather, hot and humid even at night, will find temperature extremes while traversing the haunted houses of Halloween Horror Nights 21. “Saws ‘n’ Steam” offers a factory-type setting, loud, abrasive, with plenty of special effects shooting off steam, smoke, and other uncomfortably warm elements. But for relief, “Winter’s Night” offers the promise of cold and possibly even a bit of snow. But whether sweating or shivering, the scares aren’t far off. Just watch the “Winter’s Night” preview video below.
  • Nightingales” was emphasized by the designers as a 100% original creation, where the creepy female-ish lead characters were created first and the rest of the house developed around them. When asked about favorites, it was said at the tweet-up that this house may very well be the best of the year.
  • If the extreme detail and extreme scares aren’t enough to entertain, interactivity is also going to be present inside some of this year’s haunted houses. In 2010, the “Psychoscareapy” house featured a big red button that triggered additional scares when pressed by guests. This year, something similar will show up somewhere at the event. Keep an eye out.
  • Out in the streets of Halloween Horror Nights, scare zones include new features never before seen at the event. Nightmaze will “morph” while guests are inside it, changing its layout, never offering the same scares twice. It was said the best way to go through it… is “with your eyes closed.”
  • The “7” scare zone will feature another first, offering different experiences at different times of the night, as each character evolves and degrades while time passes. Characters representing the seven deadly sins will begin the night enjoying their gluttony, greed, and other familiar failures, ultimately being engulfed by their traits as costumes, make-up, and masks show their change. Each character will have three separate stages, so returning to this zone often is recommended.
  • The landscape of Universal Studios will change in “Grown Evil” and “Canyon of Dark Souls” where event creators have literally placed an elaborate garden and created a canyon for guests to walk through while being engulfed by scares.
  • And finally, in what may prove to be the most visually impressive scare zone, “Acid Assault” will offer a glimpse at what it would look like if the buildings of Universal Studios were to rot, decay, and crumble to the ground. The effect will be achieved by carefully aligned projections, a preview of which was shown at the tweet-up, replaced for your enjoyment below.
  • If any or all of this madness sounds appealing and piques your curiosity, then you can look forward to it all being available to you on opening night of Halloween Horror Nights 21 at Universal Orlando on September 23, 2011 – this Friday. Tickets and more information are available at

    But if you can’t wait that long, I’ll be attending a sneak preview of the event tonight, taking in all the haunted houses and scare zones. Since tonight’s event is an employee preview where not everything is quite perfected, I’ll hold off on reviewing the experiences until after witnessing them again on Friday.

    But I will return tomorrow with a “first look” report from the event’s preview, so check back for early thoughts, along with plenty of pictures and video. Be sure to follow along on Twitter and Facebook as well, as I deliver live updates from deep within the terrors of Halloween Horror Nights 21.

    (And for an early, early sneak peek, check out the scareactors that were brought out during the tweet-up last week…)

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