Following the success of the first-ever traditional “haunted house” experience for Halloween Horror Nights in 2010, Universal Orlando this year is returning to the subjects of spirits, spooks, and the supernatural for an all-new, original maze called “Dead End.” With inspiration ranging from classic home haunt techniques to impressive special effects, this house combines every element of classic Halloween.
Two years ago, the first-of-its-kind house was called “Legendary Truth: The Wyandot Estate,” coupling the concept of ghosts with plenty of fan service surrounding the event’s interactive online initiative called “Legendary Truth,” tying into Horror Nights’ milestone 20th year. Now Universal is building upon that idea with a whole new look and feel.
Eager to show off months of hard work, Universal Orlando offered us a sneak preview tour of “Dead End” yesterday, encouraging us to record and capture its scares to show off what makes Halloween Horror Nights special. Not all special effects and actors were in place for this preview, but many were, under show lighting and with full music and sound effects in action. And the result was captivating. See for yourself in the full walkthrough video below. (Spoilers, naturally.)
Video: Full “Dead End” haunted house, preview walkthrough
“The Legendary Truth house was great,” noted show director Mike Aiello. “We loved doing that. And the characters were great in that house. But a lot of the characters in that original maze that we did, they all looked kind of the same. They were all human.” That’s where the new experience begins to differ dramatically.
“Not to say that these characters in the Dead End maze are not human. The environment is a lot more dilapidated than the Legendary Truth house that we had before as well as a lot of the characters are extremely unique. There is a character that we’re calling the ‘Falling Girl’ and literally the costume is a neck broken, lying on the shoulder and she’s walking around and scaring people. Although the environment may feel similar to our fans who may have experienced the Legendary Truth maze, the characters are going to be very unique in this maze, something that we haven’t done before.”
The approach to “Dead End” feels like trick-or-treating down a dark residential street on Halloween night, up to that one house you were scared of. A pair of Jack-O-Lanterns sit on an old table on one side of the entrance, while the “homeowners” are less than inviting.
Upon entering, here just a few of the fiends found throughout the new maze:
High on the creep factor is a photographer, smiling wide as he takes pictures of a row of dead girls… or are they?
But “Dead End” about much more than new characters. It’s a throwback to a classic Halloween experience. “We’re incorporating some high tech things in it, also some low tech that are some traditional almost home haunt scares that we just thought would fit really cool in this maze,” explained Aiello. “The Axworthy ghost – it’s a ghost on a line, that’s in this maze. We kind of wanted to show a little bit of here’s some tradition, here’s some new things. The vortex tunnel is in this maze but in a completely new way we haven’t used it before. I don’t want to give it away. You’ll know it when you see it. It’s less about the dizziness and more about how it interacts with the environment.”
Aiello was also eager to point out a series of books gracefully floating above guests’ heads, a nod to Ghostbusters, a Horror Nights creative team favorite film, naturally. But like any element included in a maze, the books are clever misdirection to draw the eyes upward, away from hands unexpectedly reaching out from behind bookcases.
Even the bedroom is twisted in this haunted house, quite literally, with the entire room turned 90 degrees. Aiello promises a special effect will be included in this scene, not ready for showing off during yesterday’s preview walkthrough.
It’s always difficult for the creative minds behind Halloween Horror Nights to conclude exactly where ideas for a walkthrough experience originates from. Show director Patrick Braillard noted, “They stem from the concept phase. It’s four or five of us locked in a room and nobody comes out until the ideas are done. It’s really funny how all of our original ideas come up. Sometimes it’s just something somebody says casually when they walk in. We have a cup of coffee and they’re like, ‘You know, what would be really cool… It would be cool if we did this…’, and that’s really the hallmark of what happens at Horror Nights.”
But whether it’s a haunted house that’s simply based on the idea of a haunted house or an elaborate setup involving props, costumes, and set pieces inspired by a big budget Hollywood film, it all comes down to what the Halloween Horror Nights minds are most interested in. “As a content team, we want to do the things that excite us,” concluded Braillard. “And I think that if we do that, then the fans or those who come every single year and year out, if they’re pleased, then we think we know that the general public is also going to be pleased with what they have to experience.”
Guests are invited to step into the madness of “Dead End” and six other haunted houses when Halloween Horror Nights 22 begins at Universal Orlando on September 21, 2012.
More photos from “Dead End” at Halloween Horror Nights 22:
(Photos by Michael Gavin)