Universal Orlando has made it clear that Halloween Horror Nights 2012 is different than any of its many predecessors. Rather than uniting the event under one theme, banner, or single icon, this year’s Halloween extravaganza showcases a multitude of popular and individually iconic properties alongside plenty of original ideas, allowing each to share the spotlight.
With names like The Walking Dead, Silent Hill, Alice Cooper, and Penn & Teller, Universal has taken the rare route of promoting each equally, on a variety of billboards around town and hanging from the Universal Studios entrance archways. Longtime Horror Nights fans hoped for, and expected there to be, a central theme or icon to pull it all together, as has been the case with characters in recent years like Lady Luck, Jack the clown, Bloody Mary, the Director, the Storyteller, and many others. But this year Halloween Horror Nights is changing all that.
“The event speaks for itself,” explained show director Patrick Braillard. “Universal Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando is a tradition. People now show up and have been showing up for the last 21 years, now 22. And they’ve come to expect the unexpected. And so to give you an icon, that’s wonderful. But these all speak for themselves.”
To show off the creativity that spans each of the outside properties as well as their own unique creations, Universal Orlando held a preview two days ago, offering a glimpse at the familiar and fiendish faces that will soon dominate the streets of Universal Studios Florida at night. Costumes and masks from each of this year’s haunted houses, shows, and all-new street experiences were displayed for up-close critique, each visible in the video below.
Video: Costumes and characters of Halloween Horror Nights 22
Braillard emphasizes that just because Universal is basing four of its seven mazes this year on outside properites, they are no less original or important than those created based only on their own concepts. “Some of the things that are best known about Halloween Horror Nights are that we change the game up every single year,” said Braillard. “And when you say ‘original’ houses versus intellectual properties, they work in conjunction with one another. Every single one of our houses is is original. We had to work with everybody and collaborate with Alice Cooper, and with Penn and Teller, Silent Hill, the makers of AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ KNB EFX.
“We had to work with them to create these original concepts and so when you look at Alice Cooper, yeah we used ‘Welcome to My Nightmare’ as the basis and used Alice’s stories to further the storyline of the house, but we still had to create, which is a wonderful thing for the guests. Not only do they get to step into the Halloween Horror Nights world, but they also get to step into the Halloween Horror Nights world via a great property like that.”
Beyond the contemporary themes, Universal is reaching back decades in honor of its 100th anniversary celebration with a maze called House of Horrors, combining classic Universal monsters – Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, Creature from the Black Lagoon – with a trick inspired by one of the event’s most popular houses in recent years, 2008’s Dead Exposure. They call the effect for the new maze “blinding black and white,” featuring frightening flashes of light only briefly illuminating the darkness that separates guests from the ghouls who will prey on them.
Then there are indeed still plenty of completely “original” ideas for Halloween Horror Nights 22, focused on a “haunted house”-themed haunted house called “Dead End” and a gargoyle-filled Victorian cathedral called “Gothic.”
But whether it’s a hoard of zombies stumbling through the San Francisco area of the park or a roaming band of warriors, beasts, and chainsaw-wielding prisoners, Universal’s costuming and makeup professionals ensure guests will not only be scared, but also impressed by their attention to detail and quality of craftsmanship.
Halloween Horror Nights makeup designer Michael Burnett is quick to praise his artists. “We’ve got a really talented team of people here,” said Burnett, proudly. “We stay current with all the techniques that are being used. Especially with something like ‘The Walking Dead’ that’s a current show that uses a lot of makeup, I’m in contact with the makeup team on the show. We’re showing them how we’re working. They’re showing us what they’ve done to create those looks, then we take that and apply it. Obviously it’s a little different. When you’re shooting a TV show, you can stop and say, ‘No, that’s not quite right. Let’s adjust that thing.’ We’re live so what you see is what you get, so we have to adjust for that. So we definitely have the talent to do that.”
And there will indeed be plenty of scares lurking throughout the event. While the Legions of Horror leave nowhere safe in the park’s streets, “The Walking Dead” will be a particularly prominent feature. If there was any semblance of an overall theme to Halloween Horror Nights 22, this would be it, as Universal promises total immersion into the hugely popular AMC TV show.
“One of the really cool things, especially for the people who are big fans of ‘The Walking Dead’ – one of things that’s so scary in that show is that everywhere you turn there’s a walker and you can’t get away from it, and I think you’re going to feel that,” said Burnett. “We’ve created hundreds of walkers and that was probably one of the big challenges for us was just that volume, so you get that immersive feel when you’re here.”
Longtime Horror Nights attendees will welcome Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure back, a tradition that isn’t likely to be broken any time soon. But this year’s additional show is an unusual magic act called 20 Penny Circus, featuring showgirls that will surely draw attention even if the magic tricks don’t. And it’s been hinted that Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular lagoon show will receive a Horror Nights makeover too.
Fans should get used to Halloween Horror Nights not quite being what they remember from years past. Universal is happy to keep visitors on their toes, wondering just what they’ll come up with next, and it doesn’t have to follow a formula. “Our event keeps evolving and it keeps changing. So do the ideas,” concluded Braillard. “We’re never going to repeat a maze. We’re never going to repeat a house. Know that. And with the reinvented street zone that we’ve got this year, the event is constantly changing and constantly new.”
Though there is no overall theme to this year’s Halloween Horror Nights, a banner in front of the park does invite guests into an experience they’re not likely to forget, promising “once you’re inside, there’s no way out.”
Halloween Horror Nights 22 begins at Universal Orlando in one week, on September 21, 2012.
More photos of the costumes and characters of Halloween Horror Nights 2012 at Universal Orlando:
(Photos by Michael Gavin)