Love to be scared? You’re definitely not alone. But if simple trick-or-treating just doesn’t do the trick on Halloween night, take a road trip and delve into the delicious, tingly feeling of sheer terror at the infamous Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando.
You’ve walked through typical haunted houses at typical theme parks, but nothing can prepare you for the level of fright you’ll experience here. Basically, the HHN creators want to literally scare the hell out of you – but in a nice way.
“Yes, the goal is to scare people, but also there’s a fun factor in it, and a party element that we want people to have,” says Mike Aiello, who at the tender age of 35 became creative director of HHN last year. “The cool thing, especially in the last 12 to 15 years, is that Halloween has become in my opinion as big as Christmas. It really has become a major event, not only here at Universal, but just in general. The horror attraction industry is a huge component of entertainment – and for some it’s year-round.”
And for many South Floridians, it’s worth the trek to Orlando to feel the fear, as there are eight really spooky mazes – not your typical houses - with different themes, drawing from classic horror movies (“An American Werewolf In London,” “Evil Dead”), TV shows (AMC’s smash hit “The Walking Dead”) and original content.
“We have a maze called “Afterlife: Death’s Vengeance,” which is a three-dimensional maze painted in UV-reactive paint, so it has this glow to it,” says Aiello. “And we put special 3D glasses on the guests that causes characters to recede or pop, depending on the color scheme.”
Creepy, for sure. But that’s nothing compared to some of the other mazes.
“We also have a maze called “Havoc Derailed,” with characters we call DOWs, and that stands for Dogs of War,” says Aiello. “And they are these genetically engineered super-soldiers that have gone completely out of control due to scientific research that has been performed on them. And in this facility they were housed in, they tore it apart, and were collected and placed aboard a transit train to be transported to a new location.
“The guests are aboard that train,” he continues, “with the illusion that these cars are careening down a track, and we’re using lighting and audio techniques to create that sense of movement. And then as the guests go through the rooms, the DOWs take over this train and end up derailing it about halfway through.”
Suffice to say, those who really don’t enjoy being startled should steer clear (“We’ve had people who literally hit the floor and just crawl their way through the rest of the maze,” says Aiello), but for Halloween lovers with an adventurous spirit, go for it.
Zombie from AMC's "The Walking Dead" at Halloween Horror Nights 23. Photo courtesy Universal Orlando