It’s Halloween Horror Nights’s 25th anniversary, and to celebrate, Universal is throwing a giant party – the biggest event in its history, filled with some of the most stuffed haunted houses that guests have ever experienced.
While this prospect makes the diehard aficionados salivate – it’ll be a contest for them to spot all the hordes of Easter eggs shoved in seemingly every corner of every room – it might be a little on the overwhelming side for the newbies. Worry not, fresh meat. We here at Orlando Informer have compiled the most exhaustive primer for the four original mazes, walking you through the basics of their premises and providing an overall context that’ll enable you to enjoy the experience as if you were one of the hardened pros.
This article will just cover the houses, but be on the lookout for our rundown of the scare zones shortly. And once you manage to make it to the event (it starts this Friday!), be sure to hop in to the forums and share all the little touches that you’ve noticed to help perfect the best HHN resource out there on the web.
1. Jack Presents: 25 Years of Monsters and Mayhem
The anniversary haunted house has, unsurprisingly, the most packed into it – which is no small feat, as this will be the biggest maze yet, featuring some 16 rooms (called “scenes” by those in the biz). That’s nearly double the amount seen in the average haunt, with the possibility of some of these scenes being double-size themselves.
What will they contain? A seemingly never-ending litany of callbacks to previous houses, scare zones, and icons (those characters who were designed to be the protagonist, if you were, of a particular year’s event). The biggest of these, of course, is Jack the Clown himself, who was the very first HHN icon all the way back in 2000 and whose unbridled popularity inspired the creation of all the subsequent headlining characters. “Jack would not exist without the fans,” Michael Aiello, Director of Entertainment – Creative Development, recently told Orlando Informer, “because he was just a scary clown in 2000 – that’s what he was designed to be. Jack, and the individual who played him, really transformed that into what it is today. But, really, it is the fans that said, ‘We like him, and we want to see more of him,’ and that’s why, I think, he stood the test of time.”
He’s actually passed that test with flying colors: he’s now popped up at the event some five years, showing up in numerous mazes, scare zones, and, even, shows (which he’s bringing back again this year, incidentally). He’s also seen the biggest evolution in his art design of all the Horror Night creations; after his original, stereotypically clowny appearance in ’00 and his “Jack reborn” persona of a ringmaster for ‘07’s event, he’s been newly redesigned for HHN 25, making him scarier and edgier. “For our 25th anniversary, it was not only important to include Jack, but bring him back in a new way, change his look up a little bit, make him a little grittier, more weathered, scarier,” Aiello explained. Guests will be able to trace that progression for themselves firsthand, as all three iterations will be in 25 Years of Monsters and Mayhem.
Beyond the titular clown, there is a veritable smorgasbord of other characters, creatures, and locations that have been brought out of the HHN vault. There’s so many, in fact, that running down each in exacting detail would require a novella, so we’ll tackle the originating haunted houses here quickly-but-thoroughly in list form:
Scary Tales (appeared in 2001, 2002, 2008) – the premise behind one of Halloween Horror Nights’s most popular series is simple: twisted horror versions of popular fairy tales. Everything from Alice in Wonderland to Sleepy Hollow to The Wizard of Oz has been utilized previously; for this fourth iteration (that’s just as many as Walking Dead now!), expect to see Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks return.
(Fun fact: the third entry, Scary Tales: Once upon a Nightmare, was the first maze to be situated in the Parade Building.)
Castle Vampyr (2004, 2006, 2007) – the original Castle Vampyr is exactly what it sounds like – a castle run by vampires (at the time, something of a novelty, as this was the first major presence of vampires at HHN). After a brief stint as a scare zone (which depicted a giant bloodfest in the streets), the good castle’s vampires returned with a brand-new haunt that saw them expanding their reach, taking over a nightclub in New York and enticing fresh victims in with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.
Havoc (2010, 2013) – Shadowcreek Labs may have succeeded in creating a series of super soldier thanks to a strict regimen of vigorous training and (of course) powerful, steroid-esque drugs, but it’s less than successful in controlling the side-effects, which makes the test subjects mentally unhinged and extremely aggressive. In Havoc: Dogs of War, the super soldiers break out of their cells and take over the lab; in Havoc: Derailed, Shadowcreek’s security forces have somehow managed to corral the superpowered crazies to a military train for immediate evac, but the subjects again break out and derail the train.
The Forsaken (2011) – the Filipa Monez, the fourth ship in Christopher Columbus’s famed voyage to discover America, never made it to the New World; her captain, Antonio Cabot, plotted to kill Columbus and take command of the mission himself, and the other three crews responded by sinking his ship and erasing him from history. The haunted house takes place exactly a century later, in 1592, when a hurricane dredges up the Monez and deposits both her and her vengeful, undead crew in a fort on the coast of Spain.
Nightingales: Blood Prey (2011) – the Nightingales are banshees that congregate on scenes of war or natural disasters, feeding off of the weak, ill, or dying. Naturally, they’ve feasting on World War I, the first widespread slaughter that the human race engaged in. Guests have to work their way through the trenches on the Western Front while being hunted by the creatures…
Dead End (2012) – situated in the same small Ohio town as H.R. Bloodengutz, the Hartford mansion sits abandoned for decades, until a group of kids sneaks in and starts telling ghost stories about strange and supernatural events that the decrepit building inspires in their adolescent imaginations – stories, it turns out, which end up coming true, thanks to the intensity of their beliefs. (It seems like Universal was attempting to horrorize quantum mechanics here.)
Gothic (2012) – Gothic’s premise is simple but effective: every night at the Catedral de Caementum, the building’s stone gargoyles come to life, guarding against intruders – like you.
And last but certainly not least, the classic Universal monsters – including the likes of Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, the Mummy, and several others – will be making an appearance (or five) throughout the house, sealing the nostalgic feel.
2. RUN: Blood, Sweat, and Fears
The first RUN, which made its appearance in 2001, cast guests as contestants in a game show whose sole prize was to make it out of a makeshift labyrinth populated by chainsaw-wielding maniacs alive. (Just to keep the haunt within the HHN family, the fictitious television show is designed and operated by Eddie, Jack’s younger brother, with the evil clown throwing in money to help start the “murder-for-profit business,” to boot.)
RUN: Hostile Territory showed up five years later and offered a slight variation on the theme: taking a cue from Hostel (which actually appeared in the house’s queue in clip form), individuals are able to watch others be tortured and killed – for a hefty fee, of course. The pretty obvious twist involved the selfsame chainsaw freaks deciding to turn on the would-be observers, led by Eddie himself this time, once again chasing them through a maze and out of the building.
RUN: Blood, Sweat, and Fears is assumed to not only offer up the same basic concept – hey, chainsaws are perennially popular at the event, so why not? – but to also thoroughly intertwine the concept with another HHN mainstay, Hellgate Prison. The basis for a rather controversial haunted house in 2004, Hellgate was, of course, a penitentiary taken over by the inmates and was highlighted by such scenes as an audio-animatronic figure writhing on an electric chair as he’s being executed and the multi-path Riot Room, which separated guests from their parties and had them running through a throng of angry prisoners on their way out of the maze.
We’re still awaiting word on whether Hellgate’s infamous warden, Robert L. Strickland, will be making a return appearance; he’s the reason the inmates revolted in the first place, after all, given his tyrannical and profiteering methodology (after beating the place into shape, Strickland tried to entice – and then force — citizens to pay to come in and tour the facility). Given his role in the haunt’s backstory and his appearance in its queue video, he’s gone down in HHN history as a fan-favorite.
3. Body Collectors: Recollections
The Body Collectors have been something of a Horror Nights mainstay since 2005, when their first maze established them as organ harvesters, using victims’ blood for wine and other body parts for everything from tools to artwork. It wasn’t until their second maze, 2008’s Body Collectors: Collections of the Past, however, that their backstory was really established: set in Victorian England, guests learn that a number of the most (in)famous of historical disasters, such as the Black Death and Jack the Ripper (which, of course, was the haunt’s overriding storyline), were concocted as cover stories to mask their rapacious appetites for human corpses.
(The Body Collectors, it should be noted, have also appeared in three scare zones over the past decade, and even their offspring have gone on to star in their own collection of haunts and zones, as well, cementing their celebrity status among the HHN faithful.)
In yet another Halloween Horror Nights mash-up, the Body Collectors will, for the silver anniversary, be making an appearance at Shady Brook Rest Home and Sanitarium, which is itself a legendary – and constant – addition to the event. The insane asylum originally made its debut in a 2003 haunt called PsychoScareapy, in which – what else? – the inmates overrun the staff and take control for themselves. It turns out this development was just the first of what would become a common occurrence: in 2006’s Maximum Madness, Jack the Clown joins the take-over-the-sanitarium party; in 2007’s Home for the Holidays, a bus carrying the Shady Brook residents crashed on Christmas Eve, allowing them to temporarily take over a suburban neighborhood; and in 2010’s Echoes of Shady Brook, the asylum has finally been shut down due to its terrible security record, but that doesn’t stop the inmates’ vengeful spirits from haunting the place.
Body Collectors: Recollections adds to the events of Shady Brook’s hallowed halls by having the Body Collectors invade in 1888 and running amok, with the Great Blizzard of 1888 playing out in the background (and thereby keeping the historical angle of the Collectors series running strong).
If this seems like a peculiar scenario, Charles Gray, the show director for HHN, explained to OI that the designers sat in a room and filled up a huge whiteboard with every year’s haunts and then asked themselves: “‘Which ones do we love? Which ones are the most scary? Which ones do we remember?’ We took all those ideas, like the characters – the Body Collectors. We’re like, ‘We love the Body Collectors.’ And then which [mazes] were our favorite looks? We’re like, ‘Oh, Shady Brook. That’s awesome. What would happen if we put the Body Collectors in Shady Brook?’”
Meaning this haunt should be all sorts of fun.
4. Asylum in Wonderland 3D
Whereas the other three original haunted houses this year have rather involved backstories or interrelationships with other haunts, Asylum in Wonderland 3D has for its basis only one scare zone, 2008’s similarly-named Asylum in Wonderland. But what the maze lacks in narrative is more than made up for with concept: the premise behind the original scare zone, according to the Halloween Horror Nights Wiki, revolved around the characters from Lewis Carroll’s books “look[ing] into the mirror of the event’s icon, Bloody Mary, and [going] mad” – or, perhaps it should be, going even madder.
At the recent HHN media preview event, Charles Gray has actually hinted that there may be a tad more to the experience than just the one scare zone. The narrative hook will revolve around whether Alice is hallucinating these hordes of crazy characters or if they’re all actually real, and the inspiration for the scenes’ designs comes from the previous Alice in Wonderland components of the Scary Tales houses.
Still, why would Universal include such a relatively simple haunt for the big anniversary year? Gray went on to say that, for him, personally, Lewis Carroll’s characters are some of his most favorite, and they’re easily some of the most fun – plus, he confided to us, “I’m really excited to have that literature aspect of Alice” in the mix-up.
Still have questions – or something to add? Let us know in the comments below.
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