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Okay – we said that Halloween Horror Nights 2015 is already right around the corner, but even we didn’t realize just how quickly it would start to arrive.
Over in the Orlando Informer Forums, the mysterious and shadowy figure known only as Unknown has been dropping clues about what haunted houses are currently on the docket for this year’s event. (We say “currently” because, due to the nature of working with other companies’ intellectual properties, the final lineup can be decidedly different, with “front-runner” houses being ix-nayed for whatever reason and back-up concepts being trotted out – sometimes at, literally, the very last moment – to replace them.)
The most interesting one thus far? An American Werewolf in London, a haunt which may literally herald a brand-new – and, but of course, extremely controversial – era for HHN.
With the sole exception of The Walking Dead – whose three-year run, according to industry scuttlebutt, was the result of Universal’s Marketing department continually forcing the phenomenally popular franchise on the event in order to maximize guest turnout – American Werewolf will mark the first time in Halloween Horror Nights history that a very similar maze will return from a previous year: it originated in 2013 at Universal Orlando Resort, and then, interestingly enough, migrated westward, showing up the following year at Universal Studios Hollywood (one of the very first times in HHN’s 25 years that such a feat occurred).
The reason behind the property’s already-well-established longevity is short and simple: the brainiacs at Universal Art and Design, the division responsible for crafting Horror Nights each and every year, are all long-time, die-hard fans of the film and have long tried to get their favorite IP in the lineup; 2013 actually marked the third time A&D attempted to bring the house to life, which is why it earned the working codename of Trinity that year.
(Here’s a little HHN trivia to impress your friends with while waiting in line this Halloween: the ultimate fate of 2012’s proposed American Werewolf maze was to be changed at the last minute to Welcome to Silent Hill, which explains SH’s extremely similar layout to what we would ultimately see the following year.)
The real reason for AWIL’s resurrection may actually have less to do with the designers’ unquenchable enthusiasm, however, and more to do with the near-universal acclaim that fans from both the East and West Coast treated the final product with; it consistently ranked among the very top of the various best-of lists from its respective years, and its usage of puppets for the titular werewolf is still considered to be among the most striking effects yet seen in the event’s history.
Should the property be making a comeback appearance, it may very well be one of the few instances in (modern) theme park history where quality over branding wins – and wins decisively.
The downside of winning
But the fact that Universal Art and Design (possibly) manages to win yet again in its perennial battle against Marketing’s desires to stock Halloween Horror Night’s roster with the biggest and most recognizable names in popular culture carries some risk with it – namely, the precedent that both The Walking Dead and An American Werewolf in London’s showings recently could be creating for the next 25 years.
There is already a small-but-steadily growing segment of the HHN-going populace that rather vocally dislikes the diminishing role of original content at their favorite Halloween event. Forget the fact that AWIL is an intellectual property – the fact that it’s a returning one (and one that, presumably, comes organically from within A&D) ups the ante in such a fashion that could pave the way for any popular license to endlessly be cycled in and out. Yes, that American Werewolf was both a fan- and designer-favorite certainly bodes well for the return haunt’s quality, but there is also something to be said for the effect that the incessant push to create new houses for new subject matter has on one’s creative output.
Of course, such considerations completely sidestep the giant gaping unknown that is sitting at the core of the situation: we have absolutely no idea whether the new American Werewolf in London will be an entirely new take on the subject matter (kind of like how 2013’s Havoc: Derailed was a sequel to 2010’s Havoc: Dogs of War) or if it will contain the same layout from its predecessor but contain a few wrinkles or new twists just to keep everyone on his toes (kind of like how the video game Resident Evil: Director’s Cut remastered the first Resident Evil to throw a bone to the original’s legion of hardcore fans [just to keep the analogies somewhat related to HHN here]). Which approach is taken, of course, will have immediate and quite substantial consequences for how the new maze will be received, in the short term, and what kind of precedent it’ll set, in the long term.
(The one thing we do [seem to] know at this incredibly early stage: the haunt will not be based off of An American Werewolf in Paris, the 1997 sequel to the 1981 original film.)
Saving money > spending money
It’s no secret that HHN is slowly but inexorably reserving more and more of its haunted house lineup to IPs, and since IPs require money – and, typically, lots of it – it necessarily follows that more and more of the event’s budget is being tied up by securing these big-name media tie-ins. As such, dredging up An American Werewolf in London from the vaults may have less to do with allowing the creatives their time in the sun and more to do with the cold, hard reality of attempting to penny-pinch.
How would AWIL’s resurrection save Universal time and money? Easy. With all the props and (extremely expensive) puppets already fabricated, there’s huge amounts of cash that won’t have to be spent right off the bat. Furthermore, with the house’s production design already being completed once before, the amount of time and resources needed to whip up the next one is significantly reduced. Of course, this is assuming that Art and Design will be fashioning a brand-new taken on the well-trodden material; should it decide to instead slap together a retread of 2013’s maze, then the windfalls are, obviously, even greater.
While such a proposition may, on first blush, come across as being rather crude, it could actually end up being one of Universal’s more ingenious moves – if the money that was saved ended up being allocated to land bigger-than-life properties, or should American Werewolf end up being the first-ever ninth haunt (a possibility), then having a repeat trip to a maze that is already considered to be among the best of the best would be seen more as icing on the cake than a stale leftover. And since so many more guests are now flocking to the annual event than ever before, you better believe there’s a whole swath of the ticket-buying public that would kill (no pun intended) to make up for their lost chance at experiencing one of HHN’s hall of famers.
Remember how Universal played around with the idea of doing a running “Urban Legends” series of houses a few years back? Replace that with “Greatest Hits” or “Legendary Returnees,” and it’s hard to see how Universal – and, of course, Disney, as well – may not be on to something here.
It’s worth repeating once again that, at this extremely early stage of the game, it’s not only incredibly likely that the current slate of houses will change by the time Halloween Horror Nights 2015 bows, it’s also very probable that An American Werewolf in London will be the first on the list of dropped concepts.
Nonetheless, the very fact that Universal is even considering bringing back a previous IP is an important shift in its thinking on and approach to its most popular annual event, and it is, therefore, absolutely critical to start analyzing – and, possibly, coming to grips with – the development as soon as possible.
We’ll have lots more on HHN’s lineup of houses and mazes over the course of the next several weeks. Until then, be sure to check out our insider’s guide to start your plan of attack, or leave your comments and questions below.