Universal told us right from the very beginning of Halloween Horror Nights 2019’s announcement cycle that we would be getting a grand total of five scare zones. While this meant we knew that this year’s event would have the same number of themed areas as the past few years’, what remained unknown was what the ratio between original-concept and intellectual-property-based zones would be (there’s been three and two, respectively, since 2017), and what, of course, their exact contents would entail.
As of today, however, we can scratch those items off of the unknown list.
In what has become something of a ritual for HHN as of late, the entire scare-zone lineup has been divulged in one fell swoop, and there’s a lot here to sink our fiendish teeth into. Once more unto the horror breach, then!
Rob Zombie: Hellbilly Deluxe
Location: San Francisco
Once the front man of White Zombie and, now – for the past 21 years – a solo artist, Rob Zombie has become synonymous with horror, basing a number of his songs and music videos off of the genre’s classic tropes and symbols, particularly the ones from his youth in the 1970s (both the music video for “Boogie Man” and the film House of 1,000 Corpses, for instance, feature the local TV horror hosts that he so obviously fell in love with) and the slashers of the mid-‘80s, when he was just turning 20.
Now, Universal is going to complete the circle by borrowing all of that imagery for its first big IP scare zone, Rob Zombie: Hellbilly Deluxe. As Universal itself puts it:
You know his music – now it’s time to live it. Step into the heavy metal horror of Rob Zombie’s music and imagery in this pulse-pounding scare zone.
Why name the entire zone after Hellbilly Deluxe: 13 Tales of Cadaverous Cavorting inside the Spookshow International? Easy – the 1998 album was the first of Zombie’s burgeoning solo career and remains one of, if not the, most popular releases of his entire discography. Expect to find a number of the visuals curated for Hellbilly – including, Universal promises, “otherworldly beings, brutal maniacs, and menacing machines” – all throughout the themed area (though we wouldn’t be surprised to find other characters or visual motifs from all of Rob’s subsequent musical work there, as well).
Zombieland: Double Tap
Location: New York
The basis of Horror Nights 2019’s other licensed scare zone is more intriguing, if only because it’s not entirely an obvious choice: Zombieland and its soon-to-release sequel, Zombieland: Double Tap. The original 2009 film is easily more comedy than horror – particularly in the movie’s back half, when the main crew of zombie survivors makes it first to Bill Murray’s palatial mansion and then to the Pacific Playland amusement park – and although it does feature a decent amount of gore, even this is scant when compared to the stalwarts of the horror genre.
Still, there is more than enough material to work with for a scare zone: Tallahassee’s penchant for one-liners (and his near-constant search for the very last box of Twinkies in the country, which could make for an excellent Easter egg); the surprisingly-limber zombies, who run and, even, climb in order to hunt their human prey; the assorted attractions at Pacific Playland – particularly the undead-infested haunted house, which would be both meta and appropriately atmospheric; the disguised-as-a-zombie Bill Murray, who could spout off his own fair share of dialogue throughout the night (including from Caddyshack!); and, of course, the now-iconic clown zombie. But if Universal really wanted to implement Zombieland’s oftentimes-zany tone and leverage one of the elements that most makes it unique, it could project Columbus’s various rules for how to survive the undead apocalypse onto the buildings around the area, perhaps even timing them to certain gags that involve one scare actor or another biting the bullet.
But we’ve probably gotten ahead of ourselves with all this analysis and speculation. The premise of the zombie comedy follows loner and socially-dysfunctional college student Columbus who, two months after mad cow disease has mutated into “mad person disease,” sets off to find his parents back in Columbus, Ohio. Along the way, he joins up with Tallahassee – who establishes the practice of not using names but, rather, their cities of origin, since it’s best to not get too close to other people in the post-apocalyptic world – and a pair of grifter sisters, Wichita and Little Rock. Together, they slowly form the family that Columbus never had, even when his relatives were still alive, and manage to survive through one mishap after another, with the supernatural threat typically taking a back seat to the comedic and character beats.
Why implement the property into HHN now, a full decade after the film first came out? Two reasons: first, there’s that long-awaited sequel, Zombieland: Double Tap (“double tapping” being one of Columbus’s very first rules), is due to finally release on October 18 of this year. And, second, should all go well and the scare zone be well-received, there is the potential for the burgeoning franchise to have a long shelf life at the Halloween event – the filmmakers behind the movies have enough concepts pulled together to furnish several more installments, which is more than likely an effect of Zombieland originally being conceived of as a television series (in fact, it did, indeed, have a very brief existence as a show, with a pilot being ordered and then released on Amazon Prime Video in 2013 – a pilot which was so disliked by viewers, the streamer refused to pick it up to full series). Call this the next Purge, then, which has had multiple appearances at HHN in both scare-zone and haunted-house form (sometimes simultaneously!) since 2014.
Location: Avenue of the Stars (Production Central)
Living up to the ’80s theme of this year’s Halloween Horror Nights, the first of the original-concept scare zones recreates an arcade typical of that decade – albeit one that comes with a gang of “neon slashers” that want to create a permanent “game over” for you.
Relive the greed- and beauty-obsessed era of the ’80s by strolling down a street filled with crazed plastic surgeons who slice and mutilate “willing participants into horrific living works of art.” Oh, yeah – they want to make your flesh their next canvas, as well.
Location: Central Park (Hollywood)
What’s more terrifying than facing down a horde of Vikings? What if they were zombified Vikings?
In keeping with something of a unifying zombie theme for this year’s scare zones, Vikings Undead seems to deliver precisely what it name says:
[The undead Vikings] have risen and laid siege to Central Park with an onslaught of gore. Bloodlust never dies.
This roster of scare zones will join Stranger Things, Nightingales: Blood Pit, Universal Monsters, Depths of Fear, Yeti: Terror of the Yukon, Ghostbusters, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Us, Graveyard Games, and Academy of Villains: Altered States at Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights, which runs for a record-breaking 41 select nights, from Friday, September 6 to Saturday, November 2.