First Look: Halloween Horror Nights At Universal
AOL Travel News got an early peek at the multi-sensory feast for horror fans, which runs through Halloween.
And yes, there was some screaming involved and a lot of laughing too – this may be horror but it is fun horror.
Now in its 20th year, Halloween Horror Nights takes over the park for 24 nights, with eight haunted houses – each with multiple rooms of activity – as well as six scare zones where creatures and skeletons and witches of various types pop out without warning or just in general look scary.
Temporary sound stages are erected and some 1,000 extras (Universal calls them "scareacters") are brought on just for the annual event, which takes about a year of planning.
Walk down one "street" and there's an actor dressed in Puritan garb burning for heresy. Up another, actors on stilts depict Mexican "Day of the Dead" characters. There are even horror-themed alcoholic beverages sold.
But it's in the houses where creativity shines. We're talking sets that feel like you're walking through a horror movie, but even better thanks to the theatrical use of light and sound, eerie music and even smell, all designed to spook visitors.
I let out my first scream only about a minute into the first house I visited, Hallow'd Past, when a freakingly lit gangster character popped out with a machine gun.
Monsters, zombies and creepy people (a nurse with a scissor stuck in her eye at the Psychoscarepy house, for instance) say boo, and may reach for you, but they are trained to never touch. If you get frightened easily it's good to remember that. One woman I was with screamed nearly constantly in the houses.
Somehow, after visiting a couple of the haunted houses I too got used to surprises and screaming, so much so that a security woman in a black polo shirt even caused me to screech – she was just directing traffic in one of the houses, and seemed as embarrassed as I was about my reaction.
All the heart-pumping stuff is cool but there are also some new takes on traditional Fun House offerings such as a tunnel with spinning walls – made scarier with black light.
Halloween Horror Nights XX also includes two live shows, "Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure" and extreme magician Brian Brushwood's "Menace and Malice."
When you look at the breadth it's hard to imagine the event started with one haunted house, open one weekend.
But the producers have amped the intensity ever since, and this 20th anniversary year is no exception.
Says Jim Timon, senior vice president, entertainment, Universal Orlando Resort, "it's all about learning what has scared our guests the most over the last 20 years and rolling it into the most intense 20 years of fear we have ever made, and making it even scarier."
The event is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors and purchasing tickets in advance is recommended. Halloween Horror is not recommended for kids under age 13.
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Photos, Universal Orlando Resort