Why are we so excited for Ash vs. Evil Dead at HHN?!

Clearly, the team here at HHNU is thrilled over the recent news that this year’s Halloween Horror Nights will be featuring a house based on the Starz television show Ash vs. Evil Dead, the sequel series to the original Evil Dead film franchise from director Sam Raimi. Sure, we’ve caught a glimpse of the chainsaw-appendaged, boomstick-wielding Ash in a segment of the 2009 house Silver Screams, but this will be the first time we see a full haunt dedicated to this beloved horror hero. We can barely contain our enthusiasm over the recent announcement, but just why is Ash vs. Evil Dead a perfect fit for HHN?

Revisiting the Classic Film Series

MINOR SPOILERS FOR ASH VS. EVIL DEAD AHEAD:

Even though the newly-announced house will be based on the current television series, viewers are well aware that part of Ash vs. Evil Dead’s success and charm is its deep ties to the original film trilogy. Over the course of the show’s two seasons, Ash and his new sidekicks, Kelly and Pablo, revisit the cabin from The Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (1987), Ash battles a possessed Henrietta (once again played by Evil Dead II’s Ted Raimi), and reunite with familiar faces from the original franchise, most notably Ash’s sister Cheryl, played by returning actress Ellen Sandweiss. With the show revisiting classic locations and characters from the original series, this house will give die-hard Evil Dead fans the opportunity to relive memorable moments from their beloved film series.

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Evil Dead II’s Henrietta, played by Ted Raimi, brother of director Sam Raimi.

Great Original Set Pieces

Just because Ash vs. Evil Dead has a strong connection to the films that came before it doesn’t mean that the Starz series doesn’t have a few original ideas of its own. Without getting into too much detail, season two features an episode that sees Ash’s journey to retrieve the Necronomicon (The Book of the Dead) lead him to a morgue and features a grotesque but hilarious “fight” between our hero and a corpse. Although this episode goes into uniquely gross territory that may even be too hot for HHN, there’s no denying that this scene is a prime example of how Ash vs. Evil Dead is more than just a nostalgia trip resting on the laurels of the original film series.

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Different from 2013’s The Evil Dead

Halloween Horror Nights fans will recall that in 2013’s event, guests were already treated to a house based on The Evil Dead. Evil Dead the “remake”, that is. While the 2013 film surprised many by holding its own as a well-made and well-received gore-fest, the Fede Alvarez-directed picture is quite different from the original source material, most notably in tone. While the remake has a more intense and serious attitude akin to more modern horror movies, Sam Raimi’s original films are typically categorized as horror comedies, featuring both quality scares and gore as well as gut-busting physical gags courtesy of Bruce Campbell’s great performance across all the movies in the series.

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We may have run out of ways to proclaim just how excited we are about Ash vs. Evil Dead coming to Halloween Horror Nights 27. What moment from the series would you like to see recreated in this highly-anticipated haunt? Let us know and don’t forget to hail to the king, baby!

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-Freddy

Five Favorite Scarezones

One of my favorite aspects of Halloween Horror Nights year after year is the event’s uncanny ability to make me feel as if I’m fully immersed in another world. When at its best, HHN can make me feel scared and make my own experience seem unique and exclusive even when I’m walking through a scarezone surrounded by dozens upon dozens of fellow park goers.

Here at HHNU, we give a lot of time and focus to our favorite houses and the haunts we hope to see in the future, but I’d like to point the spotlight on the horror that happens on the streets of the event each year with some of my personal favorite scarezones in my years attending Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights (HHN 17-26).

War of the Living Dead (HHN 19)

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Ever played “Zombies” in Call of Duty and thought, “…I want to go to there”? If so, this scarezone from the 2009 event was as close as you were going to get without an X-Box Live subscription. Uniformed members of the undead littered the streets of a war-torn town, the sounds of artillery fire and a flurry of bullets buzzing through the air, dense gun smoke and fog obscuring your view, and to top it all off – literally – a zombie on a high turret firing shells (blanks, of course) at passersby below. I recall being aimed at directly, being fired upon, playing along and reacting to the gunfire, and then getting a thumbs-up from my attacker up top. Needless to say, I walked through this scarezone a few times throughout the night.

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Zombie Gras (HHN 20)

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While this wasn’t a particularly impressive scarezone in terms of set decoration, this area definitely excelled with its combination of both a festive and fearful atmosphere. This colorful and macabre zone was especially memorable because scareactors would lure guests towards them with Mardi Gras beads, dropping a shiny necklace on the floor and enticing brave guests to pick them up. If you were one of the lucky ones and made a quick dash towards the actor’s feet, you could grab the beads, escape with your life, and with a free souvenir. I’ve still got my beads.

The Purge (HHN 24)

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See you at Finnegan’s.

This is perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had in a scarezone. I won’t say that I was in a completely lucid state-of-mind after a few Dirty Shirleys, but this zone – modeled after The Purge: Anarchy – lived up to it’s name: the streets of New York were nothing but pure anarchy and chaos. Scareactors roamed the streets celebrating the annual Purge, trashed dumpsters and propaganda signs announced the event, and a white truck with a mounted Gatling gun rode by looking for fresh victims. The chaos would only stop when a live demonstration would take place featuring the New Founding Fathers from the film.

All-Nite Die-In – Double Feature (HHN 25)

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It’s always a thrill to meet your favorite celebrities, and my favorites happen to be famous monsters. Like Zombie Gras, this scarezone lacked any real decorations or sets, but I had a blast simply because I was able to see and take some pictures with my favorite Universal Monsters. And before you ask, yes, I did follow the rules for taking pictures of scareactors: ask politely, wait for the actor to agree and pose, and be quick. What made this scarezone special was the two sets of characters roaming the area depending on the time of day. Early in the evening, the San Francisco/Disaster area would be flooded with the aforementioned Universal Monsters – Frankenstein’s Monster, the Bride, The Invisible Man, and even a Count Orloc from the original 1922 Nosferatu – all dressed and painted in black and white to reflect their silver screen origins. Later in the evening, they would be replaced by full-color monsters of the modern age like Freddy Krueger and Chucky.

Dead Man’s Wharf (HHN 26)

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My love for this scarezone from last year’s event has everything to do with my love of the Bioshock video game series. With blue, green, and purple strobe lights giving the illusion of being underwater and bloated zombified scuba divers right out of the 1930s (not unlike the “Big Daddy” from the Bioshock series), enough can’t be said about the stunning architecture and ambiance of Dead Man’s Wharf. While the San Francisco-set scarezone did suffer from overcrowding, the claustrophobic location coupled with the exceptional attention to detail made the area feel more akin to an outdoor house than an actual scarezone.

As is the case with every house, no two guests have the same experience in a scarezone. Were you bored by The Purge at HHN 25? What’s the best scarezone experience you’ve ever had? Please let us know and share some of your best scare zone photos!

-Freddy

Can You Smell What The Wolfman’s Cookin’?

Another week, another rumor for Universal’s recently-announced monster movie series “Dark Universe”. It’s no secret that Universal has been going after A-list actors to bring their monsters to life, with Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe leading the charge as two of the stars of The Mummy (playing Nick Morton and Dr. Jekyll, respectively). Javier Bardem has also been cast as the Frankenstein Monster in the recently announced Bill Condon-directed Bride of Frankenstein, and Johnny Depp rounds out the list of confirmed stars as The Invisible Man in an as-yet-unannounced feature.

It has long been rumored that Universal is very much interested in Angelina Jolie to play the title role in Bride of Frankenstein, but just recently, another rumor has been making the rounds suggesting that Universal is sparing no expense in an attempt to land Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the role of Lawrence Talbot/The Wolfman, the part made famous by Lon Chaney Jr. in the 1941 original film The Wolf Man. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Johnson has proven to be a real draw for movie-going audiences, having found success throughout multiple genres and franchises. He’s been an action hero, a dramatic actor, and a great comedian, so why not try his hand at horror? In fact, let us not forget that before he was revitalizing the Fast and the Furious series, and back when the public knew him simply as “The Rock”, Johnson experienced his first real foray into acting in motion pictures playing The Scorpion King in 2001’s The Mummy Returns. Perhaps things are coming around full circle and the prodigal son is returning home to the universe – or Dark Universe – that helped make Dwayne Johnson a household name beyond the wrestling ring.

What do you think about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson possibly stepping into the furry paws of Lon Chaney Jr.? Will this be a welcome back to the universe that helped launch his acting career? If so, let us just hope the makeup looks a tad better than this:

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-Freddy

Universal Reveals the “Dark Universe”

We’re just two weeks away from the release of Universal’s The Mummy, the first in a presumed shared universe of inter-connected monster movies. Presumptions have now officially been made reality as Universal has not only given this shared universe a name – “Dark Universe” – but they’ve already revealed the next feature to follow after The Mummy.

Bride of Frankenstein will be released on February 14th, 2019 – a romantic date for Universal’s most delightfully frightful couple. The film will be directed by Bill Condon – right off the heels of his monster hit (see what I did there?) Beauty and the Beast – based on a screenplay by David Koepp (Jurassic Park).

Angelina Jolie has long been rumored to portray the role made famous by Elsa Lanchester in the 1935 James Whale original. While no official casting announcement has been made, Universal has stated that casting of the titular role will be announced soon.

Universal has already confirmed that Academy Award Winner Javier Bardem will be joining the Dark Universe family as the Frankenstein Monster, so we can only assume that he will be playing a major role in Bride. Bardem is the latest actor to join the star-studded Dark Universe alongside Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man, Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll, Tom Cruise as Nick Morton, and Sofia Boutella as the titular monster in The Mummy. Universal has assembled the stars in the first official Dark Universe cast photo below.

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Additionally, Universal has released a sizzle reel comprised of footage from the original Universal Monsters shared universe (more on that here).

What are your thoughts on the Dark Universe? Which monster are you most excited to see reimagined on the big screen? And most importantly, which of these movies will make the best future Halloween Horror Nights house?!

-Freddy

A Farewell to Bates Motel

Tonight marks the end of A&E’s surprise hit Bates Motel, a show that upon announcement may not have sounded like a great idea (didn’t we already learn that you shouldn’t remake Psycho?), but ultimately proved naysayers wrong with five seasons of solid drama and a unique place in television history, proving that with the right amount of care and passion for the source material, and a talented team behind the project, any idea could be worth a shot.

Now, I won’t go into a whole history of how or why Bates Motel came into fruition. For those full details please check out our very own Chris Ripley’s book, Psychos: The Story of the Psycho Film Franchise. What does interest me is that around the time Bates Motel first premiered, it carried a lot of baggage, which should’ve led to instant failure. Not only was the show yet another remake of Psycho, a franchise that was seemingly dead after the 1998 Gus Van Sant remake, but the show also premiered during a period of time where television networks were developing a number of shows – to varying levels of success – that were either adaptations of classic movies (Fargo, Parenthood), re-imaginings of horror properties (From Dusk Til Dawn: The Series, Rosemary’s Baby), or modern-day retellings of either (Sleepy Hollow, The Exorcist). Bates Motel falls into ALL THREE categories.

Despite the baggage, Bates Motel premiered on March 18th, 2013 on A&E. The show was a surprise hit, maintaining an audience of approximately 2.70 million viewers in its first season. A respectable amount for a scripted drama on a network primarily known for its biographies and reality programming.

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But why does the show work? Sure, name recognition and general curiosity might get an audience to check out the pilot, but where many new shows oftentimes suffer a drastic dip in ratings from the first to second episode, what made that audience come back week after week for five years? The answer, I think, is that the show is more than just a rehash of the films that came before it, and the quality of the performances are of the highest caliber.

Being the latest remake to Psycho is no easy feat, but expanding that story into a long-form narrative with multiple new plot threads, new original characters, while still remaining faithful to the original material (both the Hitchcock film and the novel) is damn near impossible. Bates Motel did the smart move of being both a respectable remake while also expanding the mythology and creating characters that were more than just disposable puppets waiting to be killed off. And while not every new character and plot thread was a home run (Bradley’s return, the marijuana farm subplot), the show always did of good job of righting itself and rewarding viewers who stuck with the series.

That’s not to say that all the adjustments on the show were the result of course correction. In fact, one of the best decisions Bates Motel made was in realizing what a captivating actor Nestor Carbonell (“Sheriff Romero”) was, a fact that fans of the television series Lost or Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight may already know. This is evident in the show promoting Carbonell from a supporting player to a series regular at the start of the second season.

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Speaking of the performances, there would be no Bates Motel without the lead players: Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates and Vera Farmiga as his mother, Norma. Amidst the multiple plot lines, the show’s main through line and primary narrative has always been the exploration of the relationship between the mother and son Bates and how that relationship yields the birth of a psychopath. That story and those characters, especially Norman, would be tough rolls to embody, especially considering the role was arguably already played to perfection with Anthony Perkins’ portrayal in the original Hitchcock film. Speaking as a fan of the film and Perkins’ performance, I was won over by Highmore’s performance fairly quickly. As a young child actor, Freddie Highmore was no stranger to giving great performances, having starred alongside Johnny Depp in both Finding Neverland and Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The innocence displayed in those two performances, specifically, were a perfect fit for Highmore’s interpretation of Norman Bates, a character who appears as a mild-mannered and collected innocent young man on the outside, but a monster with a bloodlust on the inside.

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Vera Farmiga’s Norma Bates is equally complex, and Farmiga clearly has a blast playing a role and bringing to life a part that was originally only portrayed as a skeleton in the Hitchcock film. Her Norma is equal parts haunting, sympathetic, funny, sexy, and absolutely terrifying, and Farmiga captures all aspects of the character with nary a misstep.

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What Bates Motel proved is that just because a movie is a classic doesn’t mean that it’s untouchable. Psycho was a landmark picture in the history of film, but in the current state of remakes and re-imaginings, it may not always be a terrible idea to go back to the well. Sure, oftentimes these revisits don’t work. For every Dawn of the Dead (2004), we get about fifty Red Dawns (2012). But sometimes, when made with the best of intentions and with a clear purpose and direction, you can breathe new life into an existing property. And if you’re successful, you’ll make audiences want to check out the original property. So pick up a copy of the novel Psycho by Robert Bloch, watch the Hitchcock original, and tune in to A&E tonight at 10pm for the series finale of Bates Motel. Will Norman kill again? I doubt it. Why, he wouldn’t even hurt a fly.

Bates Motel’s first four seasons are currently available to stream on Netflix.

-Freddy

Top 5 IPs Waiting for the HHN House Treatment

When entering a Halloween Horror Nights house, I anticipate experiencing something both familiar and new. With each consecutive year, my expectations are met as HHN welcomes a fair share of both original and IP (Intellectual Property) houses, and even though I do love and prefer an original idea, I can’t help but feel giddy when HHN gives me the opportunity to step into the worlds of horror properties I know and love. We’ve seen mazes based on well-known franchises (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th), previously-thought “ungettable” IPs (The Exorcist, Halloween), and even some properties that, although well-known to horror aficionados, are not so familiar to current mainstream audiences (An American Werewolf in London, From Dusk ‘til Dawn: The Series).

From the early days of Fright Nights and the Psycho house to the most recent HHN 26 event and The Exorcist haunt, a trip through Horror Nights memory lane plays like a greatest hits of horror cinema and television, with memorable franchises getting either their own unique houses or at the very least, a scene in one of the popular anthology houses (2003’s All Nite Die-In, 2009’s Silver Screams). As the event once again gears up to celebrate its 27th anniversary, and a history of horror cinema dating close to a century, we at HHNU have compiled a list of the top 5 intellectual properties that we’re SHOCKED have not been represented in a Halloween Horror Nights house.

We’ve set up only two rules to make this list: 1) The film/television show cannot have appeared in any capacity in a previous house. Meaning, no Army of Darkness or Shaun of the Dead, for example, as both appeared in 2009’s aforementioned Silver Screams house. 2) We’ve disqualified any Stephen King properties, as those could make up a list all their own. For my thoughts on what King properties would make great attractions, check out an earlier post here.

So without further ado, here are the five IPs that are ripe for the HHN treatment:

5. Suspiria

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Based on the cult classic by Dario Argento, I think it’s safe to say the main draw Suspiria has going for it is its visuals. Set in a dance academy and following a young ballet student who discovers that her school isn’t quite the prestigious institute she thinks it is, the film is often praised for its use of art design and color, specifically in how Argento frames and displays the film’s grisly deaths. The creative team at Halloween Horror Nights is known for successfully recreating pivotal moments in horror cinema (the “Power of Christ” scene from last year’s The Exorcist house is perhaps the best recent example), and I’m sure they’d be up to the task in bringing some of the glorious moments from Suspiria to life. Just imagine what could be done with the stained glass hanging scene.

4. The Conjuring

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The most recent franchise to make our list, James Wan’s The Conjuring has already left its mark on the horror genre with two very impressive and well-received (both critically and financially) films. Picture yourself entering one of the main sound stages to an exterior setting leading you up to the house from the first film, wood creaking, owls hooting, a faint jingle of a music box melody ringing in the distance, and the ominous tree as depicted in the film’s poster to the side of the main walkway, forcing you to walk under its crooked branch, the noose hanging from it gently swinging above you. And once you’re inside you can experience many of the film’s standout scares, from the kid on top of the armoire to the clapping game in the basement, and along the way, you come across the Annabelle doll, and end with the exorcism scene from the film’s climax. Personally, I’d rather the first movie received its own house and then leave the second movie for the following year, as there’s definitely enough content in The Conjuring 2 to warrant a follow-up house: The Nun, the ghost in the armchair, the room full of crosses, the Crooked Man.

3. Poltergeist

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Based on the Tobe Hooper classic, a Poltergeist house would allow HHN to use just about every technique and trick available to create all of the film’s terrifying set pieces. Static sound, ambiance, and performers for the “They’re here” scene, clown puppets, skeletons in the swimming pool recreated in water tanks, an animatronic tree crashing into the children’s bedroom, holograms and wind machines for the climactic confrontation with the poltergeist itself. Throw the kitchen sink at this house! Fog machines, lightning effects, all are welcome!

2. The Fly (1986)

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This is the personal favorite for one reason alone: I would love to see what HHN does with the gradual transformation of Seth Brundle into the eventual Brundlefly. Like the An American Werewolf in London, The Thing, and Alien vs. Predator houses before it, this haunt could be a masterclass in makeup, prosthetics, and animatronics. Starting with Brundle’s body parts falling off, the gross vomiting, the bad skin, and ultimately the final stage of full-on animatronic fly, the almost episodic nature of David Cronenberg’s film, and the sequential nature of the transformation makes The Fly the perfect subject for the HHN house treatment.

1. George A Romero’s Living Dead series

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Okay, this is the big one. Even though there are six films in the series to date, and while Land of the Dead has its occasional charm, I’m going to narrow this pick down to the original three Romero classics: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead. Now, I can see how the main argument against a “Living Dead” house would be that we already get a zombie house every year with the latest iteration of The Walking Dead, and an argument justifying its place as a Horror Nights house would have to be something more substantial than “Romero did it first”. I present my defense in two parts: characters and settings.

Currently, Halloween Horror Nights doesn’t have the likeness rights to include the main characters from The Walking Dead television series, which is why you don’t see Rick, Darryl, or Michonne in the houses. Romero’s films have some memorable characters with equally memorable moments and lines: Johnny popping up from behind a gravestone warning you, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”, Roger fighting off zombies yelling, “We got this, man! We got this by the @$$!”, and Rhodes being disemboweled by zombies crying out “Choke on ‘em!”

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As far as settings go, all three original Romero films offer a range of unique and immediately recognizable locations: Night of the Living Dead’s cemetery and cabin, Dawn of the Dead’s mall, and Day of the Dead’s military bunker are all vastly different and offer some things we haven’t seen from the various The Walking Dead houses. And let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to be saluted by Bub as they’re exiting what could be one of Halloween Horror Nights’ most unforgettable houses.

Do you agree with our list? What horror film or television show would you love to see given the HHN house treatment?

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-Freddy

Stephen King – An Untapped Goldmine

The rumor mill has officially started churning out possibilities for themes and haunts for this year’s Halloween Horror Nights 27. The loudest buzz going around is clearly the idea that we may finally get to see one of Stephen King’s seminal works given the HHN treatment in the form of a house based on The Shining. Granted, the house would most assuredly be based on the 1980 Stanley Kubrick film, which Stephen King has very openly condemned over the years, but we get what we can. For more on the news surrounding The Shining, check out our recent story.

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Two more Stephen King properties are also getting the cinematic treatment this year with a new adaptation of IT as well as the long-awaited film based on the fantasy western series The Dark Tower. Here at HHNU, we’ve yet to feel any rumblings in regards to the possibility of either an IT or Dark Tower attraction, although this writer wouldn’t be surprised if either of those two were the chosen King haunt for this year in place of The Shining. Halloween Horror Nights does love its timely movie cross-promotions (Dracula Untold or From Dusk Til Dawn: The Series, anyone?)

The very thought that we could have three uniquely different Stephen King properties possibly making their HHN debut this year leads me to ask, what other King works would make great Halloween Horror Nights attractions?

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The Mist

Get ready for fog machines galore! Not only is the original novella excellent, but Stephen King himself has praised the Frank Darabont-directed film, citing specifically his approval of the new ending, stating,

Frank wrote a new ending that I loved. It is the most shocking ending ever and there should be a law passed stating that anybody who reveals the last 5 minutes of this film should be hung from their neck until dead.

Ending aside, the rest of the story is littered with some great creatures, a tentacle monster, tons of atmosphere, some truly terrifying characters, and, of course, plenty of mist.

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The Stand

I can’t get into too much detail on this one as I’m currently only forty percent done reading this 1,600-page tome, but a story of a post-apocalyptic world following a massive-scale biological plague that wipes out 99% of the world’s population could lead to some interesting set pieces and scares. Diseased patients, corpse-littered streets, demolished buildings, military assaults on the infected, mass hysteria, all within the first 500 pages. I can only assume the remaining 1,100 ramps up the terror and could inspire some truly memorable frights at Halloween Horror Nights.

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Carrie

This is an interesting one because I don’t necessarily feel Carrie would make a great house so much as an excellent scare zone. Imagine walking through the streets during the 3rd act climax of the 1976 Brian De Palma film; a pretty faithful adaptation of the events as depicted in Stephen King’s first published novel. Overturned cars on fire, students screaming in terror and running scared through the streets asking passersby for help, and on an elevated stage is Carrie White herself in her prom dress, doused in blood, causing eruptions of fire and smoke with merely a look.

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Creepshow

Last year’s American Horror Story house proved that Halloween Horror Nights knows how to handle an anthology. The attraction was hugely popular with attendees and was one of my personal favorites of the event. A big reason for the house’s success was the decision to divide the haunt into three distinct sections, each based on a different season of the show. A house based on Creepshow, a horror anthology film written by Stephen King and directed by George A. Romero (“Night of the Living” “Dawn of the Dead”) could be realized in a similar fashion. The movie is divided into five short stories ranging from tales of reanimated corpses, alien plants, a monster in a crate, roaches, and Leslie Nielson in a rare dramatic role as a rich psychopath. The shorts are bookended by the story of a little boy who is punished for reading horror comic books and haunted by a hooded ghostly figure known as The Creep. An Creepshow house practically writes itself. We have both an entrance and exit to the house in the form of the film’s prologue and epilogue, and there are five vastly different and unique sets of locations, creatures, and scares that could be brought to life by the team at Halloween Horror Nights, all while keeping a fun sense of camp and humor that’s present in the film and the original comic books it’s paying homage to.

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What other Stephen King projects would you like to see turned into a Halloween Horror Nights attraction? How about a photo opportunity with Christine the possessed Plymouth Fury or a Shawshank Redemption house where, like Andy Dufresne, you too can crawl through a river of—well, scares.

Trivia: Creepshow is an homage to the old EC horror comics of the 1950s like Tales from the Crypt, home of original HHN Icon The Crypt Keeper.

-Freddy

Universal Monsters: The Original Cinematic Universe

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In Hollywood, one’s success is another one’s envy. If one idea works, you can almost guarantee that imitators will follow closely behind. With the ongoing success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it comes as no surprise that just about every major film studio is looking to capitalize on the idea of an interconnected series of films. Sure, Warner Bros.’ DC Extended Universe is a no-brainer, and an expansive Star Wars film series is expected. But a Hasbro Toys universe? A multi-picture Ghostbusters mega-multi-franchise? While it could be argued that studios should focus on getting ONE movie done correctly before deciding if a universe is the right idea, this is an argument for a different post. The reality is that Hollywood, like fashion, runs on trends and everybody wants to wear what’s en vogue this season.

Among the many expanded franchises currently in development is Universal Studios’ revamp of their classic Universal Monsters line-up set to kick off with 2017’s The Mummy. But could Universal Studios be accused of following the latest Hollywood trend or were they, in fact, the original trendsetter?

Now, I won’t go into an entire history lesson on the original slate of Universal Studios monster films from the 1920s to the 1950s. For that, you can check out our very own Christopher Ripley’s book Universal Monsters: Origins. Just know that in the decade between 1931 and 1941, Universal Studios saw great success by developing a variety of well-received monster movies, many of which spawned multiple sequels. Dracula and Frankenstein were both released in 1931, followed closely by The Mummy in 1932, and The Invisible Man in 1933. Then, in 1941, Universal Studios released The Wolf Man. During this decade, each individual monster franchise existed in its own world with its own set of rules, history, and mythology. That is, until 1943, when for the first time ever in film, worlds collided, monsters mashed, and the original cinematic universe was born with Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.

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Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man plays as both a sequel to 1941’s The Wolf Man, as well as 1942’s Ghost of Frankenstein (4th in the Frankenstein series). Lon Chaney Jr. reprises his role as Lawrence Talbot/The Wolf Man, while the Frankenstein Monster is played by, hold your hats, Bela Lugosi. Yes, Count Dracula himself. The film made references to the original Wolf Man film as well as the previous entries in the Frankenstein series, cementing that both franchises occupied the same universe and follow the same history and consequences. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, like Marvel’s The Avengers, upped the budget, expanded the scope of the world, brought popular characters together, and featured….a musical number?

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Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man features a performance of the folk song “Faro-La Faro-Li”. The number is cut short when it is rudely interrupted by a frantic Larry Talbot and a rampaging Frankenstein Monster.

With the success of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Universal Studios realized they had just struck gold. If Frankenstein and the Wolf Man could occupy the same world, who else can come and play? For the next ten years, Universal would expand on this winning formula with films like House of Frankenstein (1944), which threw Count Dracula into the mix, this time played by John Carradine, followed by House of Dracula (1945). Then, Universal rewrote the rule book once again by crossing over their famous horror monsters with successful comic actors Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein brought together Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolf Man, and even a cameo by The Invisible Man, all while introducing horror fanatics to two of America’s most popular comedians of the era.

So, in this current climate of expansive film franchises, can you really blame Universal Studios for wanting to go back to the well and revisit the formula they created over 70 years ago? While Disney and Marvel have redefined the idea for the modern age of film, you can’t deny that the universe was created by Universal Studios and the Universal Monsters. Hell, it’s in the name, isn’t it?

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Fun Fact: After the success of Dracula (1931), Bela Lugosi was offered the role of the Frankenstein Monster, but reportedly declined the part. Some accounts cite the reasoning as being Lugosi’s interest in playing the role of Dr. Victor Frankenstein instead. Others say Lugosi felt the makeup interfered with his performance. The role eventually went to Boris Karloff, who has defined the look and attitude of the character  for close to a century.

-Freddy

 

HHN Meets Metallica: A Match Made In…

Today marks the release of Metallica’s latest studio album “Hardwired…To Self-Destruct” and I’m happy to say that as a life-long fan of the band, they are back and they’re just as loud, fast, and great as ever. Not surprisingly, listening through the album for the first time got me thinking about Halloween Horror Nights – as most things do – and I couldn’t help but wonder, wouldn’t a Metallica house be amazing?!

This idea isn’t so far-fetched, as Universal Orlando is no stranger to creating attractions incorporating and inspired by music. The popular Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit coaster separates itself from other thrill rides by allowing visitors to select their own personal soundtrack from a varied – albeit limited – track list. Halloween Horror Nights itself has also been musically influenced as recently as 2012. Many may remember Halloween Horror Nights 22’s Alice Cooper: Welcome to My Nightmare; a demented walk down memory lane through some of Cooper’s greatest hits. Personally, I don’t recall too many specifics from the house (courtesy of the infamous “HHN Blur”), but I can clearly remember a trashed high school setting during the “School’s Out” section. Cooper’s music was the perfect fit for the HHN treatment. His songs are often story-driven, and with the help of some great classic music videos, are also very visual and atmospheric and oftentimes horrifying; three mandatory qualities in any HHN house.

The same can be said, in my opinion, of Metallica. Coming out of the thrash metal scene of the 80s and into the 90s, the band has remained relevant across four consecutive decades, a rarity in a field of entertainment that doesn’t often allow for such longevity. With an ever-growing catalog of great tracks and a theme park event that only increases in popularity with each passing year, the merging of Metallica and Halloween Horror Nights seems like a no-brainer from a creative standpoint.

Still need convincing? Here are just a few tracks that I feel would make for some great scenes in a future house I’d like to call Metallica: Welcome Home (Sanitarium):

Master of Puppets:

One:

Enter Sandman:

Welcome Home (Sanitarium):

Of Wolf And Man:

Four Horsemen:

Trapped Under Ice:

Any other songs or bands you can think of that would make great attractions for Halloween Horror Nights? Or do I just need to be locked up in the sanitarium myself? Let us know!

FUN FACT: In the queue line for this year’s Lunatics Playground 3D house, you can hear a musical mash-up by The Black Sweden featuring the vocals of Abba’s “Take a Chance on Me” sung to the melody of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”. Possible Easter egg for a Metallica house next year???

-Freddy

Journey into The Repository – Full SPOILER Walkthrough and Review

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2016 marks Halloween Horror Nights’ first foray into the increasingly popular realm of virtual reality (“VR”). The Repository is a brand-new interactive experience accessible through a premium add-on ticket marked at $50.00. The ticket can only be purchased by calling a phone number provided on the Halloween Horror Nights website speaking to a representative that will assist you in booking your reservation. Please note that you must also purchase a Halloween Horror Nights event ticket to participate in this unique experience.

Ever since The Repository was first announced back in August, there’s been much controversy surrounding the new experience. Most of the controversy is in regards to the steep price point. With the prices of general admission tickets and Express Passes already at an all-time high, is it worth shelling out an extra $50 for what is essentially one more haunted house? Personally, the idea seemed intriguing, I’ve never had any kind of VR interaction beyond a View Master, and in order to celebrate my 10th HHN anniversary, I figured I’d “reward” myself with something special. So, I was all in. But, like many others, I was still concerned with whether or not the money would be worth it. For $50, how long will this house be? And how exactly does the virtual reality work? When I called in mid-September to make my reservation, I asked the customer service agent these questions and was told to set aside 90 minutes altogether for the event: 30 minutes for the initial preparation including signing of safety waivers, and 60 minutes for the actual experience.

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Fast-forward to 6:00pm on Friday, October 21st. My buddy and I picked up our tickets at a Will-Call kiosk and were instructed to head over to the Blue Man Group area to check-in. After having our tickets scanned, we entered a large waiting room filled with maybe a dozen round tables where groups of eight were assigned to sit and wait. There was a bar off in the corner, a server going around the room taking drink orders, and on each table were waivers for everyone to sign and one folder containing multiple printed documents. The documents ranged from textbook pages to an article on the Philosopher’s Stone to an eBay auction for a camera that was used to photograph the dead. After approximately half an hour of signing our waivers, ordering some drinks, and chatting with the fantastic people we had the pleasure of sharing this experience with, everyone in our eight-person group was handed a lanyard (4 red and 4 yellow), and split into two groups of four based on our lanyard colors. One of the employees emphasized to make sure to pay attention to details and be very observant of our surroundings as anything could be a clue that would be crucial to solving the event’s final puzzle. My group of four (red lanyards) was summoned we were instructed to head over to an exit. And thus began our journey into The Repository…

Our fearful foursome was led into a dimly lit room filled wall-to-wall wooden shelves stocked with ancient artifacts. Think the haunted artifact room from The Conjuring series mixed with the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. A soldier in black riot gear stood in the corner of the room next to a podium and telephone. Then, from the darkness appeared our first scareactor. He was a professor of sorts and in a very convincing performance explained the general story, which involved keys and portals to other dimensions. I will say right off the bat that the best aspect of the entire experience was the interaction with the scareactors. Each performer stayed in character at all times and always had some kind of improvised response to any question or action I or any of my groupmates would make. Unlike the regular houses, the actors in The Repository are allowed to touch you and they used this freedom to great effect while never being invasive or crossing any inappropriate lines. At one point, the professor moved to one side of the room, looking away from us, and as I examined the contents of the table in front of us, my friend picked up a hand bell and rang it. The professor responded by yelling “Don’t ring the bells!” and came running back to chastise us for setting some kind of evil free. He grabbed my lanyard in frustration when suddenly a phone rang and the soldier answered the call.

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Our group was hurried into a small room made to look like an asylum cell. The guard told us to stay in the room, warned us not to touch anything, and assured us he’d be right back. He left the room, but not before noticing that the young woman in our group was crossing her arms because she was cold. “Rub your chest,” he said. “Your arms will take care of the rest.” He was clearly as big a fan of Batman Begins as I was.

From behind a pillar appeared another actor dressed in a hospital gown. He had long and greasy blond hair and spoke in whispers with the occasional outburst, which included a loud “Look at me!” clearly inspired by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. The inmate led us into another asylum room with writing covering the walls, a safe in the corner, and a locked wooden crate atop a table. He whispered something that only the girl in our group could hear and then came over to me and whispered, “Do her a favor and give her those numbers on the wall right over there.” He was pointing to a specific piece of the wall that read something along the lines of L50R70. I realized that it was a locker combination meaning I had to turn the dial left to one number and then right to another. After the first try, the locker opened revealing a small box containing a key. Using the key we opened the crate, revealing four cubes, each emitting a different colored light: red, blue, green, and yellow.

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Cubes in hand, our group was quickly shuffled away to another room designed to look like a high-tech laboratory. Our new chaperone was a no-nonsense woman who instructed us to gather around a metal table while she stood on the other side of it and tried to bring her lifeless colleague back to life. She explained the significance of the cubes, but not before yelling at us and telling my friend to spit out of his gum. Her colleague jolted to life for a second and fell on the floor. As she continued speaking to us, I experienced my one and only scare in The Repository when the presumed dead body grabbed me by the ankle and screamed in agony.

Another soldier burst into the lab and rushed us into the next room, grabbing me by the shirt collar so that I’d hurry. The concrete-walled room was empty. We were ordered to stand at different corners with our backs to the wall. A drill instructor explained our mission and prepared us for the VR portion of the experience. Finally! Our group was split into pairs. My partner and I were led to an adjacent square room approximately fifteen feet long on all sides and told to stand in the center back-to-back. We were fitted for our headsets and I will say, as someone who wears glasses, the headset was a bit tight and pressed my glasses into the bridge of my nose. As for our mission in the VR world, we were instructed to look for symbols and colors and remember the order we saw them in. The instructions were very vague and we weren’t exactly sure what kind of symbols to look out for. With my headset on, I was handed a wand and told that my cube was placed on the end of it, an image that was reflected in the VR world. As for the VR world itself, this is where the negatives begin.

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After a short countdown, my partner and I were “transported” to a library setting. With Playstation VR and Oculus Rift allowing players to see fully-realized beautifully-rendered environments, I was immediately shocked to see that the level of detail in The Repository’s VR world was no more impressive than the graphics of an early Playstation 2 video game. As you may recall, we were instructed early on to examine everything, as anything around us could be a clue to solve The Repository’s final puzzle. I recall being told specifically to look in books. I walked over to a bookshelf expecting to be able to interact with a book, but as I pointed my wand at it, the wand avatar simply went through the book and the shelf. Why would we be instructed specifically to look through the books, then transport us to a library packed wall-to-wall with books, and then not allow us to interact with anything? I turned to see a ghostly avatar that represented my partner in the room with me. Eventually, I noticed different brightly-colored symbols throughout the room and pointed my wand at them. I tried to remember the look of each symbol, but they were all pretty elaborate designs that looked very similar to each other.

After finding four or five symbols, the setting changed and we were warped onto a stone cliff in the night. Cold wind breezed past us and as my partner and I looked down at the floor and identified the same colorful symbols, pieces of the cliff started breaking away, shrinking our platform smaller and smaller until we were once again back-to-back. This short portion is where the VR was most effective because I clearly felt a sense of vertigo as I looked down over the edge of the cliff.

We were then transported to our third and final dimension: a graveyard. Once again, we looked around at the graves searching for more symbols, with the occasional poorly-rendered grim reaper appearing when I turned. I should’ve been scared, but I couldn’t get past how bad the visuals were. After finding all of the symbols, our headsets were removed and we were whisked away to the final room, rejoining our two other group members.

Let me take this moment to explain that for a house that was billed as a revolutionary VR experience, the entire VR portion lasted no more than five minutes. Not only was it short, but as I said before, the three short environments that we visited were poorly-rendered and offered very limited interaction no more immersive than an old point-and-click computer game. For $50 I was expecting a house set predominantly in a virtual reality landscape. But regardless, even if the philosophy was for the house act as a build-up allow for a short but sweet visit to the VR world, I would expect to be blown out of the water for those five minutes. With the software released for Playstation VR and Oculus Rift, we know the potential is there. This visit was definitely short, but unfortunately, it was anything but sweet, making it the weakest part of the experience as a whole.

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The final room was the setting of our final puzzle. Resembling something out of “Legends of the Hidden Temple”, we were told to find the two remaining cubes somewhere in the room and then match the six total cubes to six square pegs. The solution would be based on the colors and symbols we saw in the different dimensions. We were locked in the room and told we had three minutes to solve the puzzle. Needless to say, neither of the four of us had any clue what we were supposed to do. We found the two remaining cubes (purple and orange), but had no idea how to match them. We placed cubes randomly into slots and a trail of light told us if we we’d made the right choice (white light) or a poor choice (red light). With maybe 45 seconds remaining, I realized that we didn’t really need to know what to match, but rather just randomly place the cubes in the pegs until the white light glowed for that particular slot. With that logic, we quickly arranged the cubes until all six emitted a white light, triggering and a plume of fog and a light signaling our victory. Another soldier came into the room to congratulate our team and led us outside to the exit. We were given green stickers to place on our lanyards, signifying that we had made it through The Repository and successfully completed the puzzle at the end. If we’d failed, we would’ve been given a blue sticker. Basically, a participation ribbon.

Outside, there was another bar, some snacks for purchase, and one scareactor dressed as an inmate who hung out with us for a while, congratulated us on our win and eventually escorted us out into Halloween Horror Nights.

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And that was the end of The Repository. So was it worth it? I hate to say anything negative about HHN because it’s something so close to my heart and my favorite event to attend all year, but I can’t say in good conscience that The Repository was worth the $50 I paid. When I originally made my reservation, The Repository was inaccurately sold to me as a 60-minute VR house when in reality, the entire experience lasted no more than 25 minutes, with only a fifth of that being dedicated to the use of the virtual reality technology. At the very least, if the VR segment was impressive or more immersive, I might be more forgiving, but when the number one selling point of the house is the use of this new gimmick, then the gimmick needs to be extraordinary and memorable. The interaction with the scareactors was, again, the best aspect of the event, but it was still not enough to warrant such a high price tag.

Would I pay for a follow-up VR experience next year? As it stands, the answer is no. But could I be convinced otherwise? If the price is lowered, the length of the experience expanded, and the VR technology dramatically improved, I could see myself putting the headset back on and taking a trip into another dimension. I’d definitely take my glasses off this time.

Have you or anyone else you know experienced The Repository? If so, please give us your thoughts in the comments. Do you agree with me or am I completely mad?

-Freddy