Universal holds first ever tweetup for Halloween Horror Nights
September 19, 2011, 4:18 am
Fear is again around the corner, while Lady Luck has always been with us. The masterminds behind Universal Orlando’s much anticipated Halloween Horror Nights event pulled back the veil of secrecy on Wednesday night, releasing new details as the event enters it’s third decade. Traditionally, details on Halloween Horror Nights are still shrouded in hype a week before the separately ticketed event debuts. Speculation fueled by fans reaches a feverish pitch until opening night. With Halloween Horror Nights turning 21 this fall, a different tactic spread in cyberspace.
For the first time, Universal Orlando Resort held a “tweet-up” before the annual Halloween event. Users of the social networking website twitter.com were encouraged to arrive at Universal Studios Florida just after park closing for special access.
“There’s no short supply of great stories,” said T.J. Mannarino, Entertainment Dept. Director of Art and Design, referencing that after 20 years, the fall tradition for many remains fresh.
A new face will headline the event in 2011. Up until Wednesday night, little was known about “Lady Luck,” who appears inside what looks to be a casino. Universal calls this year’s icon “a tempting seductress that transforms into a bloodthirsty beast.” The group in attendance learned that each of the eight haunted houses in 2011 will center around eight groups of people who hoped for good fortune, but ultimately had bad luck.
“She’s been here since the beginning of time,” Mannarino said about the notion of fate, calling luck, “A choice you have to make.”
More on the face character of Halloween Horror Nights was promised to be released before the September 23 debut. But Mannarino gave attendees a hint on Lady Luck’s true nature.
“You think she’s good luck, but she’s bad luck,” he explained.
While Lady Luck did not make an appearance in person, several costumed characters, in full makeup, did make the rounds and interact with the crowd of roughly 100 people on hand.
The event started with a lizard-skin looking creature, who will inhabit the 3D haunted house, parading around the room. “The In Between” house will use technology, lasers and special effects to deliver what Mannarino believes will be a memorable experience.
“This level of 3D has never been done before,” he said.
Halloween Horror Nights Designer Kim Gromoll promised one room done in 3D will “blow away” visitors. Gromoll, Mannarino and Creative Manager Rick Spencer toured the haunted house earlier this week and were thrilled with the results.
The trio shared further insight into the planning of Halloween Horror Nights. The stories and concepts included in the annual scare-fest first come together in November, ten months prior to the debut. A core group of four or five entertainment producers will begin to brainstorm a dozen haunted house ideas. Later, those ideas will be whittled down to eight concepts that become haunted houses.
Designers reveled the haunted house based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, “Nevermore, The Madness of Poe,” spent three years simmering on a back burner before coming to fruition. The story was right, but the designers felt the concept needed time to develop. A white haired character from the Poe house graced the crowd, complete with a knife stuck through her forehead.
The haunted house occupying a section of the Jaws ride’s queue line will contain the most special effects in 2011. “Saws and Screams Into the Machine” will sport broken pipes with steam escaping and what Mannarino described as “electricity shot at you.” Moving saw blades from an era with roots tied to the industrial revolution, will also make this the loudest house. It’s also the most difficult to plan for, since using the existing queue of Jaws forces the path to snake between footers and existing ceiling supports.
During an after-hours review of Saws and Screams, the designers were pleased with the finished project.
“We came out of that house giggling and laughing because we were so proud of it,” Mannarino shared.
Also meant to make horror fans laugh, the “H.R. Bloodengutz Presents Holidays of Horror” haunted house. Here, a fictional television show celebrates holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving, but with a sinister twist. The Easter Bunny is replaced by the “Feast-er Bunny.” Thanksgiving is now known as “ThanksKilling.” And watch out Santa as “Ho Ho Homicide” take center stage.
“If it was too predictable, why bother to come?” asked Spencer.
Two haunted houses will feature immersive environments that were likened to a motion picture. “The Thing” house, based on the upcoming move, will look like the film, after artists worked with the movie’s producers. “The Forsaken” house follows what happened to Christopher Columbus’ fourth ship. Mannarino said visitors will find themselves in the middle of a hurricane when the ship comes up from the bottom of the ocean. The result is a cast of water-logged characters who also grace a “movie quality set.”
Outside, the scare zones have received a new attention to detail. Most notable, “Acid Assault.” The facades of the backlot on New York Street will receive an overlay created by high-powered projectors. As acid rains from the sky above, the buildings will look as if they are crumbling. The example shown to members of the tweetup received noticeable support. Computer drawn simulations of falling bricks, decaying stucco, exposed iron framing and broken windows appeared very life-like.
The tweeters also heard first that the scare zone simply called “7” will feature a cast with multiple wardrobe changes. When the event begins each evening, the “scare-actors” will be clad in the first of three costumes and make-up applications. What starts with well dressed “temptresses” will turn later take a darker tone as night falls. By the end of the evening, the 7 scare zone will be filled fatal vixens.
“The Canyon of Dark Souls” presented the Halloween Horror Nights team with a new challenge. Universal Studios Florida features wide walkways. To create a passage that is tight and uncomfortable, sets resembling canyons with tall totems were built.
Where then entire Halloween Horror Nights event is built is also up for discussion each year. In the past, the annual scare fest has traditionally been held at Universal Studios Florida. Yet, that may change again in the future.
“What’s the best venue for the characters?” Mannarino asked aloud, as he referenced the behind-the-scenes brainstorming sessions.
In 2002, Halloween Horror Nights moved to Islands of Adventure with the introduction of “The Caretaker” as an icon. The event stayed at Islands of Adventure in 2003 with the addition of “The Director” character. In 2004, both parks were utilized for the first time when no icon was introduced. The marketing campaign asked visitors to face their own fear. By 2005, Halloween Horror Nights had returned to Universal Studios Florida. However, Mannarino hinted a return to Islands of Adventure may be in the future.
Future events will be shaped by what fans think, according to the designers. Comments left on websites created by Halloween Horror Nights enthusiasts, messages on Twitter and desires listed on Facebook allow planners to gage what’s hot.
“We stay topical and current as possible, “Mannarino shared.
The crowd roared when a black hooded sweatshirt available for purchase was displayed on a large screen. “Hoodies” as they are called, are popular among enthusiasts who want to wear their passion on something other than a T-shirt. Decks of playing cards tied into the 21 theme and baseball caps will also be available for purchase, after fans asked for them.
Fans and first time visitors alike will be able to get their fill starting on Friday, September 23.