Horror fans rejoice, because Universal Orlando’s annual Halloween Horror Nights festivities are only weeks away from beginning. Like the theme park’s sister establishment in Hollywood, Universal Orlando draws from pop culture’s most beloved horror properties to scare fans nightly through the fall season.
For the first time in 2014, Universal Orlando will be incorporating John Carpenter’s “Halloween” into its Horror Nights slate. Zap2it spoke with HHN creative director Mike Aiello about bringing “Halloween” to life, the theme park’s many TV-centric mazes this year and what future properties could come to the park.
Halloween Horror Nights is finally getting ‘Halloween’
Yes, we’re talking about the 1978 classic that introduced the world to killer Michael Myers. “Obviously the movie is iconic. For me personally and for almost everybody that creates this event, it is kind of the crown jewel of horror films, particularly the slasher film,” Aiello says. “The idea’s been around for many years to translate this into a maze. For whatever reason it never quite made the list or some other things came into play that forced it off the list.”
Universal Hollywood did the maze several years back and it did well for them, and Aiello says it was just a matter of time before it came to Orlando. “Michael Myers is iconic,” he says. “We couldn’t be happier. It is a really cool maze. We’re basically taking guests on a journey similar to what we did with ‘American Werewolf in London’ [in 2013] where we are going to chronologically tell the story of that first film.”
Malek Akkad, son of “Halloween” producer Moustapha Akkad, has been working with Aiello and the HHN team on the maze. Aiello says the best advice Akkad gave them was that “the movie is the bible,” which means that if they do the movie justice they will make a great maze.
The casting process for Orlando’s Myers’ began in July, and rehearsals in the maze will begin the week of Sept. 1. To truly make the experience be “the film brought to life,” Aiello promises that the iconic “Halloween” score will also be a part of the maze.
Like “Halloween,” the “Walking Dead” maze will be a chronological journey through the show’s fourth season. Guests will enter through a facade of the Prison, and then walk through the various Season 4 environments before finally ending up at Terminus.
Aiello appreciated how spread out the Season 4 storylines were because it gave his team more opportunities to create different scare areas. Because of that “The Walking Dead” maze in 2014 will be one of the largest sets with one of the largest casts the Orlando HHN has ever dealt with. For instance, the Big Spot supermarket will be created nearly to scale.
Will the maze answer the great Terminus cannibal debate? “I can neither confirm nor deny whether the people in Terminus are cannibals,” Aiello says with a laugh. “There was a lot of visual implication in that last episode.”
He also won’t say if “The Walking Dead” will have a presence in 2015 as well. “Every year’s kind of a year-by-year thing,” he admits. :We’re already developing some thoughts and ideas for our 25th anniversary, which will be next year. I can’t speak to whether or not we would have ‘Walking Dead’ or not. What I can say is every year we’ve been with them, we’ve always tried the way the guest is going to interact with the brand.”
More TV than ever before
In addition to the recent HHN staple of a maze based on “The Walking Dead,” Orlando is also dedicating space to El Rey’s “From Dusk Till Dawn” and Syfy’s “Face Off.” “It’s a reflection of what cable TV is now doing,” Aiello admits. “I think TV has just changed. People have become much more sophisticated in their horror brands that they want to see on TV. That is becoming a lot more accepted on TV than it was in the past.”
The inclusion of “Face Off” hits close to home for the Orlando HHN team because many of their makeup team have appeared on the show. Meanwhile, Robert Rodriguez has given his take on what the “From Dusk Till Dawn” maze will be.
Where’s ‘American Horror Story’?
There has been talk for years about whether FX’s anthology series “American Horror Story” will get a maze at the Orlando theme park. Aiello admits there have been discussions about it, but the maze just hasn’t come together.
“That has been on our radar for several years now. What I can say to that is we’re always working toward trying to bring new things to the event. That’s definitely one of them,” he says. “Some years it becomes part of our slate early on and unfortunately falls off the table as other things start to enter the picture, but it is a show that we all love very much.”
Aiello notes, “If it exists in horror pop culture today, then we’re definitely looking at it, examining it and figuring out how does it fit with what we want to offer in any given year. how does it relate to the other content that we want to provide the event? We also want to make sure we’re providing a variety of content.”
Guillermo del Toro might bring his vision to HHN
One staple of the fantasy horror genre who hasn’t made his mark on HHN is Guillermo del Toro. Aiello mentions “The Strain” as a possible future franchise, and admits that there have been talks with del Toro about a potential collaboration.
“We’ve had conversations with Guillermo del Toro over the last several years,” Aiello says. “He’s also extremely busy with an untold amount of projects that are placed in front of him by others, but also he really wants to take on. That puzzle piece hasn’t come together yet, but it is definitely something that we’re definitely open to.”
Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights will run select nights from Sept. 19 through Nov. 1.