Halloween Horror Nights is quite simply one of the largest annual Halloween events in the world. Hosted from the end of September to the end of October (occasionally extending to the first day or two of November), Halloween Horror Nights is hosted by Universal Studios theme parks in Orlando and Hollywood (expanding to Singapore and Japan as of 2011) every year. While the Orlando event is the biggest, all events revolve are several key similarities: haunted houses (sometimes referred to as mazes, though they all have a predefined path), scarezones (sections of the park themed with props and effects and populated with actors), and shows (with Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure being a perennial favorite). The houses and scarezones are populated with "scareactors", dressed in costumes and makeup and positioned to scare the bejeezus out of passerby.While only the diehard fans usually know this, Halloween Horror Nights actually began in 1986 at Universal Hollywood; after a grisly accident where a scareactor was run over by a tram, Hollywood canceled the event. Universal would not revive their Halloween events until Orlando (to compete with the local "Terror On Church Street" haunt) introduced Fright Nights in 1991, an event that lasted for one weekend in October and included one house, The Dungeon of Terror, and a large number of shows, musical acts, and street performers. Fright Nights was massively popular, with the house achieving wait times of over 2 hours, and the name was changed to Halloween Horror Nights in 1992. '92 also saw the introduction of the Bill & Ted show, which has continued every year since. The event has only grown since then: in 2011 at its peak, for Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights 21, there were 8 houses, 6 scarezones, and 2 shows. The event has gone from a few nights to (at its 2013 peak) 4 or 5 nights a week every week from September 20 to November 2. The biggest competitor at the moment is Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens. Hollywood's event (under the direction of John Murdy, who originally worked on the Orlando event) would eventually catch back up with the Orlando event in terms of scope and has been well received by fans and by the creators of the franchises that Hollywood bases their mazes on. The biggest competitor for Hollywood at the moment note in fact, Horror Nights kicked off in 1986 to compete directly with them is Knotts' Scary Farm.As a Universal Studios event, houses and scarezones based on movies are quite common, to the point where 2009's Orlando event included 6 movie houses out of 8 total. Universal Hollywood often has almost exclusively film-based events beginning in 2006, and House of 1000 Corpses even got its start as a Hollywood house. It does have the occasional original property, however, such as La Llorona in 2011note which got a sequel house in 2012 and a house at the Orlando event in 2013. One of the key points of the Orlando event is its use of icons: beginning with the Cryptkeeper in 1995, there's been a number of icons (as well as a great many unused concepts) that have been used to provide a face for the year. Orlando also uses the event website to expand upon the backstory of the icons, houses, and scarezones for each year, often mixed in with games (such as "Horror Unearthed" which had an online and an in-park component and the Alternate Reality Game Legendary Truth). Hollywood's event is predominantly movie-centric, and as such, doesn't have Icons and focuses on characters from the house/scarezone properties in the event and marketing. note Despite Hollywood's focus, Orlando icons have appeared at the 2006 and 2007 events, although only one of them (The Director) served as an Icon in the traditional sense. The Director also holds the distinction of being the first Icon to appear overseas, for the first year of Halloween Horror Nights in Singapore. One of the other distinctions that Hollywood has over Orlando is the Terror Tram, which goes through many of the same sights as the distinctive Studio Tour...only for one reason or another, guests are forced off the tram and onto the the Backlot sets, with rethemed paths and scareactors galore.
HHN Orlando 2013 Houses, Scarezones, and Immersive Content
The Walking Dead: No Safe Haven (licensed house, scarezone and Terror Tram theme) note one of the first Hollywood houses (and the first scarezone) to be located in the Backlot's metro area, first HHN Hollywood house to have a scarezone directly tie into it, first Terror Tram theme to appear twice in a row
Universal Studios Singapore and Universal Studios Japan both have their own versions, with members of the Orlando event's Art & Design Team providing guidance. Singapore's event weaves in both common Horror Nights staples (the use of Icon characters and common HHN maze/scarezone themes) mixed in with haunted attractions based in Singaporean culture. Japan's event started with a focus on licensed properties such as Friday the 13th and The Mummy. It gained mainstream gaming media attention in 2012 for its Resident Evil scarezone, complete with appearances◊ from some of the franchise's most recognizable protagonists and monsters along with Raccoon City wall projections.Information about the Icons and other original characters created for the event can be found at the (still heavily under construction) Characters page. A partial list of some of the many multimedia properties that Horror Nights has adapted over the years can be found under the Trivia page. Feel free to help out with the Characters page and with crosswicking the tropes.The event contains examples of:
Cat Scare: The houses tend to rely on jump scares, so the same effect is often given through various sound effects without even an actor to perform them.
Chainsaw Good: Oh so much. HHN Orlando has the long running Chainsaw Drill Team and (sort of) Icon Eddie while HHN Hollywood has the pigmasked lackeys from Saw swarming the park and running visitors out of the park at the end of the night in the "Chainsaw Chaseout".
Creepy Child: Cindy is the most famous example, but children (all portrayed by small adults) have appeared in houses and scarezones as well.
Darkness Equals Death: Several houses have attempted (not always successfully) at making completely dark environments.
Death by Mocking: A common story among scareactors is the tough guy who makes fun of them getting scared shitless around the next corner.
Dyeing for Your Art: Many scareactors and show actors have had to undergo physical changes for their characters, but the most extreme example may be for Orlando in 2010's Havoc: Dogs of War and its 2013 sequel Havoc: Derailed, where every actor (male and female) shaved their head bald to play psycho super soldiers.
Easter Egg: For Orlando: Carey, Ohio is the hometown of a member of Art & Design, and has been used as a setting for MANY of the houses and scarezones.
Orlando also has a honeypot bear that is hidden in one house every year. Starting in 2010, several houses in the event have buttons that, if pressed, can spark an event that either takes place right in front of the visitor that pressed it or affects visitors elsewhere in the house.
Hollywood has the "Log Bunny", a a log with bunny ears on it that serves as an unofficial mascot among the crew and is always hidden somewhere on the Terror Tram. One time, Log Bunny was kidnapped. As one would would expect, this was seen as Serious Business.
Daylight Horror: The event starts at least an hour before nightfall, giving plenty of time for the sun to shine over the scarezones.
Eye Scream: A common trope for corpses and scareactors, one prominent recent example being a ghostly nurse from 2010's Psychoscarepy: Echos of Shadybrook, who had a pair of scissors stabbed through her eye.
Facial Horror: The prosthetic and makeup work done by Universal for both park's events is movie quality and thoroughly horrifying.
Horror Struck: A common reaction by guests to scareactors. If they're not running screaming, that is.
Malevolent Masked Men: Common throughout the many years and events, but an especially prominent example is 2009's Leave it to Cleaver, set in a meat processing plant where vagabonds and criminals are made into Meatz Meats; all of the employees wear masks of a smiling boy's face.
Monster Clown: Jack is the most prominent, but many houses and scarezones have had clown scareactors. Eddie Schmidt from 2001 was given some mild clown makeup as well before being scrapped and kept the makeup in later appearances.
Hollywood has the Klownz scarezone, chock fulla clowns, some of them armed.
Mundanger: Any event that includes serial killers alongside ghosts, zombies, and demons.
Never Sleep Again: Both Hollywood and Orlando have included A Nightmare on Elm Street in various years, with Orlando's 2007 house, A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dreamwalkers, had the premise of the guests being given a drug that puts them into a long Freddyless sleep...that doesn't work.
Prop Recycling: Very common to the point of fans trying to identify what other houses and scarezones the props have been used in. Being Universal, they also get to use some movie props (such as a piece from Van Helsing).
Rule of Scary: Guess what this event runs on? For example: just why did the cast of a chainsaw massacre film start slicing up the crew and everyone who wandered by? Because it gave them an excuse to fill an entire street with chainsaws!
Abandoned Hospital: The 2010 event featured Psychoscarepy: Echoes of Shadybrook; the house was a 15-years-later finisher to the popular asylum house series, replacing the zany and loud antics of the inmates with somber, psychotic ghosts in an abandoned building.
Abandoned Playground: The 2010 house The Orfanage: Ashes to Ashes had an abandoned playground outside the burned-out orphanage, with the see-saw moving on its own.
Alien Geometries: Some houses, like A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dreamwalkers in 2007, had the rooms tilted or flipped around. Nevermore: The Madness of Poe from 2011 has a room where every surface has the narrator from The Tell Tale Heart kneeling next to the hole in the floorboards. The one on the wall immediately next to the guests hides the resurrected victim.
All Hallows' Eve: Along with being a Halloween event, The Hallow in 2008 was based around traditional Halloween: jack-o-lanterns, scarecrows, and witches with boiling cauldrons.
Always Night: Subverted for scarezones and any house in the (now defunct) Jaws and Disaster queues (where some rooms allow daylight to flood in), as the event opens several hours before sunset.
The website for 2004 included various artifacts for each house to provide a preview of their content, and Disorientorium included a Blackberry with the emails of a man who had begun to become obsessed with the Disorientorium until he began to go mad and finally commit suicide.
The plot for 2008 was given with a series of case files by the icon, Dr. Mary Agana, as she slipped into insanity during her work as a phobia therapist and eventually became Bloody Mary.
Crusty Caretaker: Averted with The Caretaker, who is tall, wears a top hat, and is quite well-spoken and proper.
Deadly Game: The theme of 2001's RUN, a low budget game show where contestants are expected to dodge both chainsaw wielding freaks and an extremely hazardous environment. The original treatment for the event can be read here.
Deadly Prank: Part of Bloody Mary's backstory involved her grandmother, a schoolteacher in Ohio, being killed in a Halloween prank orchestrated by the school handyman.
Death by Materialism: Greed's transformation in "7" was receiving more and heavier jewelry that began to suffocate her, turning her face blue.
Early-Installment Weirdness: As the event has gradually expanded over the course of the decades, this is to be expected. The very first Orlando HHN was named Fright Nights and only included a single haunted house, with most emphasis being on the various music and stage acts around the park; it's been described as "a giant Halloween party". In 1992 it's confirmed that they were still using thick fake blood for their blood spray effects rather than merely water, and the famous Chainsaw Drill Team and set scarezones (rather than actors semi-randomly placed around the streets) only appeared in 1994.
Electromagnetic Ghosts: The 2010 Legendary Truth house was based around a ghost hunt gone wrong, and the house was thus filled with various spirit-detecting equipment.
Half the Man He Used to Be: Quite common with the various mannequins of corpses, including one in 2008's Body Collectors: Collections of the Past. One of the deaths in the 2007 Carnival of Carnage show included a security guard on a rack being pulled in half.
Haunted Headquarters: Universal Studios seems to regularly be beset by demons, zombies, ghosts, cannibals, and the God of Fear.
Haunted House: Played straight in 2010 with Legendary Truth: The Wyandot Estate, which in turn was based on The Legend of Hell House. While the houses are often referred to as "haunted houses" by the media, LT is the only house to truly be a haunted house.
Headless Horseman: Seen in 2008 in both The Hallow and the American Gothic scarezone.
Hockey Mask and Chainsaw: The first Bill & Ted show at Halloween Horror Nights (1992) gave Jason Voorhees a chainsaw, which accidentally cut down a balcony on the western set while swinging at the duo.
Homicide Machines: 2006's show for the returning icons, The Arrival, included Jack killing a man with a giant blender.
Human Resources: The 2010 steampunk scarezone Saws n' Steam was set in New Yorkshire after fissures in the earth dried up the oceans, forcing the steam-reliant citizens to turn to extracting water from corpses. Saws n' Steam is set after anarchy has set in the streets and people are being rounded up and slaughtered in alleys.
Immoral Reality Show: RUN. Unlike other examples of the trope, it's unknown if people watched it (let alone if it was actually broadcast as opposed to being a ruse to capture victims), it was extremely low budget even for reality show standards (so low that portions of the course were made of junkyard debris), and in the website for the 2006 event (that the sequel Hostile Territory appeared in) it was confirmed that the whole operation went bankrupt.
Late Arrival Spoiler: If you haven't seen The Cabin in the Woods before you go see the house it's based on, prepare to see a load of these. Although, considering the nature of the film, it's understandable they wouldn't even try and make it spoilerless. The big "purge button" scene will be part of the maze. The ending scene with the god won't...but some past Horror Nights characters will.
Lighter and Softer: Due to the climate after 9/11, the 2001 event would be overhauled, making it the first and likely only time a Horror Nights event would ever evoke this trope. The original icon, Eddie, was retooled before being scrapped and replaced with the last year's icon, Jack, names of various houses and scarezones were changed, scares were toned down and all instances of blood were switched out with green "ooze". Eddie would appear in scarezones and houses later on and houses such as RUN and Scary Tales would get sequels that were much closer to the typical Horror Nights tone.
Lost in the Maize: Attempted with the Field of Screams scarezone in 2004, but hurricanes wrecked the cornfield and forced a lot of artificial replacement. Played straight in the Wizard of Oz room in the 2008 house Scary Tales: Once Upon a Nightmare.
Medical Horror: Shadybrook, The Caretaker's dissections, Dr. "Bloody" Mary Agana, and the list goes ON.
Not His Sled: The haunted house adaptation of the 2010 Wolfman film at Universal Orlando's event in 2009 was the first hint anyone got of the ending of the film: the werewolf gets shot. In the house, however, the fatal shot is performed by a nameless hunter.
Occult Detective: Boris Shuster, who founded the paranormal investigation agency Legendary Truth.
Offscreen Teleportation: Often pulled by icons in their promotional videos, with The Caretaker in his 2006 reunion video teleporting all around his mansion to chase a victim.
Room Full of Zombies: One of the most well-remembered rooms of 2008's Dead Exposure was filled with hanging zombie mannequins and actors mixed in; with the only lighting being blacklight strobes every few seconds, it caused more than a few moments of panic upon entering.
Scary Jack In The Box: Jack's rotting corpse was discovered in a giant jack-in-the-box, and he is sometimes seen appearing from one or appearing when a smaller version of his box is activated.
Scary Scarecrows: Various houses (2008's The Hallow) and scarezones (2004's Field of Screams).
Scary Scorpions: The 2003 show Infestation featured The Director putting various creatures on people, including scorpions.
The Secret of Long Pork Pies: 2009's Leave it to Cleaver was about Meatz Meats, a meat company and deli based out of Carey, Ohio that used vagrants, outlaws, and people in the wrong place at the wrong time to make their famous meat.
Sealed Evil in a Can: Fear was sealed in a lantern until Legendary Truth "accidentally" released him.
Send In The Search Team: The premise for several houses, such as 2002's Screamhouse and 2008's Interstellar Terror (based on Event Horizon) is that you're part of an investigative team.
Shadow Discretion Shot: 2009's Frankenstein: Creation of the Damned opened up with a shadow on the wall of the Creature snapping a man's neck and throwing him with one hand.....immediately before he lunged out at you from an alcove.
Spooky Photographs: 2008's Dead Exposure used ultraviolet strobes and blacklight paint to give the impression of walking through photo negatives of a zombie apocalypse.
Steampunk: The 2010 scarezone Saws n' Steam, set in a world where New Yorkshire is left deprived of water by the oceans drying out and is forced to turn to the human body to power their machines. The scarezone was so well received as to be turned into a house in 2011, allowing guests to enter the processing plant.
Town with a Dark Secret: Carey, Ohio seems to attract every crazy in the universe, from murderous schoolteachers to cannibalistic meat processing plant owners and employees to psychopathic horror show hosts and serial killers with body counts in the dozens. How it remains standing is a question for the ages.
What Could Have Been: Many icons, houses, scarezones, and event concepts have been scrapped over the years; infamous examples include Eddie, the chainsaw-wielding horror movie addict who was changed into Jack's brother, then dumped completely due to the 9/11 attacks, Cindy being replaced by The Caretaker after a rash of child kidnappings, and an almost-finished extreme house, Extreme Fear, in 2003 that was scrapped due to fear of litigation just before the event (see below).
Eddie would reappear with other icons in the Horror Night Nightmares house in 2006 and in the Horror Nights: The Hallow'd Past house & Fear Revealed scarezone in 2010. He received his own house, RUN: Hostile Territory (a sequel to the 2001 house RUN he was originally supposed to appear in) in 2006. The original RUN was intended to be his house before he was scrapped from the toned down event. In his original incarnation as Edgar Sawyer, he would have pulled a Hostile Show Takeover and killed Jack in the Opening Scaremonies. Whether Jack would have stayed dead is another story with how many times Edgar had to try before it stuck.
Cindy's case is interesting, as she had a cameo in Scream House: Resurrection in 2006 and her own house, The Orfanage: Ashes to Ashes in 2010. However, Universal was considering having her be the icon for the 2010 event and aren't against the idea of having her as an icon in the future.
Concepts for an "extreme house" (a house in which, with full permission, visitors would be taken through more intense scares and scareactors would be allowed to break the cardinal rule: no touching the guests!) have been brought up for the Orlando event for quite some time. The most concrete example of this was the "Extreme Fear" house for HHN 13 that was scrapped at the very last minute due to fear that someone might get injured and sue the park. The full treatment and construction documents can be found here. Elements from this house treatment (the door scene, the use of live flame in a house, a chainsaw wielding drill sergeant, etc.) would be reused in future houses and scarezones.
Many Icon concepts are gone through before Univeral A&D finalizes the Icon to be used for the event. Most of these are lost to the archives but some of them eventually get used in some way, shape, or form. For example, Jack's girlfriend Chance actually had her origins as the Icon concept, Jack's EX-girlfriend Jill, in an event that would span both the main park and Islands of Adventure. Lady Luck had her origins in an earlier Icon concept as well.
Supposedly, the 2012 house Gothic, set in a medieval cathedral filled with menacing gargoyles, is based on a canceled room concept for an old house.
Many of the masks worn by the Beasts in 2012 were based on the masks of older characters, but several of them were a more unique design. Rumor has it that these masks were part of a canceled house based on the Chupacabra.
An American Werewolf in London was set to be a house in two previous years, believed to be 2008 and 2012, and came close enough to completion that props and sets had to be scrapped or retooled. 2013 was when John Landis finally gave personal approval.
A common fan discussion is on the viability of Universal's new Harry Potter attractions for HHN, with the common statement being that J.K. Rowling has barred the use of her properties for such uses. According to some, Rowling actually approves of the series being used for an adult event and the only obstacle is the corporate side....
Hotter and Sexier: While both Orlando and Hollywood concentrates mainly on the scares, Hollywood supplements their scares with some eyecandy. This comes courtesy of Freddy's Fly Girls, cage dancers dressed up in Freddy's trademark fedora, sweater and claws (and not much else.)
Universal Horror: A near constant at the Hollywood event since the 2007 relaunch due to Universal Studios Hollywood already having a year round Universal Horror based maze, Universal's House of Horrors. Early on, it was just the same attraction but with more scareactors, later on adding some level of theming (either based on franchises like Childs Play, The Strangers, The Wolfman remake or original theming like Vampyre: Castle of the Undead). At 2012's event, Universal Monsters Remix went back to straight Universal Horror theming but with a modern twist.