Thursday afternoon, Universal Studios Orlando held a conference call with several media outlets to offer a chance to speak with T.J. Mannarino, Director of Art & Design for Entertainment, and Michael Aiello, Writer and Show Director. They took the time out their busy schedule to answer several questions about this years Halloween Horror Nights 20 Years of Fear and what visitors have to look forward to this year and beyond.
“We decided that Halloween Horror Nights itself is a strong enough tradition that we didn’t need to go outside this year. We wanted everything to be in-house.” -T.J. Mannarino, Director of Art and Design
Universal Studios Orlando Halloween Horror Nights has a long and proud history of entertaining it’s visitors while also developing extremely unique and powerful iconic characters. Both inside and outside of the haunt industry, they are highly respected for creating some of the best designed haunted attractions, scare effects, extremely detailed interiors, and for creating unique iconic characters that brings the entire event together. Now, looking back at 20 years of scaring the hell out of everyone, the show’s creators decided to not simply put on a typical HHN this year or to put together a “clip show” version of it. No, that would be too easy. The creators have decided to celebrate 20 years of HHN by combining both the past and the future of this great event into one giant production. When speaking about new visitors to the attraction, Show Writer and Director Michael Aiello said, “…they can come to this event and really see where this event has come from and also at the same time show them where it’s going.” Halloween Horror Nights 20 “…will pave the way for Horror Nights 21, 22, 23…”
According to the creators, they have built two major attractions that will be paying homage to their past. This includes one House and one Scarezome that will include past characters in both. With this year being set as a “thank you to the fans of Horror Nights,” said Aiello, HHN 20 is also a way that they are looking to push the event forward into the future with new characters and attractions. “Sequel” houses that have resulted from past attractions, show creators have said that this will be their last year at HHN. Although they may return sometime in the future, they are instead trying to lay the groundwork for new ideas and characters. One character from the past that has always been a fan favorite, but a sub iconic character is “Cindy”, the caretakers daughter. This year, Cindy will be getting her own haunted attraction called “The Orphanage”.
“A big goal of ours was to pay [tribute] to the past 20 years..One thing has been consistent: Fear. Fear has always been here. Fear is what we create every year.” –T.J. Mannarino
The show’s producers also warn that visitors can expect to see a variety of characters from HHN, sometimes not even where you think you should. As Aiello points out that “no creature is off limits”, he indicates that you can run into characters ranging from the classic Universal monsters, previously-licenced characters, and HHN created characters including the iconic characters wondering both inside the houses and outside on the streets. Including this years iconic character, Fear itself. According to Aiello, visitors “…will see it, they will feel it, they will taste it.”
“Fear has always been here. Fear is what we create every year, and fear has been an element in whatever character environment we create. So for us, fear became, basically, our character that is going to come to life this year.” -Mike Aiello
This year’s icon character “Fear” will be revealed more as time draws closer to the opening of HHN 20. The creators explained when they were brain storming for HHN 20’s iconic character, they took a look back at the past iconic characters to see what they all had in common. “Jack instills fear. The Caretaker examines fear. The Storyteller speaks fear. The Director captures fear. The Usher shows us the way to fear.” said Mannarino. These elements led them to decide that they needed a character with the goal of it be something that embodies all the other iconic characters and that would also visually stand out while still having a presence of control over them. Thus they created for HHN 20, “Fear” itself. “Fear has always been here. Fear is what we create every year, and fear has been an element in whatever character environment we create,” says Mike Aiello. “So for us, fear became, basically, our character that is going to come to life this year.”
“There’s a lot of different things we’re doing that we’ve never done before. We’re going out on a limb in a lot of ways, there’s a lot of experimental technology that we’ve never used in our mazes before.” – T.J. Mannarino
All haunters know that trying to come up with new gags and effects to keep your customers entertained is always a challenge. This year, the creators have decided to set the bar a little higher and take everything to the next level with open flames inside the attraction house and the use of experimental special effects. This may include the Musion effect that was used throughout the new Harry Potter ride. If your unfamiliar with the effect, it’s basically a peppers ghost on steroids using HD projectors to create a holographic looking character (see example here). I imagine this effect will be used in the “Legendary Truth House” which is being described as a maze with the illusion of real paranormal encounters. Apparently this maze was conceptualized about 2 years ago, but was put on the shelf due to the time needed for R&D and the inability to have certain gags. But now the stars seemed to have aligned and they have built it for this years HHN.
“No creature is off limits as far as what you may see in the streets or in the houses.” Q: Including Bloody Mary? “I stand by my statement.” – T.J. Mannarino
Cue line entertainment is always another problem that haunted attractions have to face and HHN is no different. This year, they will be taking a look at more ways to keep their guest entertained. “It will be much more expansive than in the past.” said Mannarino. One way of entertaining guest is with the use of mobile technologies. One example giving was the ability to allow guest to exchange text message with the events iconic characters.
There is also another side of HHN that is as important as the haunted attractions themselves. The pop culture show Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure. This production allows guest an opportunity to take a break from the scares and relax while having a laugh or two. A little break in the tension is a must and Mike Aiello has been providing that break by being the “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure” Show Writter and Director for several years. He provided a little glimpse into the show’s story by saying this year Bill and Ted will have to deal with the danger of being replaced and that they will find themselves in an “odd predicament”. Just in the story. One show that it has become a reality for is “Rocky Horror Picture Show Tribute”. They have indicated that Rocky will not be included in this years HHN and may come back sometime in the future, but right now it’s not part of any HHN plans. Also, Michael Aiello said that this will be his last year as the Show Writer and Director for the Bill and Ted show so he can focus on other HHN projects.
HHN is a great experience and if you have the chance to make it to Orlando, then I recommend that you go. One thing that all haunt owners should strive to bring to their own haunted attraction is the level of quality and dedication that the HHN team performs each year to keep their guest entertained. Be sure to keep visiting HauntersDigest.com as we check in with what’s happening at Halloween Horror Nights Orlando and Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood.
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