“30 Years of 30 Fears: Never Go Alone”

The Entrance to The Wicked Growth: Realm of the Pumpkin, Sept. 28, 2021. Orlando Fla. Photo by Kimmie Caputzal

By Julia Corrie

On October 14, the Flagler College Campus Activities Board invited students to Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) at Universal Studios Orlando. From 5 p.m. until 2 a.m., the night was filled with excitement and horrors for the attending students.

One-night tickets for the event begin at $70.99, and Flagler offered $50 tickets for students including admission and transportation. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Universal Studios presented a “Fall & Halloween Experience” in 2020 instead of celebrating the 30th anniversary. The tribute store was open, and there were two houses to walk through, but it was nothing in comparison to this year’s caliber. 

On select nights from Sep. 3 until Oct. 31, Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla. transforms from a family-friendly theme park into a haunted fantasy world with never-ending screams and surprises. 2021 is the 30th anniversary of HHN in Orlando, so there are many legends from past years that have made their return to the event both in the houses and out on the streets.

Starting in 1991 under the name “Fright Nights,” Universal Studios created this event as a three-night experiment with one haunted house. Evolving over three decades, there are now 10 houses, 5 scare zones, live shows, special food and drinks, and it’s over the course of two months. Also with time, came more elaborate storylines for characters, as well as production for every aspect of the event. 

Jack the Clown, who is the main face of this year’s event, was the first in-house created icon presented in 2000. There are many different backstories and plotlines for each of the characters displayed across the houses and scare zones, and every detail has been carefully considered by creative teams. Between the movie theater scenes with the Usher, as well as the circus scenes with Jack and Chance, one of the best parts of Halloween Horror Nights is seeing the greatest terrifying characters brought to life in their own world. 

The house “HHN Icons: Captured” was a fan favorite, as it included all of the original icons over the past 30 years. It was one of the longer walk-through houses, as there was a designated area for each icon: The Director, Fear, Lady Luck, Storyteller, Jack the Clown, The Usher, The Caretaker, The Cryptkeeper, and Chance. Each character had their own vicious story to tell, and it’s remarkable how much of it was told in a less-than-10-minute walk-through experience.

Promotional artwork for “HHN Icons: Captured” Photo by Universal Studios Orlando

The haunted houses make up a large portion of the event, as the creative team transforms backlot warehouses into different worlds. This year’s houses include The Haunting of Hill House, Beetlejuice, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives, and so many more. These titles may sound familiar to some horror film lovers, but they have never been seen like this. Each house had such a unique feel to it, the production designers truly outdid themselves this year. 

“The Wicked Growth: Realm of the Pumpkin” was a fan favorite as well, because of the set design and attention to detail. The story focuses on the Pumpkin Lord, growing Halloween like a malignant vine. As the holiday grows closer, as does the Lord’s strength, which causes everyone in the house to turn into pumpkin creatures. Every year, in the forest scare zone, there are usually pumpkins hanging from the trees, lit up to look as if they’re levitating. However, it was clear that for this house that they needed every pumpkin they could get their hands on for the immaculate entrance.

Scare Zones are areas decorated in the streets, so there is still some kind of action while walking around the park. One of the more highly-anticipated scare zones was “30 Years: 30 Fears,” where many icons, as well as their terrifying friends, walked alongside event-goers as soon as they entered the park. Scare Zones are interesting conceptual designs because they can be based in current pop culture or from original creators. Some examples of past scare zones include The Purge, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, The Walking Dead and Trick ‘r Treat.

A final takeaway from this year’s Halloween Horror Nights was how much it was missed by fans. There were hundreds of people at the event wearing merchandise from all 30 years, and they were people of all ages. As stories, shows, and their characters come and go from HHN, this will always be one of the most important yearly events for the horror-loving community. 

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