Fango Report: Universal Studios Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights 2013!Books/Art/Culture,Movies/TV,News Michael Gingold
The sun hasn’t even set as the first visitors are let through the gates of Universal Studios Orlando for the 2013 edition of Halloween Horror Nights, and already, people are starting to freak out.
As the crowds head for the various houses and other attractions, other figures appear, moving against the human tide. Shambling, staggering—yes, the zombies are loose, or more specifically, THE WALKING DEAD have taken over the streets. Moaning and growling, they lurch and lunge at the patrons, and it’s too much for one young woman, who shrieks, “Oh my God, I’m going home!” as she runs for the safety of a souvenir store.
AMC’s hit series is only the most conspicuous of the many horrific media properties represented at Halloween Horror Nights this year. Everywhere you wander in the park’s environs, you encounter fog-suffused outdoor setpieces familiar from the show, from the destroyed Atlanta (complete with abandoned tank) to that notorious barn and the well in back (complete with the upper half of that big fat ghoul who memorably lost his lower portion). Then there’s the half-zombie crawling around on a raised platform (pictured at top)—try as we might, we can’t spot any trickery; it really does seem like a legless performer done up in the prosthetics—and a walker pulling the guts out of a dead deer. It’s not all about explicitness, though; one of the niftier setups is a tent lit from inside, revealing something unspeakable happening inside in silhouette. Colored lights, scary sounds and music, along with the familiar main-title theme, give you the sense of actually living the WALKING DEAD experience (emphasis on living, as your chances of survival are much greater than they are for the ever-persecuted tube characters).
The same goes for the houses scattered throughout the park, which attract crowds that seem bigger than ever this year. (The Express Pass Universal offers, allowing you to bypass the regular lines, is absolutely worth the money in this case, as the waits can otherwise last for an hour or more.) Of course, the first two Fango visits have to be the CABIN IN THE WOODS and EVIL DEAD houses, inspired by the knockout Joss Whedon/Drew Goddard genre-bender and the surprisingly strong remake, and they don’t disappoint. CABIN offers a trip through replicas of both the eponymous abode and the underground lab where the monsters are housed (though of course, some have gotten free to prowl around and jump out at you from dark corners). The makeup FX expertly replicate the onscreen critters, and it was especially cool to find Fornicus, Lord of Bondage and Pain, and that nasty merman among the bestiary on view.
In fact, the prosthetics and props in all the houses are damned impressive, the latter especially striking at the entrance to the EVIL DEAD house. Patrons are greeted by an arrangement of oversized Necronomicon pages bordering the entrance to that beleaguered vacation cottage, which is rich in detail (though we take issue with the unseen occupants’ reading habits; a copy of Entertainment Weekly, not Fango, is among the decor), before the possessees start popping out from behind the walls and threatening to erupt from the cellar trapdoor (pictured below). THE WALKING DEAD has its own interior maze too, titled NO SAFE HAVEN and offering replicas of both Woodbury and the abandoned prison through which you proceed (and sometimes have to duck) as the zombies threaten to emerge at any moment. (Odd sight outside: a security guard who’s the spitting image of series creator Frank Darabont.)
More zombies lurk in RESIDENT EVIL: ESCAPE FROM RACCOON CITY, along with military types attempting to guide you to safety. One thing that impresses, in retrospect, about Halloween Horror Nights is the stamina of the performers; the lines of people snaking their way through all the houses are nonstop, which means the costumed, bloodied and made-up actors have to be in character all the time, for hours on end. It must be especially tough on the poor guy playing the mid-transformation David in the AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON maze, lying on the floor and writhing in his distended prosthetics. Other setpieces faithfully recreated here include the Slaughtered Lamb pub (wonder how many times the cast hears “What’s that star on the wall for?”…) and the movie theater in which “walking meatloaf” Jack sits among David’s bloody victims—and watch out for the fully formed wolf snarling out at you from assorted hiding places.
It’s not all about screen tie-ins, though, as a trio of originals round out the octet of attractions. URBAN LEGENDS: LA LLORONA confronts you with some seriously creepy religious iconography (pictured above) as it takes you through a scenario based on the story of the woman who drowned her children and is now cursed to walk the Earth forever, crying out from her suffering. HAVOC DERAILED takes you through the claustrophobic confines of a military transport train carrying genetically engineered supersoldiers; needless to say, that experiment didn’t go all that well, resulting in startling moments as the maniacs bang their way through its confines.
The coolest one of all is AFTER LIFE: DEATH’S VENGEANCE, a 3D house centered on an electrocuted serial murderer called Bobby “The Blade,” and the torment that awaits him at the hands of his victims. Visitors are handed glasses before they venture inside, and are treated to a series of dimensional light and paint FX that are eye-popping, surreal and sometimes chilling. From hanging, shrouded bodies to multicolored headlines about Bobby’s crimes, this is one freaky experience, and a better 3D trip than most of the movies done up in the process in recent years.
Speaking of 3D, many of Universal’s regular attractions remain open during Halloween Horror Nights hours, and the can’t-miss among them is TRANSFORMERS: THE RIDE, which seats you in a moving EVAC vehicle and takes you, through both physical sets and giant 3D projection screens, into the thick of battle between Autobots and Decepticons. “I wish we could do this with movies,” director Michael Bay says on the ride’s webpage, and the feeling is mutual; this is way more fun than any of those ponderous big-screen features.
If all those intimidating creatures start having you itching for a little payback, you can duck into MEN IN BLACK: ALIEN ATTACK and fire away at nasty aliens, and if you want to get truly shaken up, hop on REVENGE OF THE MUMMY, the indoor launch coaster that hurls you past screens and props based on the Egypt-oriented film franchise. Or, for a less intense but still interactive change of pace, you can take a break and check out the ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW tribute, with selected film clips from the ultimate midnight movie interspersed between musical numbers belted out by an enthusiastic cast who attack their roles with gusto; their Frank N. Furter was especially strong. “Don’t dream it; be it,” Frank sings, an appropriate tune in a park that allows you to safely walk amidst various nightmares, movie-inspired and otherwise. See the official website for info on tickets and more.