A Scaredy Cat’s Guide To Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights

Halloween Horror Nights is an annual event at Universal Studios theme parks in Florida, California, Singapore and Japan. It began as a 3-day event at Universal Studios Florida in 1991 and has slowly grown into a major nearly 2-month event in 4 parks around the world that includes multiple walk-through haunted houses themed after horror movies, scare zones, live entertainment, etc.

Some people ADORE Halloween Horror Nights. They might like horror movies and how the houses tie in with the films. Or they might just like getting scared – and between that sense of anticipation and how good HHN is at the element of surprise, it’s a perfect combination for “controlled” or “safe” fear. Jonna N., a huge fan of HHN, says, “I love the atmosphere. Especially the sets and the immersion. I also enjoy the science and the thrill of the scare factor.” Michael G., a photographer/writer for Inside The Magic and also a longtime HHN fan says, “I love the ambiance, especially in scare zones (it doesn’t hurt that they are perfect photo ops for me) and the original houses. The creativity and detail does not cease to amaze me, especially the movie quality sets/effects.

Then there are people like me – I don’t get scared and I don’t even like horror movies, but as someone who puts a lot of time and effort into our annual Halloween decorations for trick-or-treaters, I just geek out at how they do things.

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And then there are people like my husband Joe who just don’t like it. At all. Possibly on the border of hating it. But maybe would like to go because, for example, they like whatever movies the haunted houses are themed after. But their fear gets in the way.

This post is for you guys in the latter category …

The people who put on Halloween Horror nights are masters of theming. Between the music, lighting, background sounds, scents, costumes, makeup, fog (So. Much. Fog.) and other special effects, they are awesome at scaring anybody who wants (or doesn’t want) to be scared.

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If you tend to be a little bit on the chicken side, there a few things that might help you be a little bit braver:

It’s All Pretend

I know that first piece of advice should be obvious, but in the heat of the scare, you may forget. Anyway, know that it’s all fake. The ghouls are kids in their 20s and 30s who are thrilled they get to be scare actors for a couple of months, all the blood you see came out of a bottle, their rotten teeth are made out of plastic, and those chainsaws they wield in the scare zones don’t have chains in them, so they’re harmless. The Demogorgon in the  Stranger Things house and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in the Ghostbusters house will be either a puppet or someone in costume and they can’t hurt you at all.

They’re Not Allowed To Touch You

HHN scare actors are allowed to chase you. They can jump out from places and say BOO. They can threaten to cut you into little itty bitty pieces with their chainless chain saws. But they are not allowed to touch you. And that’s important because if you know they can’t touch you, you also know they can’t hurt you.

By the way, keep in mind that you’re not allowed to touch them either – if you do, your butt will be out of the park before you can finish saying “spooky boo.”

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How To Prepare For HHN

So let’s say you’re scared but you’re going to gather up all your courage and finally go to HHN this year – either because you want to see the House of 1000 Corpses house, or you just want to prove it to yourself that you can. There are a few things you can do to try to get yourself ready:

  • Walk through the queue of Skull Island: Reign of Kong at Universal Orlando or the entire attraction of The Walking Dead at Universal Hollywood a few times – both, including the actors that pop out to scare you, are very similar to what you’ll encounter in the haunted houses. Oh, and the more you see people pop out, the more accustomed you’ll get to it.
  • When I walk through the houses, I constantly look around for places where I think people could jump out from. If I THINK they’re going to jump from out of there, it’s less easy for them to scare me when and if they actually do.
  • Consider taking the Behind The Screams: Unmasking The Horror tour at Universal Orlando so you can see what the houses look like with the lights on. From Universal’s website: “Take this daytime V.I.P. tour for a lights-on look into how Universal Orlando’s Art & Design team transforms the biggest names in horror into terrifying haunted houses. This guided walking tour is your chance to see haunted houses during the day so you can observe the twisted artistry behind our event up close. You’ll even get to photograph select rooms in select haunted houses. Theme park and/or event admission is not included or required to participate in the tour. (Pricing varies by date, subject to availability.)”
  • Search on YouTube for HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS BEHIND THE SCENES and you get to see how they do a lot of the scary stuff, how things are made, etc. which can sometimes help calm your fears.

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How To Calm Down While You’re There

  • If you’ve convinced yourself to go to HHN and you just want a break, just go to any of the lands or areas that are Scare Free zones, or even a restaurant, which is also not themed to scare you.
  • You can easily avoid any scare zones in the park. So if, for example, you’re not a clown person, you can “not” go into the Killer Klowns Scare Zone.
  • If you go to a Scare Zone and just sit on a bench and watch, the scare actors pretty much leave you alone if you just sit quietly and observe. Of course, if you sit on a bench, jump out of your skin every time someone goes by you, and scream your head off, they’re going to try to scare you all the more 😉

And that’s it. Hopefully you’ll give Halloween Horror Nights a try at least once. The attention to detail is pretty spectacular and it can be a very interesting theme park experience from a technical point of view. And even if you don’t like it and leave early, at least you can tell people that you tried it and just didn’t like it, as opposed to refusing to go (like my husband).

One Final Important Thing!

Friends, if you have PTSD or if some things tend to “trigger” you, the above advice is not necessarily intended for you. I totally understand that your response to some stuff might be coming from something way deeper than just being afraid of a haunted house or someone jumping out of a hiding place to try to scare you. You do what you gotta do, and don’t do what you don’t want to do. HHN is definitely a Your Mileage May Vary situation.

** Many thanks to Jonna N. & Michael G. for their assistance
*** All Photos via Universal Studios

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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