Theme Park turns to scream park for Universal's Halloween Horror Nights

TravelBy Daragh Keany
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando, Florida
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando, Florida
Jack the Clown is back and he's badder than ever
Jack the Clown is back and he's badder than ever

If you have a weak stomach or scare easily you should probably just move along. This holiday is not for the faint hearted.

By day, guests at the world-famous Universal Orlando Resort are propelled into some of pop culture’s most-iconic and beloved stories – laughing as they experience cutting-edge attractions and screaming as they brave plummeting roller-coasters.

But there’s another, darker side to the theme park and the ‘Escape’ team at Magazine+ has been given an exclusive heart-pumping sneak peek at what hundreds of thousands of holiday makers will experience over 30 haunting nights this Halloween. 

Mike Aiello is the Director of Entertainment-Creative Development for NBC/Universal Themeparks, which may seem like a tongue twister in itself – but all you need to know is that he is the sick and twisted 37-year-old kid who gets to frighten the living daylights out of those who dare to experience the theme park’s famous Halloween Horror Nights (HHN). 

“If I’m being truthful, we want to scare as much as we want to entertain,” he laughs, when we get chatting this week. 

“We have been planning HHN2015 since last September to make sure that it is our biggest event ever. We have an unprecedented nine walk-in scare mazes, more frightening characters, or ‘scare-actors’ as we call them, and we are open until 2am on some nights.”

If your rose-tinted view of one of the world’s most-iconic family-friendly parks is very confused right now – fear not. Universal are not closing Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley or Simpson’s World just to get a kick out of frightening us all. This whole frightening experience is  running alongside their other iconic zones.  
As soon as the main parks close at 5.30pm, the 1,000 staff and crew take an hour to transform a dedicated zone into the most horrifying holiday you could ever imagine. They then open again at 6.30pm and until 2am they thrive on giving punters the scariest and thrilling night of their lives. 

From the moment guests step inside the event’s gates, they become a victim inside their own horror film. The streets of Universal Studios Florida are transformed into highly-themed scare zones, brought to life with elaborate scenery and teams of menacing “scare-actors” that lunge from the shadows and tactically hunt guests as prey. 

“I would not let my 10-year-old son in to see this,” says Mike. “Seriously, Our recommendation is that no one under 13 should come and see the shows or take on the scare mazes. But ultimately, it’s at the discretion of the parents. 

“This is our biggest year ever and we have loyal horror fans who we know will come back again - but the night attractions will appeal to people of all ages who want to have a laugh and head off into the night with some truly frightening memories,” he continues, as he laughs in a sinister fashion. 

Amazingly, the iconic annual event (this year it runs for a record 30 nights from September 18) attracts fans from all over the world, especially right here in Ireland.

DARK LORD: Mike Aiello is the man who brings Halloween Horror Nights to life

“We get a huge number of Irish people through our turnstiles every year – but some just come for the scare. I see the same faces returning which is the best endorsement we could get. Obviously we get a lot of families with young kids who have park passes for the a few days or for a week, but we have found that a lot of them are buying the HHN tickets too. 

“And because it is the 25th year of HHN we have decided to bring back a few familiar faces from previous horror experiences. We can’t reveal everything yet but I can tell you that Jack the Clown will have a major role in this year’s month of horrors. Jack is back baby!

“We also have an unbelievable Freddie v Jason Haunted House where two of the most feared and iconic characters in movie history (Elm Street and Friday 13th) go head to head. It will freak you guys out.” Consider us freaked, Mike. 

Additional details about the event will be announced at a later date.

 For further information: Including ticket prices - visit www.HalloweenHorrorNights.com/Orlando.
You can also follow the latest updates on Twitter @HorrorNightsORL or search for #HHN15. Be warned.