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Meet the scariest man on the plane

TravelBy Lynda McCarthy
Michael Aiello, the creative genius behind Halloween Horror Nights
Michael Aiello, the creative genius behind Halloween Horror Nights

EVERYBODY loves an unlikely success story - and Michael Aiello is just that. His career with Universal Orlando started way back in the early 1990s, when he was charged with clicking guests into the Jaws ride.

Over the next two decades, he slowly climbed his way up the Universal ladder, from working as a ‘scare-actor’ for Hallowe’en Horror Nights and writing and directing the theme park’s live shows, to designing mazes and terrify HHN guests - and eventually landing himself the position of Director of Creative Development for the 
Floridian park.

He’s the brains behind many elements of the globally-famous Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and there aren’t many parts of the park that he hasn’t worked on over the years. But it’s fair to say that Halloween Horror Nights is his baby.

A horror obsessive, he’s positively gleeful at the prospect of scaring people silly, and when Magazine+ catches up with him to find out what he’s got up his sleeve for the 26th year of Halloween Horror Nights...well, it gets geeky.

Mag+: Rumour has it you guys have something big planned for this year.

Mike: A lot of people will be happy to find out that we’re finally doing The Exorcist as a maze this year. It has been a white whale for us for a long time, and the planets just never aligned with the collaboration.

It was funny because as soon as we got word that it was going ahead, it quickly went from excitement to complete terror about how we were going to translate this classic horror movie into a maze because most of the action takes place in just one room. So we said: OK, instead of doing the room, why don’t we put the guests in the bed?

And we have – we basically have a corridor full of mattresses and they’re all covered in that famous pea-soup vomit, and she’s attacking you and throwing up as you’re going through. We might also be incorporating some smells in there too. 

Mag+: What would a maze designed on your own personal fears look like?

Mike: Oh, that would just be piles of paperwork and budgets and deadlines. I’ve worked in horror for so long that I don’t really have any fun fears 
anymore.

We do work hard to tap into all the different elements of other people’s fears though. There’s a maze this year that’s about claustrophobia, so the 
ceiling height is lowered and the pathways are much narrower so you really get that confining effect.


Mag+: What film is on your bucket list to translate into a maze?
Mike:  I’d love to get my hands on The Shining, but I think it would be just as hard to work out as The Exorcist. It would be interesting to work on though because it’s incredibly psychological.