As a scare enthusiast impatiently awaiting my favorite holiday season, I’m frequently asked “What made you love going to haunted houses so much?” For me, the answer is quite simple and is all due to friends who coerced me into experiencing a night time event at a newer Orlando theme park that opened across the street from our high school. Who knew the thrills at Universal Studios would be the catalyst that has created a lifetime of wonderful memories and fulfilled a piece of the puzzle in my creative soul I never knew was missing.
In the fall of 1994, I had the opportunity to visit and enjoy Universal Studios’ after hours event, Halloween Horror Nights. I laughed, screamed in terror, and watched with delight as other guests ran from the actresses (now referred to as scareactors) whom ironically adorned the retired cheerleading uniforms from my high school. I had no idea my world would forever be changed with the events I witnessed during this evening. It was at this moment, my first haunted house experience, I discovered my true passion. The thrill of the scare was incredible and I thirsted for more. The roaring sound of the chainsaws and the smell of dense fog still instantly brings me back to this haunted reality I love so dearly. Year after year I run back to Universal Studios eagerly anticipating the houses awaiting me. I had no clue the frights I was enjoying would culminate into a hobby offering the chance to meet other fans (most becoming lifelong friends) sharing the same passion as me. This is what Universal does so well and not only did the experience at Halloween Horror Nights change the way I looked at my favorite holiday, it forever changed the Halloween and haunted attraction industry.
|Ahhh DP-Cheer Uniforms resurrected for HHN22|
If you haven’t followed the themes, icons, and characters the creative team at Universal Studios have produced over the years, you’ve truly missed out. My fear of clowns went to an all time high the year Jack graced us with his presence (2000). The eerie voice of The Caretaker (2002) still sends a shiver down my spine and when I moved back to Orlando, the terrifying tales of The Director (2003) frightfully welcomed me. The backstory with every icon and year are incredible; delivering an experience before you even walk through the entrance gates. Stories so well done it has created a world where mega fans unite to discuss everything HHN related. Admission into fan filled forums and groups has become a rite of passage. Websites developed for and by über fans who flock to the forums, analyzing the elements of this amazing haunted attraction experience. Speculation and passionate discussion about the event, icons, and house themes before the season even begins. There were long nights we anxiously waited by the computer, constantly refreshing the browser in hopes the new website would grace us the big reveal. In 2008 we were gifted an incredibly interactive website, allowing fans to experience the insanity of an icon over a period of time. The tales of Dr. Mary Agana slowly built up, creating a first hand experience and insight into her insanity as well as her transition into Bloody Mary. Over the years, before massive social-media marketing campaigns, interactive websites offered a new opportunity for the creative team. Opening the doors to a whole new experience with fright filled games and The Legendary Truth. It was extraordinary interaction and one I miss greatly, especially since it allowed those who cannot frequent the event the chance to experience it from home.
|Michelle and Travis at HHN20|
If you’re reading this blog for the first time, I welcome you to take a look around and experience some of the other events I’ve witnessed and reviewed. Though Atlanta Haunt Review has only been “online” for a few years, I’ve been in the haunt industry for much longer. My love for Halloween and all things haunted and spooky has allowed me incredible opportunities to experience some truly remarkable events. I’ve even been hired to decorate celebrity homes and businesses for Halloween. Yet, no matter how busy I am each year, I still mark the calendar and make the jaunt down to sunny Orlando each October. It has become tradition to attend Halloween Horror Nights each year and one I pay homage to as it was the beginning of a fantastic chapter in my life.
Halloween Horror Nights has immensely grown since my first experience in 1994 and on October 12th, I will be walking through those gates for the 20th time. I’m eternally grateful for all the fright filled memories, life long friends, and moments Halloween Horror Nights has provided me. Just like the first time, I anxiously await the roar of chainsaws, the smell of dense fog, and the eerie lurking of scareactors.
written by Michelle Daniels
Image courtesy of Universal Orlando and Bryan Frank Photography