The friendly daytime atmosphere of Universal Studios Orlando is transformed by night into a fright-filled adventure as Halloween Horror Nights takes over the theme park on select nights. The event is recommended for ages 13 and up due to its intense scares and overall foreboding atmosphere. Even those of the appropriate age are not always a perfect fit for this Halloween haunt, with the promise of startles around every corner proving to be too much to handle. But for every adult who’s too afraid to attend Halloween Horror Nights, there’s another who is dying to soak in every gory detail presented.
For both types, the timid and the curious, Universal Orlando offers daytime walking tours of some of its most popular haunted houses, providing a chance to roam scare-free through the elaborately decorated environments. Coupled with a stroll around the street scare zones during daylight hours, any theme park fan can enjoy these tours.
Two different daytime Halloween Horror Nights “Behind the Screams” tours are available for 2011 - “Unmasking the Horror” and “Face the Fear-Makers.” Both take guests on “lights-on” walking tours of three haunted houses: “Nevermore: The Madness of Poe,” “The Forsaken,” and “Winter’s Night: The Haunting of Hawthorne Cemetery.” In both types of tours, guides also walk guests through most of the event’s scare zones, minus the scares, offering information about the houses and street zones along the way. “Face the Fear-Makers” also adds a Q&A sesion with members of the Universal Orlando art and design team.
Even without the actors present, lighting lit, sound effects playing, or effects running, there is plenty to take in while walking through the mazes of Halloween Horror Nights. In fact, with the “house” lights turned on, many additional details are visible during the tours that are otherwise unseeable during the event, due to low light, fog, and all the activity that makes up an active haunted house. The tours allow a slow stroll through each scene, absorbing every horrifying (in a good way) aspect. And unlike during the nighttime event, photography and video recording are permitted during the daytime Behind the Screams tours, allowing us to share a detailed look inside.
Lights-on look at Halloween Horror Nights 2011 haunted houses
With tour guide Agmar leading the way, on Sunday I explored three of the most detailed haunted houses of Halloween Horror Nights 2011. Juggling four cameras, I along with our photographer Michael Gavin captured every detail featured in the mazes and with this year’s event containing some of the most elaborately dressed environments in event history, even a two-hour tour wasn’t enough time to properly take it all in. And despite there being no scareactors inside or effects running within the mazes, the environments alone offer a sufficiently spooky sensation to give a good feel of what Halloween Horror Nights is all about, with movie-quality sets helping to tell the story of each haunted attraction.
Below are full lights-on video walk-throughs of three haunted houses, along with a sampling of photos from some of the most memorable scenes. At the bottom of this article, a slideshow of more than 400 daytime photos from the mazes and scare zones goes deeper into the detail of each. It should be noted that even without any costumed scareactors present, there are some gruesome scenes depicted below that may not be suitable for all audiences.
Inside “Nevermore: The Madness of Poe”
Take a walk through the full “Nevermore: The Madness of Poe” haunted house in the video below, from the first scene in Edgar Allan Poe’s writing room, through his many tales of terror, ending up back in his writing room - with a twist:
“Nevermore: The Madness of Poe” takes guests on a trip through Poe’s mind, as it becomes increasingly diseased by his alcohol abuse. The experience begins with Poe hard at work on his writings and ends with him flailing wildly in a German expressionist-style representation of what must have been going in in his head. In between, guests find themselves immersed into several of his works, including “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Raven,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” and “The Black Cat.” A few highlights from these scenes are offered below, as seen during the lights-on tour of this haunted maze.
Many more photos inside “Nevermore: The Madness of Poe” can be found in the gallery slideshow at the bottom of this article.
Inside “The Forsaken”
Step aboard a forgotten ship in the middle of a storm in the full walk through of “The Forsaken” haunted house in the video below:
“The Forsaken” tells the tale of the fourth ship to sail with Christopher Columbus that’s been written out of history. The crew was abandoned and forgotten until now, when they have returned from the depths of the sea to seek revenge on those who left them to rot. Beginning in a Spanish fort and ending in the middle of a wind and rain-soaked storm, this house gets bigger and more surprising around each turn, taking guests across a tipping ship’s deck, and ending with a surprising effect featuring a green-eyed scareactors leaping toward guests, stopping just inches away. Even without scareactors, an assortment of the “forsaken” crew members still linger, inanimate, in the daytime tour of this haunted house, along with plenty of evidence of their revenge.
Many more photos inside “The Forsaken” can be found in the gallery at the bottom of this article
Inside “Winter’s Night: The Haunting of Hawthorne Cemetery”>
Inside a frosty Universal Studios soundstage, “Winter’s Night: The Haunting of Hawthorne Cemetery” places guests in a snow covered “outdoor” environment, crawling with ghosts and ghouls bathed in cool blue light. Take a stroll through the cemetery grounds in the video below:
“Winter’s Night: The Haunting of Hawthorne Cemetery” offers little blood and gore, instead providing an eerie atmosphere that literally sends chills down guests’ spines, with the temperature inside cold enough to see your breath. This is the second time Halloween Horror Nights has ever explored the topic of ghosts, with last year’s “Legendary Truth” maze placing visitors inside a traditional haunted house.
This time it’s a haunted cemetery that’s been created in extreme detail, including an impressively large entrance and later a mesmerizing forced perspective cemetery that commands the attention of everyone who passes through.
But every amazing sight is coupled with a fright, as ghosts scare guests by suddenly materializing in the brick-formed window offering a view into the seemingly endless cemetery scene. Near the end of the maze, a mausoleum features the names of many of Halloween Horror Nights’ designers along with a square of nine amusing tombs, each inscribed with names inspired by “The Brady Bunch,” placed in their proper spot as per the classic television show introduction. It’s details like these that make lights-on tours of Halloween Horror Nights haunts a unique experience, different from the nighttime entertainment.
“Dr. Who” fans will also recognize the Weeping Angels that provide the first scare of “Winter’s Night,” which ends with an onslaught of creepy creatures at the finale.
Many more photos inside “Winter’s Night: The Haunting of Hawthorne Cemetery” can be found in the gallery at the bottom of this article
Booking “Behind the Screams” tours for Halloween Horror Nights 2011
Unmasking the Horror tours depart at 11:00am & 2:00pm on September 24, 29, 30, October 1, 2, 6, 7, 30 & 31 and 2:00pm only on October 9, 13-16, 20-23 & 27-29. The tours last roughly 2 hours and cost $55.00 per person, plus tax.
Face the Fear-Makers tours depart at 11:00am & 2:00pm on September 28, October 5, 12, 19, & 26 and last around 3 hours, up to 1 hour of which will be the Q&A. The cost is $85.00 per person, plus tax.
In addition to daytime, lights-on tours, the new Arcane Insights Tour offers a chance to spend an evening at Halloween Horror Nights 2011 with one of the event’s designers, who accompanies guests through all of the event scare zones and haunted houses, skipping the lines, learning more about the creation of the event along the way.
Arcane Insights Tours depart at 7:00pm on the nights of October 7, 14, 21 & 28 only and last up to 6 hours with a 30-minute break mid-way through. The cost is $225.00 per person plus regular event admission and tax.
More photos from the “Unmasking the Horror” lights-on tour during Halloween Horror Nights 2011 at Universal Orlando:
(Photos by Michael Gavin, Ricky Brigante)