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Backstage: Halloween Horror Nights

Read on for details on our backstage tour of three haunted houses from HHN Orlando 26!

Before attending Halloween Horror Nights Orlando last October, we went on their backstage tour, covering three attractions of a possible six. You could take the tour of the other three haunted houses in the afternoon but we decided against that to spend some time on the park before HHN kicked off in the evening. And we’re glad that we did because, just before the tour began, we were hit with a bit of bad news. A decision had come down the day prior that guests could no longer take photographs within any of the IP mazes. And whilst it’s still cool to get lights on pics of the original story haunt, losing the IP houses killed a lot of the fun because those are the ones where you guys can compare what the houses were like to the films that you remember. When we bought the tickets, photographs were permitted anywhere although taking┬ávideo was disallowed. We’re not sure of the details behind that change as it was a blanket ban on all IPs so it wasn’t as if one particular rights holder suddenly took umbrage… But let’s not dwell on this any longer!

Unfortunately for this post, we only had one original haunt on the tour, Ghost Town. We’ll start with the pictures that we took here:

One thing we really appreciate about these tours is that things get pointed out to you that are easily missed in the heat of the moment – you’ll see in one of the pictures above that the goldmine appears to have a bottomless drop. It’s a simple trick, a mirror covering the floor extends the set into the depths below and it’s actually really effective. It looked pretty neat with the lights on but I’m not sure how much we would have noticed this during operations had we not had it pointed out to us, only because of low lighting and the speed at which you’re ushered through HHN houses.

Elsewhere, this tour really gave us an appreciation for the story of the haunt. They had a cool concept where you’d come across a body with a very clear cause of death and then in the next room encounter the ‘live’ ghost of that body, complete with matching wound! Again, we tend to get caught up in the moment during these events and so we doubt that we would have been analytical enough to put this together on our own!

Our second haunt was The Exorcist. The above picture was the only one we were allowed to take – for some reason, facades were still okay…

Again, this tour made the storyline clearer. There are no pictures to explain this well but the ending of the haunt took a turn for the abstract. We appreciated the explanation that we were provided although we still feel that it clashed with the premise of the rest of the maze. In a nutshell, the haunt wasn’t a recreation of the film. Rather guests were experiencing the mental journey that Regan endured throughout the movie. Yet the ending then, cleverly, recreated Father Karras’ fateful tumble with the steps that he falls down encircling the archways of the room.

Then there’s a scene where the walls come alive, reaching out for you and they used a decidedly low-tech method to achieve this. Rotating pool noodles pushed against the fabric ‘wall’ to brilliantly sell the idea that something, beyond the wall, is making a grab for the hapless guests. This was really cool to hear – that even big budgeted attractions will go with a low-key approach if it’s the best way to deliver the desired effect.

And whilst the particulars of how they came to be weren’t divulged, we were informed that the vomit room used audio recordings of people actually puking!

So, with American Horror Story, we binge-watched the entire five seasons prior to visiting Orlando because we knew we’d be going through this house. It’s something we hadn’t watched before as it didn’t hold much interest but we were pleasantly surprised! And we’re glad that we did because this one was all about the details! They were so many little things that the tour pointed out that were definitely ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ during operations. Things like Stanley’s ultimate fate in Freak Show were present but almost hidden because of everything else going on.

This property came with a strict ‘no double exposure’ rule. This meant that actors playing the same character were forbidden from appearing together (this would mainly happen when casts were changing over). A slightly different approach to, say, Halloween where Michael appeared around every corner resulting in a time or two where we could spot the next actor up ahead.

‘Misdirect’ actors were used a bit in this house too. This is where one actor’s whole job is to distract you from the real scare that’s just feet away.

Overall, this was a cool tour and though we’re a bit miffed about the eleventh-hour turnaround on photos in IP mazes, it didn’t really take away from the tour. For the few hours that we were in there, our guide was incredibly informative and very obviously a fan herself which really helped! Going on this tour before the actual event may have been a huge mistake on our part as we could see all the effort and cool little ideas that went into each house, only to be utterly obliterated by crappy operations. We know it won’t change but we’d love Universal to reconsider how they run these events as they’re putting out great attractions but, bizarrely, not really giving people the opportunity to experience them in the way that they were intended to be!

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