This article appeared on HHNVault in July 2008.
In 1925, Lon Chaney donned the iconic mask and terrorized audiences in Universal’s “Phantom of the Opera.” Years later, banking on the success of the horror genre, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, Wolfman, and the Creature from the Back Lagoon came to be. Considered the “pioneers of monster movies,” Universal Studios has the horror genre to thank for its survival. It was the likes of Dracula and Frankenstein that helped the studio stay afloat during the great depression – since then, Universal has been at the forefront of terror, churning out films that are full of suspense, cutting-edge make-up techniques and visual effects, and of course, scares.
No matter the era, Universal has always been there in some shape or form to showcase the best of its class. Even though it saw its glory years in the 1930s to 1950s, Universal horror has progressed generation to generation, bringing us classic contemporary films such as JAWS, Halloween II, and The Thing – to more modern films like Jurassic Park and The Mummy trilogies. Each of these films borrow greatly from the “foundation,” if you will, that Universal poured in the mid-1920s.
Universal’s desire to constantly evolve, to find new techniques - different ways to build suspense and fear, is essentially the reason why we are all here. In 1991, the studio responsible for these classic films set forth to create an event that could immerse audiences into physical environments that borrowed from the maniacal realms created in the movies.
Halloween Horror Nights was born.
Then merely a three-night event titled “Fright Nights,” it’s hard to believe that anyone expected it to evolve into what it has today. Horror Nights has come from a small celebration at Universal Studios Florida to a month-long transformation –theme park by day, nightmare by night. Halloween Horror Nights has sparked interest from all corners of the globe, and has grown a following of devoted fans and enthusiasts. The event, since the beginning, has brought the horror genre off of the screen and into reality, creating new senses and experiences that the cinema alone could not achieve.
Being so, it should serve as no surprise that Halloween Horror Nights itself has become as big of a role in Universal’s “legacy of horror” as the films that inspired it to begin with. The reality of this has never been more apparent than today, when a new exhibit opened inside the lobby to the Horror Make-Up Show at Universal Studios Florida. The exhibit showcases the best in Universal horror, from make-up techniques to props and information from the films that shaped the genre. Starting with the Phantom of the Opera, working its way past Psycho, JAWS, The Thing, and the most recent in Universal’s legacy, Hellboy II, comes a pleasant surprise for any Halloween Horror Nights fan.
That’s right. Nestled inside the Horror Make-Up show lobby, amongst the classics and very best of horror, you will find the very first homage to Universal’s one-of-a-kind event. For the first time in eighteen years, Halloween Horror Nights has a permanent home at Universal Studios Florida, signifying that the event has grown to a truly recognizable and iconic scale.
Before now, the season would come and go, and the world would be left in the absence of the event until the next year. Now there will always be a slice of Horror Nights tucked away in the park – from now on, this display will serve as a destination to all fans alike – a reminder in the off season of the impact that our favorite event has had on not only us but Universal’s very own legacy.
Despite the focus of this article being the Horror Nights section of the new exhibit – I highly recommend looking around at everything else that’s been put in place. Anyone who has the slightest interest in the horror genre or make-up techniques can get lost exploring the props and facts found throughout. A lot of effort has been put into creating this new pre-show experience, and it has definitely paid off. The result is not only a welcome change from the dated Van Helsing exhibit, but a well put together collection of valuable history – and, of course, a pleasant surprise to us Horror Nights junkies.