Monday, October 14, 2013

Behind the Screams: Universal Orlando Halloween Horror Nights Part II

***This is part two of my overview and review of Universal Studios Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights. It's stated throughout the post, but there are spoilers for the houses, as well as for the movies The Cabin In the Woods and An American Werewolf In London.

Because I'm a wuss and can't go through the haunted houses without crying, but am also extremely interested in set and prop design, Thomas and I opted to go on the Behind the Screams tour. This is a lights-on, actor-free, in-depth guided tour of three of the haunted houses. It takes slightly over two hours, and I highly recommend it if you have any interest in theatrical set design--for movie or stage. The production values are astonishing, and they encourage picture taking.

It's also still really creepy, at times.

***WARNING! The pictures you are about to see are some of the least graphic in nature that I was able to take. They still contain some images that may too violent or off-putting for some. If you have a problem with gore or monsters, or if you are planning to go to HHN and don't want to be spoiled on three out of eight houses, STOP READING NOW***

Before the tour, we checked in at the VIP office (fancy) and got our lanyards that denoted we were on the tour. They were the same limited edition lanyards being hawked outside the gates, and a nice touch. We then waited in a gorgeous conference area with the cleanest, most opulent ladies' room I've ever seen. For some of you, that might not mean much, but when you've been stuck using theme park, fast-food joint, and gas station restrooms for several days, it's a god-send.

Once everyone was present and accounted for, we were split into our groups (there were three going at the same time, with each starting at a different house) and headed for the first house. Ours was the La Llorona tent (yes, tent, but you'd never know once inside), patterned partially after the house of the same name at last year's Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights.

Now, if I'm going to be totally honest, I have to point out that I really didn't want to go in this house. I also hated pretty much every second of being in there. See, I hate the urban legend. HATE the legend. If you don't know it, it's a Spanish tale about a beautiful young widow who falls in love with a handsome young nobleman. Unfortunately, while he's taken with her, he's not a fan of kids, and she has two from her previous marriage. So, she drowns them in the river. Seriously. As our tour guide (who felt the same way I did, I guess) sarcastically put it, "Nothing says fun like dead babies." Obviously, this doesn't go over well with the nobleman, and the woman poetically drowns herself in the same river. Depending on which variation of the story is being told, she also could have been murdered by a lynch mob. It was horrific, and involved a horse, and that's all I'm saying. Anyhoo, once she's died, she ascends to Heaven where she is promptly turned away, with the caveat that she can come in once she's found her children. Now, La Llorona (the weeping woman) wanders the Earth searching for her children, and because she doesn't remember what they looked like, she'll take anyone. 

I'm a softie. I love kids, and can't bear to even think of anything like this happening, even in a fictional sense, so I spent most of this house staring at the architecture, which was gorgeous. Stunning. Unbelievable, especially considering this was a tent. They built a Spanish villa, complete with river running through it. There are water effects galore. It's a beauty of a house, and I could only bring myself to take one picture.

This is the outside. It's lovely. Inside, the highlights would be the river, the pepper's ghost effects, and some super cool "Weeping Angel"-ish statues that come to life. You'll walk past several alcoves with real statues, and then past alcoves with actors dressed identically, stonework and all. It's a really neat effect, and brilliant in its simplicity.

Next up, The Cabin In the Woods. If you haven't seen this movie, drop everything and watch it now! There be spoilers ahead!! Seriously. I'll wait.

(Elevator music...shuffling of feet...awkward looking around the room...)

All done? Good. Hope you enjoyed it.

This one begins by queueing through the facility, and then trekking through a (small) forest to the cabin. Supposedly, you're maintenance for the facility and they need you to fix some equipment. When you get to the cabin, Jules has already been decapitated and is slumped against a tree. Inside, the level of detail is remarkable. The interior matches the movie to a tee, right down to the keg, Solo cups, and chip wrappers in the kitchen. Fun fact: stupid people at the event have been trying to steal things from the houses (and have succeeded), so everything is bolted down, and quite a few objects have been coated in Vaseline. Yum...

And yes, the "moose" is on the wall. No, I did not make out with it. (That would be frowned upon.)

You then make your way through the bedroom with the horrifying painting and two-way mirror, and down into the basement, where you see all of the totems that the kids could choose from. Again, I can't express the level of detail involved here.

Everything you remember from the movie, plus about a hundred other things that you would never see going through the event, but would certainly miss if they weren't there.

The basement leads to the black room, where you find torture devices, and also where the Buckner boys can reach at you from above. This leads back in to the facility, and into a ton of gore. I mean, a ton. The blood-filled elevator room, the dismembered Buckners, the Merman munching on Hadley; it's all exceptionally well-done, and again, the little things like coffee cups in the breakroom cabinets and fun signage throughout the hallways really sell that this is happening. One fun Easter egg to look for is the wipeboard. It's a spot-on replica.

Yeah, that is a Merman's tail. Yes, it is gross, and yes, it is hilarious.

The final house we toured was An American Werewolf In London. Again, if you haven't seen the movie (first of all, you should. It's amazing), go watch it and then come back. Spoilers, dead ahead!!

Back? Got Van Morrison's Moondance stuck in your head? I know I do. Alright! Moving on!

You enter this house through the Slaughtered Lamb pub, and it's just like being there. The pentagram is on the wall, the tables and coats are all as they should be, and there's even an errant dart in the wall, from where the guy who never misses missed. From there, you move into a cemetery (which isn't in the movie, but why not?) where hidden among the headstones you'll see markers for the Jaws and King Kong rides. Cute.

Now is when the house gets really impressive. Past the cemetery, you see Jack and David in the process of being mauled by a very large, very realistic, fully animated, mechanical werewolf. And it. is. gorgeous. The wolves (and there are several) were constructed by the same puppeteer who handles the work for Cirque du Soleil, and also worked on The Lion King stage show. And I can not remember his name to save my life. I'm sorry.

You'll travel through David's fever dreams, set in the hospital and his own home. The hospital set doesn't seem uber-detailed, but there are little touches that show how much thought went into this set. A copy of A Connecticutt Yankee In King Arthur's Court lies on a nightstand; an apple on a tray is missing a bite. Again, it's the little things. The house set holds far more items, and many sent me right back into my 80s childhood. We had the same videotape organizer that appears on a shelf. The carpet is exactly the same as what was in my house--that sort of thing. There was far too much to take it all in.

Down the hallway is Nurse Price's apartment, and David's transformation scene.

Just look at all of that detail! The half-read Twain novel, the Mickey Mouse that zombie-Jack plays with, and who else had that TV? I used to hook my Atari up to one just like that at my grandparents' house.

Now, you may be looking at this, thinking, "um...that werewolf-in-process doesn't have a head?" Well, yes and no. That werewolf doesn't have a head, but the actor who plays the werewolf does. He sits underneath the floor, with his head and arms sticking out. Then he can flail around and scream and all that jazz, without having to be pretty much naked and body-painted.

From here, you enter the Underground where David makes his first kill. This place looks amazing. I've been in the London Underground, and this is just like it, only more cramped. A lot more cramped. I couldn't take any pictures because I was jammed in between people like a sardine cramped. There's a wolf in here, and it'll scare the bejeezus out of you. Even with the lights on, it's frightening.

Next comes the movie theatre where David meets all of his victims and discusses his situation with Jack. With the lights on, it's just a big screen with a lot of theatre seats and mannequins. During the event, however, the actual adult film (enlarged to the point of obscurity, thankfully) plays, and live actors are mixed in among the dummies. There's also another werewolf at the exit, gnawing on the bones of an usher--the same usher who served as the icon for HHN a few years back.

When you leave the theatre, you enter Picadilly Square, complete with double decker bus, theatre marquee, and a great big blue box that may or may not be a replica of one used by a property that Universal does not own.

We were our guide's first tour that recognized the TARDIS. True story.

Once you leave the Square, you find yourself in the alley for David's final showdown with the police. It's also the best place to get a shot of the wolf.

Holy Mother of Pearl, that is fantastic! Story goes, the studios have wanted to do this house for several years, but never could get the go ahead from John Landis, the creator of AAWIL. He didn't understand how his movie could translate to a haunted house attraction. Eventually, they got him out to HHN, and he saw the craftsmanship and care that goes into building these houses and gave his blessing. I think they did it justice.

I wish I had better photos for you guys, but the houses were still quite dark with tiny spaces to walk through (for the most part). These were the photos that turned out the best, had the least amount of blood and guts (this is a family-friendly blog, after all), and--most importantly--didn't show anyone outside of the tour guide. Those folks didn't give me permission to post their photos on the interwebs, and I respect their privacy. I'd be less than thrilled if anyone posted video of me freaking out during the walker swarm.

Final little Easter egg: each house has a raven in it somewhere. This house technically has two. If you know where they are, leave a note in the comments. Thanks!

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