25 years of terror at Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights

    From USA Today


    Orlando — Inside a sprawling soundstage at Universal Studios, a young woman with orange-tinted bangs sits at a table. She carefully puts the finishing touches on a “Bride of Chucky” mask, sewing in the wig. Fur balls float across the floor, thanks to werewolf puppets in various stages of completeness. People roam in and out, working around the clock to make sure Halloween Horror Nights 25 goes off without a hitch.


    It’s a visual feast for any horror fanatic, especially one like Creative Director Mike Aiello, who has been to every Halloween Horror Nights event for the past 25 years.


    “My dad’s a huge classic monsters fan,” he says. “I was brought up on it. From ’91 until this year I’ve somehow been involved in Halloween Horror Nights as a guest or as a scareactor in the maze, and now as the creative director for the whole event.”


    Enthusiastically, he explains that in this year (from Sept. 18 – Nov. 1) there will be nine haunted mazes, the most they’ve ever had in the history of the event. Plus, there will be five scare zones that have more roaming hordes of criminally insane inmates and wicked steampunk characters than ever before. There’s also a new dining experience where annual pass holders are treated to a buffet “to die for” along with scareactor photo ops.


    Between the set builders, costume designers and makeup artists, “it is literally an army of people who comes together every single year to make this happen,” Aiello says. “We’ve already started planning for next year; it’s this nonstop process.”


    After learning more behind-the-scenes info, it’s that much more impressive. The mazes, for example, begin as blue line sketches on drafting paper, Dungeons & Dragons style. Then, the creative team writes the maze from beginning to end in a first-person narrative to show what that guest is seeing, hearing and smelling.


    “We devote an entire day to smells,” Aiello says. “We bring in our vendor, we call her the smell lady. When she comes, she has a suitcase, and there is an inner suitcase made out of metal that has the most horrific things you’ve ever smelled in your entire life.”


    For example, the team once requested a decaying smell. The smell lady, who has documented the various stages of decay during her career, busted out a smell called roasted chicken. The team then pumped that smell into a set that looked like a decrepit meatpacking plant… READ MORE