Universal Horror: The Wolf Man


The Wolf Man is a 1941 horror film from Universal Pictures. Even though it came out a decade after the releases of Dracula and Frankenstein, it stands with them as one of the all-time horror classic films and the three characters form that iconic trinity of horror icons.

The Wolf Man stands apart from the other two films in that it is not based on any pre-existing work; it is, instead, an original screen play by Curt Siodmak.

The Wolf Man was Universal’s second attempt at a werewolf movie. Six years earlier, they had produced The Werewolf of London. While that film was a moderate success, it was considered a knock-off of Dr. Jeykll and Mr Hyde, which hampered it at the box office.

As with any review of classic Universal Horror, the challenge is to try and review it separately from the pop culture it helped create.

The plot revolves around Lawrence Talbot, the son of Sir John Talbot. After the death of his older brother, Lawrence returns to the family home in Wales, after spending the last 18 years in America. Lawrence and Sir John have a slightly strained relationship, due to Lawrence being the second son, and thus not heir to the title and estate. With his brother is dead, things have changed and both men mean to make amends with one another.

Lawrence becomes smitten with Gwen, a shop girl in the local village. He convinces her to join him at a carnival being put on by a tribe of Romani (the movie uses the term gypsy through-out, but since that is often considered a slur, for the purposes of this review I am going to use the term Romani).

At the carnival Gwen’s friend Jenny is attacked by a wolf that Lawrence kills with the silver headed cane he bought earlier from Gwen’s shop. Bitten during the fight with the wolf, Lawrence comes to realize that what he fought was actually a werewolf and that he has now had the curse passed on to him.

To a modern audience, this movie is not going to seem frightening on a jump scare level, but what does stand the test of time is the mental toll the curse takes on Lawrence as he comes to accept what has happened to him, and tries to find a way to deal with it.  The movie also plays with psychological horror, as most people believe that Lawrence is losing his mind and merely hallucinating that he is a werewolf.

Director George Wagner creates a suitably moody atmosphere, by 1941’s standards, including several shots that would come to be considered iconic, including several of the misty Welsh moors. He also put together an excellent cast. It is clear that Universal wanted a hit.

Naturally the movie rests squarely on the shoulders of Lon Chaney Jr. While not his first major role (having played Lennie two years earlier in Of Mice and Men) starring in The Wolf Man was significant, as he was firmly stepping into the horror genre that had made his father a star. The part calls for him to start as a jovial ladies man, but end as a character that would be at home in a Greek tragedy.

Claude Rains was already a Universal Horror star, thanks to his lead performance in The Invisible Man. As Sir John Talbot he conveys a man who hopes to mend fences with his son, only to see that hope dashed as he believes Lawrence is succumbing to madness, and later has to make a tragic choice when the grim truth is made clear. It would have been easy for this part to have been played as disapproving father, but Rains elevates it by making Sir John aloof, yet loving.

Oscar winning actress and revered Hollywood acting coach Maria Ouspenskaya plays  Malva, the Romani woman whose son inadvertently passes the curse on to Lawrence. It would have been easy to have Malva be a sinister figure, but between the script and Ouspenskaya’s performance she is one of the most sympathetic characters in the movie, and the only person to truly try and help Lawrence.

Bela Lugosi appears as Malva’s son, also named Bela, whose bite infects our hero. He plays the part well, but it seems like an oddly small part for such a big name making it seem like a case of stunt casting.

Evelyn Ankers plays Gwen, the shop girl Lawrence becomes enamored with. She conveys her affection for Lawrence well and her concerns for him as his troubles mount. I find this notable, as Ankers and Chaney very famously did not get along. Despite this, they ended up starring, opposite each other, in four movies.

No review of this film would be complete without making note of the Wolf Man makeup, created by legendary makeup artist Jack Pierce.  The iconic look of the Wolf Man would serve as the model  for werewolves, in film, for years to come.

But the real legacy of this film is the werewolf lore it created. Almost everything we take for granted in werewolf mythology was actually created from scratch in the script by Curt Siodmak. The curse being transmitted by a bite, the vulnerability to silver, the involuntary transformation, the mark of the pentagram, and iconic poem are all creations specific for this movie. Interestingly the transformation under the full moon was not from this movie, but came in the Siodmak’s script for the sequel Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man. In fact the moon is never seen in the film at all.

The other horror trope codified in this film is the misty moors. In fact, the back drop of the moors used in the opening credits was reused by several other Universal Horror films, as it conveyed the mood so well.

Overall, I give The Wolf Man a solid B. It is a superior film for its era, and any classic horror film fan should make a point of seeing it.


Universal Horror: Spanish Dracula Review


Carlos Villarias as Dracula

As I stated in my review of Dracula, a common practice in Hollywood during the early days of talking pictures was to film a second version of a movie using the same sets and shooting script in a foreign language. At the time, dubbing was not a very refined art, and many considered it cheating anyway. Sadly, most of these films have been lost as they were considered secondary to the English language version and less effort was made to preserve them.

Fortunately, one of the few to survive was the Spanish language version of Dracula.

There is no real reason to go over a synopsis of the film’s plot. It is identical to the English language version that I reviewed last week. Go back and reread that if needed, I’ll wait.

A lot of interest has been given to this version over the years, as many people feel it is in fact superior to the Bela Lugosi classic. Are they right? Let’s find out.

The film was directed by George Melford who was already famous for having directed Rudolph Valentino’s silent classic The Sheik. Working for Universal, Melford directed four Spanish language films. Melford did not speak a word of Spanish and had to use a translator.

Melford also had a competitive streak, at least when it came to Tod Browning and Dracula. Melford and his crew would come in at night after Browning’s crew had wrapped for the day. He would get to look at the dailies with the idea that he would mimic what was shot. Instead Melford decided he could do better and chose to try and improve on what Browning had shot.

Watching this version can be jarring if you are familiar with the English version. Many scenes are identical in look and feel. However, as the movie progresses differences start to become more apparent.

First of all is the pacing. The Spanish version is much better paced, shrugging off the theatrical roots of the material. While the camera work is not as fluid at times as the English version, it makes up for it with grander sweeps and faster movement. There are two scenes in the Browning version that go on a bit long, a battle of wills between Dracula and Van Helsing, and a vampiric seduction of Harker by Mina. Melford improves the pacing by having them happen simultaneously and cutting between them.

Another very clear change is on the close ups of Dracula. In the Browning version, it is always a tight shot of his face with a band of light across his eyes. In Melford’s version, it is a tight close up of just the eyes, or a tight close up of the face and then a jump cut to the close up of the eyes.

Of course we also have to look at the performances by the actors as this is the chief difference between the two.

Carlos Villarias plays Dracula. Of the cast he was the only one allowed to look at the dailies, as the studio wanted him to mimic Lugosi. While there are similarities between the two performances, they are still very different.  Villarias plays Dracula more energetically than Lugosi did, and due to less stringent standards for the Spanish audience was able to make the seductive elements of the character more overt. In many ways this is a better performance than Lugosi’s. However, the difference is that Villarias did not have the same commanding presence as Lugosi. So while it might be a better performance technically, it was in no way matching the iconic one given by Lugosi.

Pablo Alvarez Rubio played Renfield. Here I feel that while his performance was equal to Dwight Frye’s, it was different. Manic Frye was menacing, where Rubio was just over-the-top raving. Calm Frye was sympathetic where Rubio became sinister.

Eduardo Arozamena played Van Helsing. Here I feel the performance was flatter compared to the one given by Edward Von Sloan.

The biggest difference was in the female lead. When I reviewed the other version I glossed over the performance of Helen Chandler as Mina. I felt it was just serviceable and did not really stand out. In the Spanish version, Lupita Tovar played the renamed Eva. Her performance was much more dynamic, especially when under Dracula’s thrall. It should be noted that Chandler’s career did not extend beyond the 1930s, whereas Tovar was working through the mid-1940s.

So in the end, I can say that yes, the Spanish version of Dracula is the superior film. Its biggest down fall is that it lacks the iconic performance of Lugosi.

I give it a grade of B-

Hopefully it will not take a year to get back to the Universal Horror movies again. When we do return, we will look at the final member of the Horror trinity, the Wolf Man.

Universal Horror: Dracula Review


Bela Lugosi as Dracula

After nearly a year, I am getting back to my review of Universal Horror classics. So let’s take a look at the 1931 Universal production of Dracula.

Before I get into the review I want to cover an interesting topic.

In the early days of talking pictures, it was common for a version of a Hollywood production to have a second version of a film made using the same script and sets, but in another language. Apparently overdubbing was not that refined a process and many considered it cheating anyway.

Dracula had a Spanish version that was filmed at night using the same script and sets. Most of these foreign versions have been lost, but Dracula is one of the few they were able to recover.

I have watched both. While this review is going to just cover the English language version, next time I will go over the Spanish version, as it deserves its own article.

On to the review.

For years Universal had wanted to make Dracula. Specifically Carl Laemmle Jr., son of Universal founder Carl Laemmle Sr., wanted to make Dracula. Originally as a silent picture with Lon Chaney as the Count. Several factors delayed production. First was just securing the rights, as author Bram Stoker’s widow had sued the producers of Nosferatu for not having secured the rights, and won. Then there was Chaney himself who developed throat cancer and died. Finally, you had the great depression which resulted in the movie having a smaller budget. Originally Laemmle had envisioned a grand film on the scale of the Hunchback of Notre Dame that adhered very closely to Stoker’s novel. Now he needed to tone it down and eventually the film more closely adhered to the Broadway stage version.

The other challenge was casting. Most of the cast came together fairly quickly, except for Dracula himself. At first, Conrad Veidt was considered. He had been successful in horror, both as the somnambulist Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, and lead in The Man who Laughed. Unfortuantely Veidt had to return to Europe, so he was out.

Interestingly, the studio was against casting Bela Lugosi, who had played the part to much acclaim on Broadway. Lugosi himself lobbied hard for the part and with choices dwindling the studio decided to give him a shot.

The director of the film was Tod Browning. Browning was a successful silent film director, including having worked on the vampire-themed London After Midnight with Lon Chaney.

The story begins in Transylvania with a real estate agent named Renfield traveling to meet with Count Dracula to finalize his purchase of Carfax Abby in London. After securing the deal, Renfield is put under Dracula’s thrall. Traveling to London, Renfield is institutionalized at the Sanitarium next to the Abby run by Dr. Seward.  The count begins preying on London, with focus on Seward’s daughter Mina. Seward brings in Dr. Van Helsing to look into a rash of anemic deaths which Van Helsing correct deduces are the result of vampire attacks.  Van Helsing suspects the Count, and once confirmed, begins a hunt for the vampire’s resting place in order to bring an end to the menace.

Let’s take a look at what does not work.

Pacing is the number one problem with the film. You can clearly tell this is an adaptation of a play, as that is how it is paced. One striking thing is that the Count almost never moves quickly, preferring to stalk towards his victims.

I suspect that Browning added to this as he was used to silent film and did not know how to adapt the pacing for the inclusion of sound. One reason this is glaring is the lack of background music. This was not the fault of the production, however. In the first few years of sound, the only time music was added was if there were musicians visible. It was assumed that music would confuse the audience as to where it was coming from.

Another oddity is some of the editing choices. There are several times when Dracula is onscreen that it will cut to a close up of his face with a band of light across his eyes. This is an iconic image and I would think perhaps creepy to a 1931 audience, but seems jarring by today’s standards.

On the cast, sadly many of them just don’t stand out. Several of the cast did not have long careers in Hollywood, and you can see why here.

However, moving on to more positive aspects, there were some exceptional performances; otherwise I doubt this movie would have become a classic.

It almost should go without saying that Bela Lugosi dominates the film. He brings, charm, mystery, and menace to the role.

Next to Lugosi is Dwight Frye as Renfield. He starts the movie as a normal, if dull businessman, but as soon as he is under Dracula’s control he is a raving madman. Frye makes him stand out as a man who wants to be free, but cannot escape Dracula’s grasp.

Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing rounds out the good performances as Van Helsing, conveying the man’s will and determination to defeat the vampire.

Of interest is that later in 1931 both Frye and Van Sloan would be part of the cast of Frankenstein, securing their place in horror history.

Another bright spot for Dracula was cinematography. The film was lucky to have gotten ground breaking cinematographer Karl Freund. Thanks to his work, the film looks wonderful even today, and many of his tracking shots were considered ground breaking at the time.

Finally we have to look at the legacy of this movie. It solidified the image of the vampire in the public mind. Even today, the stereotype of the vampire is based on Lugosi’s performance.  It also gave us the image of the haunted castle, with crumbling walls and cobwebs. The tropes associated with a vampire’s minion were set in stone by Frye, just like he would later in the year with the mad scientist’s hunchbacked assistant. And the vampire hunter in the mold of Van Helsing would also be influenced by this film.

It is also worth noting that Dracula was the first film made in Hollywood that was overtly supernatural. Until then all Hollywood horror involved the deformed, the deranged, or someone using trickery. Europe had some supernatural elements in their films, but this was the first for Hollywood, and opened the doors for all horror that would follow.

In the end you can see why this made such an impact.

However, I do not feel that it has held up as well as Frankenstein.


I give the 1931 Dracula a grade of C+.


Join us next week when we see how well the Spanish language version holds up.




Universal Studios VIP Tour Review

universal_studios_hollywood_001For our recent honeymoon trip, my wife gave me an extra surprise. Our honeymoon took us to Disneyland for what we named The Epic Disneyland Honeymoon. And it was epic, especially since we were there right at the beginning of their Christmas season programing. But this was not the surprise she had for me. No, the surprise was a special VIP tour of Universal Studios.

I had been to Universal Studios Hollywood several times, and even been to Orlando once; these trips were done as the normal entry in the park that everyone takes, with the rides and the famous tram tour of the back lot. But this was different, this was the Universal Studios Hollywood VIP Experience. It cost nearly $300.00 per person special ticket. It is red carpet treatment and makes you feel like a big shot.

If you have followed this site for a while, it will be no surprise that I am a huge Universal fan. My favorite movie of all time is Universal’s Casablanca, and my love of Universal Horror is well documented. Of course the woman I married is well aware of this love of all things Universal. Thanks to this, she felt it was worth the money to make sure that our Honeymoon would have an event that would have special meaning for me. If you share this love of Universal, or really just movies in general, it is something you may want to consider sometime.



Now when I say ‘surprise’ I want to be clear that I knew about it before we got on the airplane; she didn’t just spring it on me that morning, which is a good thing because we needed an early start. Staying at the Disneyland Hotel meant we needed a rental car, and fortunately Downtown Disney has a car rental place onsite. This was important because the VIP tour has a specific start time, which meant that taking the shuttle was not optional. We got an early enough start that, even with Los Angeles traffic, we got there with 20 minutes to spare. Basically, you need to be there prior to park opening.

Valet parking was part of the package, and once we were parked we made our way through the Universal Citywalk to the Front Entrance of the park, checking in at the special VIP entrance to the park. The tour is not something you can just sign up for on the spur of the moment; with limited space each day, you must reserve your space in advance.  At check-in were given our special VIP badges, and then we were taken into the not-yet-opened park and escorted to the VIP lounge. Walking through a theme park, which you have visited several times, before it is opened is a very surreal experience; it was really the perfect start to a day full of surreal experiences.

The VIP Lounge is a somewhat non-descript building in the middle of the upper level of the park. It is like a small but very nice restaurant. We were greeted at the door and escorted to the patio where pastries, fruit, and drinks were available. There were two tour groups on the patio, each group consisting of 12 people. We were told our tour guide’s name was Matthew and that he would come to collect us soon. The first group left a few minutes before Matthew came to collect us. He was a 20 year veteran of Universal Studios, having worked both in the park and on some extra gigs around the studios. He was a great host, which I assume is a job requirement for leading the VIP tour;  it was clear that he knew everyone in the park, and had developed relationships with them.

The first part of the tour consisted of going on the rides. As a VIP tour we did not go through the regular entrances; instead Matthew would take us through side entrances and to the front of the line for every ride. He also told us that, after the tour was done, our badges would still get us front of the line access. We started on the Simpsons ride, on the upper level. From there we went to the lower level for the Mummy and Transformer rides. Jurassic Park was closed that day for maintenance. From there it was back up top to the Terminator 2 3D show (this attraction was really showing its age). Matthew told us that it was the last month of the show before it would be closed down and replaced with a Despicable Me attraction. He then took us back to the VIP lounge for a gourmet lunch buffet (which was delicious). After lunch, we went through the Universal House of Horrors attraction, their year round haunted house.

Next was the center piece of the whole tour: the back lot tram ride. The normal tram tour is done in a large multi-car tram that holds an enormous number of people; since our tour group was only 12 people, obviously we would not need that. Instead we got on a small tram that reminded me of a trolley.  For the most part, the tram tour was the same as the normal one, going through the backlot, discussing Universal’s history, and having staged events like a flash flood or the encounter with King Kong. But there was more to it; the normal Tram tour is around 45 minutes, whereas ours was over 2 hours. That extra time was spent doing things that made the whole trip worthwhile. Some of it was simple; since our tram was small, we were able to go places the big trams couldn’t. So we got to see where the sound stages for a lot of shows were. We passed by the CSI sets, which had their doors open a bit, although all we could see were the backs of sets. Right after that was the first thing that made the VIP tour stand out: our tram pulled up to a sound stage and stopped, Matthew had us get out of the tram and check in with a security guard after which we were taken into the sound stage. It was the set for a TV show called Parenthood, specifically a house set. I’ll be honest I have never watched this show, but that didn’t matter, this was a working TV set and we were being allowed to go in and see how it was set up and what they do to shoot the show there. Matthew went over various technical details of the set, describing how things are constructed in order to film the series, including the lack of a ceiling on the house to make room for lighting, the trees outside on wheels and the backdrop. I found myself focusing on details, like the books on the shelves. From there it was more tram tour, including the city street sets. We got lucky, and in the distance we could see a scene for CSI being filmed, my wife was very excited when she spotted Ted Danson on the set.

The next special treat was another stop. We parked outside of a very non-descript building and took an elevator to the top floor. This building held the Universal Wardrobe and Props departments; each of these departments is the biggest, of their kind, in Hollywood. Matthew pointed out that anyone can rent from them, even members of the public. The building was really just a normal warehouse with some offices. It was not glitzy, until you paid attention to what was stored there. When Universal makes a costume for a movie or TV show, they take it back when they are done and add it to their wardrobe inventory for rental. An example is that the battle armor from Starship Troopers was reused for the show Firefly. There were racks of clothes of all types. One row was ball gowns, another was chainmail, both fake and real, yet another was a whole row of Santa Claus outfits.  At one point we stopped while Matthew checked to see if we could go into the next room; the costumes we stopped by were from Hellboy 2, and my inner fanboy rejoiced.



Down one floor was the props department, which is really just one big warehouse. At first glance it would not seem terribly exciting, unless you really paid attention. The first thing we saw was an aisle of nothing but lamps, but right next to it was a rack of disco balls, then a row of telephones arranged by date (oldest to newest),  followed by a row of body parts. Matthew explained that prop masters from different productions would come in with slips containing details about the production company, and the dates various props were needed; they would go through the department and if they came to something they needed they would tag it, marking it as reserved for them, and the department would record who was taking what. The production company would be responsible for collecting the props they needed on check-out day. During our visit, several people were loading carts with props. Some of the props were just for display, as they were too iconic for use in other productions, such as the dagger from the Shadow.

While we weren’t supposed to touch anything, Matthew did take us to one spot where we could. These were demo props for the tour, designed to look dangerous but be safe (for example, a foam frying pan painted to look real that he let my wife whack me over the head with). We also got to play with breakaway glass. Going down a couple of flights of stairs (and I assume skipping a couple of floors of props) we were at ground level where they have larger props like furniture, statues, phone booths, and a giant shopping cart from Jackass.



Back on the tram, we passed the Jaws set, the Bates Motel with an actor playing Norman, and the Bates House. Beyond the Bates House was the crashed airplane set from Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. The Tram stopped here and we were let out again; we were allowed to walk around the crash set, take pictures, and even touch some stuff. (Interesting note – the Station 2 set from Jurassic Park is hidden behind the crash set.)  After that it was back on the Tram to finish up that tour.

Returning to the park proper, we went to the special effects show where we had VIP seating. After that, we were taken to the Water World Stunt Show where, again, we had VIP seating. It was here that Matthew said goodbye, as this was the end of the tour. After the Stunt Show we had one last treat, a Q & A with a pair of the stunt performers.

And with that, we had about 20 minutes left for shopping before the park closed.

So I would definitely recommend this. The first part is fun, if you are a theme park fan. The second half is an absolute blast if you are a film or TV fan, especially if you have an interest in how things work behind the scenes. The food in the gourmet lunch is excellent, and the tour guide and all the staff went out of their way to make sure we felt special. At times it felt more like a friend sneaking us in the back entrance than going into a priority line, and I mean that in the best ways.

If you have a chance to go to Universal Studios and you can afford it, I would highly recommend getting the VIP package.

I give the Universal Studios Hollywood VIP Experience an A+

Halloween Horror Nights

This weekend marks the start of Halloween Horror Nights, which I count as the official kick off of the Halloween season.

For those not in the know Halloween Horror Nights is an annual event held at Universal Studios at their Florida, Hollywood, and Singapore locations. Basically afterhours during the five weeks leading up to Halloween the parks convert over to a Halloween event.

Now a lot of theme parks do this. As you get closer to Halloween the parks will have events that range from a very kid friendly one at Disneyland to very well respected event at Knott’s Berry Farm. But this is Universal Studios, who created most of the horror images that are now an integral part of Halloween. So in 1991 at their park in Florida they decided to do the event, which was called Fright Nights during its first year. The next year it was renamed Halloween Horror Nights and expanded to both Florida and Hollywood.

It’s worth mentioning that while Halloween Horror Nights happens at all Universal sites, Florida is usually considered the bigger one, with Hollywood being a little brother and Singapore only having just started doing it last year.  All three sites have their own development team and while they may have similar themed houses and scarezones they are not usually developed in tandem.

Originally the event was mostly Halloween themed shows and a traditional haunted house maze. Then performers called scarectors were added who wandered selected areas of the park called scarezones.  The number of houses increased, each with its own theme.  These would grow to Florida having 8 houses and 6 to 8 scarezones. Hollywood now has 6 houses, 4 to 5 scarezones, and a scary tram ride.

One noticeable difference in the houses and scarezones between sites is that Hollywood is more likely to have them themed based on an existing movie franchise, where Florida is more prone to creating original house themes and stories.

In 2000 a feature was added the really made Halloween Horror Nights stand out, the creation of the event icons. Really this was started a few years earlier when the event was hosted by the Crypt Keeper from HBO’s Tales from the Crypt. In 2000 however an original character was created to be the events host in Florida, Jack the Clown. Jack was not only created visually but was given a fairly detailed back story. Basically Jack was developed enough that he could have been the main character of a horror movie. But instead he was used as the main character of the event with a house and scarezone both themed after him. Since then every year except two in Florida has had an Icon.  Hollywood will also use Icons, but has never developed an original one, either using one of Florida’s or an existing character from a film franchise such as Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

To date Halloween Horror Nights has created the following Icons:

Jack Schmidt aka Jack the Clown (Yes they did his last name on purpose): A murderous clown who leads the demented Carnival of Carnage. Jack is the most popular icon and has been used more than any of the others. In 2001 a new Icon, Eddie was supposed to be introduced, but after the 9/11 attacks he was deemed not appropriate and Jack was brought back and a toned down Eddie was made his little brother and minion. As Jack is partly inspired by the Joker he has another sidekick, Chance, who is reminiscent of Harley Quinn.

Albert Cain aka The Caretaker: Cain was a former surgeon turned mortician who would capture people and experiment on them. Originally Albert was meant to be a background character to the events original Icon, his disturbed daughter Cindy. However a string of child abductions in the Florida area led to Cindy being pushed back and Albert being developed as the main Icon.

Paulo Ravinski aka The Director: An Eastern European film maker who would actually kill actors on film in order to capture the realism of their deaths.

Elsa Strict aka The Storyteller: An old woman who would tell stories of horror from an ancient time, known as Terra Curentas. Originally the Terra Queen was meant to be the Icon, but there were development issues with her and the Storyteller was created for promotional materials and commercials. Her lack of a backstory is unique amongst the Icons and has been played up in subsequent appearances.

Dr. Mary Agana aka Bloody Mary: A psychiatrist who through her research into fear transformed herself into the Bloody Mary of folklore. Mary had an extensive history developed, second only to Jack’s. The Halloween Horror Nights’ website had a multimedia game set up prior to the event that would allow people to uncover her story.

Julian Browning aka the Usher:  A strict movie usher at a 1920’s movie theater. He was killed after a scuffle with a patron, and now haunts the theater and enforces his rules beyond the grave.

Fear: Literally the embodiment of fear, often called Fear Himself. He was the Icon for the 20th anniversary and brought Jack, the Caretaker, the Storyteller, the Director, and the Usher with him as his Heralds.

Lady Luck: The embodiment of bad luck. If you gamble with her and lose she will devour you. She is second only to the Storyteller in lack of back story.

Besides the Icons there are other story elements that have appeared repeatedly.


Legendary Truth: An organization formed in the 50’s to investigate the supernatural. An online game based on a hunt for Bloody Mary treated the players as Legendary Truth agents. A similar game was set up for the 20th anniversary to uncover the source of the monsters. There has also been a house that was themed as a Legendary Truth investigation gone horribly wrong.

Shady Brook Rest Home and Sanitarium: A mental hospital that briefly held Jack the Clown. It has been the setting for four houses and a part of the 20th anniversary online game.

Carey Ohio: Carey, a town in Wyandot County Ohio, is the hometown of one of the creative directors of Halloween Horror Nights. Both the town and the county have been the setting for several houses over the years, to the point that this year there is a house based around all the weird things that happen in Carey.

The Chainsaw drill team: Every year at least one of the scarezones is based around a group running around with chainsaws.


But all the great backstory in the world isn’t worth anything unless the houses are well executed. And this is where having a movie studio behind the theme park really comes into play. The craftsmanship behind the designs of the houses and the costumes and makeup on the scarectors is high. A lot of thought goes into Halloween Horror Nights with some park employees working year round to put the event together.

My wife and I attended the 20th Anniversary event in 2010. I’m picky about haunted houses as I use to work in what was at the time the leading haunted house in the Seattle area for a few years. I am also hard to impress because I am not a person who goes around nervous at a Halloween event because I know I am safe, so I am impressed when someone can get a jump scare out of me. At Halloween Horror Nights only one house failed to jump scare me, and even then I was impressed with how well the set, costumes, and sound was handled. Most other houses got me to jump scare at least once, and one got me five times. My wife had to remind me that I could not high five the people who got me to jump.

I was also impressed by a lot of technical details. In one house they used scarectors on wires behind a cheesecloth screen painted to look like a wall to create the effect of translucent ghosts flying by. Two of the houses used hanging items like strips of plastic or cloth in doorways and hallways to disorientate guest. You would have to reach up and brush them away and this gave scarectors a chance to sneak up. One house took advantage of the fact that your eyes would grow accustomed to the dark. A flame effect would go off when you entered a room, wreaking your night vision and distracting you so that you would not see the person hiding in the shadows.

For a break Halloween Horror Nights always has a Bill and Ted live show that makes fun of whatever was big in pop culture that year.I expect the Avengers to have a big part this year.

There is usually another show as well, but those rotate. The year we were there it was a magician that did gory tricks. This year it appears to be a circus geek show.

I did learn that there is one big difference between the Florida and Hollywood events. My sister went to the Hollywood event the same year I went to Florida. The difference is in refreshments. In Hollywood there is no alcohol available. In Florida not only are there places to buy alcohol but they had women dressed as nurses with IV bags containing Jell-O shots roaming the park.

Overall this is a fun event. If you like haunted houses you will love Halloween Horror Nights. So if you get the chance to go I would highly recommend it and I hope to go back one day myself.