The two Universal theme parks in Orlando and Hollywood took a big gamble this year on the properties they chose for their Halloween Horror Nights events, and it paid off fantastically. For the first time, the parks based some of their scare mazes on television series (AMC's The Walking Dead), video games (Silent Hill) and even a magic act (Penn & Teller), and the decision to go those routes has been met with much excitement and enthusiasm.
Spinoff Online was invited to Universal Orlando on Sept. 21 to experience the opening of Halloween Horror Nights. That meant we were among the first guests to walk through the much-discussed "Walking Dead" maze and see if it’s as scary to experience Robert Kirkman's world firsthand as it is to watch it on television.
It turns out that it is.
The Universal Orlando maze, called "The Walking Dead: Dead Inside," brings guests through many of the major set pieces featured in the first and second seasons of the hit series. Halloween Horror Nights attendees will get to walk past the "Don't open, dead inside" hospital doors, see Daryl's motorcycle in the garage and even witness Dale's RV being overrun by walkers. As is appropriate, the maze ends with a walk through Hershel's burning barn. If you look closely, you might even catch a glimpse (like we did) of a walker who looks a bit like Sophia.
Before our walkthrough, Spinoff had the chance to chat with Jim Timon, Universal Orlando’s senior vice president of entertainment, who revealed park executives have known since the 2010 premiere of The Walking Dead that they wanted to bring the AMC drama to Halloween Horror Nights.
"[The Walking Dead] premiered during Halloween Horror Nights. It coincidentally came on TV when we were up and running, and we all ran in to work and, after we'd seen the pilot, we just went, 'The Walking Dead and Halloween Horror Nights have got to live together,'" he recalled. "The first phone call we ever made to AMC to talk to them about it, we kind of made that pitch and they said, 'Well, yeah, let's talk,' and it just snowballed from there."
That meant getting The Walking Dead co-executive producer, director and special effects master Greg Nicotero on board to help make sure "The Walking Dead: Dead Inside" was as authentic as possible. Because Universal Orlando and Hollywood did their own versions of the maze, Nictoero went as far as to send them molds for various walkers to make sure the Halloween Horror Nights event was true to the TV series.
"Greg Nicotero has been the greatest guy to work with on this,” Timon said. “He's so excited about it because the ability to take something that only exists on screen and then take it to the real world and to have people have to live the world that you put on TV got Greg so excited. He supervised all of our makeup design and created some of the molds for some of the hero walkers -- like Deer Eater, like Well Guy, Bicycle Girl. We worked hand in hand with him."
The Universal Orlando version of the maze definitely has quite a few scares packed into it. When we talked to some of the other guests at opening night, "The Walking Dead: Dead Inside" was one the mazes frequently mentioned as a favorite. But guests who go to Universal Hollywood will be treated to a different experience, and that's something that really excites Universal Orlando show director Patrick Braillard.
"But as far as the experiences, the mazes, they couldn't be more different and that's a wonderful thing because the things that we find iconic about AMC's The Walking Dead, they might say, 'No, it's not the RV, it's the park. Or it's not Hershel's barn, it's the tank.' There are differences, and those are wonderful because it gives the fans something else to look at," he said. "You've got fans that will go to LA and look at that event and then will fly out to Orlando -- it's really cool to have fans that are that zealous, fanatical, enthusiastic about what we bring to the table, which is a lot of fun."
Halloween Horror Nights continues at Universal Orlando and Universal Hollywood for select nights through Oct. 31.