Halloween Horror Nights: A History

Since Halloween is coming up, I would like to talk about my favorite Halloween event ever: Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights. Why do I like it so much and prefer it over Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream, Knott’s Scary Farm, and Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party? Well, it’s best to start at the beginning:

Before I start, I need to say that NO, this is NOT like Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party for two reasons: 1. you CAN’T dress up, they’ll throw you out if you do and 2. they DON’T give out free candy. Got it? Good.

The event began in Orlando in the year 1991 as “Fright Nights”. It only ran for three nights and had one haunted house: The Dungeon of Terror. It came back the following year, which resulted in the name being changed to what it is called today, an expansion of nights, and the creation of another house: The People Under the Stairs, based off of the Wes Craven movie of the same name. Another important milestone was the debut of the show “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure”, which ended up becoming a fan favorite with all of the dance numbers and mocking of the pop culture of that year. This was also the year California’s Universal started doing Horror Nights.

In 1993, the nights were extended once again with the event growing in popularity. The next year, they did some things a little different: they started adding scare zones, which are areas in the streets where actors roam around and scare people (this scare zone was called Horrorwood and was the first to have the Chainsaw Drill Team, a group of scare actors who chase people with chainsaws) and this was the first year they used an icon.

That icon was the Crypt Keeper from the show, Tales from the Crypt. He would be the icon for several years until he fell out of popularity and the event was left without an icon.

1999 marked the first time that the event had a 3D haunted house, but the end of that year’s event would change everything forever. As guests exited, they were subjected to a poll of what they were afraid of…the final result was that majority were afraid of clowns.

The year after that, Universal Creative made the first original icon for the event: Jack, a demented clown. The tests done with him to promote the 10th anniversary of Horror Nights was proven successful and he became a fan favorite quickly.

In 2001, they were going to have Jack’s brother, Eddie, a chainsaw wielding killer, be the icon, but because of the September 11th attacks, he was shelved and Jack was brought into the spotlight again. Makes you wish what the event would’ve been like if they didn’t change it, right?

The following year, Universal decided to have the event in their new theme park: Islands of Adventure, where they twisted each of the different areas into scare zones (ex. Jurassic Park had dinosaurs everywhere, the Marvel area had super villains, etc.). Along with all of that, a second icon was created: The Caretaker, a surgeon and funeral director. He originally wasn’t going to be the icon and his daughter, Cindy, was supposed to be the star, but got scrapped because of several abductions that were happening in the area at the time.

In 2003, Horror Nights was in Islands of Adventure once again, but this time, with another new icon: The Director, who was obsessed with making snuff films.

The year after that was the first time they had done the event at both parks at the same time, but with no icon. They continued this until 2005, which was the last time that Horror Nights would be in Islands of Adventure.

For that year, they made another icon named The Storyteller, a creepy old lady that tells stories and rips her victims tongues out. Everything in the park was tied around one big story.

2006’s event was considered very special since it was the 16th anniversary of Horror Nights and was the first time all of the icons were brought together in the main Universal park. Many fans see this as one of the best years.

The next year, Jack returned, but he wasn’t alone since he brought along the famed slashers Jason Voorheese, Freddy Kruger, and Leatherface with him for the Carnival of Carnage theme. This also was the introduction of Chance, Jack’s assistant/girlfriend. We’ll get back to her later…

2008 introduced a new icon: Bloody Mary. The entire theme for that year also revolved around urban legends since she was one herself. However, because of a copyright issue, she was never used after that year.

The year after that had yet another new icon called The Usher (who dresses like a Tower of Terror worker) and had a movie theme for the event while paying homage to both the classics and the modern films.

2010 marked the 20th anniversary of Horror Nights and the icons were brought together once again by Fear…literally. Like the 16th year, this was considered one of the best years. Cindy was also supposed to be the main icon that brought everyone together, but they scrapped the idea.

That following year, another icon was brought into the scene: Lady Luck. A casino theme based on chance, fate, and luck was also added for the event. However, this was the last time that the event used icons for a while…

2012, the supposed end of the world, was the beginning of a new era and when Universal in Japan decided to do their version of Horror Nights (seriously, it sounds amazing, they even made the Harry Potter areas into scare zones!). Anyways, it was the first time the event used the popular TV series The Walking Dead as a house and when they just made the entire park one big scare zone. It…wasn’t well received.

The next two years were considered lackluster because of the craze around The Walking Dead and how they used it for a house THREE YEARS IN A ROW and an entire scare zone theme in 2013.

2015 was my first year attending Halloween Horror Nights and I can still remember it to this day with how much fun I had. It was the 25th anniversary of the event and they brought all the icons back with Jack as the main star of the show. It was considered one of the best years too.

The next year continued the story of the 2015 year and had Chance as the icon. It was also the last year The Walking Dead was featured at the event since everyone was getting tired of it.

2017 was a year of confusing marketing and no icon (I’m still salty that I sold my soul for nothing). It was also the first time I went into a haunted house, which was The Shining (it happened to be my first horror film). Sadly, it was the last year for Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure. Hopefully, it will return soon with the third movie coming out…

Last year had an 80’s theme and was the first time Stranger Things was shown as a house. The year was a hit with guests and I had a blast.

And now, we’re here in 2019 with another 80’s theme and the 30th anniversary approaching for the next year. Until the event starts on September 6, we’ll go through everything from houses to scare zones to get hyped for this year’s event.

I would also like to thank Christopher Ripley for writing such amazing books on the event and for Michael Aiello and his team for doing such a great job in putting this together every year.


Are you excited as I am for this year’s Horror Nights? What has been your favorite year? What house are you most excited for?

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