Halloween News: Of icons and IP — the differences among Universal's Halloween Horror Nights events

July 31, 2014, 10:25 AM · There was a bit of a lull in theme park announcements this week — Halloween Horror Nights has remained silent and we’re all waiting for Knott’s to drop their maze lineup August 6. After these dominoes start to fall we’ll learn more about what to expect from the smaller, regional parks across the country.

Last week we linked to a report about the Horror Nights event in Singapore but didn’t spent a lot of time discussing the event. Now in its fourth year, Horror Nights Singapore uses a similar format to that used by the Orlando event: namely, it uses an icon. This year’s icon, Jonah Goodwill, has been teased through promotional videos (there are five in that playlist) and takes prime placement on their website.

The videos are very cinematic, even the first which was filmed (I believe) at the press conference for the event is very well done. As Goodwill takes reign in Singapore, it appears we are seeing icons take a backseat in American properties. Hollywood has not relied on an icon since 2007 when they brought in the New Line troupe of Freddy, Jason and Leatherface to run the show (though they used Jack the Clown in many promotional videos over the years).

Orlando, the event that has most relied on an icon to sell the show in the past, has moved away from using a made-for-the-event character as the focal point of their campaign. Three years ago Lady Luck was the icon of the Orlando event — since then the ambiguous Legions of Terror led the way in 2012 and the zombies of the walking dead did the heavy lifting in 2013.

While the Japan event is still in its infancy, it has relied more on IPs than new-for-the-event icons. Resident Evil made an appearance in last year’s event, but it seems that Sadoka, the antagonist from The Ring, was the main icon of the event. Like the Hollywood event, and increasingly the Orlando event, it appears the focus is moving towards IPs as the means of drawing guests in. The power of the Brand is alive and well at Universal Studios.

Despite Universal’s newfound commitment to the brands of horror films, most other events rely on good ole-fashioned tropes to make their money. Howl-O-Scream in both Tampa and Williamsburg pumps out “oh yeah, that’s a Halloween Thing” maze concepts year in and year out. Cedar Fair and Six Flags use similar strategies, with Knott’s Berry Farm occasionally pulling in an IP to bolster its lineup.

As someone who has not gotten the full icon experience at their home event, I’ve always liked the concept — particularly the way it has been pulled off by Universal in Orlando. It adds something to tie the event together and gives the opportunity for great showpieces. The opening ceremony at Universal Studios Orlando became as much a part of the event as the mazes and scare zones, and it appears that is true in Singapore, too.

That all being said — if you have IPs, you have no business not using them. To the surprise of no one, The Walking Dead holds more advertising clout than Bloody Mary and Jack the Clown. Many fans (myself included) would like to see more non-IP mazes and icons at Halloween events, but the reality is we’re likely to see the number of IPs increase across the world, not the opposite. That’s not a good thing or a bad thing...just a thing.

Next week’s column will feature news on all the new mazes coming to Knott’s Scary Farm and (hopefully) some more news from Universal Studios, too.

Replies (2)

August 1, 2014 at 7:26 AM · IT's really disappointing to see Icons go by the wayside. As someone who hasn't missed an Orlando HHN since sweet 16 I miss the suspense built and attention to detail exhibited on the Website especially the 2008 Reflections of Fear and 2009's Ripped from the Silver Screens. These last few years they have stuck to IPs just as the author has said.

08-09 updated periodically only hinting at the houses through stories that built the mythos of the event. It made you(me) want to come back week after week(okay it was day after day) to see what was new and try and discover any Easter eggs hidden away. Then they grandly announce the line-up mid August and the antagonist(Icon). This is great because it doesn't just tell us a story. It shows it to us, lets it really sink in.

Compare that to "Hey guys, remember walking dead! Silent Hill! We got that! Doomsday? That was okay! Event Horizon!" I swear they just cut their creative dept and use the salaries to pay for IPs and said "yup its done. No more effort needs to go into that." it's the horror version of a bad comedian where as old HHN was the horror version of a Kevin Smith monologue. The worst part is the event is getting bigger every year which is why this trend will continue. I just refuse to believe this is what people want and this is Universal confounding the reason for growth.

August 1, 2014 at 3:31 PM · While I would prefer HHN to have an overall encompassing story or theme that is reflected across the houses, I have to say that the use of IP last year in Orlando was well done and exceeded my expectations.

In previous years the use of IP has been hit or miss or a little of something in between. The years that I thought were really well done were 13 and 16. 13 had one of the best houses I can remember with Ship of Screams and 16 spanned both parks (which I wish would happen again, but probably never will). Both of these years had a story and an icon that had a connection to the whole event.

I don't mind a house or two that is themed with IP the right way, where you get lost in the environment you're walking through and feel like you've stepped into the middle of the movie or tv show it is based on (Cabin in the Woods and American Werewolf in London did this well last year). I would be disappointed if all of the houses were based on IP and there was no connection between them.

I can easily see this being the future of HHN though. If it brings more money in, it only makes logical sense this is the direction Universal would take. It does make me wonder how it would affect Busch Gardens Tampa's Halloween event and if they would try to move in that same direction. While not on the same scale as HHN, BGT's event is definitely worth a visit. Last year they had a unique,creative house based on the Louisiana Bayou that left me quite impressed with what they achieved on lower budget.

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