ORLANDO, Fla. — Halloween Horror Nights — Universal Orlando’s popular after-hours Halloween event — returned early last month for another round of haunted houses, themed scare zones and live shows.

What You Need To Know

Visitors who attend the event get to experience the results of many months of work from the Universal team — lots of brainstorming, planning, designing and building.

Last week, fans were given the opportunity to learn about what goes on behind the scenes when creating Halloween Horror Nights each year. Universal hosted the first in-person BlumFest at the Cinemark movie theater in CityWalk on Friday. The fan event, which started in 2020 as a virtual event to showcase Blumhouse’s upcoming projects, included free screenings of The Black Phone and Halloween Ends. It also spotlighted a question-and-answer session with the creative minds behind Halloween Horror Nights, which features a house this year that’s inspired by Blumhouse films.

The Halloween Horror Nights panel included Dylan Kollath, senior scenic director of entertainment art & design; Charles Gray, senior show director of entertainment creative development; and Michael Aiello, senior director of entertainment creative development. The panelists talked about creating this year’s event, partnering with Blumhouse and embracing technology to design the houses. They also answered questions from the audience.

Below are some excerpts from the panel. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Partnering with Blumhouse Over the Years for Haunted Houses

Aiello: We’ve had an awesome relationship with Blumhouse Productions for many, many years. I believe our first year in collaboration, I think was 2015. “Insidious” was our very first collaboration, and we had a maze based on “The Purge.” And that was really the beginning of the relationship, and it’s been amazing the collaboration between parks and Universal Pictures and Blumhouse is always a great thing. Really, it’s about providing us the tools to be able to adapt the films that are coming out because a lot of the time, the really unique thing about the Blumhouse relationship is that a lot of the time when we’re developing these haunted house experiences, they’re sometimes in the year for the year. So often we’ll be designing content while the film is still in production. So we’re gaining materials almost in real time with how the production is falling together.

Crafting the 'The Black Phone' Section of the Horrors of Blumhouse house

Aiello: Black Phone is a really good example of something like that, where we only had a script to start with. Really just had a script to be able to work from and really that’s working with Blumhouse and analyzing the script and really getting a sense of what we think can work and how we think visually — because we’re very much theater of the mind at that point when we’re reading. So I’ll annotate a script, especially for "The Black Phone" this year. Got the script, I would annotate it up and give some ideas and thoughts and then hand it off to Charles Gray and Dylan…and they take it from there.

Kollath: Charles and I, because we just had the script and we had some pictures, both of us were like ‘how is this basement laid out,’ because we hadn’t seen the movie yet. We were trying to figure it out, there’s a hallway and how does this work and so we did a lot of investigating to make sure we got the layout of that basement correct.

Planning Halloween Horror Nights Each Year

Gray: Now Mike does it well before. He’s probably in 2037, you know, he’s way up in advance. By the time it trickles down to us, I think even in June-ish, we're kind of talking IPs. Maybe a little bit of that. And then currently Dylan and I are creating next year. We’re already well into next year’s creation.

Aiello: The evolution of the event has grown so much. It is a 15-, 16-month process now between getting IPs lined up, getting a sense of how event wants to shift and change. It’s more than a year.

Using VR to Design Haunted Houses

Kollath: We do use VR (virtual reality) when we design the houses now. I got really excited about VR technology about a couple of years ago. I found some really great applications that actually allow us to physically walk the houses. Before anything is even designed, we can just walk through a sketch--up model…

Gray: Like Deadman’s Pier, which Dylan designed by the way.

Kollath: It’s just so exciting to be able to do it, and there’s really great advances in technology where you’re not limited by a cord. So we can actually take it into an empty soundstage and physically walk the entire house, which is an amazing thing to be able to do.

That is one thing that I think has been a huge help because instead of just seeing (it) on the computer screen, you can be in the space, and you can see exactly how it’s going to be in real life.

Gray: There were a few times with houses that you and I designed together we would walk in the VR and I then I’m like, ‘if I’m standing here, I can actually see where that scareactor is coming from or that hole, can we slide that window back to like here?’ and then he’d measure it back a foot. Just little things like that in real time is amazing.

Trying Something Different with The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare House

Aiello: Weeknd is one of our most popular houses this year, which is awesome. And it was a wild experiment. Wild experiment.

Gray: Just in communication with Hollywood with The Weeknd, it was really cool because we got the sense that he is a fan, and we as fans were talking to another fan. That makes things much easier in the process because it’s a language we both understand. Yes, it may be music that inspired, but it was also his, well, that’s why we call it the Nightmare. We talked about our favorite movies, his favorite movies, what he was influenced by, which you could see in his music videos what he was inspired by. Putting those things together, very gracious in letting us expand on his story. And so in collaboration with him, really finding the best scares. It was a great relationship and a lot of fun.


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