How Orlando's Universal Resort Just Got Scarier

10/05/2010 at 06:05 AM EDT

How Orlando's Universal Resort Just Got Scarier
Scare-actors at Universal Orlando Resort's "Horror Nights: The Hollowed Past"
Universal Studios Florida
Dracula and Frankenstein, move over. And take the Wolfman with you.

That unholy trio, made famous by Universal Studios in the 1930s and '40s, no longer scare up the screams they used to, which may explain why the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando has some other cool ghouls up its sleeve. Fiendish. Demonic. And, for those with a taste for true blood, wildly popular.

On special nights during the month, the park is being turned upside down for an after-hours event that calls for 1,000 scare-actors (pronounced "scharacters") to go bump in the night and frighten visitors to the Universal Orlando Resort's 20th annual Halloween Horror Nights, featuring eight walk-through haunted houses and six "scarezones," as well as two live shows. Make that, undead shows.

A word of warning: The houses are realistic and scary. Especially one aptly named "Hades."



Not for Kids

"We want to get the message across that these are PG-13-rated experiences," a Universal Resort rep told PEOPLE, suggesting, wisely, that the attractions may not be for the young – or the squeamish.

"Some of our houses are so intense, people have serious reactions, we don’t want little kids at our event," said Universal Orlando Resort show director Patrick Braillard. Likening the detail work on the attractions to "film quality," Jim Timon, senior vice president of entertainment, adds: "We could literally make our own new movies from these characters. The lighting, the special effects, the visuals – we do everything we can to suspend your disbelief and take away your illusion of control."

The main attractions are the haunted houses within the soundstages and storage facilities of the theme park, and the lines to get inside them are often as long as those for the venue's signature roller coasters. (The Universal Orlando Resort actually consists of two separate theme parks: Universal Studios Florida, home to Halloween Nights, and Universal's Islands of Adventure, where the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has been packing them in since it opened June 18.)

The "Hades: The Gates of Ruin" haunted house takes the visitor into the underworld, with demons literally popping out of the woodwork – the good news is, the scharacters are not allowed to touch the tourists – while "Horror Nights: The Hallowed Past" packs its wallop by dredging up spooky old legends of the past and present, seemingly inspired by Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King, to say nothing of blood-curdling movies featuring vampires, ghosts and chainsaw-wielding phantoms.

Besides chilling sound effects and lighting, every house also carries a backstory: "PsychoScareapy: Echoes of Shadybrook," for instance, takes you into the Shadybrook Sanitarium 15 years after the inmates have taken over the asylum.

Halloween Rampage

"They're figuring out new ways to scare the daylights out of you," David Mandt, spokesman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, tells the Associated Press in regard to the big business of special Halloween attractions across the country – from California's Knott's Berry Farm, to Virginia's Busch Gardens Williamsburg, even Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary.

For the sake of being bicoastal, Universal Studios Hollywood also has its own high-profile Horror Nights.

Not that everyone needs to be frightened out of their skin. Those preferring their hobgoblins on the friendlier side need only visit Orlando's Walt Disney's World Magic Kingdom, for Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, complete with decorations, fireworks and a parade.

And if you have to ask who Mickey is, that's scary.

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