With their haunted mazes, scare zones and themed shows, Halloween events have become an annual fall tradition at theme parks. Virtually every park stocks up on fog machines, noisy chainsaws and buckets of gore, hires actors to run amok as brain-thirsty zombies and other creatures and rolls out the blood-red carpet for visitors seeking chills and screams.
Last year, however, something truly scary and horrific happened that upended this and many other traditions: the pandemic reared its ugly virus and nixed most parks’ Halloween plans.
The scare-a-thons are returning with a vengeance this season, albeit sometimes under new (para)normal conditions. For example, since there typically isn’t a lot of social distancing going on in tightly packed indoor mazes, it’s likely the actors won’t be the only ones wearing face masks.
Universal Studios Florida
Boasting classic film monsters such as Dracula, the Wolfman and the Mummy, Universal Studios has long been synonymous with horror. Capitalizing on its legacy, Universal Studios Florida presents perhaps the biggest and most elaborate fall event in parkdom, Halloween Horror Nights, which runs through Oct. 31.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the park will mark the occasion with the maze, HHN Icons Captured. It will assemble a ragtag collection of the hosts that have terrorized guests through the years, including The Director, The Storyteller and Jack the Clown.
Also, Beetlejuice, the netherworld denizen popularized in the eponymous 1988 movie, will have his own maze. Beetlejuice, who, presided as the “ghost host” of the first Halloween Horror Nights and will be reappearing to celebrate the event’s special anniversary.
“Beetlejuice has been a huge part of Universal Orlando since we opened,” says Charles Gray, senior show director for entertainment creative development. “It is fitting that we created a haunted house based on the film this year.”
Among Universal’s other eight haunted mazes will be Netflix’s "The Haunting of Hill House," based on the streaming network’s horror series. Visitors will be able to walk through the namesake house and encounter scenes such as the Hall of Statues and the Red Room.
Speaking of chainsaws, fans of the classic “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” will come face to Leatherface with the serial slasher and his ever-present power tool in a maze themed to the movie.
As it often does, HHN will pay homage to the studio’s legendary films with this year’s maze, Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives. Other mazes, such as Revenge of the Tooth Fairy and Puppet Theatre: Captive Audience, will focus on original content.
Gray is excited for visitors to experience the maze, Case Files Unearthed: Legendary Truth. “It is set in 1948 in New York City and has a film noir aesthetic,” he explains. “The scenic design teleports you to the era. The makeup and costume design for this house is so original and frightening. It has a Lovecraft-ian feel.”
Universal Studios Hollywood
On the other side of the country, Universal Studios Hollywood will be presenting its own Halloween Horror Nights on select nights running Thursday through Oct. 31. It will also present mazes themed to “Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and “The Haunting of Hill House” as well as ones based on “The Exorcist,” “The Walking Dead,” and the Michael Myers gore-fest, “Halloween 4.”
The park’s famous studio tour will be repurposed as Terror Tram: The Ultimate Purge. Visitors will be able to get off the buses and roam the backlot movie sets only to find themselves the targets of characters from The Purge movie series.
If Universal goes for the jugular with its blood-soaked events, the Disney parks keep things G-rated for the pirates and princesses crowd. the Magic Kingdom at Florida’s Walt Disney World is offering Disney After Hours Boo Bash on select evenings through Oct. 31.
The three-hour, separate-ticket event includes Halloween Cavalcades (essentially, micro-parades) with characters dressed in costume for the holiday, performances by the Cadaver Dans (a slightly ghoulish version of the park’s barbershop quartet, the Dapper Dans), trick-or-treat candy stations and access to many Magic Kingdom rides and attractions with minimal wait times. The Boo Bash is an abridged version of Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, which has been modified for the pandemic era.
The Disneyland Resort’s separately-ticketed event, Oogie Boogie Bash , is so popular it’s already sold out. Kicking off on Thursday at Disney California Adventure and running through Oct. 31, it also features a mini-parade, candy giveaways and bedecked characters as well as “Mickey’s Trick & Treat,” a live show.
From now through Oct. 31, the resort will be offering Halloween Time, a daily, seasonal event that’s included with regular admission to its parks.
Disney California Adventure
At Disney California Adventure, the Guardians of the Galaxy drop tower attraction will be getting a Monsters After Dark overlay that will include some lights-out moments. Other re-themed rides will include Luigi's Honkin' Haul-O-Ween and Mater's Graveyard JamBOOree, both in Cars Land.
The characters from Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” return for their annual takeover of a classic Disneyland Park attraction, which will be renamed Haunted Mansion Holiday, straight through the Halloween and holiday seasons. The original Disney theme park will also offer a Main Street Pumpkin Festival and Halloween Screams, a nightly multimedia show at Sleeping Beauty Castle that will include fireworks on select evenings.
Kids can participate in a scarecrow scavenger hunt, enjoy trick-or-treating, watch character-filled shows and join a Halloween dance party each Saturday in October. Starting Oct. 2, the three Legoland parks in California Florida and New York will be offering Brick or Treat with character meet-and-greets, live entertainment and costume contests.
SeaWorld and Busch Gardens
SeaWorld Orlando in Florida will present its first Howl-O-Scream starting Friday. Aptly enough, three of the event’s four mazes will incorporate an ocean theme: Visitors will be able to explore a cursed pirate ship at Captain’s Revenge; if they survive that, they could enter a haunted seaside hotel at Water’s Edge Inn or head up to the Arctic Circle to see what lies Beneath the Ice.
Think Texas is free of flesh-eaters? Think again. At SeaWorld San Antonio (Sept. 17-Oct. 31) visitors will be able to face the Zombie Horde, one of five mazes.
In California, guests can volunteer to participate in Nightmare Experiment, one of three mazes at SeaWorld San Diego (Sept. 17-Oct. 31).
If you are looking for some cheerful optimism in Virginia, it’s likely you won’t find it at Busch Gardens Williamsburg's maze Dystopia, part of its own Howl-o-Scream (Friday through Oct 31). Then again, it might be a safe haven from one of the event’s scare zones, Ripper Row, where murder and mayhem lurk.
Howl-O-Scream events are also on tap for other SeaWorld Entertainment parks, such as Busch Gardens Tampa Bay in Florida, which also begins Friday. Its mazes will include Witch of the Woods and Cell Block Zombies. The undead will invade the park’s bumper cars as well, which will be re-themed Crash Test Zombies for the event.
The Six Flags parks get into the spirits of the season with Fright Fest, held on select nights through Oct. 31.
Visitors at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey will be able to confront their own mortality in the mirror- and terror-filled Reflections of the Dead, one of nine mazes. Weekend Fright Fests begin Friday; the weeknight version kicks off Sept. 16. (Reservations are required.)
During September, the park will also present Frightworks, a themed pyrotechnics show and a trick-or-treat trail and other activities for younger children.
Other parks in the chain that will be offering Fright Fest include:
Six Flags America (Maryland), Sept. 25-Oct. 31
Six Flags St. Louis, Sept. 24-Oct. 31
Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Friday-Oct. 31
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom (California), Sept. 25-Oct. 31
Six Flags Frontier City (Oklahoma), Sept. 25-Oct. 31
Six Flags New England (Massachusetts), Sept. 24-Oct. 31
Six Flags Magic Mountain (California), Saturday-Oct. 31
Six Flags Great Escape (New York), Oct. 2-31
Six Flags Over Texas, Saturday-Oct. 31
Six Flags Great America (Illinois), Sept. 18-Oct. 31
Six Flags Darien Lake (New York), Sept. 24-Oct. 31
Six Flags Over Georgia, Sept. 18-Oct. 31.
Copyright 2021 USA TODAY. All rights reserved. From https://www.usatoday.com. By Arthur Levine.