Though the summer never ends in Orlando, Florida, the changing of seasons is most notably queued with the arrival of what is considered as the nation’s “Premier Halloween event” – Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Orlando.

Universal Orlando gave Knight News an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the process and making of Horror Nights with Halloween Horror Nights’ Charles Gray.


Gray, a director at HHN and a team member of Universal Orlando for now 22 years, spoke on the beginning processes of a Horror Nights production, its growth over the years, and what’s new that’s sure to leave guests chilled and haunted by visions of blood, gore, legends, and fantasies beyond the wildest dreams of any horror junkie.

From its humble beginnings in 1991 as a three-night event with a single haunted house, to now 9 houses, scare zones galore, and live entertainment throughout the event, it’s safe to say that Horror Nights popularity and anticipation is incomparable to any other event in Florida. This year’s showstoppers consist of four original houses, American Horror Story, ASH v.s.The Evil Dead, SAW, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure, 5 killer scare zones and the return of Academy of Villains, and the main event of HHN 2017, the Cult Classic Movie: The Shining.

With such a broad spectrum of houses at HHN, Gray describes the process of coming up with new and fresh takes on horror for fans and consumers of the event,

“We have a huge list of 50 or 60 ideas that throw up on a board and argue over, lovingly, but with time and research we can narrow down which ones will make the cut,” Gray said.

Many houses, whether original or blockbuster film inspired are derived from different historical legends or facts: “We did a takeoff one year of Roanoke, the story of the lost colony, and we put a twist on it making the colonists into cannibals. Selfishly I love doing originals, but it goes without arguing that movies bring more consumers in, however with creating originals we have garnered a fan base of our own and have made a brand for ourselves with these original ideas,” Gray continued.

Some attractions are even based on movies that haven’t released yet, as seen in this year’s version of The Blum House from the Insidious franchise and Saw.

“We got to take a look at the script and pictures of Insidious four and Saw as well…when you’re walking through there it’s like you’re going through a trailer with these new characters and storylines,” said Gray.

According to Gray, when developing the houses for HHN, designers always try to “check off that box” of including a classic horror film in the mix of attractions in order to bring in a wider audience, this year’s expo being The Shining, “It’s one of the top ten movies of all time, regardless it being now almost 40 years old, and we were so lucky to get it this year, said Gray.”

At The Overlook Hotel, step into the unending snow maze as Jack Torrance hunts you down with his murder hungry axe, come play with The Grady Twins, and experience Danny Torrance’s nightmarish premonitions. This house stays true to this iconic film in cinematic history, all while keeping it fresh and updated for fans. It is not one to disappoint, even for visitors who were unfamiliar with the film, “I’m the kernel of the idea and our designer, sound technicians, and other creative geniuses come in and expand, revisualize, and develop these scenes to the best that they can be,” the director said.

Throughout this experience, “Scareacters” stalked the room, their faces half skulls and menacing glares setting the tone for the night as the gladiator looking characters interacted with attendees of this event. As a park-wide event, Scareacters are the most essential elements within a production of Halloween Horror Nights, becoming the manifestations of some people’s worst fears imaginable, “When we are hiring Scareacters, we usually ask a series of questions to see what kind of personality that person has because enthusiasm, focus, and charisma are what we are looking for, if they act really shy, there’s a good chance they’re not going to deliver when trying to scare visitors.”

Even after working this event for more than a decade, Gray states that his job never seems to lose its luster, “This event is ever growing and changing, they’re all my children, so when HHN ends I like to take a moment and just breathe it all in because by the time everything is over so much has happened that you have to take a step back.”

Students can purchase tickets for the event on the Halloween Horror Night website.

Aidanna Olmo and Megan Scavo contributed to this report.