The haunt season brings with it one of the best tours available at any theme park: the Behind-the-Screams: Unmasking the Horror Tour. This separately ticketed experience allows guests to explore some of Halloween Horror Nights’ haunted houses in a lights-on setting with expert VIP guides. Each tour looks at 3 different houses, or 6 when doing a combination of both tours that day. Guests get to see up-close every gory detail that Universal Orlando’s Art & Design Team put together, all while learning back stories about each house and the event overall. One of the greatest features of this tour, though, is being able to take as many pictures as you’d like inside the houses. Each tour takes up to 15 guests for a length of 2 to 2½ hours. The morning tours begin at 10:30am, while the afternoon tours start at 2pm.
Check-in takes place half an hour before each tour at the Universal Studios Florida VIP Check In Lobby, which is right next to the Guest Services windows. Once checked in, guests wait in the Halloween themed lobby before being split up into their groups. Each guest also receives a commemorative Halloween Horror Nights lanyard, which is the same one sold throughout the park during this year’s event.
2015 is not just Halloween Horror Nights’ 25th anniversary. The tour guides were excited to announce that the Unmasking the Horror Tour is also celebrating its own milestone, being 10 years in existence! After the announcement and a brief reminder about procedures—no video recording during the tours, and no pictures of any backstage areas between houses—we were on our way, led by our amazing guide, David.
WARNING: There will be pictures of blood, guts and gore below… Enjoy!
The first house on our tour was RUN: Blood, Sweat, and Fears. This house is located in the backstage and extended queue areas for the former Disaster! attraction, which is becoming Fast and Furious by 2017. As David explained, the house puts us inside a TV game show where contestants get killed by reapers. The setting is Hellgate Prison, which is well-known to Horror Nights fans. For this year’s twist, Hellgate has been outfitted with cameras and scrolling marquees that report the current kills. Also different rooms in the prison have been themed to various countries, to add to the contestants’ disorientation. Throughout the house, David demonstrated how the scares worked, and the different tricks and techniques used, such as strategically placed mirrors. An Easter egg is found in the Canada room, right before you exit into the hallway. If you see a chainsaw on a rack to your left, push the small red button on it! Also featured in this house is “Sparky” the electrocuted man, which is one of the most recognized props, seen in several houses across the event’s history.
Next up was Body Collectors – Recollections, located in Soundstage 24. In this edition of the Body Collectors franchise, we visit Shadybrook Asylum—another iconic setting in Horror Nights lore. The façade is absolutely stunning, covered in snow, and putting us right in the Great Blizzard of 1888. David knew not just the back story for the house, but also quite a bit of interesting history about the Great Blizzard, which halted railroads in 1888 and led to the creation of subways a few years later. Walking through the house, David discussed how we hear Percy Faith’s theme from A Summer Place, which is a recurring auditory cue in Shadybrook Asylum houses. Other Easter eggs include the Indiana Jones idol on a table in the first room, and also a nod to Jack the Clown and his brother Eddie, seen as babies in cribs. They are easy to miss, but your best bet is to try to spot the orange curls to your right on the corridor with the wrought iron doors. Throughout the house we saw how different kills are performed, including the iconic spine rip. Then as we came to one of the final rooms, a workshop, we found out why the Body Collectors seek body parts… and it is to make new Body Collectors out of them!
The third and final house for the morning tour was Freddy vs. Jason, also located in Soundstage 24. This house featured the unmistakable locations of Camp Crystal Lake and 1428 Elm Street, as well as the main characters themselves. This provided plenty of great photo ops. A unique aspect of this house is the use of pre-recorded fight sequences between Freddy and Jason. These are projected onto screens with huge projectors, and they are synchronized along with live actors around them. Some cool hidden nods were present in this house, too; big names in Halloween Horror Nights’ history can be found etched on gravestones right before you enter 1428 Elm Street.
Once we finished all three houses from the morning tour, we broke for lunch. Generally it is an hour break, although for us it was about 40 minutes. Tours are structured to last a certain amount of time, but the lengths will vary with each group.
To kick off the afternoon tour, we began with The Walking Dead: The Living and the Dead. This house is built inside the parade building, behind the Springfield and KidZone areas. The first room in the Walking Dead house features a scene where someone gets his throat sliced right in front of us, and David again demonstrated how this works. He also told us how throat slicing is an overarching theme in this year’s event. As we continued around the house, we came across various locations from Season 5 of the hit show. Included are Terminus, the flooded food pantry basement, the churchyard, and even the revolving glass door. Another of this year’s Easter eggs is found to the right of this revolving glass door: the bunny slippers seen on the young walker from Season 1.
The second house in the afternoon tour was Asylum in Wonderland 3D. This is the first in the event’s history to occupy one of Shrek 4-D’s theaters (there are actually two theaters side by side). Just like The In-Between a few years ago, this 3D house pays homage to comic books. Its façade is the cover for another comic book by Ultra Violent Comics, and you will see that it is issue number 25—coinciding with this year’s event. This house contains the spinning vortex effect, and it is one of its strongest implementations. Because it includes writing instead of just images, our eyes try to follow the text and it is even more disorienting. There is writing on the walls throughout the house, too, relaying the thoughts of an insane Alice. You will also come across iconic characters from the classic fairy tale: the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, the Caterpillar, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Queen of Hearts and the White Queen, and the Playing Card knights. During the event, this house is very trippy with its black lit images seen through 3D glasses. During the tour, it is interesting to see the placement of the effects and also be able to read all of the passages on the walls.
The best was saved for last, as we visited Jack Presents: 25 Years of Monsters and Mayhem in Soundstage 21. This is the biggest soundstage on property, and it hosts the house with the most scenes ever put together for Halloween Horror Nights. This is definitely one of the most photogenic and diverse houses, completely packed with content. From the façade featuring Jack and the Icons of Horror Nights’ past, to the different rooms celebrating the event’s history, there is so much to see! This house features fan-favorite original properties like Scary Tales, The Forsaken, the Caretaker’s ScreamHouse, Legendary Truth, Nightingales, Gothic, and more. The house also honors Universal’s Classic Monsters including Frankenstein and his wife, the Wolfman, Dracula’s brides, the Mummy, and the Phantom of the Opera. Each scene revives some of the most creative effects seen in the past, such as the tilted floor from The Forsaken, a see-through wall from Legendary Truth: Wyandot Estate, in addition to several mirror tricks and other ingenious scares. There are countless nods and Easter eggs, including a small and easy-to-miss wink at a Bloody Icon who is the topic of much debate. All around the house, Jack’s presence is clear. Most prominently in the final indoor scene, many Jack figures are showcased. They are the different iterations of his character from his various reigns at Halloween Horror Nights. This house was one of the highlights of the tour, and our amazing guide David again made it all the more memorable. He showered us with information about everything included in the house: from each property represented, to even operations tidbits, like how they accommodate people in wheelchairs through the side of The Forsaken’s tilted scene. All in all, the work put into the houses speaks for itself, but David really made this tour an unforgettable experience.
Although the houses for The Purge, Insidious, and An American Werewolf in London are not part of the lights-on tours, we were still given the opportunity to take pictures with the façade for Insidious and also with one of the Werewolf puppets. Those were some really special bonuses. The tour was filled with treats like these, which make you feel like a VIP, and make it worth every penny.
As the tour came to a close, David offered to answer any last minute questions before bidding us farewell. Our tour ran right up until park close time, so we all walked out of the park together. For morning-only tours, or if an afternoon tour ends before Universal Studios Florida closes, guides will escort any guests without admission out of the park. Those with park admission are able to get their tickets scanned and remain in the park until closing time.
Unmasking the Horror Tours bring a whole other dimension to Halloween Horror Nights. Filled with background and Easter-egg information, up-close looks, and photo opportunities, they should not be missed. It is priceless to check out these movie-quality sets and be able to appreciate all the details, which are barely glanced at during nighttime walk-throughs. The VIP tour guides also make the experience truly special. Our guide David was FANTASTIC, providing us with lots of information, allowing plenty of time for pictures, and keeping a fun atmosphere at all times. He was not only incredibly knowledgeable, but funny, energetic, and a total pleasure to be around. Anyone from casual fans to hardcore horror aficionados will find plenty to enjoy on the tours. They can even be a scareactor-free alternative for those too frightened to attend the nighttime event. Just keep in mind that the gore is on full display with the lights on.
Tours run through November 1, 2015. Prices vary by date, and are $64.99 or $69.99 + tax for a single morning or afternoon tour, and $109.99 or $119.99 + tax for a combo of morning and afternoon tours in a single day. The haunted houses assigned to morning and afternoon tours may vary, so if you want to see six different houses—and save some money—make sure to book a combo tour.
For additional information and to book your Unmasking the Horror tour, visit the Official Website or contact the VIP Experience Office at 407-363-8295 (Option 2) or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Advance reservations are required, and tours will sell out well before each date.
Full list of tour dates:
September 18, 19, 24, 25, 26, 27;
October 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 28, 29, 30, 31;
Keep checking Orlando United for more on all the special experiences taking place around Central Florida’s theme parks. Join the conversation on our Forums, and make sure to follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. If you have any questions or comments, you may also reach me at Felipe@OrlandoUnited.com.