30 Years of Fear – A History of Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights: 1991
Welcome, fellow horror-aficionados, to a Universal Parks News Today special series. We’re going to take you along the journey to Halloween Horror Nights 30 in a spooktacular fashion. We’re less than 100 days out from walking through the gates to the smell of fog and the beautiful sound of chainsaws. To celebrate, we’re going to start out by taking a look at some highlights of Halloween Horror Nights’ past. Or should I say Fright Nights?
1991 – Fright Nights
“Dying for a good Halloween party?”
Officially billed as Universal Studios Fright Nights, the first iteration of modern-day HHN had only three dates and one haunted house. Promoted heavily with the Universal Classic Monsters, Fright Nights boasted over 35 different monsters and 20 unique shows.
Tickets were just $15.95, or $12.95 if you purchased in advance from Ticketmaster. The “no costumes” rule has been there since day one.
If you’ve only begun your Horror Nights pilgrimages in the last few years, you may not be familiar with event icons. “Fear” not; we’ll introduce you to them all as we go.
While the Classic Monsters were certainly icons in their own right, Fright Nights also had a host. A ghost host – the ghost with the most: Beetlejuice! We’ll try not to say it three times.
Fright Nights didn’t have a story back in 1992, but one was retroactively given one later when the icons and stories played a greater role in the event. In modern Horror Nights canon, the “Sumerian god” Adaru (also known as Fear) summoned the Classic Monsters and Beetlejuice to host the event after possessing Univeral Team Members to build it for him.
The Dungeon of Terror
The Dungeon of Terror was the only house at Fright Nights. It was built in the extended queue for JAWS: The Ride. JAWS has an infamously troubled history before its demise in 2012, and though it was an opening day attraction, it operated for less than two months. It wouldn’t reopen until 1993. Because of this conveniently useless space, The Dungeon of Terror was born.
The façade of The Dungeon of Terror featured a caged woman hanging above the entrance and scareactors on the roof.
Guests crossing a bridge under which The Creature from the Black Lagoon was waiting to spook them.
The Dungeon of Terror was the debut for The Rat Lady, a former Horror Nights staple. The Rat Lady, contained in a glass coffin, would frighten guests by screaming and attempting to escape while rats ran all over her body.
Beetlejuice Dead in Concert! Featuring the Ghostbusters!
The only explanation for this show is that someone at Universal accidentally said Beetlejuice three times and was coerced into green-lighting the production. On the steps of the library on the streets of New York, Beetlejuice sang his version of show tunes until the Ghostbusters arrived to catch him. They get possessed and also sing and dance. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.
The show was also performed year-round until 1993 (and yes, that’s Orlando’s own Wayne Brady front and center as Winston Zeddemore).
There were no scare zones at Fright Nights, at least not as we know them now. Universal called them “street entertainment” or “shows,” and they were more like what we would see on a small stage in a zone. For those of you familiar, think something akin to the dance performances in 2018’s “Vamp ’85”.
Then-executive vice president of marketing, Randy Garfield, called them “a slew of geeks, maniacs, and misfits” in a statement to the Orlando Sentinel. Highlights included “Thunderdome” (based on Mad Max) and “Chainsaw Massacre” (which was canceled after two days).
We’ll see you next time when we take a look at Halloween Horror Nights (II).
For more Halloween Horror Nights history, check out the rest of the series below.