30 Years of Fear – A History of Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights: 2003 (The Director Will See You Now)
Welcome back to 30 Years of Fear – A History of Halloween Horror Nights. Today, we’ll take a look at 2003, a very special year for Halloween Horror Nights, as it was the 13th event.
2003 – Halloween Horror Nights 13
To carry on the “13” theme, each house had 13 scenes, and each scareactor had the number on their costume. However, there wasn’t anything particularly superstitious about the event.
Like 2002, the event ran for 21 nights. Tickets jumped to $51.95 and could now be purchased online for the first time! Halloween Horror Nights had truly entered the digital age.
Paulo Ravinski (whose name would change several times before it settled there) was a director who believed in showing audiences “the real thing”. So when the characters suffered or died, so did the actors.
He brought his art to Halloween Horror Nights for its 13th year. In typical Icon fashion, The Director was the star of the marketing as well as a house (All Nite Die-in) and a show (InfeStations).
In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, the Director shared his distaste for the supernatural, which he found ineffective for scares. “But you’re afraid when you’re trapped, when there’s power over you, and you want to get away. That’s real fear,” he said. He did give credit to “The Blair Witch Project” for its chaotic madness, though.
Ship of Screams
The Ship of Screams was similar to the S.S.Frightanic in theming. The HMS Friday is a cursed ship that departed on its voyage on January 13, 1913. It appeared at Universal, supposedly void of passengers. Guests would discover the truth when they came across the many ghosts aboard.
Unfortunately, the huge ship façade from S.S. Frightanic was not reused, but the inside was still well-themed.
Funhouse of Fear
Funhouse of Fear was another 3-D house using disposable glasses. It was carnival themed and populated with killer clowns. Like most 3-D houses, it utilized a lot of black-light dimensional effects.
“Carnies” were set up on small stages in the queue.
Jungle of Doom
Jungle of Doom was certainly something we would never see today, but not because it was too scary. I’ll let the review below from the Tampa Bay Times speak for itself.
Psycho-scareapy introduced an important setting that is now engrained in Horror Nights lore: Shadybrook Rest Home and Sanitarium, which retroactively becomes the birthplace of Jack “The Clown” Schmidt and his brother, Eddie, years down the road.
This time, Shadybrook was home to the stereotypical horror movie portrayals of people with severe mental illnesses. It was also featured artificial scents pumped into the rooms, including the smell of feces in a filthy bathroom.
Pictured above is the façade set up in front of the Jurassic Park Discovery Center, where the house was housed.
All Nite Die-In
All Nite Die-in was the Director’s lineup of horror movie villains come to life. The Director himself appeared in the house as well.
Guests visited scenes from “Friday the 13th,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and “Halloween.” Of course, they also came face-to-face with the slashers within.
Not much was different in 2003’s rendition of the Caretaker’s Screamhouse. The Caretaker returned inside the house but was not otherwise featured at the event.
The photo above shows one of the corpses posed for a party by the Caine family.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure
Bill and Ted return to the Toon Lagoon Amphitheater and meet up with Charlie’s Angels, Johnny Knoxville, animatronic Captain Barbossa, and other pop culture icons to face off against Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.
The parody villains are ultimately defeated as the heroes “punk’d” them as a diversion until the FBI could arrive, followed by God.
InfeStation let guests see the Director in action as he filmed a poor victim who was strapped to a chair, with their head trapped in a plexiglass box and filled with creepy crawlies. Oh, and for $5 (and a signature on a waiver), guests could be the victim.
The Director would spin a wheel to determine which manner of creature would occupy your headspace — rats, cockroaches, snakes, scorpions, or beetles.
A reporter for the Tampa Bay Times (pictured above) underwent the torture not once, but twice when the Director decided his performance wasn’t good enough.
“We thought, if so many people want to audition so badly to be the rat lady, why not open it up to the general public?” said a Universal representative to Florida Today.
The Scare Zones
Port of Evil
The Port of Evil returned in name but was now commanded by the Incubus and his Succubi. Guests had to make their way through strong winds and flaming skulls.
An unfortunate victim is pictured below on a small stage.
Boo-ville, otherwise known as Seuss Landing, was once again empty and dark per the wishes of Audrey Geisel.
The Lost Continent became Immortal Island, ruled over by the Ice Queen.
Jurassic Park, renamed Night Prey, was not occupied by dinosaurs this year. Instead, it carried along the theme of the Jungle of Doom.
Hide & Shrieeek!
Strobe lights aimed to disorient guests as they made their way past scareactors camouflaged into temporary backdrops. The guests in the photo below may not have been fooled, but this scare zone was likely more effective after dark.
Conspicuously absent of any Marvel theming, Super Hero Island became Toxic City.
It oozed with foam (like Ooze, the foam was allegedly green. It just photographs white, I guess). Victims of toxic waste lurked in the mess.
Honorable Mention: An Extreme Upcharge House?
Longtime Horror Nights fans are no doubt tired of this annual rumor, but it’s interesting to see its origins from nearly twenty years ago. Each year, typically in online forums, people spread the word of a possible extreme house with a separate admission charge.
In fact, an upcharge house did come to the event in 2016, but it was less of an extreme horror house and more of an escape room with virtual reality headsets.
We’ll see you next time when we take a look back at Halloween Horror Nights XIV.
For more Halloween Horror Nights history, check out the rest of the series below.