Universal Studios Hollywood has a big surprise for visitors during the Halloween season.
The sheer cultural ubiquity of Disney has a strange tendency to make even its biggest competitors look like boutique local businesses by comparison.
Disney’s (DIS) – Get The Walt Disney Company Report strength as a brand is two-fold. It has access to some of the biggest titles in the history of mass media entertainment, and it has the most family-friendly image possible.
Disney’s theme parks are exactingly created to generate memories that will last a lifetime. But Disney’s focus is on family-friendly fun for everyone, and while the log flume roller coaster Splash Mountain is a good time, Disney has never been interested in having the fastest and most intense roller coasters in the game. (Interestingly enough Sea World (SEAS) – Get SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. Report, of all places, now seems more interested in competing in that area.)
But this dedication to being family friendly above anything else, does have its limitations.
Late night Halloween events have been popular with theme parks since at least the early 90s, and in 1995 Disney introduced the tellingly titled late night event Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, which doesn’t get much more intense than appearances from the “Hocus Pocus” witches and some trick-or-treating. This Halloween Party has already started, wildly enough, and will run on select nights through Oct. 31.
This approach is just fine for parents of small children, but it’s also the rare time that Disney’s family-friendly approach arguably holds them back. Because if you don’t have small kids, and especially if you’re just grown-up enough that you don’t like being treated like a small kid, there’s no reason you’d go to Mickey’s party. Not when you can go to Universal Studios Orlando.
Universal Studios Isn’t as Family Friendly as Disney
Comcast’s (CMCSA) – Get Comcast Corporation Class A Common Stock Report Universal Studios theme parks have one main advantage that Disney’s theme parks don’t. It’s willing to be pretty scary and to push the envelope a bit more than Disney ever would.
Universal Studios Florida kicked off its Halloween Horror Nights in 1991, and now four of its parks participate in the weeks-long event. This year’s edition will begin on Sept. 2 at Universal Studios Florida and Sept. 8 at Universal Studios Hollywood and run through the end of October.
While Disney zealously guards its family-friendly image (at least with the main brand), Universal is willing to appeal to adults and older teenagers a bit more, as it has a reputation for faster, more intense rollercoasters like the “Fast & Furious – Supercharged” thrill ride, which reportedly lives up to its name.
In that vein, Halloween Horror Nights features elaborate, and often quiet scary, haunted houses, which feature a lot of make-up clad actors jumping out of nowhere to yell at you. There are also live entertainment tributes to “Rocky Horror,” and Universal also has licensed characters such as Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees for live character interactions.
Let’s be honest here: Disney would never. And that’s for the best, of course. No need to traumatize any children with Halloween memories they’ll spend years unpacking in therapy.
But for the horror fans, adrenaline junkies and jaded local teenagers that make a big show of letting everyone know they’re too old and cool for Disney, Halloween Horror Nights is the sort of thing you look forward to all year.
What Is Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights’ Latest Attraction
The competition between Universal and Disney for Halloween season guests is an offshoot of a much bigger rivalry that heated up after Universal Studios’ The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Islands of Adventure in Orlando 2010, and then expanded to Universal Studios Florida in 2014 and Universal Studios Hollywood in 2016.
This expansion prompted Disney to respond with more IP-driven lands in its parks, including Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in the Orlando and California locations, World of Avatar (based on the James Cameron film) at Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Toy Story Land at Hollywood Studios in Florida.
In response to Disney’s expansion, Universal is developing Epic Universe, an entertainment center, hotels, shops, restaurants and more all on a 750-acre site in Orlando. Not much is known about the secretive project, other than that, owing to covid, its opening has been pushed back to 2025.
Universal had a leg up on Halloween by owning the rights to horror titles such as “Psycho,” and “Tales from the Crypt,” as well as to the Universal Classic Monsters, including Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy and the Wolf Man.
But Universal never met a monster it didn’t like, which is why this year its Universal Studios Hollywood theme park will feature a villain from the world of Harry Potter.
This fall, Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood will feature Dark Arts at Hogwart’s Castle that will light up the sky with music and live special effects in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. As darkness falls on Hogwart’s Castle, Death Eaters, Dementors, and other creepy creatures will make eerie appearances. The Death Eaters appeared at Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle in Orlando’s Islands of Adventure last year, but won’t be featured there this year.
TikTok user @falleninwonderland brought the world a preview of the horror to come, noting they will roam about Hogesmead Village, starting Sept. 8.
TikTok being TikTok, many people had…an unusual reaction to the news in the vein of @jessica_rose99, who said “My toxic trait is that I’d fall in love with them.” Well, fear is an aphrodisiac for some people. And those tend to be the people that flock to Halloween Horror Nights, year after year.