You Can Scare Yourself Silly at Universal

Fort Pierce Tribune (FL) - Friday, October 13, 1995

Imagine a foggy Louisiana bayou at midnight, mist obscuring sight, eyes straining to make out eerie shapes moving through the fog. Or a tour of the back alleys of New Orleans, the city famous for its ties to black magic.

Walk through decaying turnstiles into the New York subway underground, along slimy walls, through mazes and catacombs where direction is lost. Darkness alternates with a pale, green glow emanating from beneath the tunnels. The path twist, turns, doubles back on itself ... And the mole people, who inhabit this labyrinth, wait for the unwary travelers.

Welcome, foolish mortals, to Halloween Horror Nights V: The Curse of the Crypt Keeper.

Think you are brave? Welcome to a nightmare filled with grotesque and ghoulish creatures from the far reaches of the Netherworld.

And it starts, appropriately, tonight -- Friday the 13th.

For the past four years, Universal Studios Florida has drawn thousands of thrill seekers to its Halloween Horror Nights . In 1994, Newsweek magazine deemed the adventure one of the nation's "top six haunts."

The fifth venture into horror is the most elaborate one to date, as well as the most frightening and the funniest.

Members of Universal's "Scream Team" explored Cajun country, Hollywood's famous Haunted Soundstage, the New York subway's underground, New Orleans historic cemeteries and other locations, to flesh out The Curse of the Crypt Keeper. Armed with video and still cameras, the team caught scenes such as stages of decay on tombstones, moonlit shadows, the howl of wind through trees.

"We specialize in complete sensory overload," said Scream Team member Jerry Abercrombie. "It's not enough to recreate the visuals -- our guests must hear, smell and feel the experience in order to have a good scare.

"We continually evaluate our product based on guest satisfaction, and in this case, the louder the scream, the better."

The Scream Team has added five new attractions to Halloween Horror Nights:

Crypt Keeper's Dungeon of Terror, named for the title character in this year's event, is a "heart-pounding, palm-sweating journey into an evil crypt of unthinkable horror," according to Universal employees. Unsuspecting wanderers pass through dingy root cellars and a cemetery of the undead, among others, and meet Universal's legendary Rat Lady. Dressed in Victorian fashion, the Lady lies in a glass coffin, with rats crawling over, under and around her. More than 125 rats, hand-raised at Universal, are used in the attraction. By the way, the Rat Lady is not a mannequin.

Terror Underground, the trip through New York's abandoned subway tunnels, was inspired by legends of the thousands of mysterious catacomb dwellers.

"According to city historians, it's a whole other city down there -- the `mole people' elect their own mayor, have their own doctors -- they've completely abandoned modern life to live within this vast labyrinth of darkness," said Julie Zimmerman, another Scream Team member. "Because it's a real life legend, the mole people are just as frightening -- perhaps more so -- than traditional ghosts and goblins."

Universal's House of Horror brings to life classic monsters from Universal Pictures. These include Frankenstein, Dracula, the Phantom of the Opera and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. The attraction, at Soundstage 22, is complete with eerie sights and sounds.

Knights of Hell is a "knightmare" fantasy lagoon adventure comprised of state-of-the-art pyrotechnics, lasers, huge water curtains and stunts that will haunt the audience's dreams "for months to come," according to a Universal employee.

Last, but not least, among the new attractions is Midway to the Bizarre, in which the peaceful fishing village of Amitiville has been transformed into a carnival of horrors. Complete with a threatening ringmaster and "pitch and kill" games, Midway invites guests to wager their souls in hopes they can avoid the fate of the carnival misfits who terrorize them.

Overloaded on horror? Head for Price is Right or Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure IV, two oldies but funnies. Beetlejuice, the ghoul with the cool, emcees Price, a spoof of the popular television game. Bill S. Preston and Ted Theodore Logan, the hippest time travelers, meet up with the most bodacious celebrities.

The Curse of the Crypt Keeper will run on 12 nights, but preparations took much, much longer. Imagine buying 4,000 pounds of "dismembered body parts" props. Or making blood, brain fluid and primordial ooze by boiling a brew of 600 gallons of methocyl cellulose -- a water-based gel. Boil it and stir it for three days in 64-quart cauldrons.

More than 500 "scare" actors will star in Curse, using 1,200 prosthetic pieces -- protruding foreheads, extended chins, gaping wounds, disfiguring scars, gangrene-infected limbs...

And don't forget -- it all starts tonight -- Friday the 13th.