Home » Hollywood Horror Nights: 6 Haunted Houses That Deserve Movies

    Hollywood Horror Nights: 6 Haunted Houses That Deserve Movies

    HHN house logo (a television set) for H.R. Bloodengutz

    Since its humblest beginnings, due in no small part to the name above the studio gates, Halloween Horror Nights has owed a debt to the movies. In its inaugural year, then called “Fright Nights,” the event unleashed Universal’s monstrous troupe on the masses and offered double-feature screenings of “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” in the American Tail Theater. Beetlejuice did a three-night-only show alongside the Blues Brothers and Norman Bates. According to blurry accounts of the earliest attendees, its first-ever haunted house, The Dungeon of Terror, even included shocking and very illegal cameos from some of horror’s most iconic maniacs. The second-ever Halloween Horror Nights house was a direct tie-in to a Universal release, Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs. Rob Zombie’s first film, House of 1000 Corpses, was directly inspired by his work on the Hollywood event in the late 1990s.

    Today, the relationship between Halloween Horror Nights and the movies has grown up. Though the event varies by park, in just about all of them houses and scarezones dedicated to new releases and enduring classics are the horses that pull the cart, winning legions of new fans by the t-shirt and allowing the respective designers to let loose with original nightmares. Famous faces like Freddy, Jason, and the Predator don’t have to hide in the shadows from pesky lawyers anymore – they’re billboards now. Halloween Horror Nights has never been bigger, the Hollywood synergy never hotter.

    In March of 2020, Blumhouse founder Jason Blum casually mentioned that his studio, no stranger to the event, had talked with Universal about completing the circle: “We haven’t quite figured it out, but there’s definitely a movie in Halloween Horror Nights somewhere.” It was a hipfired statement in an interview about his latest production to possibly get the house treatment. Further detail is, to date, non-existent. Would the film be about the event itself or its ever-tangling lore? It’s all wishful thinking until further notice, but there’s plenty of HHN-minted material to go around.

    The catch with original concepts, though, is the inspiration. Some of the most beloved houses in event history had no trademark above the wait time but pay homage with extreme prejudice.  The green-eyed ghost pirates of The Forsaken are blood relatives of the red-eyed ghost pirates from The Fog. The soggy pressure-cooker spills in Depths of Fear are an amalgamation of an entire subaquatic horror cycle – see also: The Abyss, DeepStar Six, Leviathan, Deep Rising.  And, with all due respect to Jack, the genre already has enough charismatic evil clowns to go around.

    With these considerations in mind, here are six Halloween Horror Nights stories ripe for the big-screen treatment.

    1. H.R. Bloodengutz Presents…

    HHN house logo (a television set) for H.R. Bloodengutz
    Image: Universal

    At first glance, the bitter end of Carey, Ohio’s resident horror host doesn’t lend itself to expansion. Former Broadway star Larry Kurtzberg was at the end of his rope when WKNB called to offer him a role on its Midnight Horror Show. He accepted. And how.

    H.R. Bloodengutz – similarities to H.R. Pufnstuf coincidental, maybe actionable – is a public-access emcee in the grand Ghoulardi mold. He vamps from a throne of cartoon skulls and rubber spiders, in a castle too cheap for paper-mâché stones. Fog dribbles from a conspicuously close machine, but not enough to smoke out the studio. His theme is literally The Munsters theme. To a certain generation, he is horror, first seen between cross-hatched fingers in a friend’s basement hours past any agreed-upon bedtime. Bloodengutz represents a warm-and-fuzzy gateway drug. As of his 2011 debut, the high was already over. Short of Svengoolie and the few veteran personalities that made the leap to streaming, horror hosts are an endangered species. What turned Bloodengutz into a dark horse favorite among the HHN faithful is that he ironically doubled as a gateway drug for the event. His name was and remains all over wishlists. His lore is simple enough to sate the curious. And like so many horror hosts, he was an underdog from the word “scare-monies.”

    That said, his homicidal retirement might not be enough to support an entire movie. Faced with cancellation, so the story went, Bloodengutz lost his mind and tortured his producer in-character, on the air. Between stabbings, he dutifully introduced schlocky horror-comedies based around every holiday but Halloween. The festive gimmick worked wonders for the house but making it feature-length only fumbles a one-of-a-kind opportunity.

    In and amongst his vindictive spree, H.R. Bloodengutz could host a Halloween Horror Nights anthology with segments pulled directly from past houses or inspired by the spirit of the event. This kind of film has been on a slow and steady revival since Mike Dougherty’s 2007 classic, Trick ‘r Treat, coincidentally a proud HHN alum. Anthologies have already taken root in the indie sphere as showcases for up-and-coming filmmakers. Blumhouse already produces its own series, Into the Dark, for Hulu. To hit all the expected highs of Halloween Horror Nights, an anthology may be the only way to go.

    If H.R. Bloodengutz is too TV for the big time, substitute him with the Usher and WKNB with the Universal Palace Theater, though that might hew too close to Nightmare Cinema, a recent standout anthology.

    2. Body Collectors: Collections of the Past

    A body collector lunging in Body Collectors: Recollections.
    Image: Universal

    If the icons are major leaguers, then the body collectors are farm team all-stars. To date, they’ve earned three dedicated houses and cameos in two anniversary mashups, along with scattered appearances on park streets. They’re as popular as any Halloween Horror Nights character can be without ever getting their rictus grins on a shotglass. It’s especially impressive given their lineage.

    Their first appearance gave it away. For HHN XI, a scarezone called Slasher Alley occupied the narrow cut-through between what is now Shrek 4-D and Transformers. The concept was like it said on the tin – the best madmen in the business roamed the fog in search of unsuspecting passersby. The name would lightened up, to Nightmare Alley, as part of an event-wide softening after the 9/11 attacks, but the characters stuck around. Michael Myers. Ghostface. Chucky. A few uncredited Gentlemen from the “Hush” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

    The look is unmistakable – sunken eyes, smooth head, skim-milk complexion – but the MO changed considerably by the time the body collectors got their due at HHN XV. Instead of the fairy tale ghouls that stole voices and literal hearts, Universal’s Gentlemen took corpses and turned them into tools.

    Their first appearance played heavily into the lore of “Terra Cruentus,” a fantasy realm connecting all that year’s houses and scarezones. Subsequent returns by the collectors simplified their circumstances. The second house, Collections of the Past, has the most big-screen potential.

    Taking cues from their old-fashioned outfits, the collectors were relocated to Victorian London. As it happens, their pre-grave grave-robbing operation has been thriving for centuries. All it takes for business to boom is the proper cover. War. Famine. Pestilence. Or Jack the Ripper, in this case. According to the HHN history books, the infamous Whitechapel Murderer never existed. He was just an elaborate ruse to let the Gentlemen slay locals anonymously and with the proper abandon.

    The revisionism makes a historically terrifying period even worse. The good news for unsuspecting Londoners is that there is no serial killer in the fog. The bad news is that there is, however, a species(?) of amateur surgeons in the market for spare body parts. The crudity of everything involved, implements of both death and self-defense, ratchets up the period tension; medicine was benevolent torture on a good day, let alone when the doctor is trying to remove your femur in one piece.

    But involuntary dissections are scary in any decade; the third house, Recollections, moved the bloodshed to a slightly more modern sanitarium. With a cosmetic update to further distance them from their inspiration, the Gentlemen could be dropped just about anywhere and anytime. Their marquee scene – an operating theater in the round to demonstrate the easiest way to tear out a spine – remains among HHN’s most reliably brutal. It would be worth admission alone just to see it done with all the prosthetics and bodily fluids studio money can buy.

    3. Leave it to Cleaver

    A small statue of Meety Meatz.
    Image: Universal

    So the ad copy goes, the “z” in Meetz Meats stands for “fresh.” And If you believe that, they’ve got some prime cuts to sell you.

    Leave it to Cleaver is weaponized Americana, a blood-spattered “gee shucks.” Just let the painted-on blush of Meetz mascot, Meaty Meetz, put any unease to rest. The history of Wyandott County’s most profitable slaughterhouse is the stuff truck commercials are made of. The patriarch Meetz founded the business as a simple butchershop in the 1910s. He passed it onto his son just in time for the Great Depression. Did that Meetz crumble? Did he let his community down? Of course not. He innovated, not only finding a fresh supply of livestock for his friends and neighbors but solving the town’s vagrancy problem simultaneously. Sam, the current owner and operator of Meetz Meats, proudly upholds his father’s standard of quality in the flush post-war years. Business has never been better. Play ball and pass the hot dogs.

    Leave it to Cleaver takes the rusty terror of Texas Chainsaw and buttons it up tight, a little too tight, in Midwestern charm. All the butchers carry chainsaws and wear bowties. During the company’s educational film, ol’ Sam hides a fresh human carcass with a pantomimed giggle. Not two rooms deep into the unassuming Meetz plant, employees’ children are already learning the finer points of serving man.

    Taken exactly as-is, entrance to exit, Leave it to Cleaver would make a pleasantly macabre gorefest. Not even necessarily overt gore, either – ground chuck is ground chuck, no matter who it came from. What adds a worthwhile wrinkle is a short story by Patrick Braillard, Show Director for the Creative Development team, published just a month before Universal canceled the 2020 event. In “Bad Following Good,” an ill-fated drifter hops off a train in the worst possible town. After spending several pleasant days in jail, fed only the tastiest local delicacies by a surprisingly kind sheriff, he’s handed over to one Mr. Meetz with the vague promise of helping the commonwealth. The possibly contained secret of the original house – kept among the Meetz staff – is confirmed as a Carey-wide conspiracy. It’s an entire zip code of cannibals, honest as an afternoon barbecue.

    There’s plenty of meat on that bone.

    4. The Legendary Truth

    A Legendary Truth desktop screensaver from the original online game.
    Image: Universal, X Studios

    From a bird’s eye view, there’s little Halloween Horror Nights lore thornier than The Legendary Truth. The story of Universal’s pet paranormal research organization has been written almost exclusively in the margins, of optional online games and one-off upcharge experiences, across 13 years and counting. The average attendee would only recognize the name from the two houses it adorned – Legendary Truth: The Wyandot Estate in 2010 and Case Files Unearthed: Legendary Truth in 2021. Here’s a rough history of the Truth:

    In the 1940s, private investigator Boris Shuster started seeing things. They should’ve been hallucinations – dozen-eyed hellspawn, sewer-dwelling moss golems, lounge singers with horns – but hallucinations aren’t allergic to lead. Eventually Shuster noticed patterns and classified the monsters into “Legions”: Strengoits, Cerebins, Baccanoids, Maschorians, Morphans, Kerezans, and Iniquitous. They followed vaguely conventional lines – strengoits meant vampires, kerezans meant zombies, etc. – but the findings were still shocking enough to make the P.I. hide them in plain sight as 30-cent pulp novels. He only faced the music himself a few years later, when an investigation into “Bloody Mary” ended with him on trial for her alleged murder. As soon as he was cleared, Shuster founded The Legendary Truth, sometimes known more specifically as The Collective.

    Boris Shuster’s office can be seen in Universal Studios Florida’s New York section, across Delancey Street from the Film Vault. Taken as a reverse-engineered grace note for Halloween Horror Nights – the window has bared his name since the park’s opening day – it’s a clever bit of placemaking, the perfect stomping grounds for a period gumshoe. Considered within the canon, it doesn’t make a lick of sense.

     Across three nights from October 25th to 31st, 1991, bright-eyed Legendary Truth member Tim Foil pored over Shuster’s casefiles. In so doing, he accidentally unleashed the evil anew and undid all of Shuster’s arcane work. Those fateful dates line up with the first ever Halloween Horror Nights, making the Truth connection nothing less than fundamental. It had already intervened – earlier in event history but later in the fiction – with supernatural goings-on at Universal Studios Florida in the explicit understanding that it’s a theme park. Shuster also allegedly retired to Amity Island, a long-lost land at Universal, though his mortality remains in question.

    It’s a metatextual chicken-egg conundrum – what came first, Universal Studios Florida or The Legendary Truth? Is Delancey Street an elaborate tribute to “real-world” Truth founder Boris Shuster? Is the organization investigating specific happenings at the park or is the park commemorating past happenings already investigated? The answer to all of the above is that it’s a fragile narrative woven backwards over a decade by shifting teams and creatives all trying to make the most sense of it for anyone who came in late.

    And that makes The Legendary Truth perfect for interpretation. Shuster’s story is Lovecraftian noir, all trenchcoats and tentacles. The organization proper is a down and dirtier X-Files, that department’s precinct headquarters replaced by a foreboding Victorian mansion. That’s not even counting the divisions within Truth, like the foolhardy Spirit Seekers, who used experimental ghost manifestation technology in a violently haunted house and paid the expected price.

    If this hypothetical HHN movie focused more on the event than its malevolent inventions, there’s no better bridge between the two than The Legendary Truth.

    5. Saws N’ Steam: Into the Machine

    Saws N' Steam: Into the Machine house logo.
    Image: Universal

    Saws N’ Steam lurks at the highest concept end of terror.

    The initial scarezone was tantalizing enough to earn its own house the following year, the first-ever such promotion. What happens in a steampunk society when all the water dries up? The answer may vivisect you.

    Desperate denizens of “New Yorkshire” got their precious fuel by any means necessary but mostly chainsaw. Massive, brick-and-brass machines lined the streets, meat grinders by way of Wells. The snarl in the air wasn’t fog but an endless funeral pyre. On a scorched Earth, blood’s as good as fresh iced tea.

    The rev-centric premise was a sly way to give Universal’s famed Chainsaw Drill Team its own playground. It paid off in screams, but the better movie material lies in its claustrophobic “sequel,” Saws N’ Steam: Into the Machine.

    There is but one refuge from this thirst-choked hellscape – The Horizon. Posters color it heavenly. The Horizon is Benevolence. The Horizon is Contentment. “Never again will you shed a tear or suffer an injustice,” promises the PA system. It sounds like a pretty good deal, even with the admitted catch that circumstances will change when volunteers turn 30. Much easier to accept harvesting with a few good decades of peace and harmony.

    Naturally, those are luxuries nobody can afford in a Halloween Horror Nights house. Screams break the serenity before the propaganda gives up. The Horizon is lipstick on a pig farm. As soon as volunteers leave the waiting room, a ceiling alive with circular saws closes in on them. The only noises left are agony, small engines, and the squish of compacted meat.

    Like many dystopias, Saws ‘N Steam is alliterative. The human recycling recalls Soylent Green, the age limit, Logan’s Run. The water-logged art deco look should ring bells among BioShock players. But in this case, the cocktail of influences makes for a fresh hell. It’s a more cravenly nihilistic world than any of the above. Death arrives on swifter, rustier wings and anyone can appreciate its visceral form – steam-powered or no, a chainsaw is a chainsaw. The hardware-store soul of it makes for a cheaper apocalypse as well. The scarezone encompassed an entire city, but the house keeps it simple, showing only how the sausage is made.

    Saws ‘N Steam: Into the Machine would make for an audacious movie, no question, but it cuts to the heart of HHN’s nihilistic streak a lot deeper than most originals. Emphasis on “cuts.”

    6. The Wicked Growth: Realm of the Pumpkin

    A pumpkin monster lunging in The Wicked Growth.
    Image: Universal

    This house feels like channeled frustration. Not at the event or any creative overseers, but at a too-long absence. Short of the house based on Trick ‘r Treat and some scarezones, Halloween Horror Nights hadn’t really tackled the most festive traditions of its namesake holiday.

    In a single, three-minute walkthrough, The Wicked Growth checks every last autumnal box and then some – plenty of folks would expect pumpkins, but a monarchal Pumpkin Lord is truly the extra mile.

    Carey, Ohio, as usual, cannot catch a break. Each year when the leaves blush and jack-o’-lanterns start scowling on their porches, the Pumpkin Lord’s strength grows. The more people celebrate Halloween, the more powerful he becomes. Wary eyes can see his emergence in the perpetually encroaching vines, the unnatural bounty of the harvest. All it would take for him to break through into the natural world is an enterprising horde of ghosts, goblins, and well-read witches.

    The Wicked Growth finds middle America under spooky siege. Reanimated skeletons bust through picket fences. Carnivorous pumpkins claw at shuttered windows. Grim reapers reap and the headless horseman rides again. It’s an all-out Halloween extravaganza, a killer party unfortunately interrupted by actual killers. Universal Art & Design’s passion for the season oozes off the walls like so much carved pulp.

    Because of its, pardon the pun, universality, Wicked Growth is an easy frontrunner for the Halloween Horror Nights Cinematic Universe. In the same way H.R. Bloodengutz is horror to many,  this house is Halloween to most. Everybody’s got something nostalgic to latch onto. Covered bridges dignified with bramble. Haystacks too high to peek around. The cold, dry smell of trampled soil – the unmistakable perfume of corn mazes and pumpkin patches. And that’s just in the walkthrough. At feature-length, there’s room for all these textures and plenty more.

    More than any other Halloween Horror Nights original, The Wicked Growth would make for the perfect festive viewing. Sure, some will always watch Fright Night or Friday the 13th or Night of the Living Dead. But what better way to celebrate Halloween than with the terrifying story of a small town swallowed whole by Halloween itself?

    The wider audience would certainly make things easier on the Pumpkin Lord. And that’s the real reason for the season.