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HHN Orlando - History Overview

Updated: Feb 6

The History of Halloween Horror Nights Orlando:

Halloween Horror Nights is an annual Halloween event that occurs at Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood. The event premiered at Universal Studios Singapore in 2011. The Universal Theme Parks remain operational during the day and are then converted to Halloween Horror Nights in the evening. Halloween Horror Nights features haunted houses, "scare zones" and live entertainment. Universal incorporates both original and licensed content into the event. Beginning in 1991 at Universal Studios Florida with only one house, Halloween Horror Nights has continued annually. It has become one of the largest and most elaborate Halloween events in the United States.

"Halloween Horror Nights has become more terrifying than ever imagined possible. No other Halloween Haunt presents so many immersive new environments & uniquely original characters, year after year. The sheer scope of the spectacle, combined with movie-quality settings, costumes and special effects, make Halloween Horror Nights the nation's premier annual Halloween event. We invite you to discover its origins, explore the event's growth over the years, and face the iconic images of the recent past..."

ORIGINS - 1991-1995

"Fright Nights emerged in 1991, a 3-night event. Like Dr. Frankenstein's monster, it was stitched together, born from Classic Tales of Terror, Known Nightmares and Legends of the Macabre. Its power grew as it became more horrifying and was ultimately renamed Halloween Horror Nights in 1992. A growing legion of dedicated fans returned year after year, and by 1995 it had a personality all its own." (Archived from the official HHN 2011 History & Legacy website.)

(Images: ©NBC/Universal)

"Yearly Overview"

The following "Yearly Overview" outlines:

Year, Event Title, Icon/Icons/Featured Characters, Advertising Slogans/Taglines, and Event Location.


Year 1

Universal Studios Fright Nights​

"Dying For A Good Halloween Party?"

Featured Characters/Icon: Original Universal Monsters & Beetlejuice

Location: Universal Studios


Year 2

Universal Studios Florida Halloween Horror Nights

Location: Universal Studios


Year 3

"The 3rd Annual" Universal Studios Florida Halloween Horror Nights

"Don't Get Caught Dead Anywhere Else"

Location: Universal Studios


Year 4​

"The 4th Annual" Universal Studios Florida Halloween Horror Nights

Location: Universal Studios


Year 5

HHN V: The Curse of the Cryptkeeper

Featured Character/Icon: The Cryptkeeper

Location: Universal Studios

EARLY YEARS - 1996-2000

"Halloween Horror Nights tested its limits in search of its true power and ability to terrify quests. Parades were launched. Haunted houses emerged. Street shows were introduced. Its twisted values were taking shape. Like a disturbed experiment gone horribly wrong, it searched for its identity and attempted several themes. Then in 2000, the event uncovered its true identity - Jack the Clown." (Archived from the official HHN 2011 History & Legacy website.)

(Images: ©NBC/Universal)


Year 6

Halloween Horror Nights VI: Journey Into Fear

Featured Character/Icon: The Cryptkeeper

Location: Universal Studios


Year 7

Halloween Horror Nights VII: Frightmares

"You'll Never Sleep Again!"

Location: Universal Studios


Year 8

Halloween Horror Nights VIII: Primal Scream

"The Last Scream You'll Ever Hear."

Location: Universal Studios


Year 9

Halloween Horror Nights IX: Last Gasp


"Save Your Final Breath...You'll Need It For Screaming!"

Featured Character/Icon: Imhotep

Location: Universal Studios


Year 10

Halloween Horror Nights X

"Not Afraid of the Dark? You Don't Know Jack!"

Icon: Jack

Location: Universal Studios

EXPANSIONS: 2001-2005

"As Halloween Horror Nights evolved into the feared face of true terror, unique styles of haunted house design began emerging. More detailed and cryptic creatures appeared. In 2002 the event found virgin soil at Universal's Islands of Adventure, and evolved further to span both parks in 2004. It wasn't long before 2005 welcomed the horror fest that culminated all of its elements in Terra Cruentas, a world of Blood." (Archived from the official HHN 2011 History & Legacy website.)

(Images: ©NBC/Universal)


Year 11

Halloween Horror Nights XI: I.C.U.​


"Jack's Back"

"No more clowning around."

"Say Goodbye to Jack"

Icon: Jack

Location: Universal Studios


Year 12

Halloween Horror Nights: Islands of Fear

"Your Time Has Come."

"Are You Ready to Meet the Caretaker?"

Icon: The Caretaker

Location: Islands of Adventure


Year 13

Halloween Horror Nights 13: The Director Will See You Now

"You Want To Be In Pictures?"

"The Director Will See You Now"

"You Oughtta Be In Pictures"

"13 Years in the Making"

Icon: The Director

Location: Islands of Adventure


Year 14

Halloween Horror Nights XIV: 2X the Fear

"2X/Twice The Fear"

"What's Your Breaking Point?"

Featured Character/Icon: The Asylum Patient

Location: Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure


Year 15

Halloween Horror Nights: Tales of Terror

"No One Will Live Happily Ever After!"

"Not Just Another Fairy Tale"

Icon: The Storyteller

Location: Islands of Adventure

ICONIC YEARS: 2006-2010

"Halloween Horror Nights matured and iconic images emerged. The era began when characters became the face of the event. Jack, The Caretaker, The Storyteller and The Director came together to celebrate a Sweet Sixteen return to Universal Studios. And in 2009 Universal's Frankenstein, Dracula and Wolfman were Ripped from the Silver Screen as The Usher greeted each guest." (Archived from the official HHN 2011 History & Legacy website.)

(Images: ©NBC/Universal)


Year 16

Halloween Horror Nights: Sweet 16

"Horror Comes Home"

"Sweet 16"

Icons: Director, Jack, Caretaker, Storyteller

Location: Universal Studios


Year 17

Halloween Horror Nights: Carnival of Carnage

"Choose Thy Fear"

Icon: Jack

Featured Characters: Freddy, Jason, Leatherface

Theme: Carnival of Carnage

Location: Universal Studios


Year 18

Halloween Horror Nights: Reflections of Fear

"I Dare You To Say It One More Time!"

"Bloody Mary"

Icon: Bloody Mary

Location: Universal Studios


Year 19

Halloween Horror Nights: Ripped From the Silver Screen​

"It's Showtime!"

"Ripped From the Silver Screen"

Icon: The Usher

Theme: Movies/Silver Screen

Location: Universal Studios


Year 20

Halloween Horror Nights XX: Twenty Years of Fear

"A New Era of Darkness Begins"

"Twenty Years of Fear"

"A New Age off Darkness"

Icon: Fear

With appearances by The Storyteller, The Director, Jack, The Usher, The Caretaker, Eddie, and Cindy

Location: Universal Studios


"Halloween Horror Nights is renowned for creating terrifyingly original creatures. Where some clowns make you laugh, our clowns make you shriek. When most fairy tales are bedtime stories, ours keep you awake. Where the dead should rest in peace, ours linger and torment. Those chainsaws you hear aren't used to cut wood. You may tell yourself it's only a nightmare...all of the screams are real." (Archived from the official HHN 2011 History & Legacy website.)

(Images: ©NBC/Universal)


Year 21

Halloween Horror Nights 21

"Are You In?"

"Come Try Your Luck"

"Nobody Beats The House"

"The House Always Wins"

"Be Careful What You Wager"

"Your Fate is in Her Hands"

Icon: Lady Luck

Location: Universal Studios


Year 22

Halloween Horror Nights 22

"Once You're Inside...There Is No Way Out!"

Featured Character/Icon: N/A

Theme: The Walking Dead

Location: Universal Studios


Year 23

Halloween Horror Nights 23

"What Evil Has Taken Root?"

"So This Is What Fear Tastes Like"

Featured Character/Icon: N/A

Theme: The Walking Dead

Location: Universal Studios


Year 24

Halloween Horror Nights 24

"You've Been Warned!"

"Fear Will Eat You Alive"

Featured Character/Icon: N/A

Theme: N/A

Location: Universal Studios


Year 25

Halloween Horror Nights 25

"Jack's Back"

"All Jack'd Up"

"25 Years of Terror Has Led to This!"

"I'm Back!"

"Miss Me?"

"Jack is Back"

Icon: Jack The Clown

Theme: 25 Years of Fear

Location: Universal Studios


"It seeps like a thick fog into the streets. It pours over the looming shadows. Its presence lurks in the darkness...waiting. What appears to be an abandoned asylum is anything but abandoned. The owners of that decrepit mansion may be dead, but they most certainly haven't left. Step foot inside Halloween Horror Nights and you'll see that reality has taken an unexpected turn. Things here are not quite what they seem - they're much worse." (Archived from the official HHN 2011 History & Legacy website.)

(Images: ©NBC/Universal)


Year 26​

Halloween Horror Nights 26

"You Won't Stand A Chance!"

"Terror Takes Center Stage"

Icon: Chance

Theme: Sequel To HHN 25

Location: Universal Studios


Year 27

Halloween Horror Nights 27

"Your Soul Is Requested"

"The Best Nightmares Never End"

"The best nightmares never end..."

Featured Character/Icon: Bone

Theme: Festival of the Deadliest

Location: Universal Studios


Year 28

Halloween Horror Nights 28

"We Know What Scares You"

"More Houses Than Ever!"

"True Fear Comes From Within"

Featured Character/Icon: N/A

Theme: 80's Horror Films

Location: Universal Studios


Year 29

Halloween Horror Nights 29

"Your Worst Fears Live Here!"

"Maximum Screamage"​

Featured Character/Icon: N/A

Theme: 80's Horror Sequel

Location: Universal Studios


Halloween Seasonal Event 2020

(HHN Canceled - Covid Pandemic)


"From concept to design to execution, Halloween Horror Nights is conceived, developed and produced by a team of highly talented, industry experts. The attention to detail rivals even the most sophisticated movie studios. It takes a year of planning, and the final product is always different and more terrifying than before. The guests demand it, and Universal never lets them down." (Archived from the official HHN History & Legacy website.)

(Images: ©NBC/Universal)


Year 30

Halloween Horror Nights 30


"The Biggest Thing in Fear for 30 Years"

"I'm Back"

"Jack Returns"

"30 Years of Screams"

"30 Years 30 Fears"

Icon: Jack

Theme: N/A

Location: Universal Studios


Year 31

Halloween Horror Nights 31

"Never Go Alone"

"Scream Together Or You Won't Last Long"

Icon: The Pumpkin Lord

Theme: Halloween

Location: Universal Studios


Year 32

Halloween Horror Nights 32

Icon: Dr. Oddfellow

Theme: Circus spiraled into chaos/Haunting history of Universal attractions past

Location: Universal Studios


Year 33

Halloween Horror Nights 33

Icon: TBA

Theme: TBA

Location: Universal Studios


(Images: ©NBC/Universal)

"History Overview"

The following "History Overview" is a summary of the event history of Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights. Specific event details for each year can be found on the dedicated event pages.


Halloween Horror Nights began at Universal Studios Florida in 1991 under the title "Fright Nights". The event was renamed "Halloween Horror Nights" in 1992. The 1992 event was advertised as the "second annual" Halloween Horror Nights. Halloween Horror Nights began as a three-night event. It has since been extended to run over many nights from early September through November. The number of event nights grows each year. Each year's event, though unique, incorporates certain characteristics common to other years. These include houses, shows, scare zones, event icons, themes, and event phrases/slogans/taglines. Many popular resident attractions are also open during the event. The rides/attractions enhance the event and help disperse the crowds and alleviate lines at the haunted houses.

(F.Y.I. - Halloween Horror Nights officially launched at Universal Studios Hollywood in 1997, although the park had featured Halloween attractions in 1986 and 1992. For 2001 to 2005, Halloween Horror Nights went on hiatus at Universal Studios Hollywood and eventually returned in 2006. While the Hollywood location shares similarities with the Orlando event, much of the two events are coordinated separately with their own design teams and attractions.)

From 1991–2001, the Orlando event was held at Universal Studios Florida. Dungeon of Terror was the first haunted house at the 1991 event. It was held in the queue of the Jaws attraction.


The second event (1992) introduced the annual Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure show. The Universal Art & Design Department also began to use the soundstage buildings to house the haunted attractions for the 1992 event.

The first three years also included scare actors that roamed throughout the park.

The fourth event (1994) introduced the use of scare zones. Scare zones brought the roaming street scare actors together into themed areas for easier and more concentrated scares.

The fifth and sixth years (1995 & 1996) introduced the concept of an "event icon/host". The Cryptkeeper from the famous HBO horror series was utilized as the first icon. This icon was not a character created specifically for Halloween Horror Nights. The Cryptkeeper would also host the 1996 event.


The 1997 & 1998 events did not feature a specific icon. Imhotep was featured in 1999. (The 'event icon' as we know it would return for HHN X in 2000.) These years featured clever advertising taglines designed to tie the event together.


The 2000 event featured Jack The Clown (Jack Schmidt/The Ringmaster) as the icon. This time the icon was an original character created by Universal Studios specifically for HHN. Since then many other original icons have been used. Jack returned to host the 2001 event after a newer original character was abandoned due to the events of September 11th. The 2001 event was originally to be hosted by Eddie Schmidt/Edgar Sawyer. The event was shifted to have a lighter tone and the chainsaw wielding Eddie was shelved until future years.


Halloween Horror Nights moved to Universal's Islands of Adventure in 2002. In 2002, HHN 12 welcomed The Caretaker (Dr. Albert Caine) as the event icon.

When the event moved to Islands of Adventure for Halloween Horror Nights 12: Islands of Fear, new opportunities and new complications arose for the event creators. Every island of the park was to be converted into a scare zone that connected to that area's featured house. Seuss Landing is used with express permission from Audrey Geisel, widow of Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), who approved of its construction and the attractions within. Due to content control limitations related to Seuss Landing, Universal was restricted to simply darkening this island and playing the area music backwards. Strobe lights and fog were inserted in some sections, but actors were restricted in that area until 2005. Marvel Superhero Island was first used as a scare zone in Halloween Horror Nights: Islands of Fear. The area would transform into "Island Under Siege" each night. Tt was be taken over by the Marvel villains. The Superheroes were either dead or had been defeated. Carnage, Scream, an army of chainsaw gangs, super villains, scarred police officers, and the Punisher, roamed the streets of the island.


HHN 13 in 2003 remained at Islands of Adventure and was hosted by The Director (Paul Ravinski).

Universal experimented with a dual-park format in 2004. Both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure were used for the massive event. HHN XIV was also the first time since 1999 that the event didn't have a dedicated icon.


The Storyteller (Elsa Strict) was the icon for the 15th year and she introduced fans to the tightly themed world of "Terra Creuntas". HHN XV was the first HHN event to provide an elaborate backstory for the full event. The backstory and "world" interconnected all of the haunted houses, scare zones, and shows. The 2005 event was returned exclusively to Islands of Adventure.


In 2006, the event made a return to Universal Studios Florida. HHN: Sweet 16 was advertised as "Horror Comes Home". The event featured the four original event icons (Jack, The Caretaker, The Director and The Storyteller) returning in haunted houses and in two shows. The haunted houses and scare zones featured were remakes of some of the greatest haunted houses in the history of Halloween Horror Nights.


For 2007, Universal acquired the rights to use New Line Cinema's characters Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Leatherface. They were included as featured characters in the 2007 events in both Orlando and Hollywood. (Universal Studios Hollywood used the characters for a second year in 2008.) Jack the clown returned along with the New Line characters for the 2007 event in Orlando. HHN 17 was subtitled "Carnival of Carnage". The use of New Line Cinema's characters is an example of Universal Orlando incorporating "IP's", or "intellectual property" from other companies into the Orlando event.


HHN 18 welcomed Universal's fifth original icon in the form of Bloody Mary (Dr. Mary Agana). The 2008 event remained at Universal Studios. The website for this year was highly interactive a developed a story that intrigued fans of the event.


HHN 19: Ripped From The Silver Screen, in 2009, utilized a movie theme. The Usher (Julian Browning) was the 6th original HHN icon. He was the lead of the plethora of movie characters featured at the event. Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, and Saw are a few movies that came to life on the streets of Universal Studios for the 2009 event.


2010 marked the 20th annual installment of the event at the Orlando park. It was titled "HHN XX: Twenty Years of Fear" and featured the embodiment of Fear itself as the event's icon. Fear, the seventh original icon, ushered in "A New Era of Darkness". The original six icons, along with Eddie, Chance and Cindy were also featured characters in the Fear Revealed scare zone. The scare zone functioned as a "meet n' greet" area. The icons all had their own small set and were available for picture taking.


2011 marked the first Halloween Horror Nights in the "New Era of Darkness". The theme revolved around "Luck" and "Fate" and the icon was "Lady Luck". This was the first year where a scare zone from a previous year (Saws N' Steam) was further developed into a haunted house.


Halloween Horror Nights 22 in 2012 welcomed The Walking Dead, Silent Hill, Alice Cooper and Penn & Teller as featured IP collaborations. This year also marked the move away from static "scare zones" and featured a new "roaming" street experience. No icon was present this year. Instead, all of the attraction construction within Universal Studios was tied into this year's event. The scenario that unfolded told visitors that an ancient cemetery was uncovered during the park construction and an ancient evil called "The Iniquitus" was released. The Iniquitus (ancient evil beings) summoned various "Dark Legions" to terrify guests throughout the park.

Guests encountered Beasts/Cerebin, Vampires/Strengoit, Traditionals/Morphan, Prisoners/Maschorian and Warriors/Baccanoid, and Walkers/Kerezan. Kerezan included hordes of zombies from The Walking Dead. An online/in-park game entitled "Horror UNEARTHED" further enhanced the street experience. Guests could "play" and earn points for their favorite Dark Legion.


The Walking Dead returned to HHN 23. The Walking Dead appeared in a haunted house and in ALL of the Street Experiences. It was the first year of HHN where all of the Scare zones, or Street Experiences, were themed to a single property.


The Walking Dead returned to HHN 24 for an unexpected 3rd year in a row. The haunted house based on The Walking Dead was the largest haunted house ever created for the HHN Orlando event. Halloween and Alien vs Predator were fan favorite houses of the year. Scare zones returned to HHN in 2014. The Purge: Anarchy took over the streets of New York.

A scare zone, Face Off: In The Flesh, was based on the characters created on the SyFy Channel's hit show Face Off. A social media game called HHNCOMPOUND had guests engaged in park scavenger hunts throughout the event. The Legendary Truth came to life during the last 4 nights of the event. Guests used a new cell phone app to complete tasks that allowed them to get a "sneak peek" into The Legendary Truth Headquarters.

The traditional media event gift/invite did not arrive at the start of HHN24. It arrived at the conclusion of HHN 24. A USB drive signaling Jacks' return in 2015 was delivered to media outlets on Halloween. It also included dates for HHN25. This was the earliest the run dates for an HHN event had ever been released.


Halloween Horror Nights 2015 (#HHN25) was the 25th Anniversary of Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights! Jack The Clown made a return as the lead icon. He led the 25th Anniversary of the event. Other icons made returns in various forms throughout the event. Chance served as Jack's sidekick throughout the event in a stage show. A 9th haunted house was added and traditional scare zones returned. Social media events revolved around the theme of "Jack's Maniacs" and a "Last Laugh" meet-up was held on the final weekend of the event. Legendary Truth also made a brief (but troubled) return during the final weekend of the event. A Halloween Horror Nights Tribute Store/Museum was added to the event in the Twister store. The store offered HHN merchandise and special collector's items.


Halloween Horror Nights 2016 (#HHN26) was billed as the first direct sequel to a previous event. Halloween Horror Nights 26 picked up after the events of HHN 25. The 2015 event told the story of what happened to Chance after the events of 2015. She was elevated to main event icon. She had a scare zone and a house. The Walking Dead returned for an unprecedented 5th consecutive year! The Walking Dead haunted house was a well received "best of" compilation house.

A Halloween Horror Nights Tribute Store was opened in the Macy's building in New York. The store once again offered HHN goodies and special collector's items.

The Unmasking the Horror Tours stopped allowing photography in IP houses after the first weekend of the event. Photography was permitted only in original concept Universal haunted houses. The policies for photography during the behind the scenes tours would drastically change after this year.

A 10th haunted house was added in the form of an "upcharge" house. The Repository was an interactive story-based house that required separate admission. The highly detailed experience began in the Archive Room. Visitors interacted with the scare actors as the story unfolded. Visitors were whisked off to The Cell for a puzzle problem. After finding several "keystones", the experience moved to The Airlock Lab for a description of a task that needed to be solved. The centerpiece of the haunted attraction was the VR (Virtual Reality) Room in which visitors navigated a 3D environment in search of a code. The finale room was The Escape Room where the keystones and codes had to be used to solve a puzzle. A Debriefing Room at the exit offered photo ops, drinks, and allowed visitors to watch subsequent teams solve the puzzle on a TV screen.

No media gift was delivered at the start of this year's event & no media preview night was offered prior to Opening Night.


Halloween Horror Nights 2017 opened on September 15, 2017.

The theme of the year was "Festival of the Deadliest" and Mr. Bones was an "unofficial icon" in the festival scare zone. The Bones character was featured in advertising and on merchandise. This year marked the final performance of the Bill & Ted show.


Halloween Horror Nights 2018 offered the most haunted houses of any event to date. The 10 houses were a combination of IP-based properties and original concepts. The theme of the event was "80s Horror/Slasher Flicks".


Halloween Horror Nights 2019 fed off the fear from #HHN28. The 80s were celebrated again. A surprise lagoon show entitled "Marathon of Mayhem" was presented to wild acclaim!


2020 was to have been the 30th anniversary of Halloween Horror Nights! The event calendar was released earlier than any previous year! The event was cancelled on July 24, 2020 due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood was also cancelled. A Halloween Horror Nights Tribute store opened in Orlando and sold retro-HHN merchandise. Three haunted houses opened during daily operating hours as part of a Halloween Seasonal Event. Guests were able to experience the "Revenge of the Tooth Fairy", "The Bride of Frankenstein LIVES!" and "Beetlejuice" houses.


The 2021 event served as the ACTUAL 30th Anniversary of Halloween Horror Nights!! A newly designed HHN Tribute Store and a new version of the lagoon show returned due to the success of the offerings the previous year. Jack made "pop up" visits throughout the park on event nights. Food kiosks and HHN-themed food options started to be expanded during the event.


Michael Myers returned for Halloween Horror Nights 31. The popular HHN Tribute Store also returned to the location in New York City. Dead Man's Pier: Winter's Wake saw a popular past scare zone (Dead Man's Wharf from HHN 26) become a haunted house. Scarecrow: Cursed Soil saw a popular past house (Scarecrow: The Reaping from HHN 27) extend into a terrifying new scare zone. Food kiosks and HHN-themed food options became more prominent again this year.


The world’s premier Halloween event celebrates its 32nd year with a record-breaking 48 nights of immersing guests into the eeriest of experiences that could only be endured at Halloween Horror Nights – including a circus that’s spiraled into chaos, the long-awaited emergence of Halloween Horror Nights legend, Dr. Oddfellow, and a dark, resurrected story that delves into the haunting history of Universal attractions past. Halloween Horror Nights 2023 had the most event nights in the history of the event!


The world’s premier Halloween event will return for its 33rd year in the fall of 2024! Stay tuned for event news!


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