Theme Park Ranger
12:49 PM EDT, August 1, 2013
All zombies, all the time.
That's the strategy Universal Studios plans for scare zones during Halloween Horror Nights this year. The streets will be themed to well-known scenes from "The Walking Dead," a popular television show on AMC.
It's the first time for Universal to use a unifying theme for the zones, and it could be risky. What about folks who don't watch — or don't like — the show? What about the anti-zombie crowd? What about the repetition factor? ("Look! More zombies? Yawn.")
Personally, I'm just glad Universal abandoned the "roaming" version of scare zones from last year. I always felt like I was missing something good and scary elsewhere in the park.
But kudos to the park for landing a hot pop-culture phenomenon and then holding on tight.
"The fan base is just, I think, a notch above a lot of other properties. It's just hugely popular and getting more popular all the time," says Jim Timon, Universal's senior vice president of entertainment.
The important thing, he says, is to make sure the scare zones live up to their name.
The show's characters are spooky, gross and work well in swarms. We saw that in action when walkers — that's "Walking Dead"-speak for zombies — lurked outside a HHN house in 2012. The vibe was distinctly us-versus-them.
There will be a new "Walking Dead" house this year, based on the show's third season, which was set in the town of Woodbury and in a prison. But don't search for clues about season four, which debuts Oct. 14.
"We typically don't do spoilers for things that haven't aired yet," says John Murdy, creative director of Universal Studios Hollywood, which also will have a "Walking Dead" house for its Horror Nights.
Few other Orlando details have been released. Houses will be based on the horror films "Evil Dead" and "The Cabin in the Woods," plus "Rocky Horror Picture Show" will return in the form of a stage show.
Halloween Horror Nights, which requires a separate admission ticket, runs after park hours for 27 select nights between Sept. 20 and Nov. 2.
Horror and history
Maybe more Horror Nights details will slip out at an event at the Orange County Regional History Center this month. Members of Universal's creative team will discuss how they have twisted historical tales into horrifying haunted houses during the years.
Among the scheduled speakers are T.J. Mannarino, senior director, and Michael Aiello, assistant director of creative development, two guys who surprisingly do not appear to be demented.
The Aug. 24 event includes a reception, dinner and program for $55. For reservations call 407-836-7010.
Meanwhile, back at Universal Studios, work continues on the partially opened Springfield — home of "The Simpsons" — section of the park.
Peeking over Springfield's construction wall last weekend was a giant version of Bumblebee Man's head — complete with antennas — attached to a taco truck. It's going to be a photo op, for sure. There also was testing of the spinning ride called Kang and Kodos' Twirl and Hurl. No humans were aboard, though. From the far side of the lagoon, I could see the back side of the statue of town founder Jebediah Springfield. No sign of Lard Lad yet.
Outside the wall is now a street sign near Kwik-E-Mart indicating the intersection of Fast Food Boulevard and Evergreen Terrace, the street where Simpsons live in the long-running Fox animated series. Also, tables with umbrellas have been added outside Moe's Tavern. They're needed, but they're messing with the illusion of being right outside Homer's watering hole. Maybe that will get better once all of Springfield is open later this summer.
Krustyland fits to a T
I have a new nominee for top theme-park T-shirt. On sale at Universal: a T that doubles as a fun guide map to Krustyland, the attraction owned by "The Simpsons" curmudgeon Krusty the Clown.
The drawing covers the front of the shirt and features sights familiar to Universal Studios guests. The Krustyland entrance — which routes through Krusty's mouth — mirrors the entrance of our Simpsons Ride. Nearby, as at Universal, is a ride starring aliens Kang and Kodos.
Other comic bits include scenes from the Simpsons Ride, including the Happy Little Elves in Panda-Land ride. The shirt is loaded with gags.
On the down side, the shirt is 100 percent polyester. That's pretty toasty in Florida but a better option than a wool Harry Potter cardigan.
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