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precarious since 1997 | by maryann johanson

must reads: “The Real Scare Is Not Being Scary”

Brooks Barnes at The New York Times looks at how scaring folks at Halloween is vexing amusement-park designers… because we’re getting more and more desensitized by outrageous horror movies:

ORLANDO, Fla. — Chainsaws? Yawn. Bathtub electrocutions? Done them. Demented, blood-thirsty clowns? So 2001.

For Universal Orlando, the big theme park here that counts on Halloween as a crucial profit center, the art of the scare sure isn’t as easy as it used to be.

The challenge is not size or money. Universal spends millions to stage and market its Halloween Horror Nights, which this year include eight haunted houses and multiple “scare zone” street parties on 25 nights. No, the scarce resource is ideas: coming up with new ways to entertain a “been-there, screamed-at-that” customer base raised on torture movies like “Saw” and bloody video games.

“These people are paying to get the bejesus scared out of them, and every year it gets harder,” said Patrick Braillard, a show director for the park. “We look at each other and say, ‘What’s left to do?’ ”

It’s no small worry. This movie-centered theme park, owned by Comcast’s NBC Universal, would not provide Halloween-related financial details, but the revenue appears to be considerable. Entry to Horror Nights starts at $42 (although discounts are available), and analysts estimate that as many as 500,000 a year have attended. Add in sales of beer, food and merchandise, and substantial profits are at stake.

Listen to this:

As guests flooded into the park, Mr. Aiello looked around with pride. Has Universal pulled it off for another year? “I have personally seen people exit these houses on their hands and knees,” he said.
A customer, Angela Gutierrez, offered more of a mixed critique. “I was hanging onto my boyfriend for dear life,” said Ms. Gutierrez, a 24-year-old restaurant worker, after emerging from a house called “The In-Between,” which uses 3-D effects.

But she was blasé about the woman encased in a glass coffin with live rats. Her assessment: “They did that last year too.”


If you’re a production geek, there’s also a fascinating look at the process that creates the seasonal scares at Universal.

(If you stumble across a must-read link, feel free to email me.)

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