The Orlando Weekly hot-tub time machine has been spiked with red dye in honor of the Halloween season, so slip with me into the sangre suds and slide all the way back to 1990. In that ancient age, October wasn't yet the moneymaking orgy that Orlando knows today. Back then, our Halloween celebrations were mostly amateur community-based affairs aimed at trick-or-treating tots. That changed when Universal Studios threw up a single haunted house and opened it for three evenings under the moniker Fright Nights, and the embryo of the local horror industry was spawned. Fast-forward two decades and it's time for Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights XX: A New Age of Darkness Begins. This event is the leader in stimulating the once dead-slow season into a period of peak crowds and profitable per-capita spending. Below we've categorized some of the options to better help you cling to your own kind.
It's surprising that no year-round haunt — other than the well-worn Haunted Grimm House in Kissimmee's Old Town — has survived around here. Long-deceased are the attractions Skull Kingdom, Terror in Orlando and the granddaddy, Terror on Church Street. So bloodthirsty die-hards — and their wallets — come out of the woodwork every year and make their first stops at the Karo Syrup-soaked haunted mazes at Universal and Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens that open in late September. Then there's plenty of time to enjoy a zombie walk or two, like the over-the-top one at Spooky Empire's Ultimate Horror Weekend (Oct. 8-10) and the Audubon Park Garden District's Zombietoberfest (Oct. 2) in the parking lot of Stardust Video & Coffee. For true terror, the LaVene Family Trail of Nightmares (Oct. 22-31) traverses the Mouse-made Stepford called Celebration. Horrors!
At some point, All Hallow's Eve pulled side-by-side with St. Patrick's as the designated day to drink yourself silly. Many celebrants of this sort of Halloween also end up at Universal, inevitably resulting in kneed groins and punched noses to underpaid 'scare-actors.' The rest of them can be seen downtown, stumbling along Orange Avenue. An entertaining offshoot of this holiday is the elaborate costumes you'd have to be intoxicated to wear. For men, that means obsessively de-tailed cult-movie replicas constructed to capture the cash at costume contests. Adult female costumes have been consumed by prostitute-chic (aka 'the Fairvilla' effect), an increasingly disturbing development as it inexorably trickles down to teen and tween designs.
Want a grown-up Halloween aimed at your head and heart, not guts and liver? At Loch Haven Park, visit the Orlando Museum of Art to see the macabre illustrations in Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey (through Oct. 31), or swing by Lowndes Shakespeare Center for the expanded All Hallows 20 for 20 Fringe Fundraiser, featuring 20 short original stage works for $20 (Oct. 23). Also at the Shakes is local composer John DeHaas' campy musicalization of the classic slasher flick Halloween (Oct. 22 and 24). In Thornton Park, local artists will rise to the challenge at the Mother Falcon Zombies art show (Oct. 23). Several incarnations of Rocky Horror Picture Show can be found: There's a full production of Richard O'Brien's Rocky Horror Show at Theatre Downtown (Oct. 22-Nov. 13) and the Rich Weirdos continue the costumed singalongs to the original movie at the AMC Universal Cineplex 20 at CityWalk (Oct. 8-10, 22-24).
Believe it or not, some folks feel Halloween should be about the kids. SeaWorld Orlando (Halloween Spooktacular) and Walt Disney World (Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party) are happy to take their money in exchange for safe snacking and sanitized seasonal dÃ©cor. But I'd rather do what my parents did for me: Set the kids loose at sunset in vision-impairing masks and flammable costumes, let them wander the streets extorting candy from strangers, then terrorize them with warnings about needles and razors lurking in their loot. What? You say that's considered child abuse now? Dammit, where's that time machine when you need it?
Pick up the print edition on newsstands now for hundreds of event listings during the fall season.
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.