Halloween Horror Nights fans hope Universal isn't playing wicked games with this year's rumored lineup

click to enlarge Halloween Horror Nights fans hope Universal isn't playing wicked games with this year's rumored lineup
Photo courtesy the Weeknd/Facebook
The last cold weather of the season may have just passed, but Halloween plans are already well underway in Orlando.

The grandee of Orlando’s Halloween events is Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando. This year’s dates have been confirmed, and fans have been busy posting the annual speculation maps with strong rumors about this year’s lineup.

Opening on September 2, this year’s HHN Orlando will take place across 43 nights, the most ever for the event.  After canceling 2020’s event and having 2021’s pearl anniversary occurring amongst makeshift safety features and numerous uncertainties, this year’s event will likely have an air of normalcy that hasn’t been seen in recent years.

Jake Wheeler, co-founder of the theme park news site Theme Park Shark, is among the fans already buzzing about this year's event. The Orlando native attends HHN multiple times across its season and is active in a fan community that focuses on the event throughout the year.

While cognizant that we’re still months away from the event, Wheeler is excited about the strongest rumors regarding this year’s event.

“It is still very early to have totally accurate rumors," he said. "Some speculated items include the Mummy vs. Dracula, Gremlins, Halloween, and importing the Curse of Pandora’s Box from Universal Studios Hollywood.”

Since 2007, a mysterious online persona, simply known as Horror Night Nightmares, has become one of the most reliable sources for leaks regarding the annual scare event. Their annual speculation map, which includes their best guesses on where various houses and scarezones will be, is viewed amongst HHN fans as the unofficial launch of the countdown to HHN.

As is typical, Horror Night Nightmares’ first speculation map is focused exclusively on the themes for the houses with details on scarezones and shows to be shared later on.

click to enlarge A room in a Stranger Things house at HHN Orlando - Photo via Universal
Photo via Universal
A room in a Stranger Things house at HHN Orlando
Among the highlights of this year’s speculation maps is a unique lineup of original concepts and existing franchises. After successful partnerships to bring to life Stranger Things and The Haunting of Hill House, Netflix looks to be returning, this time with a house based on their R.L. Stine-inspired Fear Street miniseries. Video game series and soon-to-be HBO series The Last of Us is also rumored for Orlando’s event. Halloween and The Evil Dead round out the television and film-inspired houses for Orlando while in Hollywood, Jordan Peele's sci-fi horror film Nope and Killer Klowns from Outer Space are both expected among this year’s lineup.

Many of the intellectual properties rumored for this year have an obvious connection to Halloween but some may come as a surprise. Among the surprising themes, this year is a strongly rumored house or experience linked to musical superstar The Weeknd.

“HHN has a history of using some abnormal themes in their houses that one would not typically associate with Halloween. A prime example of this is the WWE’s Undertaker house from back in the day. They’ve also gone on some limbs and had Penn & Teller attractions and Rob Zombie haunts. We were expecting to see a Billie Eilish house two years ago, but it was canceled due to COVID,” notes Wheeler.

“This year, we are expecting to see something at the event that has to do with The Weeknd," he said. "This will not be your typical Halloween attraction; due to the nature of The Weeknd, they will have to think outside of the box.”

Horror Night Nightmares posted a tweet mocking those who question why the artist would be featured at a horror-focused event. The Weeknd quoted that tweet with emojis of a knife, a drop of blood, and a set of eyes. He followed up by responding to another fan who questioned why anyone would challenge the star’s connection to Halloween and finally shared a link to an essay focused on the horror elements seen in his music videos.

A house based on The Weeknd is surprising enough, but the rumored location in Orlando has shocked many theme park fans. With the former Shrek attraction now an active construction site, that attraction’s second theater, which typically hosts a house, will likely not be used this year. Instead, the park may be part or all of the Fast and the Furious attraction queue. Some have even speculated that the ride path itself, a bare concrete floor thanks to the trackless ride vehicles, may be used. This would mean the unpopular screen-based ride will be closed during HHN.

If the ride warehouse itself is used, it may force the attraction to remain closed for day guests throughout the haunt season. A closure may also be timed with rumored enhancements to the poorly reviewed attraction, including possibly adding 3D to it and improving the main scene's current video game level graphics.

Wheeler finds it hard to believe they would close the attraction during the day, but he’s convinced the expansive attraction queue and other buildings will be appropriated for use by a house. He also notes that the former Shrek building, where a smaller moving sidewalk-style dark ride is expected to go, will be remodeled to include a flex space that will allow easier installation of houses or other pop-up attractions. This means that space will accessible by next year's event.

The past thirty-two years have seen dramatic changes to the event, which now ranks among the most visited Halloween events in the world. While many are expecting a house based on The Weeknd, Wheeler thinks the artist may instead be working on some type of new show or other attraction. “It may be a haunted house, but it could be a part of the park’s central lagoon show, or they could be featured in a scare zone similar to Rob Zombie’s Hell Billy Deluxe from two events ago.”

In recent years, HHN has struggled with its entertainment offerings. After a twenty-five-year run, the iconic Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure stage show closed at the end of the 2017 season. The variety show featured Wyld Stallyns duo going on an adventure filled with pop culture references from the last year, including a heavy dose of references specific to the Orlando market.

Similar comedic shows can still be found at other haunt events, including Busch Gardens Tampa's Howl-O-Scream.

“The Bill & Ted show was a staple of Halloween Horror Nights for many, many, years. The first replacement we saw for them was the Academy of Villains dance team. They were well-liked by the fans, but eventually, a scandal came out. Universal moved on to replace them with a dark & sexy Cirque-style show called Halloween Nightmare Fuel. This show featured a plethora of different circus acts, all tied in with plenty of pyrotechnics and a horror theme. All of these shows have been dance-based,” explains Wheeler.

So far, the entertainment lineup for this year’s event remains uncertain. In her latest video covering HHN, Alicia Stella points to the fluid nature of the Diagon Alley expansion as a possible reason why. Believed to be a VR broomstick experience, that expansion was to replace the now-closed Fear Factor Live theater. In recent months, public documents point to the expansion being canceled, potentially due to a similar attraction now open in New York City. But with planning for this year’s HHN likely already underway, the park may have already deemed the theater out of play for this season. The park does have other theaters and spaces where a show could occur, though where or what will be coming are still unclear.

click to enlarge An image seen on Universal Orlando's 2022 Halloween Horror Nights 31 website - Image via Universal Orlando
Image via Universal Orlando
An image seen on Universal Orlando's 2022 Halloween Horror Nights 31 website
Also still uncertain are the themes for this year’s scarezones. Despite no official confirmations on this year’s scarezones, Wheeler expects at least one based on a known intellectual property and potentially one themed to pumpkins.

“It is possible that some of the rumored houses end up being zones. I would not be surprised to see Gremlins and The Weeknd end up in the streets," he said. "Based on Universal's recent marketing materials for the event, we can also expect to see some Pumpkin-themed character, possibly in a scare zone.”

A pumpkin theme comes after last year’s pumpkin-themed house became a fan favorite. A small pumpkin that fans affectionally named Lil’ Boo became an unofficial icon of the event, with at least one fan even getting a tattoo of the pumpkin. It may also lead credence to another rumor of Universal looking for some way to introduce viral sensation David S. Pumpkins to the event.

Universal has confirmed this year’s Orlando event will include ten haunted houses, five scare zones, and two live shows. Single night tickets, upgrades, and hotel packages are now available on Universal’s website, but Wheeler is waiting in hopes that they bring back the Frequent Fear season pass this year. Universal has yet to share details on when and if those will be available. Halloween Horror Nights 31 will run on select nights from September 2 through October 31.

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