HHN AT 25: GONE ARE THE GOOD OLD DAYS?
Greetings internet dwellers!
It's time to start our HHN 25th anniversary coverage. Before we start recounting our experiences from our last 15 years of going, we will address the elephant in the room. Better to start with the bad, and get it out of the way. No doubt, if you follow Halloween Horror Nights closely, you may have noticed some hostility towards the event the past few years. The vast majority of the hostility, comes from HHN die-hards and veterans of the event, but why? Why have the most faithful of Halloween Horror Nights visitor's, upturned their noses to the event?
THE WALKING DEAD NIGHTS
If you have visited a forum, Facebook page, Twitter Feed, Tumblr page, or any other online source dedicated to Halloween Horror Nights over the last few years, you may have seen this term. The HHN veterans, HATE the fact that The Walking Dead has been predominantly featured at the event the past few years. But why? Why are they so hostile towards the property being featured at Halloween Horror Nights?
The answer isn't that simple. If you really dig into the anger towards The Walking Dead, most HHN fans would point the finger in one direction: the marketing department. "Marketing is ruining the event with The Walking Dead." "Marketing only cares about money." "Marketing doesn't care about the event." "Marketing is greedy." This is easy; yes marketing is all of those things, but they are supposed to be.
The job of marketing lies within its name. They are there to sell the event. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Universal strikes a deal with AMC to bring The Walking Dead to the event. The Walking Dead is one of the most popular shows on television, breaking viewership records left and right. For a little perspective, Season 5 of The Walking Dead was its most successful in terms of ratings. The season 5 debut, scored 17.8 million viewers (the most ever for the show), and its finale netted 15.8 million viewers, up from the season 4 finale (15.7 million viewers). In TV terms, that is a pretty big market share, and up about 3% from the season 4 finale.
Those are incredible numbers, especially for a show on cable. And the show is going into its 6th season. So if you're in the marketing department, you've been handed your job on a silver platter. If you're Universal, you've hit a goldmine. Not only that, but Universal can reach an audience that may not have attended, or had any desire to attend Horror Nights in the past. It opens the door to a wider audience. So naturally, you use The Walking Dead to sell the event. The Walking Dead is plastered everywhere; billboards, t-shirts, mugs, hats, glasses, commercials, posters... you name it, The Walking Dead was on it.
Would this be any different, if the property was something else? What if, for sake of argument, Universal struck a deal with Marvel to bring Marvel Zombies to Halloween Horror Nights? The answer is no. Marvel Zombies would be plastered all over the place, and marketing would be doing the same thing. So why still the hostility towards The Walking Dead? Well, the other aspect to this is overuse of the property. And to this I have to ask, what overuse?
Since Horror Nights has had the property, they have only gone overboard one time. HHN XXIII, saw the entire Street Experience as The Walking Dead. Did they repeat that for HHN XXIV? Or have that for HHN XXII? No, they didn't. So they've used the property 3 years in a row. Was it the same house 3 years in a row? The answer is still, no. What if Universal decided to bring an epic three year stint of Night of the Living Dead to the event? They do Night, Dawn and Day, for three years. It's still the same premise, but different settings. I can guarantee you there would be no complaints.
You will often hear that Horror Nights doesn't re-use properties like this. Again, I have to say, really? HHN has done sequel houses to its properties for years. Often, the premises are the same, just sequelized. Is it the same house? No. They've also used the same properties, yet, changed them in some way, shape, or form (how many Dracula's have we seen?). Did they do them back-to-back? Not exactly. But would it matter? If Horror Nights decided to bring back say, Nightingales three years in a row, would people still complain? HHN has constantly brought back houses in the past. Dungeon of Terror, The People Under the Stairs, Psychoscareapy, Psycho, Scary Tales, countless houses based on the Universal Monsters, Scream House, All Nite Die-In, and Havoc, just to name a few. All properties used multiple times at nauseum.
What is the purpose of bringing something back? Creating a sequel to something? Popularity. Some will have you believe, that the public is tired of The Walking Dead. Did these people visit the event last year? The Walking Dead had insane wait times every night. Right from the get-go. With more Average Joe's attending the event, they are outweighing the hardcore fans. HHN veterans just have this blind rage towards The Walking Dead. Until people stop showing up for The Walking Dead, it will be here to stay.
WHERE ARE THE ICONS?
Most HHN veterans will tell you that they are tired of everything being focused on The Walking Dead, and they want Horror Nights to do Icons again. When you break that down, it's actually a silly thing to say. What purpose does an Icon for HHN serve? Marketing. Jack The Clown, The Director, The Caretaker, all serve the same purpose as The Walking Dead. They are marketing tools to sell the event. Any year Horror Nights had an Icon, weren't they featured in commercials? On billboards? On T-shirts? On glasses? You name it, they were on it.
When you dig deeper, there seems to be this notion that the marketing department is hindering A&D's creative juices. Utilizing The Walking Dead to sell the event is “lazy." But is it really? If Jack The Clown had his own high-rated TV show, and Universal got the rights to bring the show to Halloween Horror Nights, wouldn't they be doing the same thing? There is this perception that because the Icons are “original,” they are “better.” But, is that really true?
The last Icon we had was Lady Luck, and HHN die-hards threw her under that prop bus Horror Nights uses every year. They hate her as an Icon because she was “underdeveloped." The HHN veterans also didn't take too kindly to Fear either. There is a blatant hypocrisy that rears its head when die-hard fans of the event complain about the lack of Icons.
So they hate that The Walking Dead is featured at the event. It is screamed on one side of the mountain, then on the other side of the mountain, scream to bring back the Icons. So, nix more of the same, for more of the same? That just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. "Bring back Jack the Clown because we are tired of The Walking Dead". Is re-using an Icon that has been featured on repeat for years, really all that “original"?
This leads into a little bit of a slippery issue when it comes to A&D, but we'll get to that later. The elaborate mythology and backstories that the Horror Night Icons have, really have no bearing beyond what their main purpose is. All that stuff is great, but is it really that necessary? They are merely a marketing tool.
The Halloween Horror Nights website, has taken an obvious nosedive in interactivity over the last few years. Gone are the days of hours of Horror Nights world building and games, that used to permeate the websites. With HHN XXI, there wasn't a whole lot of fun and games to be had on the site. Sure they were there, and sure Lady Luck had a backstory in those games, but it wasn't up to the standards that the HHN veterans had come to appreciate.
In the case of Lady Luck specifically, she seems to be this nebulous Icon these days. But is it really because her backstory wasn't as elaborate? Or was it just because she was a forgettable Icon? No matter how many games, years of backstory, or connections to houses she has, it's all about how she was executed. Her presence in the park was pretty nonexistent, and those masks looked awful. The website had nothing to do with it. She was plastered all over the marketing material, right? She was the selling point, right? OK, just checking.
As HHN grows to a larger audience, an elaborate website with games and backstories, which are catered to about 0.001% of Halloween Horror Nights fans, is just not necessary. Guests coming to the Halloween Horror Nights website, are looking for five pieces of information: How much? When? Where? What time? What is the content? I'm willing to bet most people who attended HHN XXI, have no idea Lady Luck was connected to all the houses.
Let's talk about those Lady Luck masks for a moment. Some HHN veterans will tell you that Halloween Horror Nights has taken severe budget cuts over the last few years, causing houses and things to have to cut corners. Including the website. To be honest, there has not been a single shred of proof to say that Horror Nights has taken severe budget cuts. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary.
Those horrid looking masks for example. They had to produce how many of those? Maybe 20 or so? They were supposed represent Lady Luck in her demon state. They could have easily just done that with some simple make-up and prosthetics, which would have been the cheaper option. Instead, they went with the more expensive route of fabricating latex masks in bulk. Not exactly the cheaper option. Oh, and those 3-D projectors used for Acid Assault? Not exactly cheap either.
I think a lot of fans will tell you that HHN XXI, also had some of the best collection of houses ever. If not the best. The last three years, one would argue, gave us two of the best houses HHN has every done. These budget cuts can be found where? The lack of an elaborate website? No Legendary Truth? Those are two poor examples to give for rolling budget cuts, no? They are two pieces of Halloween Horror Nights, that cater to a very small percentage of fans.
Money for the event seems to be being spent elsewhere, instead of giving it to Legendary Truth, or the fancy website. In fact, the poorly conceived Compound game last year, actually is a good reflection of where the event is headed. HHN is really trying to cater more to the average person, rather than focusing on the die-hards. Now, that isn't to say the powers that be aren't throwing the veterans a bone every now and then. Horror Unearthed, Legendary Truth 2013, and the experimental Legendary Truth experience in 2014, show this. The use of more recognizable intellectual properties, also shows the event is trying to branch out to a wider audience.
However, is this a sign of a falling budget? Is this a sign of falling creativity? The answer is no. HHN is just evolving and growing. We as fans may not like where it is going, but that doesn't mean we have disguise our anger with false thinking and accusations. Now, is this to say that there aren't budget fluctuations? Of course not. I guarantee there are every year, in both directions. However, there is no evidence to point to doom and gloom budget cuts at all.
And why can't the event evolve for a wider audience? Why can't marketing use The Walking Dead to advertise for the event? I don't see anything wrong with that. Sure, it may not be "original," but it still gets the job done. And can one really argue that using The Walking Dead isn't working?
To be honest, the use of social media has changed the way Horror Nights approaches its websites, and marketing. I bring up The Compound again, as this showcases that approach. It brought in a "game" element like Legendary Truth, it was "interactive" in nature, and offered free advertising on social media with all it's hashtags and tags. I think a lot of people get a chunk of their information from social media these days anyway. And that pretty much nixes the use of a super-duper elaborate website.
With the world living in a virtual, social media driven bubble these days, the use of an elaborate website just seems like a moot point. Beyond providing the obvious ticket options, times, and locations, it serves no real purpose for anything else. Other than to cater to 0.001% of Horror Nights fans.
Let's talk about the “creative” side for a moment. No matter what property marketing, the suits, or the powers that be decide to use, it is still A&D's responsibility to create the content. They are ultimately responsible for creating the best experience that can possibly be done. There tends to be this practice of putting the A&D department on a pedestal. "The Walking Dead house sucks because, you know, marketing." Well, wait a minute. That's not true.
If a house is done poorly, it is on A&D's shoulders, not Marketing. I don't care what the property is. A&D is responsible for designing and executing the content, and if you walk into The Walking Dead, or Silent Hill, or Resident Evil and it's bad, that's nobody's fault but theirs. And if your boss tells you to do something, you do it. No matter how much you hate it.
You also do it to the best of your ability. If you deliberately cut corners because you don't agree with the work that was assigned to you, then that's just bad practice. And shame on them for doing that, if that is indeed the case. It's petty, and now you are playing with people's money. I would like to believe that this has not been the case the last few years. That first Walking Dead house was bad, but that's not marketing's fault. It's A&D's.
Every event is going to have some houses that are up to par, and some that are not. It's just the law of averages. Afterlife for example. That house was pretty much panned by everyone. However, someone is bound to find a way to blame marketing or Comcast for that house's failure. Why? Because they believe everything is their fault. That's just an excuse not to blame A&D. They created the house. They executed it. It's their fault.
The same logic applies to The Walking Dead. They designed it. They executed it. It's their fault. If, for sake of argument, Halloween was a bad house, would people still blame the suits for its failure? Probably, because it's an IP and "IP's are bad." They were told to do the house by marketing, so by default, it's bad. That's a horrible excuse for poor execution of a house. Speaking of IP's...
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY
Their tends to be this line of thinking nowadays, that the Comcast suits are the devil because they care about money. Well, yes, the care about money. As much as the veterans of HHN don't want to hear it, Universal Orlando, and by proxy, Halloween Horror Nights, is in the business of making money. Why people fail to see this, is beyond me.
As Horror Nights also grows to a larger audience, IP's are more important to bring people in. This goes back to what I said earlier about The Walking Dead. One of the most popular titles on television, is going to bring people into the event. And let's not pretend that Universal has never used IP's in the past. HHN II, saw it's very first IP: The People Under the Stairs, and it even came back the next year, along with Psycho. Do these simply get a pass because both are Universal properties? If it does, then that is silly.
The use of IP's is nothing new. Sure, the past few years saw more IP's than original houses, but why should it matter as long as the IP's are done well? It's all in the execution, and again, that rests with A&D, not the marketing department. It's funny because I remember a time when HHN die-hards screamed for IP's to come to the event. "Bring Friday the 13th!" "Bring A Nightmare on Elm Street!" "The Universal Classic Monsters!" Now they have IP's, but because it is the very popular The Walking Dead, or Dracula Untold, they hate it.
Another line of thinking is that using IP's is “lazy." Why? If anything, using an IP is harder to do than an original property. With an IP, now you're dealing with expectations. The house better live up to the film it's based on. Something like The Cabin in the Woods for example. That film was incredibly hard to translate, yet I think most people would agree, they did it. With The Walking Dead, yes, AMC has a few restrictions here and there, but nothing to cause them to totally botch the experience. One could argue that the majority of IP properties at the event since HHN XXII, have been BETTER than the original content houses.
The inherent problem with using IP's though, is that there is bound to be some people who don't care for the property. However, that's just human nature. Any house, IP or original, is bound not to please everyone. Isn't that the crutch of all this? You can't please everyone. If I had a nickel for everyone who had no clue what the hell An American Werewolf in London was, I would be a rich man. They sure as hell knew what The Walking Dead was though.
CREATING A MONSTER
Spoiled. That's where a lot of this anger comes from. HHN veterans got used to a certain way of doing things. Now that it's changing and becoming more mainstream, the event "sucks." Does it? Does it really? Or do the veterans just feel disenfranchised because they feel that Horror Nights doesn't cater to them anymore? The later is more true than the first. I loved playing Horror Unearthed. I loved playing Legendary Truth (your Cerebin leader has spoken), but I'm not going to base my entire experience on a game.
There are decision being made that I question sometimes, yes, but honestly, if you only go to the event because of games, or elaborate Icon backstories rather than the event itself, then one has to question that decision. Games, and fancy websites don't make the event. They are extras; the cherry on top, but that cherry is just empty calories.
Boycotting the event because there are no more games on a fancy website? For me, that's just dumb. Boycotting the event because they offer an American Werewolf in London shirt, or a Child's Play shirt? Again, silly. Screaming at Comcast and the marketing department because they want to make money, is also silly.
When The Walking Dead stops making them money, they will get rid of it. I also feel people who question its current popularity, need to jump off that high horse of theirs. This thing is still a juggernaut. I think the house last year, was pretty successful too. People will still come for it, until the hype dies down. And hey, if you don't like The Walking Dead, then don't go in the house. Plain and simple. Stop trying to say that you speak for everyone that goes to the event too. Because you don't. I abhor The Walking Dead, but I just don't see the reasoning behind damning HHN for using it.
Horror Nights will put on its 25th event this year. 2010 promised a "new age of darkness." Sure, it's funny to Joke that the the "new age of darkness" is actually The Walking Dead. Still, I have to wonder, do people just want more of the same? With perhaps Jack The Clown, and lots of the other former Icons returning for HHN XXV, is that really what people want? The same old event running for 25 years?
If so, that is crazy. Things should evolve and change. Especially in entertainment. I mean for Jebus sake, The Simpsons just signed a contract for 2 more seasons to run on Fox. That would bring the show to 28 seasons. Most people stopped watching the show ages ago. How many more time can Homer get into the same shenanigans?
How about some new Icons instead of the old ones? To be honest I'm a little sick of Jack. I mean, he started the whole wave of Icons, but let's just put him away for a while. Perhaps, forever. He, and the other Icons, had their time. Why can't The Walking Dead, or something else have theirs?
I get that people are afraid of change. I am too, especially when it involves something I am passionate about. However, sometimes the natural ebb and flow of things need to run its course. Horror Nights is no different for me personally. I like to see different things. Yes, The Walking Dead has been there for three, possibly four years, but the Icons had eleven years.
Whatever changes are in store as Horror Nights moves forward, one thing I think we all need to realize, is that things change. We change. People change. It happens. And we all really need to sit back and breathe. Because honestly, it isn't all that bad. I mean seriously, is it?
Why can't the event change? Why can't they experiment with new things? Why can't we have new experiences, other than Psychoscareapy 1,000? Or Jack The Clown (He's different! we changed his look!)? Why can't we have The Walking Dead? Or Alice Cooper?
There's room for it all in my book, no matter how much I hate The Walking Dead, for that matter.
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