Entertaining with fear

Chills, spills and thrills take center stage at Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights XI, “No More Clowning Around.” Jack’s back, the demented clown who lurked throughout last year’s Horror Nights, and he’s brought his crew with him.

“Jack demanded that he had to come back this year, and we didn’t want to argue with him,” said Michael Roddy, manager of show concepts at Universal Studios. “When a clown tells you there is no more clowning around, you take him seriously.”

The fright-night is overrun with ghouls, goblins, monsters and mayhem. This year, the event has added five new haunted houses, and the rides remain open during horror nights, although Universal employees forewarn they may be controlling the rides. Three weekends are still left of the horror nights, and brochures across the state invite “even the bravest of souls” to make their way through the experience.

“Definitely the best one yet,” said senior Mark Rudolph. “I’ve gone every year for four years, and this one’s the scariest.”

As always, no costumes are allowed and parents are discouraged from bringing young children. Florida residents receive a special discounted ticket price and are also invited to take advantage of an additional discount with specially marked Fanta products or a coupon available at Taco Bell.

All of the park’s rides and attractions, including Back to the Future – The Ride, Jaws and Men in Black will also be open.Junior Sarah Schulte, who moved to Tampa from Ohio this summer, said she can’t wait to see what it’s like.

“Everyone keeps telling me it’s so much fun,” she said.In the terror-ific tradition of the park’s customary chilling and disorienting haunted mazes, this year’s events see the birth of five new labyrinths.

“Run,” rumored by Universal to be the fastest-paced haunted house Halloween Horror Nights has ever presented, features an environment of non-stop motion, padded walls and chain-link fencing.

“The Mummy Returns: The Curse Continues” brings last summer’s blockbuster film to life with a maze of tomb-like corridors and a collapsing ancient temple.

Those afraid of the dark would do well to avoid “Pitch Black,” a maze of darkness with a theme centered around rumors that a government research team has disappeared into a bizarre atmospheric disturbance. Glowing faces beam from corners of the tangle while visitors bump their way through the blackness.

“Scary Tales” is an abandoned carnival ride that’s been transformed by grotesquely obscured classic fairy tale characters into a nightmarish world.

Broken mirrors and black cats fill “Superstitions,” featuring an archeological warehouse filled with ancient relics and urban legends.

The nightly parade is also back for its 11th year, so be prepared for flying beaded necklaces as well as several Halloween-themed shows. “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure” has been revamped to include parodies of recent movies and famous celebrities.

Also new to the list is the presentation of “Boogeymen,” a compilation film that features the best scenes from classic and campy horror movies such as Halloween, Psycho and Nightmare on Elm Street. Also making its debut is an entertainment area called “The Ooze Zone – Fright Club,” a high-energy dance club featuring blaring music and gruesome special effects.

“Freaks” and sideshow performers also roam the park throughout the evening, demonstrating their unique talents. Fog and smoke weave around the “Midway of the Bizarre,” where scary ghouls lurk in dark corners awaiting unaware visitors.

“You don’t have to go door to door for Halloween,” said Roddy. “You stand there and we come to you – we provide the tricks and the treats.”

And in the wake of the tragic events of last month, Universal officials said these “tricks and treats” can make all the difference.”While we’re extremely sensitive to the events of Sept. 11 and their impact on people,” Adrien LePeltier, director of show development said. “We also know that escapism can alleviate a lot of tension.”

  • Contact Danielle Ritchie at oraclefeatures@yahoo.com