In a typical year, we’d already be several weeks into the excitement and scares of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood. But as we all know, things are different this year. Let’s instead take a look back at the excitement and hard work it took when I performed as a scareactor for a few years at this iconic event.
In September of 2006, I moved from Massachusetts to Los Angeles. I didn’t have a job lined up; I simply had a love and obsession with the entertainment industry, so I knew where I needed to be in order to pursue those goals and desires. Since I moved with no job, I figured I would apply for a job at Universal Studios Hollywood since I lived nearby and love theme parks. I was looking for any sort of job, but was thrilled when the recruiter asked if I had any interest in being part of the scareactor pool for their “new” Halloween Horror Nights event.
Little did this recruiter know that Halloween is my favorite day of the year and I was exhilarated by the question. Things were obviously a lot looser back then, considering I didn’t need to go through any sort of audition process. Although Universal Studios Hollywood had Halloween Horror Nights events off and on in years past, there hadn’t been one since 2000, and 2006 was a big return for the event that resulted in a consistent run up through 2019.
For the 2006 return, there were a whopping two mazes offered at the event. The one I was placed in was an original maze called “The Asylum,” where I popped out from a hidden door scaring people all night long as a killer chef. This was exciting for me. I couldn’t believe I was hanging out backstage at Universal Studios Hollywood, a place I had only vacationed at with my family before then. I was excited to have the makeup artists splattering blood on me every night and was simply in heaven being even a small part of one of the greatest Halloween events in the country.
The icon for the event that year was The Director. I still love his sinister, gaunt look with stringy black hair looking over his camera. In fact, I love this creepy visual so much that I have a large 27”x40” poster from that 2006 Halloween Horror Nights relaunch hanging in my home.
After having such a fun experience in 2006, I obviously had to return in 2007. The 2006 event was successful enough so that in the following year, some horror heavy hitters made appearances at the Halloween event. Freddy Krueger, Leatherface and Jason Voorhees along with HHN icon Jack the Clown would all haunt the night away in 2007.
That year I was cast as one of the many Freddy Kruegers in the “Freddy’s Nightmare” maze. This was once again surreal to me, as I could remember dressing up as Freddy Krueger with one of those off-the-shelf children’s costumes at a much younger age. Why kids like Freddy so much I will never understand, but apparently enough kids liked him to make the costume in a child’s size.
There was definitely major growth at the event between 2006 and 2007, and with growth, that meant more nights of scaring. I will admit that this was the year when I discovered how exhausting it can be to perform the repeated motions of a character night after night. By the end of October, I was beat. One nice thing about wearing a Freddy Krueger mask covering your entire head is that you can fit headphones under them. I will ashamedly admit that toward the end of that run, I was definitely listening to music (often show tunes) while scaring people with my razor blade glove. Those scareactors work really hard during long nights for many weeks and deserve a thunderous amount of applause. It is not an easy job.
As tired as I was after 2007, you tend to forget the exhaustion after just a few weeks and all you can recall are the amazing memories of scaring people, the friends you’ve made and the gift it is to work a Halloween job for an extended period of time. So I returned in 2008.
In 2008, I spent my first year in a scare zone as opposed to a maze. Scare zones can be a bit more fun to work considering the motions are less repetitive all night long. This zone was right at the entrance of the park. I donned a megaphone and army camouflage, warning guests of what they were getting themselves into. One thing I really liked about this role was something that most guests probably never noticed.
About halfway through the night, us military folks were pulled backstage to get our makeup redone. The army camouflage patterns spray painted on our faces were then replaced by more gruesome makeup. The concept was that we had indeed been attacked by the zombies we had been warning people about and had become zombies ourselves. I honestly don’t know if anybody ever noticed as they were exiting the event, but I thought it was a fun backstory.
Me being me, every night when the various makeup artists were spraying camo onto my face, I would always convince them to spray a hidden Mickey into my camo. A couple of guests did notice that. Oh boy!
Overall, I have extremely fond memories of working the event that I now attend every year. Often on both coasts. I ultimately decided not to return to work Halloween Horror Nights because the hours are exhausting when you’re working a full-time job, plus I felt like I was missing out on so many of the other Halloween experiences during my favorite time of the year. I’m grateful to all of the folks who spend their Halloween seasons working these events for me to enjoy. This absence in 2020 makes me simply more excited for what they’ll have in store for 2021.
Do you have any favorite Halloween Horror Nights experience either as an employee or guest?
If you have any theme park topics you would like to hear my opinion on, let me know in the comments. You might just see it pop up in a future DePaoli on DeParks.
Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He is the host and producer of “That Halloween Podcast,” a new show where you can hear Halloween-loving conversations with fantastic guests from the haunt, horror and entertainment industries every day this October. Listen and claim your FREE Halloween gifts at DePodcastNetwork.com