By Fowl Owlerson
Disclaimer: Unless where otherwise noted, the following is rumor and speculation, and should not be regarded as fact unless confirmed by the companies mentioned.
This is a prime example of not counting one’s eggs before they hatch: contrary to what was rumored, “Scream” is not one of nine mazes at Halloween Horror Nights 25. For those in the know, this was first apparent when The Purge was announced as a haunted maze. HHNRumors first picked up on a leaked marketing image via Universal Orlando’s website that seemed to confirm the property’s inclusion. There were rumors that the Scream icon Ghostface was present on set for the Horror Nights 25 commercial shoot. As per HHNRumors, the rumored permit code name for the haunted house in Sprung Tent #1 was “Reboot.” Various sources kept affirming that “Scream” would indeed be officially present at Halloween Horror Nights 25. So what happened? Were they mistaken or is there something beneath the murky surface of these rumors?
All Nite DrIvE-in
It’s said Halloween Horror Nights of the past didn’t officially license the characters they used, which is a precarious but cheaper stance for a corporation to take. New Line Cinema deal for Jason, Leatherface, and Freddy Krueger in 2007 would mark a turning point for the event that was further explored in 2009’s assortment of licenses, and became the norm from 2012 to the present era of Horror Nights.
Officially licensing properties in lieu of using them without consent opened up more doors of possibility for Universal. Horror Nights could use the officially sanctioned costumes with access to the creative minds behind them, show the characters in approved capacities (such as promotional material and the opening “Scare-monies”), and not have to fret about the property holder filing litigation for theft of their brand. However, there are complications that can arise from licensing the work of other companies.
The Carnival of Carnage
In using someone else’s work, the rights holder ensures that they have an authoritative role in the process, with some exceptions of course. This balance is important. In 2007, New Line Cinema had stringent although fair requirements on the use of their characters. All of the scareactors’ costumes and masks had to be approved by New Line Cinema. Furthermore, they were not permitted to be seen outside of their scenes by guests in any capacity other than what was pre-approved. This required the actors to wear robes to cover the costumes when entering and exiting the New Line Cinema mazes. (Which is how I look every morning getting my newspaper because I don’t want the Blue Jays across from my home judging me.) These stipulations were treated as law and swift action was taken against anyone who didn’t abide by these rules.
While that may sound like overkill, brand image is important. When a sequel, remake, reboot, or what have you gets off the ground, it does so with the approval of the people who own it. They’re consenting to a specific vision of the character, which includes the look, tone, dialogue (if any), and the overall context of their appearance. If the property is internally owned by Universal, the process still requires approval, but there is inherently a higher level of trust.
We live in a time of entertainment that’s punctuated by pre-existing concepts, especially in the realm of film. It’s the “War of the Intellectual Properties,” and it’s complicated and strenuous. Any corporation worth its salt has a legal team and you can be assured they don’t make light of these things. The future of their respective companies hinge upon it.
The Halloween Horror Nights pre-2007 would use intellectual properties with loopholes, gray legal areas and deniability. The event today can’t operate with that methodology. Usually, discrepancies are worked out and we never see them aired out in the open. This is not always the case.
Universal Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights incorporated Scream into the 2011 Terror Tram Tour to coincide with the release of “Scream 4.” The partnership with Dimension Films was said to have been fraught with disagreements. (Which describes my roommate and I’s experience in college – he was a Woodpecker, you see.) The experience soured Universal Hollywood on the property and they would turn to “The Walking Dead” as a replacement for Scream in 2012.
What’s your favorite scary movie?
The recent passing of Wes Craven re-affirmed the impact of his legacy. “Scream” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” are both classic horror movies with characters that are as prominent in pop culture as Universal’s classic movie monsters. Everyone knows Ghostface and Freddy Krueger, and Craven being involved with the creation of both makes his loss devastating.
“Scream” breathed new life into the stale slasher genre with both a subversive love letter to John Carpenter’s slasher opus “Halloween.” It did so with a distinct voice that managed to couple suspense with a morbid sense of humor. It’s a great film that still holds up even as it approaches its 20th anniversary in 2016.
Universal’s Art & Design previously used Ghostface inside All Nite DIE-IN: Take 2 with the infamous kitchen and garage door sequences. As detailed above, this was an “unofficial use” of the property. With Halloween Horror Nights turning 25, Art & Design set upon finding properties that were deserving of a maze that had yet to be officially licensed. Naturally, a certain serial killer made it on the list.
I want my MTV
The Scream intellectual property was dormant after “Scream 4” hit theaters in 2011, which was admittedly a better sequel than “Scream 3”. (Although my college roommate would disagree, which is why we aren’t friends anymore – well, that, and his incessant pecking.) Screenwriter Kevin Williamson was contractually obligated to pen Scream 5 and 6, which would have formed a new trilogy. Harvey Weinstein was quoted as being disappointed with the fourth entry’s box office gross, but ultimately open to sequels with Craven and Williamson on board.
Harvey and Bob Weinstein co-founded Miramax Films, which was sold by Disney to Filmyard Holdings. Dimension Films was intended as a label for the Weinsteins to release genre pictures while they ran Miramax Films under Disney. The company today is a division of The Weinstein Company that owns “Halloween,” “Hellraiser,” and “Scream,” amongst others.
The proposed sequels “Scream 5” and “6” lost traction. Time passed without any word. At some point, the Weinsteins came to the conclusion that the best demographic to target would be a younger demographic, and the best avenue for this would be through MTV. This isn’t a terrible train of thought. We’re in the Golden Age of television and MTV’s “Teen Wolf” reboot series has been successful; with some tinkering, Scream could resonate with the same audience. The Scream reboot TV series was said to have little involvement from Wes Craven and the creative team did not license the Ghostface mask from Fun World (a company that designs and produces Halloween costumes and owns the Scream Ghostface name and design), instead opting to reinvent the look of the serial killer for a new audience. This widened the gap between the film franchise and the reboot TV series.
Based on multiple sources, Universal’s Art & Design licensed the first “Scream” movie to be constructed as a maze inside Sprung Tent #1. It was rumored to be among one of the first mazes completed. The house would have taken guests through the iconic first film and included the infamous kitchen scene, the garage door sequence, through Woodsboro High School, and ultimately to the climax of the film. The closest comparison I can draw is Halloween Horror Nights 24’s maze based on John Carpenter’s “Halloween.”
The haunted house was presented to Dimension Films for approval, which lead to concerns. The Weinsteins, executive producers on the MTV series with Viacom, were said to disagree with the vision of the maze and wanted it to align with the new take of the franchise. According to a source, Dimension requested that Universal retrofit the MTV series into the maze for the sake of brand congruity, which included replacing the iconic Ghostface mask with the new MTV mask.
Despite sharing the same name and a similar premise, the two are disparate things. Universal’s Art & Design were left with a dilemma. A back and forth was rumored to have happened with the hope of a compromise, which did not pan out. This left Universal Orlando in a precarious position: What were they to do with a maze that was based on a property they no longer had the license to use?
A New Horror Nights Tradition
“The Purge” is a Universal Pictures property, hence its inclusion last year as a scare zone. Guest feedback was said to have been positive and the first Purge film took place within the confinement of a suburban home to keep the production’s meager budget in check. The similarity was enough and Art & Design reached out for approval from corporate for this “fix.”
Evidence of this dissolved partnership is visible, and inevitable given the pains Art & Design go through to design and construct every haunted maze. Astute guests will notice peculiarities when they walk through The Purge at Halloween Horror Nights 25.
Take note that several of the actors inside the maze have knives that bear a striking resemblance to the signature weapon of Ghostface. The scene following the maze’s facade is intriguing, as it’s a white space with projections of the emergency broadcast system by the “NFA” organization from the Purge films. There are several scenes inside the maze that are similar in design, and this isn’t an accident. I believe these scenes were stripped of their set-pieces and aesthetic and plastered with Purge imagery. There’s a disparity between these barebones sets and several other moments that feel like “Scream.”
Art & Design strive for each IP maze to encapsulate whatever feels innate to the said property. Put simply, if this were a Purge maze from the start, it’d feel like a Purge maze. When you walk through The Purge’s bathroom scene, it feels like a tense scene from Craven’s horror classic. When you pass an eviscerated corpse that looks like Drew Barrymore’s character, albeit with a new wig and a sign that says “cheater,” it doesn’t sit right. The garage door scene inside The Purge appears to have had a hole covered for a corpse prop of Rose McGowan’s character with what would have been a recreation of her death scene in “Scream.” The final product plays more like a eclectic series of vignettes that fail to add up to a cohesive Purge experience.
The blame doesn’t rest with one party. It’s not the fault of the scareactors inside The Purge, who were rumored to have been informed of this change approximately one to two weeks before their rehearsals. It’s not Universal’s wrongdoing, as they made an earnest attempt to come to an agreement. Creative differences are a natural part of the process and sometimes things can’t be worked out. I applaud everyone involved for making the best out of an unfortunate situation.
I’m sure there were more changes internally that made this falling out difficult for Universal Orlando, including park marquees, event guides and marketing materials, and merchandise. Take a look at the official maze shirt for Halloween Horror Nights 25. “The Purge” is missing. The ninth maze wasn’t listed due to this behind-the-scenes friction.
It’s doubtful Universal Orlando will ever affirm what happened. There’s an image the company must maintain and disclosing the internal strife between it and other corporations would damage its rapport with not just Dimension Films but the entire entertainment business. It’s for the greater good of the event.
The chances of Halloween Horror Nights ever vying to license Scream again are slim. With Craven’s passing, this is disheartening, but if I had to choose between a lackluster Scream maze or no Scream maze, I’d choose the latter. The maze that would have been opened if Art & Design caved would likely have been dissatisfying for both Universal and Dimension Films. Disappointment aside, I’m pleased that we still have nine haunted mazes to explore at Halloween Horror Nights 25, even if one isn’t based on the iconic slasher film by the horror maestro Wes Craven.
• Fowl Owlerson has been attending theme parks since he was a little owlet. When he’s not filtering through the latest murmurings around the industry, he can be found writing, reading, and snacking on the occasional rodent. Follow him on Twitter @fowlowlerson for the latest rumors, and drop an anonymous letter to him at [email protected] or via Direct Message on Twitter.