Universal Studios Orlando
From comics to TV show to haunted house: we visit The Walking Dead at Universal Orlando
The Walking Dead has left the world of comic to become a property that’s powerful in multiple forms of media. The comic itself is incredibly popular, and the AMC hour-long show based on the comic is also a large hit. The game, developed by Telltale Games, is one of the best adventure titles in recent memory. I went to Universal Studios to take a tour of the Silent Hill haunted house, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see the Walking Dead attraction as well.
“For Walking Dead, at the time we started our concept for that, season one was the only thing that had come out yet,” Patrick Braillard, production show director for Universal Orlando, told the Penny Arcade Report. “We actually had to make changes on the fly as season 2 developed, they weren’t about to give us their blue pages and say, ‘hey guys, guess what’s going to happen?’ They’re not going to tell you what characters are going to pass away, but they can say which locations they’re going to go to.”
The team at Universal Studios was given extensive access to the talent that gave the show its distinctive look. “What’s great about that is that we had the opportunity to talk to Greg Nicotero, who is the executive producer and make-up designer for the show,” Braillard explained. “We worked hand-in-hand with him to create the make-up and the masks for everything throughout the maze, which is amazing.”
The Universal team also worked with Nicotero’s make-up shop to create the effects characters for the attraction. The television special effects crew actually sent over the molds used to make the masks for the iconic zombies from the show. “You’ll see well walker, deer-eater, bicycle girl, and they were so fresh when they arrived, we opened them up like Christmas morning and they were still wet,” Braillard said.
The herd, and the outside
The Walking Dead haunted house is also home to a herd of 75 zombies that periodically pass through the area to make the outside of the attraction feel like it’s as much a part of the world as the haunted house itself. The locations from the show come at a quick pace, and each one is filled with small details to give the house a sense of place. You visit the hospital, the rooftop, and you’ll take an extended tour through Hershell’s barn. You’ll walk around Dale’s RV, and you’ll be able to peek inside…
The attraction seemed to be 100% based on the television show. “It’s important that we stick to what has been seen already from the guests’ point of view,” Braillard said. “They’ve seen the show, they’ve seen it on Netflix, they’ve marathoned it, they’ve watched the black and white pilot, they’ve read the graphic novel, so if we don’t pay off on iconic locations first and foremost, they won’t feel like they’re part of the show.”
The haunted house, like Silent Hill, begins outside, where you see wrapped bodies piled on the back of trucks. You enter the hospital first, with bloody IV line hanging from the ceiling and the iconic door moving back and forth as the zombies try to escape. My wife, who is not a Walking Dead fan, asked me what “Don’t Dead, Open Inside” meant, and now I can’t read that sign any other way. Thanks!
That’s the difference between the Walking Dead and Silent Hill. Where Silent Hill was visually distinct and, in a way, beautiful due to the strong art design of the games and movie, Walking Dead could seem like just another zombie haunted house if you weren’t intimately familiar with the show. Sure, the zombies had much higher production values than what you see in most haunted houses, but there is much less impact if you don’t know why you’re in that barn, or whose motorcycle that is. It’s neat to see a certain pair of handcuffs if you’re a fan of the show, but if you’re unaware of the significance they’re barely going to register.
That being said, Universal Studios has the advantage of large, standing structures they can use to create these attractions, and the Walking Dead did a wonderful job of using both the inside and outside of the building to set the mood. The piled bodies and cars with messages written to loved ones on the windshield were chilling. There is a long pathway near the end with a few surprises as well. It was an effective haunted house, and I loved pointing out all the little things that made it feel like the Walking Dead, but the whole thing is very dependent on your love of the TV show to help it stand apart.
Luckily, damn near everyone at the park knew the show, so this wasn’t a problem. The Walking Dead was probably one of the most advertised attractions in Halloween Horror Nights as well; the property has an unbelievable cultural pull at the moment, and although it’s only mentioned in passing, it’s neat to think this all came from a non-superhero comic book, even if the television show may have eclipsed the source material in popular culture.