The fun of fright: UM students react to Halloween Horror Nights ‘22

Photo credit: Roberta Macedo

“I think I might have a heart attack. 20 Michael Myers just jumped me dude,” said Alex Miller, a sophomore biology major, as he sprinted out of the “Halloween” haunted house at this year’s Halloween Horror Nights event.

“My heart was racing and I really thought I was going to die, but you know, we made it out alright,” Miller said.

Like Miller, several UM students spent fall break in Orlando, Fla. attending Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida.

Halloween Horror Nights is an annual event at both Universal’s Orlando and Hollywood locations, running on select nights from Sept. 2 through Oct. 31. The event features haunted houses, scare zones, live shows and attractions. Houses are typically themed to notable franchises and icons, recent horror movies or completely original stories.

This year’s selection of ten houses included “Halloween,” “The Horrors of Blumhouse,” “Universal Monsters: Legends Collide” and “Dead Man’s Pier: Winter’s Wake.”

Ann Sia, a sophomore majoring in neuroscience, ran out of the “Halloween” house nearly distraught.

“I hated it in a good way the entire time,” Sia said. “It’s different than just watching a horror movie because you’re so immersed in it. I definitely enjoyed it, but at the same time this will probably be the only time that I’ll ever come here ever again.”

Sia went through two more houses shortly after.

What is perhaps the most anticipated and surprising feature at this year’s event was the inclusion of “The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare” house, which unraveled the artist’s “After Hours” album into a dark and twisted reality that guests could walk through.

“I was really looking forward to going to ‘The Weeknd’ house,” senior business analytics major Mintra Putlek said. “The themes of his music touch a lot on mental health and our inner demons, so I was excited to step into The Weeknd’s mind.”

Sarika Schwartz, a sophomore health science major, found “The Weeknd” house to be her favorite.

“I enjoyed ‘The Weeknd’ house a lot because I think they brought a lot of elements from his discography into life, so that was cool to see,” Schwartz said.

But among the screaming, chainsaw whirring and shovels scraping, laughter could be heard in the park — not the disturbing or insidious kind, but a laughter of relief. Somehow, among the nightmare that envelops the crowded park, guests found themselves in delight at the fright.

“Fear is on our minds daily,” Miller said, explaining why people enjoy being scared. “Being able to experience fear without the actual experience of pain gives us a rush.”

Nick Tong, a junior majoring in music engineering technology, elaborated further.

“It’s the adrenaline rush: the feeling you get from feeling scared or feeling anything that is life threatening,” Tong said. “It’s the same reason why someone would go skydiving — just to have that simulated near-death experience.”

Destiny Wiggins, a sophomore majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology, drew connections to the very real fears that riddle our lives.

“I feel like people don’t get scared regularly and I think it’s entertaining for that part of ourselves that wants to feel helpless,” Wiggins said. “We already have our regular anxieties: school, tests, jobs, work. [The houses] make it real and something that is more of an instinctual fear that you can’t control. I think that’s what is fun about it: something you can’t control.”

With our inability to control how or where our fears manifest (and the impossibility of predicting where scare actors will jump out at you), we all have different ways of coping with our anxieties.

“I just breathe through it and I just remind myself, ‘these people are not real’,” senior microbiology and immunology major Meera Patel said. “In normal circumstances, I remind myself that we’re tiny little specks in this big universe and that everything that is going to happen to me will pass…everything will turn out okay in the end.”

Tong’s thought process walking through the houses at Halloween Horror Nights also involved grounding himself in reality.

“I’ll just remember, ‘oh, it’s just an actor’ and then I’ll laugh about how good they got me,” Tong said.

Others, like Schwartz, approached their fears less preemptively.

“I don’t [cope]. I just face everything head on and I see how it goes,” Schwartz said. “Oh, and I scream a lot too. Yeah, lots of screaming.”

Having no plan for tackling your fears is perfectly valid. At least for Halloween Horror Nights, screaming is well encouraged.

Halloween Horror Nights runs on select nights Sept. 2 – Oct. 31 from 6:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. You can find more information about the haunted houses, tickets and more on the Universal Orlando Resort website.