As Halloween starts to slip off into obscurity and people are focusing on the holidays ahead I wonder if a collective sigh of relief can be heard from Universal Studios. Halloween Horror Nights (or HHN for short) is a massive event that is run at the parks. Every year these hard working people put on a show that amazes, frightens and entertains hundreds of thousands of people. But how did this all begin? I went ahead and found Christopher Ripley who is an expert on the subject and caught up with him to ask some questions about HHN.
TR: Please introduce yourself.
CR: I was born in the UK but have been travelling to and living in the US for many years. I have been attending both Universal Studios Florida and Hollywood for over 20 years. I authored my first book in 2015, Halloween Horror Nights: The Unofficial Story & Guide, which went on to become an Amazon bestseller. Since then I’ve setup the wildly popular HHN Blog hhnunofficial.com, become a co-presenter of the Scarezone Podcast (a dedicated HHN podcast) and Dis After Dark (the Europe/UK’s number one downloaded Florida theme parks podcast), produced a number of independent movies including The Further Adventures of Walt’s Frozen Head and the documentary Foolish Mortals, also ghost wrote a number of books and articles and have further books in the pipeline all related to Universal Studios coming soon. I’ll be awarded this November in Miami at the International Book Fair for the Reader’s Favorite Awards for my current Unofficial Guide to Halloween Horror Nights.
TR: You seem to have a fascination with horror. How did that start?
CR: I’ve adored horror for years. Initially it started like many kids by just staying up late and ‘fishing’ through the only four terrestrial channels to see what movies were on. Later VHS copies and then DVDs gave a much larger range to these choices. Growing up in the UK, our own horror industry was probably front and center for many years where the ever popular ‘Hammer’ movies of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were my first foray into horror. As I got older I sadly found out that Peter Cushing was living right around the corner from me when I was a kid but I never knew and so never met him; apparently, he was a very nice man who loved chatting to fans of his work.
TR: You eventually went to Halloween Horror Nights . When did that start?
CR: That’s a long story, a story of which you can read about in my books! However, in a nutshell, HHN had a long genesis at Universal Hollywood where they periodically through the decades started to celebrate Halloween in a number of ways and once they saw how others in Southern California had capitalized on the holiday they started to dip their toe into the business during the 1980s.
TR: Do you still go today and if so what did you think about it?
CR: I have literally just returned from visiting both events at Hollywood and Orlando. After Hollywood set the event up in the 1980s, they paused it for a few years due to a number of reasons and it was around the same time that Orlando’s theme park had just opened. Orlando revived the brand and have ran with it ever since. I can faithfully say that Orlando’s event gets better and better every single year. Just when you think they can’t possibly improve on the previous year they offer up a whole new suite of Halloween attractions and seem to exceed expectations every single year. I’m not sure how they do this, but I know they have a very strong team of professionals there who are headed up by Mike Aiello who is surely the best in the business at this now.
TR: You have written some books about Halloween Horror Nights tell us about them.
CR: I have written and then annually updated a guidebook/history book on the Orlando event. This is by far my best seller and has won many awards over the years. This year for the very first time, I have also released a complete history of the Hollywood HHN which goes right back to the start of the Studios and how myths of ghosts lurking on their backlot might have inspired them to get into the horror business in the first place! It has been one of my favorite books to write as it just includes so many great Hollywood ghost stories, and for one of these haunting stories, through my research, I actually solve an 80-year-old mystery!
TR: Do you just cover the HHN that happens in the United States or abroad?
CR: The new Hollywood edition of the book also looks at the official HHNs around the world, these include Europe, Singapore and Japan. Researching the European version of HHN was quite interesting as this event was cancelled in the early ’00s and information on it is very rare.
TR: Which HHN icon do you love?
CR: I adore Jack the Clown, but hey so does 99.99% of HHN fans! I am really blessed also to call the actor behind the grease paint, James Keaton as a friend. He has played the maniacal clown since his debut in the late 1990s but James, who I call ‘the Lon Chaney of our generation’ has played everyone in his career from Beetlejuice to Frankenstein’s Monster, he has had a very long association with HHN and Universal
TR: You also wrote about other subjects of horror. Can you tell us about those?
CR: I’ve written about the classic Universal Monsters and the Psycho film franchise, I am a kind of Hitchcock nerd. I fell in love with his back catalogue of movies when I attended film school. Hitchcock was a true master of his medium and essentially created the slasher genre with Psycho, where movies such as Halloween, Friday 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street just wouldn’t have been able to exist without his foray into the genre. I also seem to be able (to share) some great stories about him and his long association with Universal into my works. For example, many employees at Universal Orlando swear to me that they believe he haunts a certain soundstage at the park – it’s actually a really interesting story!
TR: What are some of the projects you are currently working on?
CR: Right now, I working as a ghost writer on book about the History of Architecture – which is taking up lots of my time. I also just finished a book about Hitchcock, however the release has been delayed. I also have an idea for 2019 that I’d like to do which is about ghost stories and how they tie into Halloween.
TR: If you had a chance to create a haunt for HHN what would it be and why?
CR: I get this question asked quite often! I doubt they would ever do this, but I would love them to create a true Jack the Ripper house. They’ve dabbled with the subject before and they took it in a different direction with these silent monsters committing mass murderers on an industrial scale. My idea would be to faithfully recreate the actual story of Jack, as the truth on this occasion is actually scarier than fiction. Perhaps even include a section where guests have to try and solve the murders at the end?
TR: What dream project you would love to work on?
CR: No word of a lie, I think I am working on my dream projects! I adore creating the guides for fans of horror and HHN. I love the positive feedback I get back and I really love being a part of the horror fan community. You’d think the horror fan community would be a weird thing, but it truly isn’t, just a bunch of great folks who all get together to appreciate the genre they love.
And there you have it folks! If you are interested in searching out some of his books you can do so on amazon (link is here) or you can follow him on Twitter @christopherrip.