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Behind-the-screams at Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights

Behind-the-screams at Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights

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This may seem like kind of an odd question, but ...

Have you ever been to Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights ? If so, have you ever found yourself stumbling through one of their mazes? And as some performer jumps out of a darkened corner and scares the living cr*p out of you, have you ever thought: Who would take a job like this?

Well, meet Matt.

Matt works here at Orlando Fun Tickets. And for the last two years, he's been one of the scare-actors at this seasonal event. A job (that I might add) that Matt enjoys very much.

As to how he got this gig ...

"I went to the auditions that Universal Orlando holds annually for that resort's Halloween Horror Nights. These typically start in July and run through the end of September.

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The process itself is pretty simple. They look at actors in groups of 5, making note of your size, shape and sex. At that time, you're quizzed about why you want to work at Halloween Horror Nights. They ask you what your favorite horror film is. More importantly, why that's your favorite horror film.

Which -- I know -- seems like kind of a weird question. But the reason that Universal does that is they're trying to get a sense of the type of performer you are. The role you might potentially fit.

You then might be asked to demonstrate a scare tactic. Or be asked to remove your shirt and show off your physique. Because -- after all -- this is an audition. And they want to know if you look right for the part that they're trying to cast."

Matt must have impressed the folks at Universal. For he found himself cast in one of the "starring roles" for Halloween Horror Nights 17. You see, Matt played Leatherface from the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" movies.

"Actually, I was one of the scare-actors who played Leatherface. Leatherface 13, to be precise. Last year, there were 24 performers who played this chainsaw-wielding maniac in 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Flesh Wounds' maze.

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Why so many? Well, you have to understand that there were multiple Leatherfaces in that maze. More to the point, that each of these performance positions in the maze was doubled. That way, you could perform a 45 minute set, then go take a break while another Leatherface stepped in and filled your position."

And when it comes to portraying a horror icon like Leatherface, Universal expected a lot of its scare-actors.

"We were actually asked to watch the 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' movies so that we could learn the character's mannerisms. There were also strict rules about how & where Leatherface could be seen in the park. Given that this character is one of the true stars of the horror realm, they never wanted to give the Guests the impression that there was ever more than one Leatherface. So while you were in costume and moving through the park, you had to wear these hooded robes. So that no one would know who you were until you were backstage and in position."

But it wasn't just the characters that Universal was protective of. During the 23 dates that Halloween Horror Nights is presented this year, the theme park also stresses safety both for its guests as well as this event's performers.

"They kept drilling into our heads to 'Scare but Be Aware.' To always be aware of our surroundings. And it's not just for the guests' sake. Sometimes when people get frightened, they'll react instinctively and lash out at you, actually try & hit you. And if you maintain a proper distance between you and the guests ... Well, it's safer for everybody."

Copyright Universal Orlando. All Rights Reserved

Beyond that, if you can look past all of the horrific details -- the scary make-up, sound effects and smells -- working at Halloween Horror Nights is just like any acting job. Sort of.

"We have two nights of rehearsals before the event actually begins. The first night, we're just in costume and no make-up. And that night is actually kind of fun because the people who are going through your maze are performers from all of the other haunted houses in the park.

That's when you learn how to deal with all of the technical issues involved with the operation of your maze. How to quickly switch from A cast to B cast so that those change-outs every 45 minutes don't interrupt guest flow through your house."

Speaking of the guests ... Matt was always surprised at how people would react when confronted by a horror icon like Leatherface.

"When we closed up for the night, we'd often find shoes or pieces of clothing inside of our maze. Which meant that people were so frightened by what they saw that they'd literally jump out of their clothes. Or that they were moving so fast in an effort to get away that they'd leave things behind.

Copyright Universal Orlando. All Rights Reserved

But then there were the guests who -- when they got frightened -- would just stop in their tracks and/or ball up in a corner and wouldn't leave. We'd sometimes have to get a member of our backstage crew to come in and help clear a guest who reacted like that out of a scene."

Mind you, it wasn't just the guests who'd freak out when they'd come face-to-face with Leatherface. Matt often got some interesting reactions from Universal cast members as he wandered around backstage in costume.

"I'd have the mask off. I'd actually be carrying it in my hand. But as I walked back to the break room to get a drink or a snack, I was still in costume. I was still wearing Leatherface's trademark apron. And the people who were working Food & Beverage who were walking back into the park would see me coming and then cross over to the other side of the street."

It was these sorts of stories that Matt and his fellow scare-actors would share after a long night of frightening tourists. They'd gather together at the Orlando Ale House and then decompress, compare notes on what the crowds had been like that night.

"Like on Halloween night. I thought for sure that that would be our busiest night ever. But it was actually pretty quiet. I guess only the true hardcore fans come out to Universal on Halloween night."

Speaking of which ... Where does Matt fall when it comes to being scared? Is he more of a hardcore fan or something of a wimp? By Matt's own admission ...

Copyright Universal Orlando. All Rights Reserved

"Universal has this one scare zone at this year's Halloween Horror Nights -- The Skoolhouse -- that's so scary that I almost burst into tears walking through the thing. That one was really, really intense."

And when you can almost make Leatherface cry ... Well, that must be one very scary maze.

Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights will be presented 23 times this year, now through November 1st. For further information on this year's event, please follow this link.

And if you're looking to score some tickets to this year's Halloween Horror Nights, why don't you drop by Orlando Fun Tickets? Our offices are located less than 2 miles from the Walt Disney World Resort, 2 lights west of I-4 at 8472 Palm Parkway. Their office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. EST Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. For further information, please call 866-225-4712 and/or check out the official Orlando Fun Tickets website.

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