Our Fear-Filled Five

Our Fear-Filled Five

Halloween’s proverbial jack-o-lantern reaches its full blaze this weekend. This means haunted attractions around the country hit a fevered pitch of screams and chills. Just for the occasion, we’ve gathered five of the most frightening haunted houses in America.

NORTH CAROLINA

Spookywoods, 1615 Kersey Valley Rd. Archdale, N.C. 855-485-7766, spookywoods.com.

This massive attraction scares up nine different sections that guests experience back to back. It begins in the Midway Circus Scare Zone and takes visitors on a twisted trek into environments including a pirate hideout and an asylum manned by a sicko shrink. 

GEORGIA

Netherworld Haunted House, 6624 Dawson Blvd., Norcross. 404-608-2484, fearworld.com.

Arguably one of the most acclaimed Halloween attractions in the country, Netherworld attempts to reinvent itself each year for its throngs of frightened fans. For 2015, it serves up a pair of scares, both armed with new scenes and environments. The Rotting tells the story of evil spirits intent on turning humans into the undead. Visitors explore an arena of ghosts, a tunnel filled with ghouls and more. Vault 13: Unearthed takes guests down into a secret government base where monstrous creations threaten to escape. Stay clear of the toxic foam.

CALIFORNIA

The Haunted Hotel, 424 Market St., San Diego, 619-696-7227, hauntedhotel.com.

Located in San Diego’s Gaslamp Disctrict, Haunted Hotel has been spooking guests longer than any other haunt in town.The Hotel’s caretakers promise a bigger, badder show this year, reportedly doubling in size. Hop aboard the Hellevator for sinister stops along the way. Share a subway ride with a gaggle of creepy clowns, swing by the autopsy morgue and keep your eyes open for the new Doll Island section.  

LOUISIANA

13th Gate Haunted House, 832 St Phillip St. Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 225-389-1313, 13thgate.com.

Sure, just about every haunted attraction has the standard-issue, chainsaw-wielding maniac and some dude in a hockey mask jumping out from around the corner. This place, however, lays claim to a bouillabaisse of unique scares. Real snakes inhabit its swamp, voodoo shows drop nightly and it boasts its own ice cave. Fans rave over the theatricality and the staff’s keen attention to detail. Lines can get long, so consider bypassing the crowd and springing for a VIP ticket.

MICHIGAN

Erebus Haunted Attraction, 18 South Perry St. Pontiac. 248-332-7884, hauntedpontiac.com.

Make sure and wear some serious walking shoes for this one. Back in 2005, Erebus earned the Guinness World Record for being the longest walk-through haunted attraction. Consider making it an entire night on the town by pairing a trip to Erebus with a performance by the Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow Revue, which takes place on site. Sword swallowers, fire breathers, contortionists and more up the entertainment ante.

Kiss Kruise

Kiss Kruise

When it come to cruises, I’m all about the theme. These days when you’re out there navigating the waters of different experiences, you’ll find just about every pop culture-themed cruise imaginable. They run the gamut from a Star Trek sailing to an '80s-laden excursion loaded with bands from the era of parachute pants and bangle bracelets.

Among the themed cruises I’ve sailed, I must admit the Kiss Kruise wags its tongue near the top of the heap. This year the sold-out experience, which sails on the Norwegian Pearl from Miami to Jamaica Oct. 30-Nov. 3, finds Kiss recreating its famed “Alive” album on the boat. Additional acts rock the ship, including Lita Ford, Steel Panther, Fozzy and a host of others. And onboard activities such as a pajama party, a Halloween bash, a pizza party with Paul Stanley and a belly flop contest with host Gene Simmons help up this year’s ante. Included in the cost is a photo of you and your cabin mates with Kiss in full regalia.

I had the opportunity to hop aboard the inaugural Kiss Kruise in 2011. The non-stop party found Kiss fans from all over the globe converging on the boat, rubbing leather with members of the band in the process. Where else could you be noshing on dinner in an elegant restaurant with Iron Maiden blaring on the house sound system? Below are a few of the shots I captured on board.

Paul Stanley and Kiss rocked out on the unmasked sail-away show, a Kiss Kruise tradition.

Paul Stanley and Kiss rocked out on the unmasked sail-away show, a Kiss Kruise tradition.

Fans from all over the world hop aboard the Kiss Kruise.

Fans from all over the world hop aboard the Kiss Kruise.

Kiss guitarist Tommy Thayer participated in a min-golf tourney on the Kiss Kruise in 2011.

Kiss guitarist Tommy Thayer participated in a min-golf tourney on the Kiss Kruise in 2011.

My wife Andrea and I donned a Kiss mash-up for the Halloween party.

My wife Andrea and I donned a Kiss mash-up for the Halloween party.

The family that rocks together sails together.

The family that rocks together sails together.

Kiss bassist Gene Simmons performing on the Kiss Kruise in 2011.

Kiss bassist Gene Simmons performing on the Kiss Kruise in 2011.

Drummer Eric Singer belts out "Beth."

Drummer Eric Singer belts out "Beth."

Waves of confetti crashed on the Kiss Kruise 2011.

Waves of confetti crashed on the Kiss Kruise 2011.

Raising 'em right.

Raising 'em right.

Fans compared their Kiss tattoos at a special cocktail party.

Fans compared their Kiss tattoos at a special cocktail party.

Serious Kiss cosplayers tend to deck out on the deck of the Kiss Kruise.

Serious Kiss cosplayers tend to deck out on the deck of the Kiss Kruise.

Fans often decorate their doors.

Fans often decorate their doors.

Andrea and myself (far right) posing with Kiss. I'm entirely too excited.

Andrea and myself (far right) posing with Kiss. I'm entirely too excited.

Throughout the years, I’ve had the opportunity to interview Kiss co-founders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. Here are excerpts from those interviews.

 

Gene Simmons

Q.: And you’re definitely a marketing genius. Kiss products are everywhere. Anything you’ve ever shied away from endorsing?

A.: Kiss crack. That’s not a good one. It has a nice ring to it, but it’s not a good idea. Otherwise why shouldn’t everything in the world be branded Kiss? Why not? I would change the name of the planet to planet Kiss. Now tell me that doesn’t sound better than planet Earth. And everybody on the planet would wear make-up. You have four choices. You’d break your ankles walking around on the high heels, but you’d look cool.

Q.: Some folks in my neighborhood have a pair of giant cat props from an old Kiss tour. They set them out at Halloween, and it’s the hottest trick-or-treat spot in the area.

A.: I’m sure it is. I will tell you to you can go [online] and buy full Kiss outfits and Kiss make-up gear. And it’s been going like this for [more than 40] years. I remember the first time I had the sense that we became big was around 1975. We were in New York City. ...And I saw a guy dressed like me in a parade. And I said, “That’s it.” We’d entered the iconic lexicon.

Q.: What do you like most about performing on the Kiss Kruise?

A.: It’s a chance for us to not worry about the big stage show. We get out there and play obscure stuff, and really interact with the fans, which is what it’s all about. We’ve never shied away from diving into the deep end of the pool and just going for it.

 

Paul Stanley

Q.: Pound for pound, you have the best between-song banter in the history of rock 'n' roll. 

A.: There are people who would agree, and there are people who would say it's the most absurd banter. But either way it's memorable. 

Q.: Although everyone shares vocal duties, you've always been the onstage mouthpiece of the band. How did that come about? 

A.: I think early on we kind of realized that the idea of everyone talking when they feel like talking is insanity. You just wind up with chaos. It just seemed like, "Gee, Paul seems to be the best at doing this. So maybe we'll all shut up." And that's how it came about. I try to make hosting the show and pacing the show part of the show. ... The show is so high-energy, the connection has to be that high-energy. ... I'm somewhere between a preacher and a game show host or somebody leading the troops. The KISS Army needs somebody to say "forward," and I guess that's my job. 

Q.: Explain the band's involvement in raising money for the Wounded Warrior Care Project. 

A.: It's everybody's job and obligation to give back and not just to get. You've got all of these brave men and women going overseas to fight for our freedom, and some of them make the ultimate sacrifice and lose their lives. Others come back and have all sorts of problems: physical, psychological. And the government isn't taking care of them. Augusta, Georgia, has an incredible rehabilitation facility, and all of these great soldiers deserve to be treated like heroes when they return. And we're making sure we don't let the government get in the way of helping these people.

Back to the Black Lagoon

Back to the Black Lagoon

Ever imagined making a splash in the real Black Lagoon? It actually exists, frozen in time nearly just as it was when “The Creature of the Black Lagoon” was shot back in 1954. A classic monster fan’s ultimate oasis, Wakulla Springs State Park and its adjacent lodge serves as the perfect getaway for gill-man lovers.  

The Lodge

Located just outside of Tallahassee, the lodge is a time capsule of the late 1930s. With its art deco and Mediterranean Revival stylings and cypress laden lobby, the lodge harkens back to simpler times. In fact you won’t find a TV in any of the rooms. Instead guests are too busy gazing at the grounds with its bountiful canopies of oak and beech. 

The Black Lagoon

The lodge sits steps away from the Wakulla River, which doubled for the Amazon in the movie. Guests dip into the freshwater spring, which has a year-round temperature of 68 degrees. A diving platform sends jumpers right down into the spot where many of the underwater scenes were filmed. Make like actor Ricou Browning, who played the underwater Creature, and cut through the lush hydrilla.

Don’t miss a boat tour along the river starring gators, manatees, turtles and a variety of feathered friends. The amazing scenery has served as the backdrop for classic cinema, including “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” and “Tarzan’s New York Adventure.” 

Creature Comforts 

Breakfast, lunch and dinner can be had in the Ball Room Dining Room, which manages to retain a happy medium somewhere between Southern ease and elegance. Its classic soda fountain has been dubbed The Black Lagoon Parlour, where ice cream scoops reign during the day and cocktails come out at night. 

The Black Lagoon Ball

On October 30, the lodge hosts The Black Lagoon Ball. This free event drops at 7 p.m. It begins with an unveiling of a cast from a mold the late Muppet creator Jim Henson made from the original Creature head designed by Millicent Patrick. “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” in 3D will screen in the parlour at 7:30 p.m.. The Bill Rigsby Band performs an outdoor concert while Bob Carey tickles the ivories in the lobby. If you come, cover those webbed feet with dancing shoes. Costumes are optional.

If You Go

When booking reservations at the lodge, ask the front desk representatives to comb through the guest book. They’ll be able to find out which rooms the cast members bunked in during filming, so you can lay your head in the same spot Browning or co-stars Richard Carlson and Julie Adams did during the shoot. 

The Lodge at Wakulla Springs, 550 Wakulla Park Drive, Wakulla Springs. 850-421-2000, www.wakullaspringslodge.com.

The Zombie Capital of the World

The Zombie Capital of the World

A recent assignment for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found me visiting Senoia, Ga., a tiny burg about 45 minutes south of Atlanta. Since becoming a location for “The Walking Dead,” the place has been experiencing an ongoing boom. And like the zombie epidemic, it shows no signs of slowing.

Check out my AJC article here, which takes readers along for The Touring Dead, a walking tour of “The Walking Dead’s” location spots in Senoia. I also list some highlights found along Senoia’s main drag. 

The Touring Dead, put on by the folks at Georgia Mercantile Company, guides visitors on a more than two-hour, two-mile trek around town. Along the way, Christina Tracy, our super sassy and quick-witted leader, dropped oodles of trivia about each of our stops. Here are a few of my faves.

The Gazebo

Just steps away from the downtown Senoia gazebo, you can get a killer view of "The Walking Dead's" Woodbury.

Just steps away from the downtown Senoia gazebo, you can get a killer view of "The Walking Dead's" Woodbury.

The Touring Dead jaunt typically begins here, the exact spot where Sheriff Rick and Darryl first entered Woodbury. Christina even carried a spiral-bound book of pics to prove it. Stand near the gazebo for an epic view of Main Street, which doubles on film as downtown Woodbury.  

Senoia Coffee & Cafe

The screen-used Woodbury Coffee House sign hangs inside the Senoia Coffee House and Cafe.

The screen-used Woodbury Coffee House sign hangs inside the Senoia Coffee House and Cafe.

This casa de joe served as the Woodbury Coffee House during Season Three. A plaque  commemorating the shoot can be found just outside the front door. Once inside, look at the large brick wall that spans the left side of the place, and you’ll see the actual screen-used Woodbury Coffee House sign. The cafe got to keep it as part of its deal with the production company.

The Governor’s Driving Range

Tour guide Christina Tracy shows us what the Governor's Driving Range looked like on "The Walking Dead."

Tour guide Christina Tracy shows us what the Governor's Driving Range looked like on "The Walking Dead."

Christina took us to the exact stretch of street just off of Main Street where the Governor teed up for a little zombie golf. It looks just like it did on the tube, minus the walkers.

The Pudding House

Got pudding?

Got pudding?

While cruising down Pylant Street, we got an eyeful of the national-style house now known as “the pudding house.” It's the place where Carl scored a mess of pudding and went on a rooftop eating binge. 

The Tracks to Terminus

The people of Terminus wanna have you over for dinner.

The people of Terminus wanna have you over for dinner.

We set foot on the exact railroad tracks our fearless protagonists did when they hiked toward the cannibal crazy town of Terminus. Good thing Senoia has plenty of restaurants sprinkled along Main Street.

Alexandria

Alexandria: A different kind of gated community.

Alexandria: A different kind of gated community.

Alexandria actually sits steps away from downtown Woodbury. This real-life neighborhood is surrounded by a sheet metal fence that keeps zombies at bay. The residents actually had to agree to a clause that would allow filming on their property. Today they live in a post-apocalyptic gated community.

For more info on The Touring Dead, visit the Georgie Mercantile Company.

Nerdy NYC: Part Two

Nerdy NYC: Part Two

Our exploration of the nerdiest destinations while visting NYC continues. Breathe heavy through your mouth over the following.

3 More Geeky Picks

Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. (372 5th Ave., Brooklyn; 718-499-9884, superherosupplies.com)

Even a caped crusader has to shop. Creator Dave Eggers nails the concept in a single bound. Crime fighters needing to stock up on cans of truth serum, deflector bracelets or jars of Kryptonite available in six colors need look no further. The staff plays it straight and customers must recite an oath swearing they’ll only use the products to benefit truth, justice and the American way. (Super villains need to shop elsewhere.) They’ll even let you test out their selection of capes by standing on a platform as air gusts from super powered fans. Although you can walk away with a fresh pair of tights or a leotard, a Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. T-shirt or baby onesie may be more practical. All of the funds benefit 826NYC. To get access to the site of this nonprofit writing program primarily for kids ages 6 to 18, visitors must push the store’s swinging bookcase. 826NYC’s heroic mission continues to be fostering creative expression through the written word. The organization offers free after-school one-on-one tutoring and other services. Now that’s a Hall of Justice.

Other Music (15 E. 4th St., New York; 212-477-8150, othermusic.com)

Some call it one of the best among NYC’s few and proud surviving record stores. Although the Tower Records that once stood across the street eventually bit the big one, Other Music has been towing its diversified line since 1996. Tired of digging for music that matters? Let its staff do the heavy lifting by suggesting off-the-radar releases. The intimate shop helps customers expand their aural horizons by specializing in essential, hard-to-find and underground releases. Indie, world and envelope pushing, it’s all here. Drop a needle on the LP reissue of “Do What You Like” from late-1960s Indonesian hard rockers AKA. Grab a new copy of the final Dirty Beaches album, snag that elusive old school twelve-inch, grab an indie mag or peruse the smartly stocked used CDs. Don’t be surprised if you rub wax with the musicians who provide some of the store’s inventory. Radiohead’s Philip Selway celebrated the release of his second solo disc at Other Music. Performing an in-store proves to be a badge of honor for some. Regina Spector, Superchunk, Nude Beach and others have done it. The store even boasts its own label, an imprint of Fat Possum Records.

The Way Station (683 Washington Ave., Brooklyn. 347-627-4949, waystationbk.com)

Ask any knowledgable Brooklynite directions to the Doctor Who bar and they’ll point you here. The Way Station scores serious geek cred with its Tardis police box bathroom. Where else can you tip back a liquid Sonic Screwdriver or a Rose Tyler? The latter concoction flows together with rosemary-infused Brooklyn Republic Vodka, lemonade and triple sec. Nerds gather in the Way Station screening room on late Sunday afternoons where a 70-inch plasma TV plays host to genre flicks and “Doctor Who” episodes. Local filmmakers screen their self-made wares on Saturdays. Regulars swear it’s aces in the karaoke department. Live music drops six nights a week, jumping genres from Americana to alt-Indian and all points in between. The owner’s no-cover policy means bands pass a hat for a $5 suggested donation. That’s a small price to pay when you’re dodging Daleks. 

Nerdy NYC: Part One

Nerdy NYC: Part One

The sheer glut of geek-friendly spots in New York City arguably dwarfs that of other locales with Kong-like enormity. After all, we’re talking about the real Gotham here. In fact, covering its offerings could rival the entire run of some comic books. So we went ahead and threw a net around several starter suggestions, a few ways to make an NYC vacay all the more nerdish. 

3 Geeky Picks

Toy Tokyo (91 Second Ave., New York. 212-673-5424, toytokyo.com

This East Village collectible toy store explodes with a sensory overload of pop culture plastic. These oft coveted objets d'art range from imports straight out of Japan and Hong Kong to popular and rare stateside action figures, statues, vehicles and more. Brands such as Funko, Hot Toys, Medicom and Kidrobot help provide the teeming inventory. Prepare to be hit with that warm and fuzzy blast of nostalgia with its offering of vintage goodies. A Marvel Secret Wars copter from the mid-1980s or a Mego Batcave playset from the ’70s may conjure up the ghosts of Christmas mornings past. Like many NYC retailers, Toy Toyko’s square footage may not be overly sprawling, but collectors and enthusiasts could easily lose more than an hour perusing its wares. But watch out. Splurges can break the bank. A 1/6-scale figure boasting a spot-on likeness of De Niro in “Taxi Driver” can set you back nearly 1K. A three-pack of those Beastie Boys 12-inch figs? Try 800 clams. But some mini figures and blind boxed toys can be had for pocket change. Squatty body Transformers figures from Goldie International run $3.99 each. But no matter what you spend, even if it’s nothing at all, a Toy Toyko visit remains mandatory. Make sure to see what’s happening at TT Underground, the Toy Toyko art gallery located on street level just below the shop. Artists including Gary Baseman, graffiti artist Crash and action figure sculptors The Four Horsemen have been known to display their work.

Modern Pinball (362 Third Ave., New York. 646-415-8440, modernpinballnyc.com)

In recent years NYC has been experiencing a pinball machine revival. And nowhere do the bells ring and lights flash like Modern Pinball. Steve Epstein, former owner of the legendary Broadway Arcade, opted for a two-player game of business with pinball badass Steve Zahler. Together they created Modern Pinball, a flashy wonderland for kids and lunch breaking suits alike. More than 30 new and restored pinball games typically make up what Epstein and Zahler refer to as an interactive showroom. A new game based on “The Walking Dead” and the super snazzy Wizard of Oz Emerald City Limited Edition share wall space with older school creations like Terminator 2, Addams Family and others. Players bang their heads and fingers while tapping the flipper buttons of the AC/DC Let There Be Rock machine. The owners keep the place devoid of food and libations, their gaze firmly on the games at hand. Don’t worry about juggling pockets full of quarters or tokens. Players pay a flat fee (12 for one hour; $19 for three or $29 for an all-day pass). It’s cheaper for kids, and they even offer step stools for smaller pinball-playing spawn. Guests get wristbands with in-and-out privileges, so it’s easy to recharge at a nearby restaurant or bar. The Mad Hatter, the eatery and watering hole next door, offers a 10-percent discount to all pinballers.

Forbidden Planet (832 Broadway, New York. 212-473-1576, fpnyc.com)

Sure, Midtown Comics and its multiple locations may be the giant robot of NYC comic book stores. However, you won’t find a shortage of Big Apple comic book retailers, each offering their own heroic experience. Check out Forbidden Planet in Union Square, which bills itself as “the science fiction megastore.” It proves to be a haven for new and back issue comics, graphic novels, nerd lit and more. Locals often gravitate to the back section of the store browsing and grabbing new releases. Newbies have been known to laud the staff’s helpfulness. They’re known for assisting customers sailing the geeky seas by suggesting titles and fielding questions no matter how basic. Looking for a “Star Wars” maquette or a Harley Quinn T-shirt to go with that latest issue of “Death Vigil”? Shelves and glass cases tempt shoppers with toys and collectibles. While some scour the selection of Magic cards, college kids search for the perfect poster to hang on that dorm room wall. You may even want to plan your visit around special events. Author and artist signings drop periodically. 

Going Back

Going Back

Oh, how time McFlys.

The time-traveling flick “Back to the Future” first revved its engines in theaters July 3, 1985. Great Scott, that was 30 years ago. And original fans like myself are getting grayer than Doc Brown. But that doesn't mean we can't fire up our virtual DeLoreans and celebrate with a road trip.

Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads.

So what’s the reason for the revelry? October 21, 2015 marks the day in the film when our ski vest-wearing hero, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) hopped across the space-time continuum into the future. Many theaters throughout the country are showing the films, and a new "Back to the Future" trilogy Blu-ray box set hits stores today.  

And if you’re up for an impromptu trek, there are several ways to share the power of love for this sci-fi trilogy. 

Washington West International Film Festival

While playing host to this film fest Oct. 21-25, the town of Reston, Va. renames itself Hill Valley in honor of “Back to the Future.” All three “Future” movies screen at the festival. On Sunday, Oct. 25, Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown) and other members of the cast and crew will appear at a red carpet screening of the original.

“Back to the Future” Celebrity Cruise to End Parkinson's Disease

Who needs a time-skipping DeLorean when you have a cruise ship? Hop aboard Oasis of the Seas, Royal Caribbean's largest ship, for a seven-day cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. (Nov. 7-14). Along the way, the Oasis of the Seas stops in Haiti, Jamaica and Cozumel, Mexico. Cast and crew members from the trilogy set sail with you. Marc McClure, who played Marty’s bro, and Don Fullilove, Hill Valley’s Mayor Goldie Wilson, and others interact with guests and sign autographs. Special events include an Enchantment Under the Sea dance featuring a band including actor Harry Waters, Jr., who played Marvin Berry in the original. Proceeds help benefit Team Fox and Parkinson's Disease research. 

We’re Going Back

If you can get to Los Angeles, a heaping helping of “Back to the Future” events begin today and drop throughout the week. We’re Going Back events include a tour of the Universal Studios backlot, a screening of “Back to the Future Part II” and riding a hoverboard with members of the trilogy’s actual stunt team.

The Million McFly March

Grab that ski vest for this one. Participants are asked to don their flyest McFly threads and meet at the Burger King in Burbank, Calif., a location for the first film. It takes place today (Oct. 21) from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Proceeds help benefit Team Fox and Parkinson's Disease research. 

Atlanta's BTFF Party: Oct. 21, 2015

"Future" fans who can drop everything and head to Atlanta will find a trilogy-themed bash taking place 8 p.m. at the Masquerade nightclub in Poncey-Highland. Partiers will be slurping down themed cocktails with monikers like The Flux Capacitor and 1.21 Gigawatts. A costume contest and a live show by the burlesque infused Art to Life troupe are part of the equation. DJ Rev. Andy spins 1950s dance tracks, while DJP time jumps us to the 1980s and beyond. A limited edition clock tower pin will be sold at the bash. All of the proceeds from the event will benefit Team Fox, an organization put together by Michael J. Fox to fund Parkinson's research.  

Christopher Lloyd Q&A

A few years ago, I had a chance to chat with Christopher Lloyd, aka Doc Brown in the “Back to the Future” trilogy. So I decided to turn back the clock and dig this one up.

Your role as Doc Brown in “Back to the Future” is something that seems to keep coming back, whether it’s video games or other projects.

Christopher Lloyd: It’s amazing, because back when we did the film and it was released we were just hoping it would have a good run. And then the sequels came up, two and three, and it just doesn’t die. [Laughs] It just keeps manifesting itself in one way or another, and it’s a delight. It’s especially gratifying that so many generations [have enjoyed the movies.] Parents come up to me who were children when the film first came out 25, 26 years ago. And they now have kids who have seen it and are as enthralled by the trilogy as they were. So it just keeps running along, and it’s wonderful to see so many people loving a film that meant a lot to them. Many people come up to me who saw the film when they were young, 10 or 12 years old, and they say it changed their lives and gave them a direction. It’s just great to see that and be involved in a project like that.

Why do you think “Back To The Future” has such staying power?

Time travel is a universal fantasy I’m sure we all have. At one point or another we think, “Gee, if I could go back to this or that time in the past, or if I could just jump ahead 50 years or 300 years into the future to see what that would be like.” It’s kind of a universal fantasy and the film kind of answers to that. And then there’s the relationship between Doc Brown and Marty. It’s a classic mentor relationship. There’s this young man who has this older guy who fascinates him because of his spirit of discovery and the excitement of that. Finding out about new things and new ways life can be lived I think is another great universal situation. And it’s a family picture. There are the time travel aspects between Doc and Marty, but Marty has a family. And we see that family evolve. It’s got a lot going for it.

I read that out of the three “Back To The Future” films, the third one is your favorite, because it’s a Western and a love story.

That’s right. Doc meets somebody he falls in love with, something he did not include in his life. His life was [about] inventing things, being a scientist and inventing time travel. So he had no time for romance. And then bingo, out of the blue comes this lady, and he’s just blown over by her, totally smitten. So that’s a lot of fun. ...And it’s a Western. Westerns are always exciting with horseback riding and all that business. So out of all the three that was the most fun for me being Doc.

Back to the Future: The Ride

Both Universal Studios Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood theme parks opened Back to the Future: The Ride, a simulator-based attraction, in the early 1990s. In 2007, both parks replaced it with The Simpsons Ride. Although it didn't stand the test of time, its video footage lives on YouTube.  

Oh, the Horror

Oh, the Horror

Outside of soaring like a bat to Dracula’s castle in Transylvania, I can’t think of a more monstrous Halloween vacation than visiting Universal Orlando Resort for its annual Halloween Horror Nights. On select nights from late September through November 1, Universal Studios Florida, one of the resort’s two theme parks, transforms itself into an immersive, spook-filled experience. 

CREDIT: Universal Orlando Resort

CREDIT: Universal Orlando Resort

When the sun sets, layers of drifting faux fog engulf the grounds as a slew of creepy costumed actors —the staff calls ’em “scareactors” — haunt the place. They run the gory gamut from sinister steampunk creatures to old-school classics (Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf-man, et al). These characters inhabit a total of five outdoor scare zones, specific themed areas located throughout the park.

While I was covering Halloween Horror Nights for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Michael Burnett, makeup designer with Universal Orlando Resorts’s entertainment art & design team, transformed me into an escaped lunatic. After a bloody good makeup job, I made my way into the PsychoScareapy scare zone as a scareactor and shook up as many guests as could in 15-minutes. Here’s video evidence.  

To ring in its 25th anniversary, Universal pulls out all of the stops by rolling out its biggest Halloween Horror Nights yet.  A pair of stage shows, including one starring event mascot Jack the Clown, and nine haunted houses help round out the rave up.

The haunted houses, or mazes as the park crew dubs them, feature attractions based on both popular horror film and TV properties as well as original creations. The former includes one maze dedicated to terror titans Freddy and Jason. It comes complete with a replica of the Elm Street house, a pair of eyeless young girls jumping rope out front and singing that eerie tune. 

Out of all of the houses based on horror properties, I give two nubs up, way up, to “An American Werewolf in London.” Director John Landis’ 1981 horror-comedy comes to life in unbelievably accurate detail. Belly up at the Slaughtered Lamb pub, walk through a slashed up movie screen and straight into the blood-soaked porn theater, and be a part of the flick’s finale in Piccadilly Circus. They even recreate a portion of David’s werewolf transformation, an industry changer back in ’81 thanks to effects master Rick Baker. 

CREDIT: Universal Orlando 

CREDIT: Universal Orlando 

Among the original haunts, “Asylum in Wonderland 3D” and “Jack Presents: 25 Years of Monsters and Mayhem” rise to the top. The latter spotlights a conglomeration of some of the most beloved environments and characters from Halloween Horror Nights’ 25-year history. The former drops guests into a psychotic and psychedelic retelling of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” with 3D effects. 

On opening night September 18, I scored a seat at the event’s press conference for a Q&A with special guests. In honor of its “The Walking Dead” maze, Greg Nicotero, the show’s special effects make-up wiz, executive producer and some time director, took the stage. Joining Nicotero was 16-year-old Chandler Riggs (Carl Grimes).

Left to right: Chandler Riggs, Mike Aiello, Jon Waterhouse and Greg Nicotero.

Left to right: Chandler Riggs, Mike Aiello, Jon Waterhouse and Greg Nicotero.

Mike Aiello, Halloween Horror Nights mastermind and Universal’s director of creative development for its entertainment art & design team, took a seat next to Nicotero and Riggs. So did Jim Timon, senior vice president of entertainment for Universal Orlando.

Yet it was legendary director John Landis who garnered the most laughs during the Q&A. His candid reflections and crass comments kept coming. He even dropped the bomb that Disney will be releasing the theatrical versions of the original “Star Wars” trilogy on Blu-ray in the not-so-distant future.

From left to right: Greg Nicotero, Chandler Riggs, John Landis, Mike Aiello and Jim Timon. 

From left to right: Greg Nicotero, Chandler Riggs, John Landis, Mike Aiello and Jim Timon. 

Here are some quotes taken from the Q&A, as well a some from a backstage interview I had with Nicotero.  

Mike Aiello on creating “The Walking Dead” haunted house:

“As we’re creating this maze, we’re kind of watching the series in real time. So as the episode airs, we’re watching the episode and kind of extrapolating environments and walker moments that we want to try and recreate. And of course Greg [Nicotero] has been a great friend to us and collaborator. [For] the episodes that haven’t aired yet, I’ll give him a call and say, ‘Can you help us out with the things that are happening at the tail end of the season, just environmentally?’ Because part of me didn’t want to know anyway. I didn’t want to know any spoilers.”

John Landis on having a house based on a film he made nearly 35 years ago:

“It feels strange. They did this for the first time two years ago. I was very happy with what they did. But I said, ‘The wolves should be better. The wolves are good, but they should be better.’ … They wanted to do it again, because it was so successful. And I said, ‘Great! But you must step up with the wolves.’ And I’m very happy to say they did. They’re awesome. …What makes me crazy is people wait for like two hours to get into the maze. They walk in and after the first scare, they run. And I’m thinking, ‘Slow down!’”

Greg Nicotero on the importance of practical effects:

"On ‘The Walking Dead,’ the thing that’s the most exciting to me is that it opens practical makeup effects for a younger generation. I grew up watching ‘Dawn of the Dead,’ ‘Creepshow,’ John Landis’ movies, ‘The Thing.’ So nowadays when Chandler and I go to a ‘Walking Dead’ convention, I will have 10-, 11- and 12-year-old kids come up to me and say, ‘I want to do what you do.’ To me that’s me giving back, because I had that opportunity when I met Tom Savini in 1978 or ’79. …When we do a movie or a zombie kill or something, we shoot for three hours, clean up and go home. [At Halloween Horror Nights], they do it six or seven hours a night every day for 30 days. It’s a different kind of mindset. For me, it’s a tremendous compliment that the work that I love and grew up wanting to do is being celebrated more and more. With Halloween Horror Nights, you can get scared over and over again. And these guys offer multiple opportunities. You can go to three houses one night, another maze another night. You just keep reliving the scares.”