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A Phobic's Guide to Halloween Horror Nights 2008

Coping With Phobias at HHN 18


Updated February 07, 2009

At Universal Studios Orlando, Halloween Horror Nights 18 ran from September 26 through November 1, 2008. Although this guide is specific to that event, you will find that many of the concepts are applicable to Halloween festivities throughout the country as well.

The Theme

The official theme for Halloween Horror Nights 18 was Phobias, and the tag line was “Reflections of Fear.” The icon character was Bloody Mary, of urban legend fame, with the twist that she was a demented psychiatrist intent on forcing patients to live out their worst fears. If you have a phobia, this theme alone may have been enough to stop you in your tracks. Like all Halloween events, however, it is important to keep in mind that the concept was developed by artists and designers, not psychology experts. The event is always intense, but holds no special ability to tap into your specific fears.

The Haunted Houses

Theme park Halloween events are generally highly regarded, as they contain multiple haunted houses and “scare zones” (areas of the street where scare actors hide) within the theme park. For 2008, Halloween Horror Nights featured eight haunted houses and seven scare zones. The haunted houses were:

Reflections of Fear – The iconic house of the event, this haunted house prominently features Bloody Mary. The psychiatrist has gone over the edge as she confronts her own fear of death. Unfortunately for you, she has chosen to confront her fear by bringing about the deaths of others. Mirrors are heavily featured in this house, and those with a phobia of death objects such as tombstones may be uncomfortable.

Scary Tales Once Upon a Nightmare – This house plays heavily into story-related phobias, including the fear of legends, fear of books and fear of poetry. In this house, common fairy tales are turned upside down and there is no “happily ever after.”

Creatures – This house focuses on the comic book tales of the 1950s. You will become a hero as you attempt to battle the strange creatures that have been unleashed. The phobias addressed here are megalophobia, or fear of large objects, and herpetophobia, or fear of reptiles.

Interstellar Terror – A very timely haunted house for those who have nervously followed coverage of the atom smasher’s launch, this house focuses on doomsday phobias. This heavily science-fiction influenced house puts you in the middle of seemingly certain destruction.

Dead Exposure – Phobias of zombies and other undead creatures are not unusual, and this house exploits those fears. The premise is that a photographer has become afraid of the images reflected in his camera’s flash. Are those zombies he sees, or has he become insane? Phobias of the dark are also exploited here, as heavy use of darkness and strobe lighting to simulate the camera’s flash are in effect.

Doomsday – Based on the hit Universal film of the same name, this haunted house also focuses on phobias of the end of the world. While Interstellar Terror focuses on technology-based phobias, Doomsday addresses our concerns about rampant deadly viruses.

The Hallow – This haunted house addresses both religious phobias and fears of ancient legends. Under the guise of a friendly Halloween activity, you will be lured into a deep underworld of ancient dark religion. Will you be able to escape in time?

Body Collectors Collections of the Past – This house is a re-imagining of the highly popular 2005 Body Collectors. An organized band of murderers with a long history buried in legend, the Collectors constantly seek out new victims to add to their museum’s displays. This house focuses on phobias of death, legends and even secret societies.

Scare Zones and Shows

Like all theme park-based Halloween events, Halloween Horror Nights contains numerous themed “scare zones,” or areas of the main pathways that contain scare actors. There are also a variety of funny shows designed to take the edge off the fear.

Halloween Horror Nights 18 featured a live-action tribute to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a magic/freak show by performer Brian Brushwood and a hilarious spoof on pop culture hosted by Bill and Ted from the 1980s films Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. These don’t-miss shows are a great way to relax and calm your nerves.

Coping with Phobias at Halloween Events

Whether you plan to attend Halloween Horror Nights or another Halloween event next year, it is important to be prepared. The above list constitutes the main phobias on which Universal focused during the 2008 event. However, other years and other venues may focus on other phobias. In addition, certain phobias such as fear of blood, fear of clowns and claustrophobia are heavily exploited at virtually every Halloween event.

What makes these events so scary? How are they able to tap so effectively into our deepest fears? Most experts agree that this is based on the nature of fear itself. A primitive emotion that served an important role in the survival of our ancestors, fear can easily become twisted into phobias.

If you have a phobia, and you plan to attend Halloween Horror Nights or any other Halloween event next year, it is important to recognize your own triggers. Take a supportive friend or family member with you, who knows of your phobias and is able to help you relax. Never force yourself to participate in anything, and consider having your support person “preview” each haunted house to let you know exactly what is involved.

If you need to escape from any haunted house or scare zone, just look for an employee dressed in black and wearing a name tag. He or she is trained in evacuation procedures and will escort you to a safe location. If you become overwhelmed, ask to be taken to First Aid, where you will be able to recover in a cool, comfortable and reasonably private location.

Halloween events are a lot of fun, but can overwhelm those with phobias. With a bit of advance preparation, however, there is no reason not to participate.


American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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