Interview With Christopher Ripley, Author of The Complete Survivor's Guide to Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights 2016

Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) is an annual (and separately ticketed) event that takes place at Universal Orlando Resort on select nights in September and October each year. If you've never been to this event, or if you're a longtime fan, we recommend picking up a copy of The Complete Survivor's Guide To Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights 2016. This unique guide offers an in-depth history of HHN, insider stories that can't be found anywhere else, and lots of excellent tips to help you have more Halloween fun. 

We recently caught up with Christopher Ripley, the author of The Complete Survivor's Guide To Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights 2016, to learn more about his HHN experiences and what it was like to write this book. Enjoy the interview!

You've been visiting Universal theme parks for more than 20 years. What do you like most about the parks in Universal Orlando?

I think the great thing about Universal over Disney, particularly, was that at the time I started going, their rides were far more thrilling.  A 40-foot ape, a 3-ton shark or a giant earthquake were all far more appealing to me than what Disney was offering, particularly back in the 90s; when I started going, I was just a kid and the thought of Small World or Splash Mountain just didn't cut it back then.  Obviously now I'm older and wider (?), I appreciate what Disney does much more now and probably spend equal time in both resorts when I travel over.  I was also obsessed by film making as a child, so a trip to a "working" film studio was a great draw for me.

What keeps me going back to Universal on both coasts is their relentless march of progress with new rides and experiences happening all the time.  They've created the greatest ever theme park battle for Disney and are making their competition up their game massively.  This can only be good for us fans and great for the Themed Entertainment Industry.

Your new book on Halloween Horror Nights (The Complete Survivor's Guide to Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights 2016) was recently released. What prompted you to write this book?

A few things really; firstly, I read that Universal themselves started writing the book several times and stopped. The fact that this event is the world's largest and no one had released a full history or guide to the event spoke to me. 

Weirdly, I'm not a huge horror movie fan - you can all gasp in horror, but it's true.  However, having spoken to 1000s of HHN fans over the years, a huge section aren't either, so that intrigued me enough to use that as my starting point.  Many people, like me, just LOVE this event, and I really wanted to write a 100,000-word love letter to the world's greatest Halloween party.

What can readers expect when they pick up a copy of The Complete Survivor's Guide to Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights 2016?

I've traveled more to complete the book, so more miles equals more interviews.  I've spoken to scores more people who were there and involved in the intricate design of the houses and scares.  I've found more unseen stories and behind-the-scenes facts, along with countless pieces of information that the fans should hopefully adore.  We've also produced the first busy day guide (a la Touring Plans style) plus added lots of tips for first-time and experienced attendees.

What was the most interesting tidbit of information that you uncovered while researching this book?

Some of the most interesting stories are probably the ones I couldn't add as Universal would likely sue me!!  No, I'm kidding. There honestly is very little I've left out, call it warts and all for 2016!

There's tons of stories packed into the book, (so much so that my publisher moans at me for the length of the book!). If I had to pick one today, it would probably be how Julie Zimmerman, who is the co-creator of HHN and who very kindly wrote the introduction of the book (me and others call her our living Walt Disney of HHN), would have to work to such a tight schedule that Hollywood would send Orlando props from various Hollywood movies that had just been released for Orlando to showcase and use to market the movies.  Julie would, shall we say, "make them go missing" and then use them in actual HHN houses.  Hollywood would recall their props and of course they've vanished!  <laughs>  I won't say which movies or houses - you'll have to read her account within the book!  Let's just say that one particular prop Steven Spielberg was not happy about!!  (Leans forward and whispers 'triceratops.')

Your book contains backstories of Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) icons, like Jack the Clown, as well as a few icons that never quite made it to the event, like Nathaniel Crow. Do you have a favorite icon?  Do you have a favorite HHN year or house?

Oh man, that's like trying to choose between your children!  I would say my favorite year was either 2000, 2007 or last year. I'm a sucker for Jack; we even put him on the cover of the book (with Universal's permission).  I think I like him for a number of reasons, but mostly for the fact that Jack is played by a chap named James and he is just the nicest human being ever (ironic huh?).  J Michael Roddy, who used to work on the event but is now a Disney Imagineer, co-created Jack. He calls him 'his Mickey Mouse', and he is; he is that iconic to many people.

As for my favorite house, man, there's so many.  I'd probably have to plumb for the Friday 13th House located in the Jaws in 2007.  It was the best use of that space in the event's history.  However, ask me tomorrow, and I'll probably choose something completely different.

 Jack the Clown, the first original Halloween Horror Nights Icon. Image credit: Universal Orlando Resort.

Jack the Clown, the first original Halloween Horror Nights Icon. Image credit: Universal Orlando Resort.

HHN began as a small Halloween party called Fright Nights and has since evolved into the nation's premier Halloween event. What do you think is the most interesting thing about this evolution?

It's gone from a wet long weekend for locals to being a true international event of world renowned status.  A few weeks ago when one of the HHN houses was announced for 2016, HHN actually started trending on Twitter.  That is amazing - staggering, in fact.  When you imagine that Julie had to recycle and "borrow" just to get a couple of houses built, whereas now the budget runs to the millions.  Though one thing has never changed and that's the commitment and dedication of the professionals that create these wonderful worlds.  Mike, TJ, Charles and all the others, they're true geniuses.

Can you share some of your best tips for guests who are visiting HHN for the first time?

We spent a long time researching this and attending with people whose first time was at HHN last year, and although we have a great section for this in the book, I can say that the best tip is to go through a behind-the-scenes day tour.  See the houses in the daylight with no actors around and see what you're letting yourselves in for; half the time, the anticipation of the scare is actually far worse than the actual scare, though I didn't just say that in case messieurs Mike and co are reading (it's an industry top secret tip that one).

 HHN guests getting a scare in the Walking Dead House during HHN 25. Image credit: Universal Orlando Resort.

HHN guests getting a scare in the Walking Dead House during HHN 25. Image credit: Universal Orlando Resort.

We've been listening to every episode of the Scarezone Podcast (and we really love it!). Can you tell UO fans a little bit about this podcast and your role as a co-presenter?

Thank you very much!  It's a funny story about how it all came together.  I had wanted to do a HHN podcast for years, and I had approached a few people but the response was always a bit tepid.  Then I bumped into Logan via my work on the Dis After Dark Podcast, and he asked me if I wanted to do a podcast about HHN.  I didn't know, but he had also always wanted to do a HHN themed podcast too!  So we started out and then Logan said, "Hey, I know this guy called Scott who'd love to do it", and I said yeah cool, not knowing that it was only WWE wrestler Scotty 2 Hotty!!  So between the three of us, it's been an absolute blast.

We've got lots of great content coming up on the Scarezone Podcast, including interviews with HHN creatives, people from Hollywood and behind-the-scenes news.  Logan even got me to interview a HHN connected Hollywood actress the other day, that was very exciting and a new achievement for me!

Where can people find you and connect with you online?

Our Facebook group is really thriving at the moment, packed with fans that I and the rest of the team try to interact with as much as possible. That can be found at https://www.facebook.com/hhnunofficial.  We also have the website and blog at www.hhnunofficial.com, where we try to post as much info about HHN26 that Universal will let us get away with.  Scarezone.com has links to our upcoming and past shows and how you can listen to them (though iTunes is probably the easiest).  Whilst you're there, head over to Dis After Dark and listen to us ramble on what we like and don't like at the Florida parks and anything else that's happening this week.  The book The Complete Survivor's Guide to Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights 2016 is available at all good book stores or at Amazon US, UK and all other international sites.

And always remember, keep your eyes closed and your ears open!