The time was October 2002. Universal Studios Florida had decided to integrate their “Islands of Adventure” into their “Halloween Horror Nights” celebration. Not only that, but the event would be moved to the islands for several years. To play off this, the event’s theme for the year (“Islands of Fear”) was that each island would be “taken over” and altered for Halloween (with one exception).
So, who would be taking over Marvel Super Hero Island? Traditional Marvel supervillains like Dr. Doom or Magneto wouldn’t be scary enough and the gliders used by Halloween-themed villains like the Green Goblin and Jack O’Lantern would be too difficult (and dangerous) to utilize realistically. Eventually, somebody hit on the idea of adapting the “Maximum Carnage” story arc that appeared across several Spider-Man comic books in 1993. The idea of a super-powered serial killer and his freakish helpers inciting riots across a city certainly must have sounded like a good idea for a haunted attraction on paper. In practice, it was a very different story.
One of the first big mistakes was how they chose to realize Carnage for the attraction. The interesting look of his writhing, living alien costume (spawned from another enemy of Spider-Man’s) could have been represented by using a rubber costume with minor animatronic effects and a slimy coating or having Carnage appear as a CGI creation on a series of television monitors scattered throughout the island. Not only would that last option have provided for some interesting variation of the “living wall” haunted house effect (imagine a Carnage head pushing out of a TV) and Carnage apparently had developed the ability to travel across the internet at one point. Instead, Carnage was portrayed by someone wearing a rubber mask and an airbrushed spandex bodysuit. Although one could probably do that with Venom and get away with it due to his simple black and white coloration, the effect looked laughably cheap on Carnage. His prancing about in a tower over the event only made things worse.
Another problem that leapt out at my while watching a Travel Channel-produced special on Islands of Fear years ago was the use of supervillains. If what I saw in the special was any indication, the island largely consisted of people dressed as supervillains randomly jumping out at people. This is bound to get old very quickly and didn’t fit in with the motivations of many villains. The choices of bad guys were also less than stellar. Although I haven’t really read comic books since 1996, I know enough to know that a mercenary like Crossbones doesn’t get his jollies by randomly spooking people. He seems to have been picked solely because of the skull on his mask, which doesn’t say a whole lot about the people who put this attraction together. Although that would explain why they randomly decided on having the Punisher run around. Having a skull on one’s costume does not necessarily make one “scary.” Nor was the ninja in a silver lamé costume running around, either. That’s probably the reason they padded things out with chainsaw-wielding lunatics and mutilated police officers.
The “Carnage Warehouse” didn’t seem to have much in the way of scares, either. More villains randomly jumping out (including multiple Crossbones), some dead bodies and a reactor leaking radiation (gamma radiation, according to the excited HHN employee giving the behind-the-scenes tour in the special). The final, and arguably biggest mistake, was who the corpses depicted. Some promotional material had mentioned how the Marvel superheroes were defeated and that’s why Carnage and co. had free run of the island. However, it turned out that the defeated heroes had been killed and their gory remains were scattered throughout the island! Apparently, there were other such items on display as well. It would not surprise me if this was based on the trophies of a “possible future” villain called “the Maestro” from The Incredible Hulk
I’m amazed Marvel approved of this, as nothing pisses fans off more than when you mess with (especially kill off) their favorite characters. Interest in Spider-Man was at an all-time high that year thanks to his movie, so killing him was even more of a bad idea than usual. Perhaps whoever pitched the idea argued that people would realize that the attraction didn’t really count since the heroes would still be appearing in their comics or that people rarely stay dead in comic books. As if the appearance of the Punisher wasn’t enough of a contradiction to the idea that all the heroes were dead, attractions such as “The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man” and “Storm Force Accelatron” depicted certain characters as being alive when rode during HHN. It would have made more sense to have the rides slightly retooled for the event so that the heroes are creating pockets of resistance against the supervillain takeover. At the end of each night, the superheroes (using costumes from “Meet Spider-Man and the Marvel Super Heroes”) would regroup and fight off the villains in a staged battle, not unlike how another year’s HHN show had Robosaurus fight off a horde of zombies. It wouldn’t make up for the event’s lackluster scares, but it’d be a good start.
Reviews for “Maximum Carnage” were terrible and no Marvel characters were seen in the 2003 event. Instead, the island used a “(mutated) people rampaging through a city” theme inspired by “Maximum Carnage” and HHN moved off the Islands of Adventure in 2006. Rumor has it that Marvel forbid Universal from ever using Marvel characters as part of Halloween Horror Nights after hearing about the backlash over the handling of the characters in 2002. Whatever the case was, Marvel saw fit to okay the video game Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects in 2005, which also had Marvel characters getting killed off.
Thanks to some old comic reading memories and check around the internet to refresh my knowledge of the subject, I’ve come up with some other ways Universal could have improved Maximum Carnage and do some other Marvel-themed haunts (complete with comic book-style melodramatic titles) to close this article with:
The warehouse haunt should have ditched the gamma reactor and opted for stuff like falling crates and barrels. Perhaps one of Carnage’s partners from the original comic storyline, such as Carrion or Shriek, could chase visitors through a fog-filled boiler room. Having multiple people dressed in the same costume hidden in various sections of the room could give the appearance that the villain could appear from anywhere. Another ally from the comics, Doppleganger, could make for a good animatronic-based scare.
As for the street performers, they should have dropped Crossbones in favor of villains one would expect to go on a mindless rampage (Vermin and Sabretooth would be pretty scary, especially with bloody claws). Instead of jumping out at you, the various gangs and bad guys should chase people until they “become too tired” or get distracted by an easier target (like, say, employees pretending to be victims who get brutally murdered).
If Universal was married to the idea of superhero corpses, why not do a theme based on Marvel Zombies? They could play up the “alternate reality” aspect of the theme by using a “vortex tunnel” as the entryway. The same tactics I suggested for Maximum Carnage’s street performers could also be used for this event and they could use both zombified heroes and villains. Some of the “warehouse” could be devoted to attacks by Marvel zombies, such as a zombie Spider-Man climbing down behind someone while they’re distracted by a webbed-up victim or a zombie Hulk bursting through a wall. Since such scares would get old fast, it could be revealed that this is all the work of Dormammu and that visitors can only escape by traveling through “Dormammu’s Domain” using mystical visors (IE Put on polarized glasses and walk through a haunted house using UV-reactive 3D paint). Upon completing the journey, they’d exit through the headquarters of Dormammu’s foe, Dr. Strange (whose study could be filled with strange items like living statues and moving books).
Invasion of the Brood/In the Clutches of…The Devastator!
A crashed alien spaceship turns out to be infested with Marvel’s answer to Aliens, the Brood. Visitors get to see recordings of a frantic alien giving their final video log entry (with visitors getting attacked at the same moment the person in the video is) and various bodies, some of which come to screaming life if one gets too close. And, of course, the Brood will pop out of air vents and control consoles in an attempt to make people into their incubators.
Escaping from the craft leads people to another spaceship, this one owned by Devos the Devastator. After surprising them with a laser scan, Devos announces that his uninvited visitors are potentially infected by the Brood and therefore must be destroyed to insure the safety of the universe. Guests will be attacked by security robots, alien beasts unleashed from their cells by Devos and by the legendary Devastator himself. Upon realizing that his prey are about to escape, Devos flees and unleashes a deadly “purification gas” (tinted fog) that results in encounters with melting monsters. After escaping, each group will be taken through a special Brood detecting/removing device, with randomly selected people being revealed as the infected party.
Behold Giganto!/In the Depths of Subterranea
Looks like the Mole Man is acting up again. Not only did he send one of his nastiest monsters to attack the surface world, but an attempted expedition to his kingdom of Subterranea hasn’t contacting their surface base in hours. Although the Fantastic Four defeated and restrained Giganto(which patrons can walk through in the manner of an old FF comic and the inflatable “Beast” attraction by Distortions Unlimited), there’s still the matter of the lost expedition. Visitors can ride the crashing elevator (a variation of the old “Hellavtor” trick) into Subterranea and discover an enchanting cave of glowing crystals…only to have the peaceful beauty shattered by the discovery of the dismembered expedition crew. As if the various monsters, Moloids and lava men weren’t bad enough, guests still have to brave earthquakes and bottomless chasms if they ever want to see the surface again.
Captain America’s Weird Tales/The Malice of Mysterio
Wait, why is Captain America doing his best Cryptkeeper imitation and hosting a haunted house based on old horror comics? Oh, it’s just a trap set up by Mysterio to help him get revenge on Universal for snubbing him back when he was just a special effects artist. But what he doesn’t realize is that his “hostages” won’t just cooperate and will instead try to make a run for it. But can they get past his various illusions, funhouse-style tricks and glass maze? And how did he manage to shrink everyone down to an inch in size? Things are never what they seem when Mysterio is involved…
Mayhem at Murderworld/The Lair of the Lizard
Looks like things have settled down a bit in the city for Halloween this year. Sure, people are cleaning up after an attack by the Hobgoblin (including his glider being embedded into the sidewalk),but Spider-Man did manage to defeat him before anyone could get hurt. And the occasional costumed super hero (played by trained stuntpeople) seen climbing and leaping from building to building seems to have kept any other villains from pulling any funny business. Say, that new haunted house over there seems like it could be fun…to bad it’s just Murderworld in disguise. Don’t think you’re safe if you manage to survive his various deathtraps and robotic henchmen as your “escape” lands you smack-dab in the middle of the Lizard’s sewer-based territory. The stale, green waters are swimming with gators and reptiles of all kinds have taken up residence in the various tunnels and pipes in the sewer system. A sudden appearance of reptilian humanoids reveals that the Lizard has something cooking up in his mad lab. And lucky you, tonight’s the night he’s looking for some new test subjects!