To say that 2020 makes no sense is an understatement. Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood didn’t open at all (ya know, since the park has yet to open). In Orlando, HHN opened for day guests on select days. Two houses were open for the season and Beetlejuice popped in at the end due to a contractual obligation. Keep in mind, those houses (and all the rest that were completed) will sit mothballed until the 2021 season. That is except for one: Billie Eilish.
Keep in mind, Universal Orlando didn’t officially announce Billie Eilish as part of the event. However, she was considered to be one of the big intellectual properties advertised at the full-blown event this year. Lots of merchandise had been made with her likeness on it. Imagine Billie at the gates of Universal Studios Florida with black demon wings and you’ve got the idea.
To be clear, Billie Eilish isn’t exactly a horror-based artist in the same way it’s synonymous with someone like Rob Zombie. If anything, Eilish is more horror adjacent. If anything, she’s more horror adjacent and only part of the time at best. But, if Penn & Teller can get their own haunted house at Halloween Horror Nights, why not Billie Eilish?
The push to get Billie Eilish involved with Halloween Horror Nights had a lot to do with strategy. If there’s one thing the folks at Universal have learned, you can get those who love a brand or an artist into the event if you feature something that isn’t exactly horror related.
Is Ghostbusters considered a horror movie? Hardly. However, it was a key part of the recipe to make the 2019 Halloween Horror Nights the most attended and the most profitable yet. Fans flew in from all over the world to see Stay Puft and the gang. They also snatched up quite a bit of merchandise.
This strategy is why Billie Eilish was courted to get involved with Halloween Horror Nights for 2020. Her last album outsold Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande with 2.5 million sold. While that may mean nothing to you, it means everything to Universal. To bring in a slightly younger demographic that will no doubt want to gobble up exclusive merch at HHN is a way to widen that net of people coming to the event.
The formula and the mindset behind it is simple. Come for Billie Eilish and experience her house. Then you’ll buy her merchandise and stick around to see the lagoon show where she is going to be featured. While you’re there, hopefully you’ll enjoy other houses and scare zones and get bit by the HHN bug and come back for years to come.
The idea to bring Billie Eilish on board started in Universal Studios Hollywood. The team there had managed to snag a few meetings with her people and they seemed interested from the beginning. This was very early in 2020, prior to the pandemic starting. It lined up with Eilish’s brand and image and it seemed like good exposure for her at the time.
Fast forward a little bit and two things happened. First, Billie Eilish practically swept the Grammies. She won Best Album, Best Song, Best New Artist… in total she went home with a lot of trophies back in January. Then another huge intellectual property dropped out (remind me to tell you that story another time) from the lineup at Halloween Horror Nights on both coasts.
Thus, with Eilish’s new rise in popularity and a hole to fill, her house went from going from just being in Hollywood to Orlando as well. It wasn’t exactly easy creating her team’s vision from what I understand.
Once the pandemic hit, it put a huge dent in the production schedule of all Halloween Horror Nights houses. Because everything was shut down for over a month, the team had to scramble to get everything built. However, getting approvals from Eilish’s team became extremely difficult and it came down to the wire to get it finished.
Why were they being so difficult? What could possibly make them drag their feet to give approvals and buy offs on finished set pieces and costumes? It seemed Eilish’s team was getting cold feet about having a haunted house at all.
Indeed, it was mostly finished. Then the decision came down to cancel Halloween Horror Nights as event in 2020 on both coasts. The Entertainment Department at Universal reached out to extend the contract for Billie’s house that was already designed and built into 2021. Her team said: thanks, but no thanks.
During the pandemic, Billie’s image started to change. She’s started to step away from some of the macabre images that she had become known for. Instead, she’s going in a different direction into 2021. Thus, the haunted house that was built for Eilish won’t exactly line up with her “new” image come September 2021.
A long road of a Halloween Horror Nights house being designed, built and then demolished all within a year. And the public will never get the chance to experience it. Might it have been something fans talked about for years? Who knows? Regardless, it’s a heckuva story.
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