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The whole point of Halloween Horror Nights, according to Michael Aiello, Sr. Director of Entertainment Creative for Universal Orlando Resort, is to create a living horror film. Unlike other theme parks, Universal’s Halloween events use actual, brand-name movies and television shows to inspire its walk-through mazes and scare zones. For example, this year’s edition, which is scheduled to run on select evenings from September 15 to November 4, will feature popular properties such as The Shining, The Purge, and American Horror Story.

But Universal’s shockmeisters also create their own living horror films. In addition to five branded mazes, the Florida resort will present four original content haunts. I got a creepy tour through a bizarre New Orleans realm overrun by the Voodoo Queen and her voodoo doll disciples in an exclusive sneak peek of one of the mazes, Dead Waters. I also sat down with Aiello, the event’s great guru of gore, and Charles Gray, Show Director for Creative Development and self-described insane scientist, to talk about HHN and the serious work it takes to scare people silly.

The first thing I noticed when I ducked into the Universal Studios soundstage that houses Dead Waters was a musty, mildew smell. It wasn’t an implication of the resort’s housekeeping crew. It was an indication of the doting, lavish attention that the HHN team bestows on every sensory detail. The pungent odor helps establish the tone of the maze, which takes guests through a decaying, partly sunken paddlewheeler, a murky swamp, and the Voodoo Queen’s funky village.

The boat lists to one side in a riverbed. A…