Stuffed CUJOs are available in the gift shop.
Between IT, The Dark Tower, The Mist, “Castle Rock,” a new novel and a Creepshow reprint, 2017 is looking like the year of Stephen King. But even in this Redrum renaissance, we still won’t be getting that one experience we’ve so obviously been missing – a state-of-the-art dark ride based on the works of Stephen King at the Central Florida theme park of your choice.
But that’s not to say we didn’t come close. Twice.
On May 1st, 1989, Disney’s MGM-Studios opened in true Hollywood fashion, attended by the likes of Kevin Costner, Ernest and at least two Golden Girls. From day one, the park was designed as a half-day affair, with only six attractions and a sizable chunk of the real estate devoted to working production facilities. Disney never expected it to draw crowds like its other parks.
On opening day, guests lined up two hours in advance and MGM-Studios hit capacity in 45 minutes.
They needed to expand and fast, especially considering the rival combination theme park-movie studio up the road was gearing up to steal crowds in 1990. Plans were hatched quickly to add an extra land to the park with a state-of-the-art thrill ride as an anchor. Revolutionary attractions based on Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the Warren Beatty-starring Dick Tracy never made it past the drawing board. The direction, it was decided, would be horror – namely, a haunted hotel. It didn’t take long for Stephen King’s name to come up.
Very little about the potential ride is known since Disney quickly realized the writer of Pet Sematary might not mingle with the Mickey Mouse crowd. Later concepts focused on Vincent Price and Mel Brooks before settling on a broader inspiration. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror would eventually open in 1994; the haunted hotel is still sending guests to the fifth dimension to this day.
After a notoriously shaky start, that rival down the road did start stealing crowds.
Universal Studios Florida was an experiment for the company – the first scratch-built theme park it had ever attempted. Its almost immediate success got the gears meshing for a second park and the unnamed addition was announced in 1993. By 1997, it had a name – Islands of Adventure – and Universal had a problem – the inevitable attendance hit its original park was about to take. The solution was to add a headlining attraction to the Studios as close as possible to the opening of Islands. Ideas included Universal’s second Ron Howard-based attraction, Apollo 13, a very different Simpsons experience than the one built years later, and, lo and behold, an elaborate dark ride themed to the works of Stephen King. This one came a lot closer to happening.
The only detail known about the attraction is its signature scene, and it’s a doozy.
Part-way through, riders would pull into the unload station and hear the usual instructions on how to exit without extensive bodily injury. But the restraints wouldn’t lift and the ride wasn’t over. A Shining-sized deluge of blood would flood out of the exit doors, Pennywise Itself would spring from the control room and riders would hurtle deeper into the nightmare/toward the gift shop.
The powers that be decided that an attraction requiring a devoted plumbing system for fake blood might not have the wide appeal they wanted, so Men in Black: Alien Attack was finally built in its place.
But in Stephen King novels and theme park design, true evil never dies. The would-be ride’s designer, John Murdy, went on to another project with horror in its blood, Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride; and smack in the middle of it there’s a scene that might seem familiar…
Jump to 4:17:
Rub your eyes until it all looks red, replace the overhead fire with balloons and you’re halfway home.
To date, no Stephen King stories or characters have made it to amusement parks. The author is famously cautious about his creations and has admitted little love for haunted houses. So we may never be menaced by murderous topiaries in the Overlook Hedge Maze of Madness or sit in the splash zone for the five-times-daily Carrie Stunt Show.
But rumors are flying that this year may be the first time a King property comes to Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights. It’s a slim chance, but the hints come from a reliable source – the Hollywood park’s Creative Director and former ride designer, John Murdy.
For now, we wait.