Events

Behind-the-Scares | “Dr. Oddfellow’s Twisted Origins” at Halloween Horror Nights 2023

September 29, 2023

Photo Credit: Kaelyn Brown

Approaching the brightly colored circus tent, I was already cautious. I’m not a huge fan of clowns and — as I’m sure you know — they happen to be the stars of a circus. 

Shortly after weaving my way underneath the bleachers and into the circus ring, my heart dropped as I realized clowns should have been just the tip of my worries.

“Dr. Oddfellow’s Twisted Origins” is one of the ten terrifying haunted houses at this year’s Halloween Horror Nights.

The house FINALLY illuminates an old character, introducing the event’s newest icon and shining a light on his unexplored history.  

I got the chance to speak with Lora Sauls, Assistant Director of Creative Development and Show Direction at Universal Orlando Resort, and Matt Flood, Senior Show Director, who both played a large role in creating one of the standout houses in this year’s event.

Come tour the twisted world of Dr. Oddfellow’s carnival of oddities and maybe even unknowingly sacrifice your soul!

The Lore

Not caught up with the Halloween Horror Nights lore? Here’s a rapid refresh of what to know.

We’re back in the late nineteenth century at the Shady Brook Rest Home and Sanitarium. Jack the Clown, well-known HHN chaos maker, is born. When he discovers the Carnival of Thrills, which is led by none other than Dr. Oddfellow himself, he opts to join the circus and tours the United States with the troop.

Pretty soon audience members start to disappear from their shows. Apparently, Jack had been killing them. To desperately avoid prison, he reveals his crimes to Dr. Oddfellow. Like any rational clown, Jack expects his friend to use magic to hide or transform him.

Instead, Dr. Oddfellow kills him and puts him in a box — that eventually ends up at Universal, where a daring Universal Team Member decides to open the box and set Jack free (the rest history that you can read up on our Beginner’s Guide to HHN Lore!).

Jack has since reigned over Halloween Horror Nights, but now Dr. Oddfellow is back. He’s heard the tales of the people who come to the event, desperate for fear, and has decided to take a piece of the action. 

The Carnival

A scene from "Dr. Oddfellow's Twisted Origins"

Found throughout Halloween Horror Nights 2023, Dr. Oddfellow has lured his guests with the promise to give them his secret to immortality. Through the scare zones, this year’s icon reveals his journey as vision-like memories for his victims. His ubiquitous presence is all around the event, even if you may not recognize him at first (you can read more about that below). In “Dr. Oddfellow’s Twisted Origins,” he shows guests the twisted moment he finally became immortal.

“Dr. Oddfellow figures out this ritualistic sacrifice to connect souls within the zodiac in a way that they would be more powerful and he would gain that power,” says Matt. Dr. Oddfellow disguises this sacrifice under a circus and makes his journey around the country. 

But before you enter the circus, let’s set the scene.

It’s 1939 in a small town ravished by the dust bowl. The defeated residents get a glimmer of joy when a traveling circus pitches its bright tent in their desolate settlement. Unfortunately, Dr. Oddfellow has coordinated the menagerie. 

After the mediocre daytime acts, you’ve ventured back to the tent later that night. Dr. Oddfellow has promised anyone interested a darker version of his daytime show. Instead of the usual setup, you wander under the bleachers and into a nightmarish labyrinth of a backstage tour.

Photo Credit: Kaelyn Brown

Unbeknownst to these adventurous guests — including you — Dr. Oddfellow has ulterior motives for the group. So close to achieving immortality, he’s still a few souls short. As the tour winds around his self-created haunted house, members are picked off and mutilated, mimicking the 12 zodiacs.

You wind through the dressing rooms, into the menagerie and onto the stage while the circus acts torment tourists. Dr. Oddfellow is seen killing a familiar friend, before turning his attention to you. Finishing his mass sacrifice, you’re killed and transported into the realm of the zodiac as he becomes immortal… It’s a fair trade!

Even outside of clowns, the house manages to throw great jump scares. You’ll come face-to-face with several circus creatures, some created by Dr. Oddfellow. 

What I really loved about the house was the multi-sensory experience it provided. Knives from the wheel of death rush past your face, brain matter from a head smashed on the strength testing game flies all over you and the smell of a second-rate musty carnival floats in the air… Awesome, right?

Inspiration and Execution

Photo Credit: Kaelyn Brown

A big part of this house was expanding the lore behind Halloween Horror Nights. For years we’ve been following Jack. Creators started asking, “what has his murderer been up to?” and “where has he been?” After observing from the wings for so many years, it turns out he is ready to take the stage. 

Lora and Matt say Dr. Oddfellow flooded their brains with his backstory almost overnight. Soon, his influence spiraled into complete control over HHN 32 (he has a way of doing this). 

This is the first time we’ve seen Dr. Oddfellow in person, and this is also the first time Halloween Horror Nights has a Black icon. “We wanted a powerful presence, we wanted a unique feel,” Lora says.

Dr. Oddfellow is indeed unique, with symbolism on his forehead, drastic features and jagged, vampire-like teeth.“The actors that play Dr. Oddfellow in the park, we never expected them to bring this character to life even bigger than we imagined,” says Lora.

Creativity

Lit up zodiac symbols from a room inside "Dr. Oddfellow's Twisted Origins" haunted house

For Lora and Matt, the challenges in creating the house come from the creative process itself, which doubles as the best part. 

“The creative process could be considered challenging, but that’s what makes it the creative process,” Matt says. “You’re creating something that doesn’t exist yet, and that’s awesome!”

One of the two’s favorite gags are clowns that unsettlingly turn their heads. Sitting silently, it’s terrifying to see them slightly move. 

Matt and Lora expanded on the mechanics behind this, including the complicated process to hide the machinery that makes it possible. Placing it on the wall would have ruined the illusion, so the creative people behind the house worked the mechanics into the ground!

According to Lora and Matt, a lot of the decorative team found this to be their favorite house and that they had so much fun working on it!

Jack is Back… in a way

“There’s a lot of easter eggs in there if you know your Halloween Horror Nights,” Lora says. Apparently, Dr. Oddfellow has collected a ton of things from the event’s previous scare zones and haunted houses. One easter egg Matt discusses is a giant Jack-in-the-Box in the menagerie scene. 

Jack the Clown also makes not one but two guest appearances in the house! Guests can see him lurking outside the tent in the first scene and being murdered by Dr. Oddfellow in a later scene! Eagle-eyed fans can even spot him on a ‘Wanted’ poster.

Lora also points out Matt’s dad jokes sprinkled around the house. “Matt is a bit of a dad joker in our team,” she says. In one scene, a clown is seen eating another clown’s brains. “It tastes funny,” the audio track says — a reference to the brain’s owners. Lora notes that there are quite a few dad jokes peppered around the house. Next time, you should be on the lookout for them as you dodge the cannibal clowns.

Music

According to Matt, the soundtrack for the house is custom-made. Each audio stem was warped to create an eerie sound that doesn’t line up.

“I’m just imagining these circus performers behind the canvas playing these instruments for us,” Matt says while imitating someone wrongly playing an instrument. He likes to think Dr. Oddfellow’s performers aren’t as talented as the ones we have at HHN.

“It hurts my soul to hear that music,” Matt says. “Literally in the sound design we broke the music.”

More of Dr. Oddfellow

Dr. Oddfellow stands with guests behind him.
Photo Credit: Kaelyn Brown

You can follow more of Dr. Oddfellow’s adventures around the event this year. He’s summoned visions to transport guests into his journey to immortality through this year’s scare zones.

Vamp ’69: Summer of Blood sees him manipulate a vampire gang into terrorizing a music festival. Dark Zodiac has him stuck in the Zodiac realm after he was murdered by Jack. Jungle of Doom: Expedition Horror takes guests to where Dr. Oddfellow found the crystal skull that started it all. Shipyard 32: Horrors Unhinged has his chaotic creatures terrorizing waterfront San Francisco.

Dr. Oddfellow can be seen welcoming guests to the event ON TOP OF the Halloween Horror Nights sign during the Opening Ceremonies. Yes, he’s all the way in the air!

Dr. Oddfellow summoned merchandise from around his journeys. The star piece — featured on posters, shirts and more — has more than a few inside jokes referenced as an advertisement to the circus. These items can be found around the park, from the Universal Studios Store to the haunting Halloween Tribute Store in New York. 

Dr. Oddfellow also has a dedicated food location in Gramercy Park, serving a Carn“Evil”Dog and Sour Apple Funnel Fries. 

What was your favorite scene in the house? Let us know in the comments below or on social media!

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1 Comment

  • Reply Bert October 1, 2023 at 3:41 pm

    YOU NEED M#GAN MERCH!!!!!!!!!!!! HHN23

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