Universal's Halloween Horror Nights and "The Walking Dead" go together like blood and guts.
The AMC television series, which follows the experiences of a deputy sheriff during a zombie apocalypse, will be the subject of one of Universal Studios' haunted houses when Horror Nights returns to the theme park Sept. 21.
"The Walking Dead" house will feature iconic scenes from the TV show, starting with stacks of rotted, bloodied bodies and chained-shut doors with the warning "Don't open: Dead inside" that were seen in the first episode.
Co-executive producer Greg Nicotero, who's also a longtime special-effects makeup artist and part-time zombie actor, broke away from filming the show's third season in Georgia to see the progress of the house.
"Having the chance to step off the set where we do this every single day and have done it for three years … it's a completely different mind-set stepping into what these guys do," Nicotero says.
The TV show uses multiple takes to get a scene just right, perhaps adjusting blood and makeup before taking another stab at it, he says. In a Horror Nights house, the zombies have one chance to make a scary first impression.
"Having a chance to be involved in a live event … is a completely new challenge for me," Nicotero says.
Universal's detail work and authenticity impresses him, and the show has done its part by sharing the molds to re-create key masks and props seen on television.
"When an audience member walks through and sees a character that they know from the show … it will never actually get closer [than] to actually using the real mold," he says.
"The fans of the show are really dedicated to it, so just those little accents the guys have put in the maze have made a big difference," Nicotero says.
Nicotero, 49, made his big-screen debut with 1985's "Day of the Dead," which has been followed by a wide variety of film work, including "Misery," "Scream," "Spy Kids," "Kill Bill: Vol.1," "The Mist," "Inglourious Basterds," "Water for Elephants" and the recent "The Odd Life of Timothy Green."
Sharp-eyed "Walking Dead" watchers may spot him in the occasional acting role, including one memorable turn as the "deer-eater" zombie. (Watch for that character at Horror Nights.) He's also looking down on Central Florida motorists as the bloody image on some Halloween Horror Nights billboards.
"There's something about when you're in zombie makeup that just makes it really fun," Nicotero says. "I would walk up to people on set and stand behind them and wait for them to turn and look."
That could be a factor this year because Universal has changed its scare-zone approach: Free-roaming "scare actors" on the loose.
"It's not always about 'boo' scares," Nicotero says. "It's the proximity of having people close to you that are kind of hideous and decomposing and gory. It's fun from the performer side of it, and it infects the guest in that kind of fun."
The widespread nature of a zombie threat works well in the Horror Nights scheme when compared with a singular threat such as famed horror-film bad guys Jason, Freddy Kruger and Leatherface, Nicotero says.
"With 'The Walking Dead,' you have a much larger threat and they can come from any corner," he says. "'The Walking Dead' fits perfectly into that because anything could happen."
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Halloween Horror Nights
Where: Universal Studios, intersection of Interstate 4 and Kirkman Road, Orlando
When: 25 select nights between Sept. 21 and Oct. 31
Cost: One-night ticket is $88.99, but there are discounts available for multiple nights, Florida residents, annual pass holders and online purchases.