The Universal brand found its success in the horror genre through the early to mid 20th century. Universal’s Classic Monsters invigorated Universal Pictures, and the company has been wrapped up in horror ever since. As far as Universal goes, horror extends beyond just cinema.
The Universal theme parks have had no shortage of fearsome attractions, with the likes of the Jaws ride, an Alfred Hitchcock show, the Psycho set, and a lifesize King Kong experience among many other examples.
In the theme park world, Universal even has one of the leading haunt events with its seasonal Halloween Horror Nights. It goes without saying—Universal isn’t shy when it comes to horror.
However, there’s always the potential for more. Universal has left some horror-themed rides and attractions on the table, never to be built. Today, let’s stroll through the graveyard of ideas where canceled attractions have been laid to rest. These are the scariest never-built rides of Universal Studios.
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Casper the Friendly Ghost
Casper the Friendly Ghost has been a spooky but smiling well-known character since the mid-1900s. Universal has dabbled with several Casper ride concepts, the details of which are largely unclear.
One of the early Casper ride concepts would’ve been built at Universal Hollywoodland in Germany. The theme park was set to open in the mid-‘90s until ultimately being canceled. One of the lands in the scrapped theme park was called Cartoon Land, featuring a few properties such as E.T., The Flintstones, and Casper.
As seen in the concept art, Casper's Spooky Adventures was said to be an inverted dark ride, likely in the same style as E.T. Adventure at various Universal parks. It appears the attraction would’ve taken place in the Whipstaff Manor as the concept art also depicts what appears to be Doom-Buggy-style ride vehicles.
Not much else is known about the ride other than it was shelved.
The Whipstaff Manor in Orlando
A similar concept may have made its way to Orlando at some point. Before Universal settled on building Islands of Adventure, the company had planned to build a theme park called Cartoon World. In this park, guests would’ve entered the world of Warner Bros. cartoons among others. However, Universal’s impending partnership with Warner Bros. fell through, which greatly affected the plans for Cartoon World. Without Warner Bros., Universal briefly considered other cartoon properties, such as The Simpsons, Peanuts, and—you guessed it—Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Casper the Friendly Ghost Ride was an interactive dark ride. Riders would sit on cartoony beds and could choose their own ride path by controlling a candelabra at the foot of the bed. Based on the riders’ decisions, the ride vehicle would travel around the branching ride path system, allowing guests to steer and navigate their way through several show scenes in the spooky corridors of Whipstaff Manor.
These attractions allegedly were going to be themed to the 1995 Casper film, produced by Steven Spielberg, but the available concept art gives the impression the rides may have been based on the character in his classic form.
Universal Studios had a temporary exhibit showcasing the Casper film around the time of the movie’s release, but it was a simple walkthrough with detailed and memorable sights.
Unrelated, Sally Dark Rides has developed a Friendly Ghost interactive dark ride concept called Casper's Birthday Blast.
Jurassic Park Jeep Safari
Universal’s concept for Cartoon World eventually fizzled after the loss of the Warner Bros. characters. Universal pivoted to working on a different vision for the upcoming theme park, inevitably named Islands of Adventure. The blue sky plans were ambitious, including a fully fledged Jurassic Park area with several highly themed attractions.
Jurassic Park Jeep Safari was a ride concept based on the self-navigating Ford Explorer tours. Riders would have boarded into tour jeeps before embarking on an indoor-outdoor journey. The tour began by approaching the majestic Jurassic Park gate, passing through it, and entering the dinosaur exhibit. The track wrapped around a lagoon where dinosaurs waded nearby. An impressive Brachiosaurus stood above the ride path as the jeep drove underneath.
The opening scene was gentle and glorious, but—as expected with a Jurassic Park ride—trouble wasn’t far away.
After more dino sights, the jeep came to a dead end as a dinosaur blocked the ride path. To escape, the jeep reversed into a velociraptor den deep in the wooded environment. In this indoor scene, the kettle of raptors swarmed the jeep and climbed atop the vehicle. The jeep fled from the raptor den to get riders to safety.
The concept art depicts other raptor encounters with the jeep being jostled around. In one moment, the ride vehicle tips downward during an attack. The raptors also swarmed the jeep while on a small suspended bridge.
In the finale, the jeep drove straight into the sharp-toothed face of danger. Riders were up against a fierce T-rex. The massive monster stepped on the roof of the jeep, possibly spinning the vehicle by use of a turntable, until riders escaped the turmoil and made it out alive.
Sparing an Expense
As development for Islands of Adventure progressed, certain details and attractions were cut from the park’s plans. That said, the Jeep Safari ride had a very similar plot to another Jurassic Park ride in development: River Adventure. The unsuspecting sight-seeing ride started out gentle until a dinosaur veered it off course, leading to a T-rex finale. Because of the similarities, Universal chose to build only one of the two attractions. Jurassic Park River Adventure opened with Islands of Adventure, while the unbuilt Jeep Safari was shelved.
Another said reason why Jeep Safari wasn’t fully developed was that the T-rex climax couldn’t have lived up to the film as the ferocious dinosaur animatronic wouldn’t have the mobility to chase the jeep, according to creatives on the project.
Universal, however, did save a space for the Jeep Safari ride. The Jurassic Park area had an expansion plot dedicated to that ride. Plans changed, and that land is now occupied by another expedition attraction—Skull Island: Reign of Kong—which is a ride that is fairly dark and gruesome in its own right. The Reign of Kong ride even starts off by passing through a massive gate, similar to how the Jeep Safari attraction would have.
The opening of Islands of Adventure made Universal Orlando a multi-day destination. The completion of the new park pushed Universal to add a new headlining attraction to the resort’s original park: Universal Studios Florida.
Stephen King’s Nightmare
In the years leading up to the debut of the new Islands of Adventure in 1999, Universal’s leadership had concerns over the existing Universal Studios park. The thought was that guests would be less interested in the original park once the brand-new Islands of Adventure opened.
With many attractions nearing a decade of operation, how could Universal Studios compare to the innovative and impressive Islands of Adventure? The solution was to build a slick new ride in Universal Studios to draw guests in.
Several concepts were considered, such as the Jurassic Park River Adventure ride that eventually would make its way into Islands of Adventure. The boat ride would’ve been a standalone attraction in the back of the park.
For that plot of land, Universal eventually fast-tracked a new interactive family dark ride, Men in Black: Alien Attack. After a little over two years of development, the ride opened in 2000 on the heels of Islands of Adventure’s debut a year prior.
However, at least one other attraction was seriously considered for this site. Stephen King’s Nightmare was an unbuilt dark ride concept based on the horror-driven stories by the famed author.
The Stephen King Dark Ride
The Stephen King attraction was a dark ride that would’ve featured scares and frights from books such as The Shining and It, with Pennywise the Dancing Clown.
The only known alleged scene from the canceled attraction had the ride vehicle stop in its tracks with instructions for guests to exit. However, the lap restraint kept riders in their seats while a flash flood of blood, much like in The Shining, rushed through the false unload station. The blood-soaked scene ended with Pennywise being revealed as the ride operator, deviously dispatching the vehicle on its way as riders faced their doom.
If the fake ending effect sounds familiar, that’s because a version of it made its way into the Revenge of the Mummy roller coaster at Universal Studios Florida. The cursed Imhotep took Pennywise’s place as a sinister ride operator, sending guests to their doom while strapped in.
Not much is known about what could’ve been, so it’s uncertain which of King’s other works—such as Carrie, Pet Sematary, and Misery—would’ve made it into the ride.
Reasons It Got the Axe
Overall, it was a novel concept. Universal supposedly surveyed guests about the attraction as preemptive market research, and the results weren’t overly positive as the ride’s scary theme was a bit intense. It has been said Universal wanted the attraction to appeal to a wide audience, considering this ride was meant to keep Universal Studios Florida relevant upon the opening of Islands of Adventure. Universal was not willing to dedicate such a large budget to a horror-driven ride that wasn’t thematically friendly to most guests. Also, rumors suggest the flood of blood would’ve been too costly, requiring a dedicated water system and special pumps to run the effect.
The unbuilt Stephen King ride likely won’t see the light of day, but that’s not to say the novelist has never been represented at Universal. The Shining eventually made its way into a Universal attraction in the form of a Halloween Horror Nights haunted house for the resort’s seasonal haunt event. The temporary house frightened guests in 2017, even including the blood-gushing elevator scene.
Revenge of the Mummy—fake ending and all—was an overwhelming success when that roller coaster opened in 2004. That’s no surprise considering The Mummy franchise, starring Brendan Fraser, won over audiences, resulting in tremendous box office results.
The director, writer, and producer of the trilogy, Stephen Sommers, went on to create another blockbuster based on Universal’s Classic Monsters—more specifically, Van Helsing.
Van Helsing is a character from Dracula, as seen in the classic film and other adaptations of the story. The monster-hunting character got a standalone movie, aptly named Van Helsing in 2004. The movie starred breakout actor Hugh Jackman alongside Kate Beckinsale. Made by the director of The Mummy (1999), Van Helsing (2004) seemed to be a promising movie that reestablished Universal’s Classic Monsters.
Meanwhile, Islands of Adventure had been open for a few years with only minor changes. Universal had been seriously considering a new thrill ride for the still-young park. The new attraction would have been the biggest addition to the park since its opening about a half-decade earlier.
Islands of Adventure in the mid-2000s still had a number of expansion plots to build on. Much like the canceled Jeep Safari ride, Jurassic Park had another unbuilt attraction—called Helicoptours—that had a dedicated space in the park. Universal wanted to make use of the available land, located between Jurassic Park and The Lost Continent, as it was at the time.
As for the theme, well, Revenge of the Mummy was a hit; since The Mummy franchise shared the same director as the new Van Helsing (2004), Universal may have thought a Van Helsing ride could result in the same success as The Mummy roller coaster.
With Van Helsing (2004) in mind, Universal Orlando supposedly started planning a blockbuster of its own. Universal worked on a chilling ride concept that would bring the 2004 movie to life. The attraction itself would use a first-of-its-kind ride system, one that utilized a powerful robotic mechanism—known as a KUKA arm—to simulate movements. The ride was rumored to have used a blend of animatronics, physical sets, and screens.
Like many other canceled rides, little information is known about the abandoned Van Helsing attraction. Presumably, the ride may have included the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as well as other recognizable monsters. Some have said the Van Helsing attraction would’ve been an extension of the neighboring Lost Continent section.
Van Helsing (2004), despite its potential and moderate box office success, was met with generally negative reviews. Universal, of course, had hoped for a stronger, positive reception. Undoubtedly, the disappointing reviews of Van Helsing (2004) put the supposed ride’s future in jeopardy. Van Helsing did get a short-lived walkthrough attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood in the mid-2000s, but Van Helsing’s E-ticket potential in Orlando wasn’t strong.
Inevitably, the Van Helsing ride concept was canned. Rumors say the cancellation was due to the movie’s poor audience score, while other rumors suggest the ride had exceeded Universal’s budget, or funding was cut. After the cancellation, the expansion plot sat available for a future addition.
Islands of Adventure's Magical Addition
In 2010, Universal finally built and opened a new ride on that land, as well as the most important addition in the history of Islands of Adventure: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade. The innovative KUKA arm ride concept from the Van Helsing ride led to the development of a similar attraction for The Boy Who Lived: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The KUKA arm ride system makes flying with Harry Potter possible.
Although the Van Helsing ride was canceled, it was certainly the unbuilt predecessor of Forbidden Journey.
The story comes even more full-circle as a rumored Classic Monsters land is currently being built at the upcoming Epic Universe theme park. The Classic Monsters land will reportedly open with an original KUKA arm ride, in the same style as Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The state-of-the-art ride system will finally be paired with the horrors of Universal’s Classic Monsters.