Hello everyone, and welcome back to WOU’s Back to the Past series. Here, we review the history of rides and attractions in the Universal Studios theme park chain and show the transformation from opening day to what guests can experience at the park right now. Today, we will be focusing on one of the opening day attractions at Universal Studios Florida: Ghostbusters Spooktacular.
This unique show experience blended live action with one-of-a-kind special effects to bring the specters and ghouls of the films to life. We will observe the history of soundstage 50 from its time as a Ghostbusters themed show, a special effects ride based on the natural disaster film Twister, and it’s life now as the all-new simulator Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon.
The mantra of Universal Studios Florida when it opened was a place where guests could “ride the movies” and experience firsthand what it would be like to be placed in some of the most iconic scenes in cinematic history. The entire park was designed to be a backlot of an active movie studio, much like its sister park Universal Studios Hollywood. Each section was themed to a different city and featured attractions that not only entertained but also educated audiences on the art behind making films. This idea was molded into the story of the Ghostbusters Spooktacular attraction, which was located in the back end of the New York section of the park. On June 7th, 1990, the first visitors to the park would make their way into the Ghostbusters firehouse and await the experience inside.
Ghostbusters Spooktacular had two different versions of itself over its lifetime. The original version of the show had guests seated inside the main theater, which was made to look like the final battle from the first film. Here, a production tour guide would go over the history of the franchise and about the making of the movie. As she talked, Slimer (the famous green ghost from the movie), would appear behind her and follow her around the set. Slimer appears translucent to the eyes of the audience using an effect known as Pepper’s Ghost. Underneath the audience lied several rooms where a brightly lit animatronic was reflected off several panes of glass to appear as if they on set with the actress. This effect is utilized for Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction. The show featured many more ghost effects as well as a battle between the Ghostbusters and Gozer, the villain in the movie. The show’s climax featured a massive animatronic Stay Puft Marshmallow man, which would appear off to the right of the main stage. The Ghostbusters would defeat the creature and the show would end.
The second version of the show was altered. The main difference between the two was that this one now featured a pre-show and a new storyline. In this version, Luis Tulley, a character from the first film tries to sell the audience Ghostbusting equipment. After several guests are chosen for gags in the pre-show, the rest of the experience continues inside the main theater where Tulley continues his speech. Here, Walter Peck, another character from the first film, arrives and threatens to shut down the Ghostbusters on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency. Tulley pleaded that the Ghostbusters do good work protecting the city, to which Peck replies that he doesn’t believe in ghosts. The rest of the show would continue pretty much the same way, featuring Gozer, the marshmallow man and the projected ghost effects.
After the second version of the show ran for three years, Ghostbusters met its end. Just as with other attractions, newer concepts were being brought in to replace older rides in an effort to reinvigorate the park. On November 9th, 1996, Ghostbusters Spooktacular shut its doors forever and had a closing ceremony attended by the cast of the films. Universal ended their deal to licence the franchise shortly after, and Ghostbusters quietly disappeared from the park entirely. The replacement attraction would be the first of two to occupy the soundstage where the show took place.
Twister…Ride It Out
Just two years after the closure of Ghostbusters Spooktacular, Universal unveiled its replacement—Twister…Ride It Out—which was based on the Twister film from 1996. Due to the fact that this new attraction was created from something the company partly already owned, they did not face the rights issues that had come before.
Twister…Ride It Out completely altered the show experience by placing guests in a soundstage set designed to look like the drive-in theater from the film. Gone were the glass panels, holographic ghosts, and live actors, and in its place were stunning practical effects such as wind, fire, sparks, and even a flying cow. The exterior changed as well, no longer using the firehouse as its main entrance, but instead a new entrance flanked by destroyed power lines and farm equipment. While the Twister film could never live up to the fame of Ghostbusters as a film, the attraction was still a core part of the park’s goal to place audiences into the movie experience. The attraction remained open until 2015 to make way for a new Universal-owned concept.
On April 6th 2017, Universal opened its new simulator attraction: Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. The ride is based on the iconic late night program The Tonight Show, and lets guests join host Jimmy Fallon in a head-to-head race through the streets of New York City. This attraction is the farthest departure from what had come before in almost every aspect. It marked the first time in the building’s history that a non practical effect or live action performance took place inside. The park destroyed most of the old structure, removing all of its original interior and expanding the soundstage to make way for a double set of motion simulator theaters. On the exterior, a brand new entrance was built to resemble 30 Rockefeller Plaza, and the soundstage walls are now skinned to resemble the iconic skyscraper in New York.
Fans of the former attractions will be happy to hear that Universal has left several Easter Eggs in and around Race Through New York’s entrance. In a facade to the right of the entrance, fans can spot a can of “Twister” cola as well as the denim jacket worn by the late Twister actor Bill Paxton. As for Ghostbusters, most fans who never experienced the show might be shocked to hear that a piece of the old attraction still exists in the park till this day. At the corner of the New York section of the park, the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit coaster comes barreling through the front of one of the buildings in the New York skyline. That building was the former entrance to the show and was made to look like the iconic Ghostbusters firehouse.
Halloween Horror Nights 29
After leaving the park 23 years ago, Universal decided to bring back Ghostbusters in a new and interesting way. On July 17th, it was announced that the iconic film franchise would return as a brand new haunted house for this year’s iteration of Halloween Horror Nights in both Orlando and Hollywood. This house would be based on the original 1984 movie to tie into the retro eighties theme of the event. The pop culture phenomenon that is Ghostbusters has brought a ton of attention to Halloween Horror Nights as a whole and has reignited general interest in the former attraction.
35 years ago, one of the most popular movies of all time was released in theaters and changed the landscape of film franchise longevity as well as the Universal Studios Florida park. While this attraction only lasted a total of six years, many fans remember it fondly, citing its impressive effects and unique storytelling as among the best in the park. One can wonder what would have been if Universal had held on to the theme park licence to the film, but nevertheless, it is great to see Ghostbusters thrill park goers yet again in the place it called home all those years ago.
We hope you enjoyed this flash back to the past. Stay tuned here at WOU for more journeys into the rich history of Universal’s attractions.