For the majority of the 13 years that I've lived in the state of Florida, I've been the proud owner of a Universal Studios Annual Pass. Even before moving to Florida in 1997, I've visited Universal quite frequently on family vacations from Ohio, with the first time being approximately 20 years ago, not too long after the park first opened. I was 10 years old at the time and I remember being really excited getting to check out Nickelodeon Studios for the first time and seeing all of the other amazing attractions that Universal had to offer. I've been to the theme park well over 100 times since then and have watched the park progressively change over the years with new attractions coming in and old ones going out. Because of this I've decided to do a blog, discussing the old Universal from 1990 and some of the attractions that have since met their demise.
The Bates Motel
The first movie ever shot at Universal Studios Florida was Mick Garris' 'Psycho IV: The Beginning', a made for TV sequel/prequel that premiered on cable TV in November of 1990. Universal Studios Florida first opened their doors on June 7th of that year, so if you were an early visitor to the park you might have been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the film being made!
The Bates Motel set remained intact for approximately 8 years in the Expo Center area, back behind the "E.T. Adventure" and the "Animal Actors Stage". Unfortunately the set was demolished in 1998 to make room for the "Curious George Goes to Town" water park. Being a fan of horror films and especially 'Psycho', this is one of the things I miss the most about the old theme park. Granted you couldn't actually walk up to the house and could only view it from a distance...however this Bates Motel film set was a part of the "Psycho" legacy and it was sad to see it destroyed for an attraction as stupid as a Curious George water park of all things!
The one thing that I vividly remember about the Bates Motel set was that they originally painted both the house and motel yellow to give it that clean "new" look for the flashback sequences with young Norman in 'Psycho IV'...later they repainted the house, dirtying it up to make it look old and weathered for the present day scenes in the film. Well the old HardRock Cafe was located just behind the Bates motel and I remember coming out of the restaurant and being able to see the back of the house still having the fresh yellow paint, where as the rest of the house was aged badly. I guess since they never filmed the back of the house during the production of 'Psycho 4', they figured it wasn't necessary to repaint it.
The Art of Making Movies
The Bates Motel set wasn't the only Hitchcock themed attraction at Universal Studios Florida. "Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies" was the ultimate tribute to the legendary filmmaker, located near the park entrance, close to the old Nickelodeon Studios.
When you first walk in, you were greeted by a Hitchock aficionado who would give everyone a brief introduction on Alfred Hitchcock and some of the films he shot for Universal Studios. From there you'd pick up a pair of 3D glasses and make your way into a large auditorium to watch a 9 minute film presentation featuring clips from some of Hitch's most popular movies. Towards the end of the presentation you are instructed to put on your 3D glasses in order to watch a scene from the popular film 'Dial M For Murder' in 3D as it was originally intended...nearing the end of the scene (in a cheap 3D gag), the theatre screen is torn to shreds by an angry flock of 3 dimensional birds that fly around the theatre, destroying everything. Fortunately YouTube user "idrion" was kind enough to film and upload the 9 minute presentation on his YouTube channel for people to check out. The quality isn't the best, but since the attraction no longer exists, this is likely the only way you're ever going to see it. Take a look!
After the movie is finished, you make your way into another room featuring a scaled down model of The Bates family mansion and a full size replica of the actual motel from the movie 'Psycho'.
After you come in and take your seats, you are presented with a video introduction from 'Psycho' star Anthony Perkins, discussing some behind the scenes info. You are also treated to a shot-for-shot recreation of the infamous "shower scene" using a hired actress and a member of the studio audience playing the role of Mrs. Bates/Norman. This was a pretty impressive set featuring a state of the art sound system and lighting effects. Quite often "Mother" would chime in, threatening the stage hands.
Below is a press video from 1990 giving a brief demo of what this portion of the attraction was like, although I have to admit, the video makes it seem a lot cheesier than it really was. After this "shower scene" demonstration you would exit to your left, into an interactive area where they would show you how scenes from other Hitchcock films were made, such as the Statue of Liberty sequence from the 1942 film 'Saboteur'. There was also a scaled down replica of the apartment complex from 'Rear Window' where you'd attempt to locate the killer while peeping into windows with a pair of binoculars. In this interactive area you were free to roam around and do whatever you wanted. There was even a sitting area where you could watch old episodes of the 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' television show. Some of this is also shown in the following press video towards the end. Give it a watch.
Whenever you got tired of the interactive area you would exit directly into the gift shop of course. Here in the "Bates Motel Store" you were able to purchase over-priced VHS tapes of various Hitchcock films, as well as t-shirts, hats and Bates Motel shower curtains and bath towels. I can remember the first time going to the park, I made my father buy me a 'Psycho' t-shirt and a butcher knife gag prop that you'd wear on top of your head to make it look like a butcher knife was sticking through it. For whatever reason I've managed to hang on to my 'Psycho' shirt for the past 20 years, even though it's a size small and I could never fit into it again, no matter how much dieting I do LoL.
Like Janet Leigh's character in 'Psycho', "The Art of Making Movies" attraction also met it's demise in 2003 when it was replaced by "Shrek 4-D"...an interactive 3D movie experience featuring Shrek, Donkey and others, while also incorporating a new dimension of "touch" and "smell". What always bothered me the most about this switch is that "Shrek" isn't even a property owned by Universal, but rather DreamWorks. If Shrek is owned by DreamWorks then what is it doing at Universal Studios? I guess that question could be asked about many of their attractions these days however.