This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at this season’s Halloween Horror Nights TRIBUTE STORE! Over the last decade the Universal Orlando Resort has seen a lot of incredible changes with the addition of some great hotels, fantastic attractions, and top-notch restaurants, but my personal favorite additions are the ultra-themed Tribute Stores. We’ve seen stores themed to Mardi Gras, Jurassic Park, and classic movies (with Jaws, ET, & Back to the Future) but the most anticipated Tribute Store every year is the one that opens with HHN.
For HHN 32, the Tribute Store is themed to a Haunted Comic Book Store. As a lifelong fan of theme parks and comic books, this concept was like if someone got a hold of my dream journal and said, “we’re making this.” Let’s take a walk through this incredible store, starting with a look at…
# 6 – The Comic Shop Façade
This season’s Tribute Store is back in it’s old home in the New York section of Universal Studios Florida, directly next to the Revenge of the Mummy roller coaster. The store’s façade is themed to the front of a local comic book shop. As a person whose very first job in life was working at a small comic book store, I can vouch for the authenticity.
For longtime fans of Halloween Horror Nights, this store delivers in a way no other Tribute Store ever has, with references and Easter eggs relating to the history of the event. Let’s start with the name of the store itself McPherson’s Collectibles – this is referencing Charlie McPherson, a character from the Reflections of Fear tent house at HHN 18.
A look inside the window reveals props which contains some truly next-level amazing details, including a Halloween Horror Nights MYSTERY GAME.
These are the type of props where theme park fans like myself think, “I would buy this immediately if you sold it!”
Right next to the HHN board game is a book featuring an iconic HHN character in detective Boris Shuster. The book itself is titled Case of the Terrible Totems, which is referencing Case Files Unearthed: Legendary Truth, a house at HHN 30.
A further look into the window reveals details that make my heart soar, including faux comics books for the Holiday and Mardi Gras Tribute Stores featuring Earl the Squirrel and King Gator. For HHN fans you’ll see an Asylum in Wonderland comic book. Asylum was originally a scare zone at HHN 18 that went on to become a full blown house for HHN 25. There are so many references in this one single photo, and credit goes to the Visual Merchandise team at Universal. They are the ones doing all of the work on the Tribute Stores and this stuff is straight up E-Ticket.
This sign for a “Vampire Free” establishment works on a couple levels. One for the humor alone, but the store is also located in the Vamp ’69 scarezone area of the park so vampires are always surrounding the store during HHN nights.
The Black Cat kit is referencing the 2019 HHN Tribute Store. The Curator action figure was created for this Tribute Store.
In the window you’ll also see a new release spotlight featuring a Tribute To Terror comic book. This is the book that the four rooms of the Tribute Store are based around.
# 5 – Entrance and “Grave Consequences”
When entering McPherson’s Collectibles, the first room you step into is the comic shop itself, complete with a sales counter and an old timey cash register. Like all comic stores, the room is strewn with advertisements and collectibles. One of the posters on the sales counter is advertising a music festival “Summer Music Fest ’69,” and this is referencing the Vamp ’69 scarezone that is part of HHN 32.
On the wall you’ll see fun details such as these two album covers: one featuring Earl the Squirrel and the other featuring Hollow Hills Cemetary (which is featured later in the store.) The town of Hollow Hills also was the location where last year’s HHN Tribute Store took place.
The character probably most associated with the history of Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights is Jack the Clown, and you’ll see among a group of masks one featuring this HHN Icon.
This album cover for Ghoulish! is referencing the water show which took place at HHN 31.
The comic book shelves feature many of the books that we saw in the window façade.
On the far left of this comic book shelf you’ll see a comic titled Little B-Cide Adventure. This is referencing one of my favorite houses from HHN 31, Bugs: Eaten Alive. On the far right you see an attention to detail that probably only comic book fans will appreciate, because that is exactly how shelves look after people pick up certain books to look at and then return to the shelves haphazardly. Half the job of a comic store employee is just straightening the shelves.
All of this leads us to the overall “story” of this year’s Tribute Store, which is us walking through an actual comic book. The comic book is the one we saw featuring in the window display outside: TRIBUTE TO TERROR.
Once we get past the cover, the opening title page shows us the path we are about to travel on and the four stories we are going to encounter: Grave Consequence, False Idols: Part 1 – A Boris Shuster Mystery, Pay Up! and Eyes of the Ripper.
Our first room is themed to the story Grave Consequences. If you are not a comic book fan, all of this is being done in homage of the old EC Comics horror line of books. These books would go on to inspire other works in the field of horror, including the classic movie Creepshow. Many of the EC Comics horror books would be anthologies that featured several short tales. You’d often see a macabre play on words (like the title of this room “Grave Consequences”) and the stories would be introduced by an evil narrator. For the Tribute to Terror comic our narrator is The Curator.
Many of the scene elements in this year’s tribute store are flat, to make everything look more like a 2D comic book world.
With many of the props being made to look like comic book panels, the other elements – like the skeleton rising from a grave below – really pop.
Throughout the room you’ll see the story progress via the use of comic book panels.
This faux ad for Oddfellow’s Traveling Oddities featuring a whole bunch of references to Halloween Horror Nights, starting off with Dr. Odd Fellow himself, the icon of HHN 32.
The Wicked Growth Pumpkin Patch is referencing The Wicked Growth: Realm of the Pumpkin house from HHN 30.
Chance, one of the most popular HHN characters and the right hand woman to Jack the Clown.
Jack Schmidt is Jack the Clown.
Most stories of the EC Comics era ended with the bad guys getting their comeuppance by some even worse people, and the human grave robbers meet their match by the end of Grave Consequences.
# 4 – Boris Shuster!
The next room may be the best room ever done in a Tribute Store to date, and we’ve seen some pretty cool stuff over the years. To introduce us to the room, The Curator is dressed like a crime noir detective.
This room is themed to the story False Idols: Part 1 – A Boris Shuster Mystery, and everything in the room is done in stunning black & white (with the exception of some mysterious red glowing eyes…)
Guests at Universal Studios Florida are used to seeing the window sign for Boris Shuster, Private Investigations, but this room starts off featuring a window sign for Shuster Bros. Private Investigations.
Nearby we also see a fish-like creature holding up a newspaper with a headline reading MORE STRANGE SIGHTINGS IN THE CITY, DISAPPEARANCES ON THE RISE. The black and white design of this room is pretty impressive to even the most casual of theme park fans, but for comic book fans like myself this hits on another level. For me, this was like seeing a Frank Miller Sin City comic book come to life, and I mean that in the highest regards possible.
As with all rooms, there are details upon details “hidden in plain sight.” For example, this room features various MISSING posters and one of the people missing is “A. Hostetler.” This is referencing Adam Hostetler, who many reading this may know by his social media handle of Skipper Hoss. Adam is a member of the Visual Merchandise team that puts together these amazing Tribute Stores.
The next detail is one that absolutely blew me away. The Boris Shuster story is a noir crime tale, so has all the elements you’d see in that type of story including it always being a “dark and stormy” night (with rain often being used as a storytelling device in books/movies/tv that something bad is going on.) Projection technology makes it look like its raining in the room with the rain being seen on the walls, but the rain also “hits” the floor and causes splashes.
The effect is small, but its a spectacular detail and here is a quick video showing the rain drops on the floor.
Later in the room we are now on the other side of the Shuster Bros. window, in their office.
When the Hogwarts Express attraction arrived back in 2014, one of the biggest surprises was the use of tinted glass windows and how projection technology on those windows allowed Universal Creative to help tell the story. The Visual Merchandise team also use that fantastic effect in the Shuster office. Below you can see a door to the office, which is a simple enough effect.
However, if you pay attention to the door you will see the silhouettes of characters going by. Not only do you see them in the window of the door, but you also see the reflection on the ground. That is a level of detail we just don’t see often in theme park gift shops.
Like all the rooms, the story of False Idol Part 1 is told via panels throughout the experience and we discover it is this case where Boris Shuster lost his brother.
Seeing Boris Shuster himself is just wonderful.
Always keep an eye out for Easter eggs, including this one featuring Gerg the llama (who has been referenced in several Tribute Stores)…
…and even an ad for the Dead Coconut Drive-In. This ad is referencing the makeover for the Red Coconut Club in CityWalk, which has been rethemed for this year’s HHN into the Dead Coconut Club in 3D (which we’ll be covering in a future article)
The Boris Shuster story is the only one of the four rooms without a definitive conclusion, instead The Curator teases a part two.
The Curator is holding an item which has the look of a Cthulu-like figure. The eyes of this figure are red, which is the only color used in the black & white story.
Before we head to our next room, we see a sneak peek of what Boris Shuster may be taking on in Part 2 of this story.
This area also has a nice nod to Finnegan’s Bar & Grill in USF. Overall, this particular room is an experience. It alone is worth a trip through the Tribute Store.
# 3 – “Pay Up!”
Pay Up! starts with The Curator dressed like a member of a 50’s era biker gang. The Curator’s introduction teases the story of a biker gang paying a visit to a small diner and may end up getting their just desserts… (that’s my homage to EC Comics.)
A motorcycle is parked outside Jim’s Diner and one thing the store does in all rooms is give some great background audio, including a motorcycle rumbling in this section.
The EC Comics horror anthologies would almost always use different artists for the various stories in the comic, each with their own specific art style. That same concept applies in the Tribute Store, with the art for Pay Up! being much different than what was used for Grave Consequences and the Boris Shuster stories.
The physical elements of the diner include this poor guy. Have to say this is probably how all of us feel when the server hasn’t been at the table in 10 minutes and our drink needs a refill.
The jukebox has sections that include OLD FAVORITES, HIT TUNES, & WALTZES AND POLKAS. With the real songs from performers like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Richie Valens are songs like “Work All Night” and “Build All Day” from a band called The Visual Group (aka the people who put together the Tribute Store.)
The counter area of Jim’s Diner features another decomposing body.
Our story ends with a demonic horned figure telling the biker gang it’s time…to PAY UP! The famous Tribute Store snack case is located in this section of the Tribute Store, and we’ll be covering those delectable treats later in the article.
# 2 – Eyes of the Ripper
Our final room is based on the story EYES OF THE RIPPER, and we are going back to 19th century London during the era of Jack the Ripper.
Black cats are a staple of EC Comics horror stories.
Like the Boris Shuster room, the Eyes of the Ripper room features missing posters throughout.
Like the previous rooms, our story is being told via comic book panels throughout the room.
There are several Ripper characters in the room, all with glowing red eyes.
The Eyes of the Ripper room ends with the Tribute Store’s cash registers, because our story at this point is done and it is time to transition back to the real world. Love the small detail of going from black & white back into color on the wall below and it reminded me of the exit of Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in EPCOT with the floor tiles going from large to small as the story has us returning to the human size world after being rat size for the ride. By themselves, all of these details are small things, but when added up they deliver a truly exceptional experience.
The ads are now in color as well.
Before we leave the Tribute Store for good we have one last visit with The Curator, who is now operating a grimy newsstand.
The stand is filled with faux products such as chips and snacks, but you’ll also see some Tribute to Terror comics featuring people I’m assuming are part of the Visual Merchandise team which put the store together (if so, hat’s off to y’all!)
One last look at The Curator.
# 1 – The Tribute Store Snack Case and Merchandise
It’s easy to forget that these amazing Tribute Stores exist for one reason: to sell us stuff. One of the hallmarks of every Tribute Store is their famous snack case, which is always loaded up with treats themed to the occasion.
Let’s take a look at some of the ones we got, including the Stranger Things-themed Hellfire Club cauldron cake. I have to imagine this will be one of the bigger hits of the snack case, because not only does it look great with the Eddie Munson cookie topper, but you’ll also get a tasty treat along with a collectible to take home with the cauldron. The cake itself is a chocolate cake with vanilla frosting.
Hellfire Club macaron.
The filling flavor was pumpkin and was delicious.
Like we weren’t going to get a Lil’ Boo sugar cookie?! The cookie was soft and the graphic was a thin layer of fondant. A lot of times these colorful character cookies are inedible (I’m looking in your direction Disney) because they look great, but the cookies are rock hard and there’s so much fondant it tastes awful. That’s not the case here.
The Chucky-themed trifle cake is seriously great, with a chocolate knife and an apple-cinnamon flavored cake.
Now we’ll look at some other items available in the snack case, including a selection of Stranger Things-themed macarons.
This is on my list for the next trip in the Tribute Store.
Universal has been KILLING IT in the Mold-A-Matic game and two new molds have arrived with the Tribute Store. First up is this machine featuring The Bride.
Love all the details on the machine, including the advertised “REAL NON-ACTION!”
The second mold is for The Mummy.
Here is a look at both of the new figures.
While we’ve shown close-ups of many of the design elements in the Tribute Store, each room is literally filled with HHN related merchandise. Shirts, hats, bags, phone cases… you name it, they got it.
Lil’ Boo plush anyone?
Here is my favorite part of the Tribute Store… you can buy the Tribute to Terror comic book!! As someone who still fondly remembers the Mickey & Goofy explore the Universe of Energy comic book from EPCOT Center and the Marvel Superhero Island Adventures comic book when Islands of Adventure opened, seeing a new comic book made exclusively for a theme park made my day.
UPDATE: After the original article was released, the original print run of the Tribute to Terror comic book SOLD OUT. In late September, Universal released a second printing of the comic. Similar to the comic book industry when going back to print on popular titles, the 2nd printing of Tribute to Terror is the exact same book with a slight modification to the cover. On the first printing of the book, the background color was RED and on the second printing it is GREEN.
The comic book features all the stories featured in the Tribute Store.
The comic book also features fake ads, such as the one below for the Halloween Horror Nights board game that is featured in the window of McPherson’s Collectibles. The ad has even MORE fun details about the game. This comic book was made by HHN fans for HHN fans. Friendly reminder: if you can’t get to Universal, you can always reach out to Hedgehogs Corner, who can pick up a Tribute to Terror comic for you (along with any other item at the parks) and ship it to you.
The book closes with a tease for a second issue. Please send me all your thoughts, prayers, and pixie dust that this actually comes to fruition, because I’ll be first in line to buy it.
That picture of The Curator on the last page of the comic may look familiar, because it is also used in the Tribute Store to introduce the HALLWAY OF FRIGHTS.
This is a collection of various comic book covers featuring photos submitted by guests.
One cover is of particular note…
Honorable Mention – Bacini Makes His First Official Appearance in a Universal Park!
That’s right, I submitted a “photo” for the Hallway of Frights featuring Bacini – the official dog of DisTwitter – and Derek (from TouringPlans’ David & Derek series). The art was done by none other than Brian Cooper, headline artist of the Theme Park Turkey of the Year awards.
A who’s who of theme park blogging greatness have made the pilgrimage to the Tribute Store to see this comic cover in person, including Captain Cruiseline himself Scott Sanders of the world famous Disney Cruise Line Blog.
Len Testa, TouringPlans’ head honcho and the alter-ego of Hank Lonely.
SAT SIX Editor-in-Chief Megan Stump.
Ace Photographer Brandon Glover (and niece.)
SAT SIX Fun Squad member Parkscope Nick.
Artist Brian Cooper was able to see his work featured in the Tribute Store…
…and Brian brought along some friends, who just so happen to be a Mount Rushmore of artistic talent in the theme park community!
Several guests have used the opportunity to showcase their pets at the Tribute Store.
Even better are the covers where they are holding their pets. Love it!
There are covers featuring adults, cats, and even a baby. That’s right True Believers, this one truly HAS IT ALL!
FINAL THOUGHTS: As far as I’m concerned, this season’s Tribute Store is an unofficial 11th house for HHN 32, and is the best one they have done to date.
So there you have it: The SATURDAY SIX checks out the HHN 32 Tribute Store! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out the THEME PARK ENJOYMENT INDEX, giving a monthly recap of all the theme park news you need to know (and a lot more you don’t need to know, but we’re gonna tell you anyway). You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
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Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, Digital Maestro Scott Walker, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders of the world famous Disney Cruise Line Blog, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood, artist @SonderQuest, the mighty maven of merchandise Hedgehog’s Corner, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and “the Dadalorian” Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, charter member of the Universal Four @Nitro230, the permit princess Alicia Stella, master cartographer Tommy Hawkins, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Absolutely no help was added by SeaWorld Influencer @SuperWeenieHtJr. The SAT SIX is inspired each week by goofballs Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde and you Potterheads will enjoy Meg’s other blog work over at the Central Florida Slug Club.