The latest haunted house unveiled for this fall's Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando will have a purpose beyond creeping out visitors.
It also will help Universal Pictures and Legendary Entertainment promote their new movie, "Dracula Untold," as the two entertainment powerhouses embark on a partnership that may shape future theme-park attractions.
The Dracula house of horrors is one of the first byproducts of the alliance between Universal and Legendary, a company known for big-budget action-adventure flicks such as "Godzilla" and "Pacific Rim." The two companies last year signed a five-year deal that includes theme park tie-ins for Legendary's movies.
That's a smart strategy that will give Universal access to more material for its parks and offer cross-marketing, said Armen Shaomian, a professor with the University of South Carolina's sport and entertainment management department.
"Legendary is a vault of new opportunities for Universal's theme parks when it comes to new themed attractions," Shaomian said in an email.
Universal declined an interview about the partnership, and a Legendary spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
Although the theme parks probably were not a driving force behind the agreement, experts say they're a natural beneficiary of it because many Legendary films — including a King Kong movie planned for release in 2016 — lend themselves to rides.
That's especially true for Universal's parks, known for intense rides and edgy themes that appeal to older teens and young adults.
Universal has its own film division, including an animation group that produced "Despicable Me." But the pricey blockbusters in which Legendary specializes are "the riskiest and in some ways the hardest part of the business right now," NBCUniversal Chief Executive Officer Steve Burke told analysts last year.
Now, he said, "we will have a partner in Legendary that has a real passion for that. And then Universal will concentrate on everything else."
Universal is marketing, distributing and co-financing Legendary's films. Legendary also will co-finance some Universal films, though the terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Warner Bros., which previously had a partnership with Legendary, will continue releasing movies with characters including Batman and Godzilla. Even though Universal doesn't get those franchises, many in the industry believe Legendary "is well positioned to find the next big thing," according to a Forbes article last year.
Universal appears to agree. A press release at the time of the announcement lauded Legendary for its "keen ability to identify and acquire powerful fresh intellectual property based ideas, match them with strong filmmakers and turn them into blockbuster hits."
Later this month, Universal and Legendary will release "As Above, So Below," a thriller about a group of explorers venturing into the Parisian catacombs.
"Dracula Untold," which explores the vampire's origins, will follow in October. The haunted house with the same theme opens in September. Universal calls it an "immersive preview" of the Dracula movie. It will feature gothic scenes including a cave, a destroyed village, the woods leading to Dracula's castle and, finally, an encounter with his victims.
Legendary recently announced that in 2016, it will release a movie based on King Kong's home, Skull Island. Theme park industry-watchers have speculated for months that construction going on at Universal's Islands of Adventure involves a King Kong ride, and the movie announcement was taken as yet another sign.
Universal won't say what will be built in the space from Toon Lagoon to the Jurassic Park River Adventure, where land has been cleared behind a construction fence.
A ride based on the giant ape was part of Universal Studios Florida when it opened in 1990, and many fans were sorry to see it close in 2002.
"Dracula and Kong are movies that would have … a look and feel that would translate well to a ride or show," said John Gerner, founder of Leisure Business Advisors in Richmond, Va.
"King Kong" is a classic, experts said, but in general, the theme-park division will likely want to watch a movie's success at the box office before investing in a full-blown attraction.
"Before they commit the theme park, the movie has to be somewhat of a success," said Steve Baker, a former development director at Epcot who now heads the Baker Group consulting company. "You can't capitalize off a flop."
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