Maximum Carnage: Remembering The Bizarre Halloween Attraction That (Allegedly) Killed Marvel's Superheroes

Marvel isn't necessarily a name you associate with horror. Sure, the recently-released "Werewolf By Night" on Disney+ and various comic specials like "Marvel Zombies" have dabbled in the genre. However, none of these are particularly scary. It's likely because the brand's bigwigs want to ensure that a specific image is being presented of its vast library of stories and heroes, which isn't unreasonable.

But maybe it's because they allowed that image to be played with once, only to realize that perhaps those responsible for playing around with it took things a bit too far. Maybe you can trace back the squeaky clean nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to 2002's "Maximum Carnage," a haunted maze attraction at Universal Orlando Resort's Halloween Horror Nights, which was held at the then-brand-new Islands of Adventure theme park. If that rings a bell for you, it's probably because the attraction shares the name of the famous 1993 comic arc that featured the symbiotic serial killer Carnage.

While that story ended with heroes like Spider-Man defeating Carnage and saving humanity, the Halloween Horror Nights team pondered ... what it would be like if the opposite was true? What if Carnage had won? And what if you could walk through a ruined, villain-haunted Marvel Universe as part of a themed Halloween experience? In order to find out the answer, we must separate fact from fiction as we dive deep into this infamous attraction.

How in the world did this happen?

In order to answer this question, we first need to take a look at the agreement filed between Marvel and MCA Inc., which owned Universal Studios when Islands of Adventure was being constructed. The park features a section called Marvel Super Hero Island, where "Maximum Carnage" and its adjacent scare zone, "Island Under Siege," were located. According to the agreement, which is publicly accessible thanks to the SEC, the Marvel name and its characters "shall be operated and maintained in a first-class manner consistent with the highest standards of the theme park industry."

(Naturally, this all went down years before Disney bought Marvel. However, Marvel Super Hero Island continues to operate at Universal's Florida resort, even as Marvel characters begin to pop up in Disney's parks. The Marvel theme park rights are a web worthy of Spider-Man.)

In basic terms, it is up to the park to determine how to depict the characters Marvel provides them. If they are depicted in a way that fits with what Universal Creative deems acceptable for their park, then they have carte blanche to do whatever they want. After all, Universal knew a lot more about themed entertainment than Marvel. If the basic outline of this agreement is to be believed, then the prevalent question of how they were able to get away with this has been solved.

Not-so-comic appearances

Now that we've got legal shenanigans out of the way, let's talk about the fun stuff. It's worth noting that surviving information on "Maximum Carnage" and "Island Under Siege" is admittedly scarce, most likely as a result of it taking place in 2002 — while handheld cameras were obviously a thing 20 years ago, they were not nearly as prevalent as they currently are. In an age where all theme park developments are heavily chronicled on YouTube, it's downright jarring.

This is no time to be dwelling on the rapidly-passing time, however. We have more important things to talk about, such as which characters appeared in "Maximum Carnage." According to photographs archived on the scareactor blog HHN Cast, Carnage made an expected appearance alongside the similarly-menacing symbiote Scream. Carnage's lover, Shriek, also tormented guests with a gun in "Island Under Siege." It doesn't look like any other major symbiotes were shown, although some scareactors are seen sporting sickly makeup that suggests some kind of parasitic infection.

Other characters that are shown in HHN Cast's photos are electromagnetic mutant Xorn, mercenary Crossbones, and the Punisher. One actor seen in generic miner attire is said to be a henchman of Electro, but it's not clear if that Spider-Man himself appeared in the haunted house. However, perhaps the most interesting character that appeared in "Island Under Siege" was none other than Mephisto. Yes, while he keeps on not popping up in the MCU, Mephisto was at Halloween Horror Nights two decades ago.

What we know about the attraction

Remember when I mentioned how camera technology in the early 2000s was nowhere near as advanced as it is today? This is where that comment comes into play. While recorded footage of the attraction exists, the vast majority of videos are not of the highest quality. You can't really tell what's happening in them, and even then, these videos are not complete walkthroughs, so the full experience lives on only in the memories of those who were there. 

The footage that has survived over the years gives us some valuable insight into the experience. In YouTuber Hawg Gnarly's brief walkthrough, it appears that the haunted house's facade was that of an abandoned warehouse, presumably where Carnage has been hiding out ever since escaping from the Ravenkroft Institute. Upon entering, guests encounter Carnage's henchman and various other villains. Carnage's anarchy has gotten so bad that a full-blown nuclear disaster is imminent.

Finally, we get to the most infamous part of the attraction; the dead superheroes. It has been said over the years that either "Maximum Carnage," "Island Under Siege," or both facets of the attraction featured some macabre references to the deaths of Marvel's superheroes, including Spider-Man and Captain America. However, these have varied anywhere from their abandoned props being visible to their mangled corpses being strewn throughout the walls and streets. The problem is that research into these stories has not yielded anything of the sort — the closest thing I could find to proof was a lukewarm forum review that mentions a decapitated Spider-Man. Still, its authenticity is inconclusive.

Total anarchy

The general train of thought surrounding "Maximum Carnage" is that Marvel executives hated the attraction's depiction of their characters. Although their usage did fall in line with the original agreement's free-use clause, that didn't mean Marvel had to like the final product. Thus, while Halloween Horror Nights continued to be held at Islands of Adventure for a few more years, there were no longer any Marvel-based attractions held there.

So, could a house like "Maximum Carnage" ever happen again? You probably already know the answer to that question: no. While Marvel does allow itself to tiptoe into the world of horror, it's rarely felt transgressive and dangerous like this long-forgotten haunted house attraction did. While "Werewolf By Night" and "Marvel Zombies" might be exceptions, they both retain some sentimentality to their characters. Disney knows Marvel is a key family brand for them, and dead heroes in a terrifying haunted house doesn't fit that expectation. 

If Marvel, and especially Disney, want to embrace horror, then they must be willing to relinquish that sentimentality. That is ultimately what made "Maximum Carnage" so infamous; even if rumors of its story were egregious, it gleefully ignored all sense of positive connection and love towards Marvel's characters, instead focusing on tearing the universe they live in apart. Unless Marvel wants to do the same, then "Maximum Carnage" could never happen again.