This past Friday, a select group of press was invited to an exclusive daytime tour of two of the returning mazes for this year’s Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood: “Halloween: Michael Myers Comes Home” and “AVP: Alien Versus Predator”.
I say “daytime” instead of “lights-on” because, though the “Halloween” maze was indeed illuminated by the sunlight streaming through its many skylights, the “AVP” maze (built inside one of Universal’s backlot sound-stages) was about as dark as you might expect to see it under normal operating conditions.
Our tour guide for the afternoon was John Murdy, Creative Director of Universal Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights, who candidly discussed his process and inspirations for designing the mazes.
Halloween: Michael Myers Comes Home
The first stop on our tour was “Halloween: Michael Myers Comes Home”, and Mr. Murdy noted that the creative team has wanted to bring back the “Halloween” maze since it first debuted at the park in 2009, as the “Halloween” franchise and its murderous villain Michael Myers are among the most iconic in the horror genre. Murdy also said that their approach to “Halloween” was a little different this time. Like the previous incarnation, the maze begins at the Myers house, but this time the early focus is on the opening prologue of the first John Carpenter movie, which takes place in 1963.
Video: 90-second preview of “Halloween: Michael Myers Comes Home” at Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights 2015
“And then once you get through the Myers house in the beginning, you start to visit all the iconic scenes from the film, and all the iconic films,” Murdy continued.
The “Halloween” maze features projection in the upper windows during the queue, multi-channel audio throughout (including the ever-familiar musical theme written by director John Carpenter), and a running narration by the Dr. Loomis character, describing his experiences with and diagnosis of Michael Myers, who Murdy calls “a killing machine without emotion” much like another beloved Universal horror icon, the shark from “Jaws”. Murdy also wanted to incorporate the more paranormal aspects of Michael Myers into the maze, a feat accomplished through multiple instances of the transparent-mirrored “Pepper’s Ghost” effect, used perhaps most famously in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. Eagle-eyed horror fans will also want to look out for a sly reference to “Halloween III: Season of the Witch”, the only movie in the series not to feature the killer Michael Myers.
The finale of the “Halloween: Michael Myers Comes Home” maze takes place in a mirrored room filled with Michael Myers mannequins, and probably at least one “real” one. The masks in the photos are only temporary placeholders while the creative team waits for the final Michael Myers masks to be crafted and delivered to the park.
AVP: Alien vs. Predator
The second and final stop on our tour was the “AVP: Alien vs. Predator” maze, located on the lower backlot. Our guide John Murdy discussed how difficult it is to build a science-fiction themed maze from the ground up, as opposed to a maze themed around a dilapidated house. The creative team consulted with some of the creature designers from the “Alien vs. Predator” movies and of course took many cues from the original “Alien” and “Predator” franchises to construct the maze, which is at Universal Hollywood’s Horror Nights for the second year running.
Video: 90-second Preview of “AVP: Alien vs. Predator” maze at Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights 2015
Here are a few comparisons of what three different scenes in the maze look like with a flash and how they look under the desired lighting conditions during the show:
One of the most impressive scenes in the “AVP” maze is a family sitting room, wherein the room in question has been infested by Alien eggs, and the family has been infected by Face-Huggers. Look for the holes in the wall, where performers’ unhappy faces will peek through, begging to be put out of their misery as their innards gestate an Alien Xenomorph.
Another neat-looking scene is a little girl’s bedroom, where unwitting guests will be sneak-attacked by a fully-animated Alien puppet:
And, of course, the grand finale of the “AVP” maze features the giant 16-foot Alien Queen in all her glory:
Despite the fact that it’s returning from last year’s Halloween Horror Nights, the “AVP: Alien vs. Predator” maze is not something you’ll want to miss. The attention to detail is amazing, and fans of either series or both will get a kick out of seeing their favorite sci-fi monsters brought to life in such a truly terrifying way.
John Murdy was nice enough to hang around and answer questions at the end of the tour. When asked if there was a “scare threshold” for Halloween Horror Nights, he responded “As far as the line for how scary something is, we’re going for the jugular… we try to scare the living fill-in-the-blank out of our guests. That’s our job.”
He also commented on the relationship between the Universal Orlando Horror Nights creative team and his own, and how both coasts cooperate in bringing the event to life: “Sometimes we join forces on a particular property. The last couple of years it’s been like ‘we’ll hook you up, you hook us up,’… for example, they did ‘American Werewolf in London’, and they had a relationship with John Landis so they introduced us to John and they helped us with that, which was great. This year I introduced them to the ‘Insidious’ folks because we worked with them in the past, and it goes back and forth.” He went on to talk about how each park utilizes its unique space for the haunt.
I asked how much he and his team look at other non-Universal parks during the Halloween season and how much of what those parks are doing affects their work at Universal, and he responded “Zero, honestly. I mean, I don’t have time, frankly. I’ve never missed a night of Horror Nights in nine years. But everybody knows each other, you know? Especially in the horror community. It’s a really interesting, tight-knit community, but I just think we’re all brothers and sisters in the world of horror and people do what they do, and we worry about what we do.”
If years past are any example, fans of horror and theme-park haunts are definitely going to want to check out this year’s Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood. The minds behind the event have certainly put in a lot of work, an it promises to be a scary good time.