Fans of THE WALKING DEAD can experience their favorite moments from Season 5 – live! – at Universal Studios Hollywood, where the annual Halloween Horror Nights is running from now through November 1, on weekends and some weekdays. Check out the video.
If you want to see your favorite horror movies come to life, and you reside anywhere near Los Angeles, California or Orlando, Florida, you nightmare has come true! Just hurry over to either city’s Universal Studios tour, where you will find Halloween Horror Nights in full swing.
Our sister site, Hollywood Gothique, offers this impression of the Los Angeles version, which acts as sort of a giant-sized promotional event for Universal’s upcoming DRACULA UNTOLD, not to mention the new FROM DUSK TILL DAWN television series on Netflix and the return of THE WALKING DEAD on AMC. If your taste turns toward older titles, there is also a maze based on AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981).
HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS REVIEW
This Halloween, Universal Studios offers more mazes than ever before: seven instead of six. There is a good variety of themes, but sadly no major horror movie franchise is represented. Instead, we’re seeing generic mazes (Clowns 3D), mazes based on TV shows (The Walking Dead, Face Off), and mazes based on a single film title (An American Werewolf in London, From Dusk Till Dawn, Dracula Untold, and AVP: Alien vs. Predator).
Scare tactics remain consistent from previous years, though (to our perception at least) the jump-scares seem timed to a faster clock, hitting us with a more rapid-fire approach. Fans will recognize many familiar motifs, with old sets and effects rebranded for the new mazes. Unaware of the recycled elements, newcomers (along with those who skipped the past year or two) will simply thrill to the excitement of the phenomenal surroundings and shriek as the monsters lunge from their strategically situated hiding places, their appearances punctuated by flashing strobe lights.
As in 2013, construction on Universal’s upper lot has left little room for the Halloween Horror Nights mazes. There are only two this year: Dracula Untold and Face Off (in the House of Horrors).
Dracula Untold: Reign of Blood
Based on the eponymous movie scheduled for release on October 10, Dracula Untold: Reign of Blood begins with some fine Gothic settings that excite our expectations far more than the film’s trailer did. We almost felt transported back into one of Universal Studios’ classic Dracula movies; we even suspected the maze had scavenged sets from Universal’s House of Horrors walk-through attraction.
Unfortunately, the new film’s image of Count Dracula is more action-adventure than horror – and not nearly iconic enough to make him a memorable monster for a Halloween Horror Nights attraction. Even worse, the maze seems to run out of sets midway through, after which that path is defined by black curtains!
Yes, you read the right: Universal Studios Hollywood – the production company that created some of the most memorable monster movie sets in the history of cinema – is using a technique that we would barely find tolerable in a disadvantaged home haunt. (This leads us to wonder whether Dracula Untold was a last-minute addition, included because of the fortuitous timing of the movie’s release date rather than for its potential as a great maze.)
Taking its name from the Sy Fy channel reality show, Face Off is set in the House of Horrors, which is schedule to be torn down after Halloween Horror Nights closes in November. Although we enjoyed the variety of bizarre creatures haunting the halls of this venerable attraction, we found most of them inappropriate to the settings, which deliberately evoke the glories of Universal’s classic black-and-white horror films of the 1930s and ’40s.
These sets are the real star of the House of Horrors, and it was nice to walk through Dracula’s Castle and Frankenstein’s laboratory one last time. However, as much as we are delighted by the sight of a gyrating pole dancer an Alice in Wonderland costume, we found the image a little bit out of place amid the mad-scientist equipment.
We’re not one to complain, but the House of Horrors deserves a better Last Hurrah than this. The Face Off monstrosities are great, but they could have been slotted anywhere in the park – even in a scare zone. House of Horrors should have delivered a House of Frankenstein-type monster rally, with the Mummy, the Wolf Man, the Count, and the Monster reassembling for a final farewell. Sad to see the opportunity lost.
An American Werewolf in London
This is the first entrance you will see, to the right of Jurassic Park. Based on the 1981 film written and directed by John Landis, An American Werewolf in London is one of a handful of attractions that feels truly new at Halloween Horror Nights this year. Yes, it’s situated in a familiar location, but the layout has been filled with specific scenes and images from the movie, so recycling of old gags is almost non-existent.
Entering through the Slaughtered Lamb pub, you will encounter the nightmarish werewolf Nazis attacking the hospital, Jack’s ghost in various stages of decomposition, David’s painful full-body transformation into a lycanthrope, and several amazing recreations of Rick Baker’s monstrous werewolf – a four-footed ravenous beast rather than a man in need of a shave.
There’s even a scene in a theatre screening See You Next Wednesday (a recurring inside joke in Landis’s movies) – one of those moments Universal truly deserves credit for, showing a fan-like love for the minutia and trivia that the average Halloween-goer might overlook.
The only thing we missed was a spectacular ending, with David in werewolf form trapped in an alley and tragically gunned down by the police. Other than that, this maze delivers what Halloween Horror Nights does best: recreating a horror movie in real life – and letting you enter its world.
Clowns 3D with Music by Slash
We are sick to death of Halloween clowns, but we have to admit that this maze is better than expected. Sure, we recognize the same old settings (prison cells, a freezing room, etc), but we enjoy the day-glo 3D colors (every Halloween haunt should have at least one “lights on” attraction with high visibility instead of menacing shadows). Some of the special effects gags are memorably gag-inducing, particularly the sawing-a-woman-in-half scene (a combination of live actress and mannequin).
We’re not really sure the monsters in here have to be clowns, and we cannot remember a note of the soundtrack provided by Slash, but we did have a good time, in spite of ourselves.
The Walking Dead: End of the Line
With most of the Halloween Horror Nights mazes pushed off Universal’s’ upper level, there is not enough room even in the park’s lower level to house them. Consequently, after enjoying Clowns 3D and An American Werewolf in London, you will make a lengthy trek to see the final three mazes three in the lower back lot. This means that, in addition to the time allotted for standing in line, you should add an extra ten or fifteen minutes for walking. (“Alternative Transport” is available for those with mobility issues.)
The walk is not without its pleasures of anticipation: huge facades loom in the distance; the night air is filled with shrieks and flashing lights. As you approach your destination, you enter one of Halloween Horror Nights’ best scare zones, The Walking Dead: Welcome to Terminus. Walkers shuffle in the darkness, impeding your journey past broken-down military vehicles -symbols of society’s death rattle in the face of an enemy it could not destroy.
Nearer the entrance, you will see a perhaps too-cheerful soul welcoming you to Terminus, the safe haven promised in Season Four – a promise that ultimately proved too good to be true. Finally, you reach…
Though based on Season Four of The Walking Dead, this maze begins with the same prison set seen in Halloween Horror Nights 2013.The recreation is certainly justified, since both Seasons Three and Four were set in the prison; nevertheless, it is a bit disappointing to be experiencing familiar beats, especially after the preceding scare zone has raised one’s hopes for a trip to Terminus.
Hollywood Gothique loves zombie mayhem, but The Walking Dead series has been running out of gas for the past season or two, and the enervation is beginning to show up in the Halloween Horror Nights mazes. Fortunately, after exiting the prison, there are just enough new scenes to make the trip worthwhile, including an impressive recreation of a tunnel filled with zombies trapped in the rubble of a cave-in. This scene answers one of the questions plaguing the rest of Universal’s Walking Dead attractions: why don’t the Walkers attack and eat you? Well, here at least – they can’t, because they’re stuck! They’re still menacing as hell, and the menace is more effective because the situation creates a sense of believability missing elsewhere.
AVP: Alien vs. Predator
Here is a neat trick: AVP: Alien vs Predator is a bad movie, yet it yields a good maze. Why? Because it’s hard to go completely wrong with two of cinema’s most iconic movie monsters.
No doubt this is part of the reason Universal based their maze on the crossover title rather than either stand-alone franchise. Another reason probably has to do with limiting the scope of the maze for budgetary reasons: instead of recreating scenes from the entire Alien franchise – which would have required some expensive, original sets – AVP: Alien vs. Predator fits into an existing layout. In fact, if you look closely, you realize that this maze is not based on 2004’s AVP: Alien vs. Predator, which was set in the arctic; instead, it more nearly recalls the 2007 follow-up Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, which was set in small-town America. Thus, Universal can reuse generic sets of wooded areas and houses – which are much less expensive than reconstructing, for example, H.R. Giger’s distinctive designs for Alien‘s Egg Chamber and Space Jockey. (Had Universal taken the latter approach, they could very possibly have created the greatest maze in the history of Halloween.)
Whatever the budgetary constraints behind the maze, AVP: Alien vs. Predator realizes its titular monsters in fantastic detail. If you – like us – have long yearned to see a living Alien close up, in all its glory, Halloween Horror Nights offers the opportunity, and you will not be disappointed. The Predator design is not nearly as magnificent, but their physical presence makes an imposing balance with their enemy.
Some of the scares here are a bit repetitious: there are not one but two tiny corridors with an Alien on one side and a Predator on the other, recreating Odysseus’ famous dilemma regarding Scylla and Charybdis. In place of that, we would have preferred more sequences from the AVP movies, such as the magnificent moment when an Alien, hiding overhead, spears a Predator with its tail and hauls up into the hair like a dangling morsel. Nevertheless, we’ll take what we can get.
Also, keep your eyes open to avoid missing easily overlooked details. You path through one room directs your attention away from some victims plastered to a wall. Look closely and you will see they are not mannequins but actors – and at least one of them screams in pain as a chest-burster improvises a birth control through the ribs of its unfortunate “parent.”
From Dusk Till Dawn
Like An American Werewolf in London, this maze effectively recreates a specific film, one never before utilized at Halloween Horror Nights. The result is fresher and more exciting than anything else at Universal Studios Hollywood this year – for us, the hands-down winner as the best maze.
The exterior offers a passable recreation of the Titty Twister bar from the 1994 film, here renamed “The Twister” to avoid offending delicate sensibilities. Outside, two actors try to recreate the Gecko Brothers, but nobody really cares about them, and they are instantly forgotten as soon as you go inside. There, to the strains of Tito and Tarantula’s “After Dark,” you encounter Santanico Pandemonium doing her sultry snake dance (with an artificial animal, unfortunately).
After that, it’s one jump-scare after another. The hiding places are packed closely together, so you never have far to go before encountering a new danger. Also, the frequency of attacks is accelerated compared to previous years and even compared to some of Universal’s other mazes this year: miss one sudden, starling encounter, and another follows almost immediately.
Since the vampires vixens sport demonic faces atop alluring figures, there is an attraction-repulsion vibe to the maze. Unlike the Knotts Berry Farm Halloween Haunt, Halloween Horror Nights has been lax at exploiting the erotic allure of vampires. This year, they finally get with the program, and the results are turbo-charged.
We have to give Universal Studios credit for one other reason: over the past few years, it has become de rigeuer for theme parks to include one Latin0-inspired horror attraction: La Llorona, Chupacabra, or El Cucuy. From Dusk Till Dawn fills the bill but in an entirely different way. Yes, it’s set south of the border, but it’s contemporary cinematic horror – high-octane and hot – not another urban legend of children’s bedtime story.
One slightly churlish note: Among the dead bodies strewn in The Twister, we saw a mannequin that was recognizable as the possessed body from the end of Halloween 2013’s Evil Dead maze – the one that received the spectacular chainsaw-through-the-face treatment.This leftover stood out as a bit of an anomaly in From Dusk Till Dawn, a maze that otherwise eschews recycled elements.
For Halloween 2014, The Terror Tram is “Invaded by the Walking Dead.”
Well, hasn’t it always been? Back in 2006, when Universal launched Halloween Horror Nights after years of October inactivity, there were zombies on the back lot, and they’ve been there almost ever since; calling them “The Walking Dead” doesn’t change much.
As with this year’s Walking Dead maze, there is lip-service paid to the fourth-season plot development regarding Terminus, but hearing about it doesn’t mean you get to see it. Instead, the Terror Tram and the back lot tour remain mostly unchanged from 2013, with guests menaced by zombies and by roaming bands of chainsaw-wielding humans who (we are told) are so frenzied that they may not make a distinction between the living and the dead.
If Universal is going to use the Walking Dead brand name, we would like to see more of The Walking Dead on the back lot. Instead of using the iconic Psycho house as a photo-op (have your picture taken with Norman Bates), redress it as Hershell’s farm house, and stage the climactic battle from the end of Season Two, with the humans failing to fend of an onslaught of Walkers.
Fortunately, though there is little new, the old stuff is still good, and if you have never walked through the back lot during Halloween, you will get a kick out of the experience.
You can also enjoy many of Universal’s’ year-round rides: Transformers 3D; Jurassic Park in the Dark; The Simpsons; and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. We have experienced the first three and recommend all of them, though the Simpsons Ride is probably the most wacky fun – and the best motion-control attraction we have ever experienced. On the other hand, if you prefer a ride with real motion, Jurassic Park in the Dark brings you face-to-face with some convincing animatronic dinosaurs.
As expected, Universal Studios delivers production values – makeup, sets, and effects – that are above and beyond anything available at other Halloween events in Los Angeles. If you want to admire the artistry that goes into making an astounding haunted theme park attraction, then Halloween Horror Nights is the choice for you.
The consistency of quality is a little bit of a drawback, however. Although all of the mazes and scare zones are notionally “new,” long-time fans will experience a sense of déjà vu here and there. Also, as impressed as we were by the sights and sounds – not to mention the smells! – we found Halloween Horror Nights to be more fun than frightening – like watching your favorite old horror movie for the 1000th time and chuckling over scenes that scared you as a child. It’s still great entertainment, but it’s a different kind of entertainment.
Halloween Horror Nights 2014 is spectacular in scope, yet it feels – if not stuck in a rut, then locked in ghoulish groove. Much on display has been seen before: the “all new” Terror Tram Tour is very familiar, and many of the mazes have a recycled feel. Whereas Universal Studios used to create scenes that felt custom-made for each particular theme (whether it was Jason’s Camp Crystal Lake or Freddy’s Elm Street house), more recent mazes feel like new wine in old bottles – as if the characters are being forced into pre-existing sets and locations (e.g., AVP: Alien vs Predator). It’s as if Universal has given up on making the best possible Halloween haunt; instead, they seem to be maximizing profits by keeping down budgets.
The results are still good; the Guignol remains Grand enough to shock neophytes and delight fans. True connoisseurs of terror, however, will find it difficult to slake their thirst for novelty and and more refined, sophisticated horror. Halloween Horror Nights remains a must-see for its spectacle (the plane crash site, swarming with walkers), and as long as Universal can deliver mazes like From Dusk Till Dawn it will rank among the best Halloween attractions in Los Angeles. But it’s no longer a severed-head-and-dismembered-shoulders above the competition. Halloween Horror Nights runs through November 2 on weekends and some weeknights. Hours are 7pm to 2am every night; the Terror Tram stops running at 11:45pm. The address is Universal Studios, Hollywood 100 Universal City Plaza Univeral City, CA 91608. Get more info at the official website.
Sometimes doing the job is reward in itself. That’s what it was like for me to talk with Greg Nicotero. From DAWN OF THE DEAD to BREAKING BAD, from ARMY OF DARKNESS to OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, from HOSTEL to SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR, his vivid and creative makeup effects work has brought the fantastic, the grotesque, and the sometimes-just-plain-realistic to a dazzling kaleidoscope of film and TV projects.
That includes THE WALKING DEAD, the blockbuster TV series which scooped up a couple of primetime Emmy awards for Nicotero’s work in bringing the flesh-hungry walkers to gruesome… uh, life? Death? Anyway, in honor of the release of the complete fourth season on DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday, we got some time with Greg to talk about the finer points of zombie nurturing and care. Click on the player to hear the show.
This week, the Dossier Fantastique Podcast is joined by special guest John W. Morehead of TheoFantastique, for a look at what’s new in theatres and on home video in the genres of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. Dan Persons opens LOCKER 13, a new low-budget anthology horror film in limited theatrical release and on Video on Demand. Steve Biodrowski talks ABOUT TIME, the time-travel romance comedy from writer-director Richard Curtis, now available on DVD and Blu-ray. Morehead and Lawrence French take a 50th anniversary tour of the end of the world as we know it, courtesy of THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964), starring Vincent Price as the sole survivor of a plague of vampires. And don’t forget to stick around for a post-credits autopsy of the Season 4 finale of THE WALKING DEAD.
The latest edition of Dossier Fantastique offers a post-mortem of this year’s Oscar winners, including GRAVITY with seven awards – a rare feat for a science fiction film.Dan Persons rhapsodizes over Alfonso Cuaron’s win, and Lawrence French defends Spike Jonze Oscar for writing HER.
Later, the Cinefantastique podcasting crew examines the latest home video releases, including THE VISITOR (the 1979 Italian rip-off of THE OMEN, now restored for home video) and TIME OF THE DOCTOR (Matt Smith’s last appearance as the time-travelling Doctor Who, with some great bonus features on DVD and Blu-ray). And Steve Biodrowski runs down the pros and cons of Redbox’s subscription service, which includes a quartet of DVDs a month, plus instant streaming – a good way to catch some otherwise unobtainable horror, fantasy, and science fiction titles.
What’s in a name? Cinefantastique Online’s newly rechristened podcast seeks to answer that question. Formerly the Black Hole Ultra-Lounge, the weekly collection of all things wonderful relating to horror, fantasy, and science fiction cinema has morphed from loose repartee and laid-back commentary to a more structured show offering capsule commentary on news, theatrical films, recent trailers, and home video releases, with a segment at the end left open to include public domain titles or 50th-anniversary retrospectives. But don’t free: the Ultra-Lounge did not completely disappear into the Black Hole; it survives, post-credits, as a sort of bonus feature for listeners suffering from an over-abundance of curiosity regarding what random thought might pop into the heads of podcasters Lawrence French, Dan Persons, and Steve Biodrowski.
This week, Dossier Fantastique features: reviews of WINTER’S TALE and THE RETURNED, currently in theatres; an autopsy on THE WALKING DEAD’s mid-season operner, “After;” capsule comments of home video titles YOUNG DETECTIVE DEA: RISE OF THE SEA DRAGON, ZOMBIE NIGHT, and UNIDENTIFIED; and a 50the-anniversary appreciation of the overlooked British Gothic thriller, THE BLACK TORMENT. Also under the microscope: Tuesday’s home video releases, including special collector’s editions of FANTASTIC MR. FOX and DARK MAN, and recent trailers for TRANSCENDENCE and JODOROWSKY’S DUNE.
For all that the world was going to Hell on the third season of THE WALKING DEAD, viewers had no shortage of reasons for jubilation: Finally the series had found its footing, logging in episodes that managed a sweet mix of zombie-ripping mayhem and post-apocalyptic drama. Two of the prime contributors to the quality boost were the introductions of Woodbury — a cozy little stronghold in Georgia where the residents struggled to maintain a facade of normality while turning a blind eye to the moral rot eating away at their community — and the Governor, Woodbury’s psychotic rotter-in-chief.
Aiding and abetting the Governor’s brutal reign was Milton Mamet, a former scientist who helped carry out the Gov’s dictates, including performing experiments intended to discover glimmers of sentience in walkers. As played by Dallas Roberts, Milton was a prime example of THE WALKING DEAD’s moral ambiguity, a man trying to find his way in a world where the quality of humanity was rapidly yielding to the simple needs of survival.
In connection with the homevid release of THE WALKING DEAD’s third season on Blu-ray and DVD, Roberts sat down with us to talk about his work on the series. The !!!SPOILER-FILLED!!! discussion brings us some insight into Milton’s tortured existence, as well as giving us a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the production of the show. Click on the player to hear the interview.
Ever since WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) introduced movie audiences to the classic image of the zombie (a mindless revived corpse, directed by a Voodoo houngan [priest]), the restless dead have been shambling across the silver screen in various shapes and sizes, eventually throwing off the shackles of their masters and developing strange new appetites (first for human flesh, then for brains). Here is a representative sample.
WHITE ZOMBIE (1932): Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi, left) directs his mindless minions. The corpses have no will of their own; the film’s true monster is their master.
REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES (1936): This week follow-up to WHITE ZOMBIE posits the idea of an unstoppable undead army in WWI – offering the first suggestion of zombies as a worldwide threat.
THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940): This is probably the first zombie film to mix horror and comedy. Although the zombie (Noble Johnson) is revealed to be a fake planted to scare away Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard, his scenes are played for scares more than laughs.
KING OF THE ZOMBIES (1941): Comic actor Mantan Moreland gets some laughs from his reaction to traditional-looking zombies, who turn out to be under the direction of a Nazi scientist.
I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943): Darby Jones as the zombie Carrefour, in the classic produced by Val Lewton. The Voodoo element is strongly represented here. Directed by Jacques Tourneur, this is probably the greatest film every made using the traditional zombie theme.
ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU (1957): This low-budget effort is memorably only for the novel concept of water-logged zombies guarding a sunken treasure.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968): Though the word “zombie” is never mentioned, George A. Romero’s film changed the genre forever, reinventing the walking dead as cannibal corpses, driven by instinct to consume the living. Romero wrote but did not direct the 1990 color remake – a worthwhile film, but not classic.
TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1971): Amando de Ossorio’s film introduced the zombie-like Knights Templar, who would return in three sequels. Despite their desiccated appearance, the Templars were more of an undead cult than mindless corpses.
LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE (a.k.a., THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE, 1974): This Spanish film, obviously inspired by NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, is the first to show zombie cannibal carnage in color.
DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978): George A. Romero’s sequel to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD offers cinema’s first vision of the zombie apocalypse, which plays out in the microcosm of a shopping mall. Tom Savini’s graphic makeup effects, including exploding heads and disemboweled intestines, set the standard for all zombie films to follow.
ZOMBIE (a.k.a., ZOMBIE 2, 1979): Directed by Lucio Fulci, this Italian film combines the graphic splatter approach of DAWN OF THE DEAD with the zombies’ more traditional roots in Voodoo. The result, presented as an ersatz sequel to DAWN OF THE DEAD (which was released as ZOMBIE in Europe) launched an army of Italian zombie gorefests.
THE BEYOND (1981): Director Lucio Fulci offers two kinds of living dead: corporeal walking corpses and a more magical variety, able to appear and disappear at will.
THE EVIL DEAD (1981): Sam Raimi’s sleeper hit features human bodies possessed and sometimes resurrected by evil spirits. The grim, low-budget intensity echoes THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. The 2013 remake emphasized the possession angle, so that there were few if any walking corpses on screen.
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985): Dan O’Bannon’s black-comedy pseudo-sequel to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD re-imagines zombies as unkillable brain-eaters.
RE-ANIMATOR (1985): Stuart Gordon’s unrated gore film offered a more energetic species of living dead, resurrected by Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs)’ formula.
DAY OF THE DEAD (1985): Romero’s third living dead film presents us with the world’s first “domesticated” zombie, Bub (Sherman Howard), capable of some primitive human thought. Romero would continue to explore the zombie apocalypse in LAND OF THE DEAD, DIARY OF THE DEAD, and SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD.
EVIL DEAD 2 (1987): Sam Raimi’s sequel to THE EVIL DEAD (1981) pushes the unrated gore to comic levels.
THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988): Wes Craven’s film, based on a non-fiction book, returned zombies to their West Indies roots, suggesting a realistic explanation: drugs to induce mindless catatonia.
BRAINDEAD (a.k.a. “Dead Alive,” 1992): A pre-Tolkein Peter Jackson tries to outdo Sam Raimi in the gleeful gore department, and almost succeeds.
RESIDENT EVIL (2002): based on the popular vidoegame, writer-director Paul W. S. Anderson’s film offered an amped-up version of zombie violence. Several sequels followed, the best being RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION (2012)
28 DAYS LATER (2002): Instead of traditional zombies, director Danny Boyle’s film featured living people infected by a virus that drives them to mindless homicidal rage – an idea used by George A. Romero way back in THE CRAZIES (1973). The sequel 28 WEEKS LATER expands upon and surpasses the original.
DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004): This remake of Romero’s classic substitutes speedy zombies in place of the familiar shambling walkers. It’s entertaining in a slick professional way, with some good characterization, but it lacks the social satire of the original.
SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004): Riffing off Romero’s films, this comedy combines the zombie apocalypse with a love story; the end offers another glimpse of a domesticated zombie.
FIDO (2006): Billy Connolly plays a literally domesticated zombie, serving a human household as combination butler-pet.
[REC] [ (2007): This Spanish film filtered zombies through the lens of a hand-held shaky-cam, in the style of “found footage” films. The explanation for the zombies is a combination of virus and supernatural evil, an idea explored in the first of two sequels. There was also an American remake, QUARANTINE.
I AM LEGEND (2007): Are they vampires or zombies? It’s not clear, but thanks to the star power of Will Smith, this adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel reached a wider audience than any zombie movie before.
DEAD SNOW (2009): Nazis-had been done before but never better than in this somewhat comic horror film from Norway
ZOMBIELAND (2009): This took the 28 DAYS LATER concept of zombies as virus-infected-humans, and mainstreamed it for the masses with a comedic approach, achieving blockbuster success.
THE CRAZIES (2010): This remake of George A. Romero’s 1973 film offers another version of viral zombies – not the living dead, but infected humans.
THE WALKING DEAD (2010-2013): This AMC series, based on Robert Kirkman’s graphic novel, hews close to the zombie concept laid down by Romero but appealed to non-genre fans with its characterization and story-telling. The graphic make up and effects are courtesy of Greg Nicotero, who had assisted Tom Savini on DAY OF THE DEAD.
WARM BODIES (2013): This comedy-romance gives us zombies with a heart as “R” (Nicholas Hoult) finds his human emotions revived when he falls in love with Julie (Teresa Palmer).
WORLD WAR Z (2013): This big-budget blockbuster played out the zombie apocalypse on a bigger scale than ever before.
Back in the 1930s, during the early days of sound film-making, Universal Studios was responsible for the first great wave of classic monster movies. So it is only appropriate that Universal presents an annual Halloween event that brings movie monsters to life: Halloween Horror Nights, to be exact. Last week, Universal provided a preview of the horrors that will be unleashed when Halloween Horror Nights opens on September 21. This year’s mazes and monsters feature fewer film franchises, in favor of television (THE WALKING DEAD), vidogames (SILENT HILL), rock and roll (ALICE COOPER GOES TO HELL), and even legends (Mexico’s LA LLARONA). THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is really the only film-related maze this time out. In addition, Universal’s own classic movie monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, and the Phantom of the Opera) will groove to modern music in the House of Horrors, a year-round walk-through attraction that gets a big makeover every Halloween season.
The preview consisted of makeup demonstrations and interview opportunities. I got a few minutes to interview HHN Creative Director John Murder on camera, starting off with a question about the lack of mazes based on movie franchises this year. Universal’s usual selling point is bringing horror movies to life, but 2012 sees attractions based on a TV series, a videogame, a 1970s rock-and-roll album, and a Mexican legend; only the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE maze is primarily a film franchise.
“We’re expanding our brand,” said Murdy. “I’ve done a lot of horror movie franchises…almost every major horror movie franchise. But horror evolves. Talking about something like THE WALKING DEAD, I don’t think you would have seen that on TV even five years ago. It’s hugely popular, so as the genre evolves, we need to involve with it. Embracing videogames – that’s different for us as well. We need to be right there on that cutting edge.”
THE WALKING DEAD seems to present a particular challenge: Halloween Horror Night has presented zombies several times in the past (the London Street scene has featured scare zones such as SHAUN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIEVILLE). How will Murdy make this year’s “walkers” specific to the AMC TV show?
“The walking dead has really great, iconic environments. I love working on properties that, if it’s a movie, there are multiple movies, because we get to pick and choose our favorite bits. With WALKING DEAD, we have two season to work with, so we get to watch all the episodes and select the things we think are going to be most impactful in a haunted attraction. And the Walkers are very unique; they’re different from a lot of other zombies. Working directly with (WALKING DEAD makeup artist) Greg Nicotero, we get to utilize the molds from the show to bring those to life. What we’re really trying to do is put you in the footsteps of the human survivors. We want to make you feel what they feel on the show as they try to navigate the zombie apocalypse.
According to Murdy, enormous research goes into each of the mazes, to decide which elements from a particular franchise will translate into a terrifying walk-through attraction. Taking the ALICE COOPER GOES TO HELL 3-D maze as an example, Murdy explained:
Last year, we did WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE. This (ALICE COOPER GOES TO HELL) is the album that was the sequel to WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE, so it was a natural for us. But I had a different little spin that I wanted to pitch to Alice: ‘I want to take your music, but I also want to bring in the idea of Dante’s INFERNO, and multiple levels of Hell, and particularly the Seven Deadly Sins, and poetic justice.’ I want to modernize that, informed by Alice Cooper’s lyrics and stage show.
In terms of scale and production values, Halloween Horror Nights exceeds other theme park Halloween attractions in Los Angeles, but the potential problem for such a large-scale event is the loss of a personal, intimate scare factor. Murdy says he takes that into account when designing the event.
When we design any attraction, we design it for whether it’s a dress rehearsal where we might have 3,000 people, versus a sold-out Saturday night. When we design the scares, we have to consider both of those scenarios and try to use our tool kit to impact our guests no matter what the situation is. But it’s not like when I was ten years old in my parents garage building a haunted house for the neighborhood kids. I’m building it for thousands and thousands of people.
Three of this year’s mazes are titles that should be familiar to anyone who regularly attends Halloween Horror Nights. Nevertheless, Murdy says there will be new scares inside.
“It’s not the same maze,” he replied, when asked about LA LLARONA, then switched to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE as another example. “I did TEXAS in 2007 and 2008, but I did the remake. I’ve always wanted to do the original. I know Tobe Hooper: he’s a big fan of our event; he’s come multiple times. Over the years, I’ve said, ‘Tobe, when are we going to do your movie?’ Growing up in the ’70s, that movie had a huge influence on me. Now we’re doing it, and top to bottom it’s a brand-new maze. So, some of the titles you may have seen before, but it’s a lot of new experiences.”
Unfortunately, I did not have time to ask on camera why an EVIL DEAD maze will be at Knotts Berry Farm Halloween Haunt this year instead of Halloween Horror Nights. Later, I did manage to grab an off-camera moment between interviews Murdy was giving for other outlets to get an answer to this question. Although Murdy had conversations with the EVIL DEAD people, the project was not a priority, because the tie-in is with the remake, which does not come out this year and does not feature the character of Ash, so memorably played by Bruce Campbell in the original films. THE EVIL DEAD certainly seems like a natural for Halloween Horror Nights, but if it ever happens, Murdy will likely focus on EVIL DEAD II, the hysterically over-the-top sequel, which truly represents the apex of the series. You can read more about Halloween Horror Nights at Hollywood Gothique.
Everybody needs a Thneed. The question is, does anybody need DR. SEUSS’ THE LORAX, the feature-length, CG animated, 3D, big screen adaptation of the legendary children’s author’s environmental parable? Directed by DESPICABLE ME’s Chris Renaud, the film expands upon the tale of a humble forest guardian (voiced here by Danny Devito) trying to defend his home from an avaricious industrialist (Ed Helms) by ganging it to the adventures of a young boy (Zac Efron) who attempts to save his plasticized town from the clutches of an even more avaricious industrialist (Rob Riggle). Cinefantastique Online‘s Steve Biodrowski and Dan Persons braved the 3D onslaught of Seussian bric-a-brac and discuss whether the tale survives its trip through the lens of contemporary, pop-culture-referencing, family filmmaking, how faithful the producers have remained to the author’s intent, and whether throwing in a few minions would have been a good idea.
Also: Steve and Dan discuss the second part of the second season of THE WALKING DEAD. Plus: What’s coming to theaters and home video.