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.
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.
Courtesy of Hollywood Gothique, here is a video tribute to the House of Horrors at Universal Studios Hollywood. This year-round attraction served double duty during Universal’s annual Halloween Horror Nights, providing a home for classic creatures from the studios’ old horror movies: Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, etc.
Unfortunately, House of Horrors closed after Halloween 2014. Read the article that accompanies the video here.
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.
Writer/Director Drew Goddard to adapt horror satire for Halloween Horror Nights… JACOB’S LADDER being climbed once more… A bonding experience doesn’t go quite as planned in BEST FRIENDS FOREVER…
From the luxurious Cinefantastique Online studios in NYC, Dan Persons brings you up-to-date on what’s happening in the world of fantastic film & TV.
FULL-SIZE VIDEO IS BELOW
FRANKENWEENIE is about resurrections in more ways than one. While the 3D, stop-motion animated tale, in glorious black and white, centers on a young Victor Frankenstein (here a (relatively) normal suburban kid rather than a deluded doctor) jolting his beloved dog Sparky back to life after a tragic car accident, with serious repercussions when his classmates get in on the revivification business themselves, for director Tim Burton, it’s also an opportunity to dip into his past, adapting the story from an early, live-action short, and bringing in many key players from earlier Burton films to contribute as voice performers. Whether the expansion to feature length and the addition of 3D goggles justify the nostalgia trip is something that Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons discuss at length in this week’s review (as well as pledging their eternal devotion to that most hallowed of cinema traditions, the monster rampage).
Then, Larry talks about a new, stop-motion exhibit at the Disney Museum, Steve surveys what’s new in L.A.’s Halloween haunts this year, and Dan runs down what’s coming to theaters next week.
Click on the player to hear the show.
Universal Studios in Hollywood is the home of Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man, so it is no surprise that its annual Halloween Horror Nights is loaded with movie monsters, both new and old. For Halloween 2012, Universal’s rogue’s gallery of creepy creatures is aided and abetted by ghouls and fiends from THE WALKING DEAD, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and SILENT HILL, plus several non-movie monsters. The result is one of the best Halloween extravaganzas that Universal has offered over the past few years.
The technical trickery at Universal Studios Hollywood always exceeds that of any other Halloween haunt in Los Angeles, but Halloween Horror Nights 2012 features something more: a satisfyingly variegated variety of shocks. We won’t pretend there was a dearth of gore – far from it – but somehow this year’s haunt avoids the creeping sense of monotony that seemed to be setting in during past Halloweens, when virtually interchangeable attractions (Saw, Hostel) trotted out more or less the same atrocities under different brand names. (You almost expected to see a maze named “The Saw Remains the Same.”) Yes, some familiar set-pieces return this year, but there are so many scares on view, and of such different kinds, that it doesn’t really matter. Halloween Horror Nights 2012 has something for everyone – from the twisted flesh of SILENT HILL to the sinister spirits of La Llorona, from the shock-rock of Alice Cooper to the apocalyptic shock of THE WALKING DEAD.
For fans of classic movie monsters, Universal Studios’ House of Horrors walk-through attraction is a year-round treat, filled withe vampires, mummies, and werewolves walking through sets suggesting an old castle and Frankenstein’s workshop. Every fall, the House of Horrors is revamped to make it even more terrifying for those attending Halloween Horror Nights. For 2012, the attraction has been rebranded as Universal Monsters Remix. You still see the same old sets, props, and monsters, but now they are backed by a throbbing techno-electronic beat; as incongruous as that sounds, the effect helps rejuvenate the old familiar fiends, like a transfusion of new blood. The pulsing lights are more colorful, enhancing the monochromatic look of the venue (mostly inspired by black-and-white horror films), and the dancing monsters (some of them quite over-sized) seem electrified in a brand new way. There is also a great gag with a character who seems to be a stone fixture – before opening her eyes and coming to life. Little of it is really very scare, but it is certainly novel.
The highlight of Halloween Horror Nights 2012 is the presence of the “walkers” from the AMC television series, who serve double duty here, infesting their own maze, The Walking Dead: Dead Inside, and invading the back lot Terror Tram tour. When you have seen one flesh-eating zombie, you more or less have seen them all, but there are memorable, iconic images from the television series that are brought to live here, creating a look that distinguishes this year’s Walking Dead from previous zombies.
There is also a pleasingly consistent feel to the Terror Tram. Whereas previous years tended to mix and match bits and pieces of several franchises (e.g., Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface might show up), this year’s Terror Tram is pretty much zombies, zombies, zombies (with a brief detour for a photo op with Norman Bates in front of the PSYCHO house). Unless our memory fails us, this is the first time Universal Studios Hollywood has utilized a television franchise in Halloween Horror Nights; the results definitely justify the decision.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Saw is the Law is modeled after the original 1974 film (not the remake, which inspired a previous maze at Halloween Horror Nights). It may take sharp-eyed fright fans to note the distinction, but this maze is set in a different location from its predecessor and features a grittier feel, in keeping with the source material. Some of the film’s most grizzly shocks (e.g., the girl on the meathook) are recreated with ghoulish intensity. Of course, Leatherface is an ubiquitous presence, but chainsaws (a staple at too many Halloween attractions) are not overused; there are more than enough other atrocities on display to satisfy horror hounds without non-stop saws.
The new Silent Hill maze is based on the videogame, which inspired a disappointing 2006 movie and the upcoming SILENT HILL: REVELATION 3-D. This maze impresses with its recreation of the disturbingly distorted characters from the videogame. There is also a pleasingly otherworldly sensation, created by ghostly characters who seem to appear behind walls – and then disappear just as inexplicably. Still, there is a lack of variety to the frights: there are lots of disfigured nurses, plus a few other bizarre beings, but the the scares are fairly standard issue (pop out from around the corner), with little sense of a theme or narrative progression.
There is also a Silent Hill scare zone (i.e., a non-maze area of the park, infested with monsters) in the lower level of the park (where the mazes for Silent Hill and Texas Chainsaw Massacre are situated). This last one is Halloween Horror Nights’ least effective scare zone, stranding its performers in an inappropriate location (near the escalator) with little atmosphere. Universal Studios used to feature wonderful fog-filled scare zones on its lower level – down a side street a short walk from the escalator. This year, the street has been kept clear, probably to avoid scaring away any potential visitors to the new 3-D Transformers ride. Too bad.
In an effort to expand its brand, Universal Studios is offering several non-movie tricks-and-treats at this year’s Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood…
Alice Cooper Goes to Hell in 3-D offers an over-the-top, almost campy concoction that should please both fans and newcomers. Imagery from his many stages shows (boa constrictors, death by hanging) merge with the 7 deadly sins to create a memorable portrait of damnation in many forms. Only one song is used from the eponymous 1976 album (i.e., “Go to Hell”), but Cooper returned to the damnation theme many times, providing numerous tunes perfectly suited to the horrors on view (e.g., “Eat Some More” is the soundtrack here for the sin of Gluttony).
La Llorona: La Cazadora de Ninos (“The Crying Woman: Hunter of Children”) repeats some makeup and effects seen in the La Llorona maze at last year’s Halloween Horror Nights; nevertheless, perhaps because the theme is based on an authentic legend (the crying ghost of a woman who murdered her children), La Llorona comes closer to an authentic Halloween feel than the gore and violence on display in other mazes. We were a bit wary when Universal Studios Hollywood started incorporating La Llorona into Halloween Horror Nights a couple years ago (it seemed like an obvious rip-off of the “Dia De Los Muertos” maze at Knott’s Berry Farm’s annual Halloween haunt), but the satisfyingly sinister results speak for themselves, providing a badly needed change of pace from the gore-filled approach of the other mazes.
Halloween Horror Nights features a handful of Scare Zones, including the previously mentioned one for Silent Hill. As usual, the best two are the ones utilizing the theme park’s most appropriate settings: the London Street scene, with its Victorian atmosphere, is haunted by creepy Toyz. The Medieval Village is filled with hag-like witches. There is a Clownz zone near the front entrance. The chainsaw-wielding performers do a good job harassing passersby, but the clown theme really needs to be retired in favor of something new. Why not use the Walking Dead instead?
Summing up: Halloween Horror Nights 2012 is not perfect. We think some of the dramatic potential of The Walking Dead could have been more fully exploited, and we are disappointed to see that props, sets, and gags are still being recycled under new brand names. However, it is churlish to focus on these flawed details when the big picture is so impressive.Frequent haunt-goers may be a bit too jaded to appreciate just how awesome Universal Studios annual haunted theme park event really is. We were forcibly reminded of this while walking through the back lot plane-crash: a young woman nearby was almost too impressed to be truly scared. Seeing her friends surrounded by zombies amid the devastated homes and torn fuselage, her reaction was not a scream of fear but a laudatory appraisal: “This is amazing!”
Yes, it is.
Halloween Horror Nights runs on selected nights (mostly weekends) through October 31. Universal Studios Hollywood is located at 100 Universal City Plaza, Univeral City, CA 91608.
Click here to learn about other Halloween events in Los Angeles
- 2012 Halloween Recommendations: The Best Haunted Theme Park Events in Los Angeles (hollywoodgothique.com)
- Walking Dead will invade Universal Studios for Halloween 2012 (cinefantastiqueonline.com)
- Knotts Scary Farm 2012 Review (hollywoodgothique.com)
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.
According to Deadline , Ron Howard’s ambitious version of Steven King’s THE DARK TOWER book series might very well still have life in it.
The site says that Warner Brother’s is “very close to a deal” that would give Howard the means to make the first feature film he planned in adapting the saga.
Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman’s script would be used, and Goldsman would produce with Brian Grazer and Steven King. Warner Bros. has purchased Goldsman’s existing script (done for Universal), and he is now doing a polish on the screenplay for the studio.
Javier Bardem was previously tentatively attached as the anti-hero lead Roland Deschain, last of the “Gunslingers” — in the Dark Tower world a kind of Western-themed Knight-Errant.
Bardem’s continued participation is dependent on when the film, still to be directed by Ron Howard, is scheduled. This might be the beginning of 2013.
Right now, Javier Bardeem is playing the villian in SKYFALL , the new James Bond film, currently shooting in the UK.
The production’s resurrection is a bit of a surprize to many, as Universal Studios backed off the plan to make three feature films and two TV mini-series out of the allegorical dark fantasy novels.
Apparently, HBO may pick up the project as a mini-series, if Warner Brothers Pictures ultimately greenlights the film.
Following their discussion of DREAM HOUSE, Steve Biodrowski and Dan Persons took a few minutes to discuss this year’s Halloween haunt at the Universal Studios theme park and the upcoming, STAR WARS-themed photo book, Dark Lens. Also, Dan sends a personal greeting to one of our far-flung listeners.
Unlike other Halloween attractions, Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights is closely tied in with the horror film genre – perfectly appropriate for company created such classics as DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, and THE WOLF MAN. Each Halloween season – which, for the major theme park events, launches in September – Universal offers mazes and monsters inspired by contemporary horror films. 2001 includes attractions based on SCREAM IV, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, the upcoming prequel-remake of THE THING, and the recent remake of THE WOLFMAN, among others. (The latter two are Universal properties – marking the first time the Halloween event has taken much advantage of its own classic library, as opposed to hiring monsters from other companies.) Breaking with tradition, this year’s Halloween Horror Nights also features mazes inspired by “La Llarona,” a ghostly Mexican legend, and by shock-rock pioneer Alice Cooper, who recently released a sequel to “Welcome to My Nightmare,” his classic 1975 solo debut album.
On Friday, September 23, Universal Studios launched Halloween horror nights with the Eyegore Awards, which are handed out to celebrities in the horror genre. This year’s recipients were David Arquette (SCREAM), Jamie Kennedy, Rain Wilson (who starred in Rob Zombie’s HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES before going on to THE OFFICE), Bailee Madison (DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK), Emma Belle (FINAL DESTINATION 5), and Alice Cooper. Corey Feldman (THE LOST BOYS) hosted the event, whose presenters included, Rob Zombie (HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES), Adam Green (HATCHET), Thomas Jane (THE MIST), James Gunn (SLITHER), and Calico Cooper (Alice’s daughter, who accepted the award on his behalf).
As usual, the awards show was preceded by the red carpet arrival of this year’s presenters, recipients, and other horror celebrities. Check out the video for interviews with James Gunn, Sid Haig (HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES), Derek Mears (FRIDAY THE 13TH), Calico Cooper, Adam Green, and Halloween Horror Nights Creative Director John Murdy, who explains why FINAL DESTINATION 5 would not make a good Halloween maze but THE THING does.
All of this of course, was merely prelude to the Halloween activities inside the Universal Studios theme park, which you can read about here. Along with the special Halloween attractions, Halloween Horror Nights also includes all the usual Universal Studios theme park rides: The Simpsons, Jurassic Park, and Revenge of the Mummy.