With the heritage of making horror films for over 80 years, Universal Studios Hollywood goes all-out on the most terrifying Halloween event in Los Angeles. Featuring the most authentic scares from some of the biggest horror properties in film and TV, this year’s attractions include mazes for The Walking Dead, Insidious, Halloween, This Is The End, Guillermo del Toro’s highly anticipated Crimson Peak, and the return of Alien vs. Predator, as well as the all-new Terror Tram: Survive The Purge experience on the backlot, four new scare zones and a brand new live stage show featuring the Jabbawockeez.
Collider, along with a handful of other press outlets, was recently invited to preview the Halloween: Michael Myers Comes Home and AVP: Alien vs. Predator and to see what to expect from both, as well as the technology that’s being utilized to bring the scares to life. After taking the tours and chatting with maze creator John Murdy, we’ve compiled a list of six things to know about Halloween Horror Nights in general, along with 10 things to know about the Halloween and AVP mazes.
- Maze creator John Murdy writes really elaborate treatments for every maze that he creates for HHN that are approx. 100 pages long. The treatments include the narrative of what they’re doing, all of the technical notes, and visual references for the props, dressing and scenic crews.
- As far as the line for how scary something is, they go for the jugular. They’re mostly focused on films and television shows, and occasionally step into original content or things based on mythology, and some of that is very edgy.
Hollywood and Orlando often take very different approaches to the same property. If you went to Orlando last year and saw their version of AVP, it would be different to the one in Hollywood this year. And when Hollywood brings back a property that they’ve done before, like Halloween or Insidious, they like to re-imagine it. For example, with Insidious, they now have three films to explore, instead of just the two they had the last time.
- The performers can’t touch the guests, so they find other ways to break the fourth wall to physically affect the people walking through the mazes. They try to create multi-sensory experiences.
- The rules they follow for deciding what mazes to include at HHN are whether people know it and want to see it, and if it has great environments and characters that can be replicated live. Horror continues to change and evolved, and is being found, more and more, on television. These days, Murdy is more interested in finding horror that isn’t obvious, like with the This is the End They’ve never explored comedy in horror.
- The team behind the Universal Studios mazes doesn’t really look at what the other theme parks do for Halloween. Murdy has never missed a day of HHN in nine years.
10 Things to Know about the “Halloween: Michael Myers Comes Home” maze:
- They decided to bring Halloween back for HHN because it’s always at the top of anyone’s list of their favorite horror films. HHN first did a Halloween maze back in 2009 that was called “The Life and Crimes of Michael Myers,” and this maze is called, “Michael Myers Comes Home.” They are approaching things differently this time, for people who had visited the previous maze, which started with how the house looked in 1963, during the opening prologue, when young Michael Myers murdered his sister Judith.
Halloween was a low-budget independent horror movie, and the budget was so low that they couldn’t afford to make a sculpt for a mask. So, they went out and bought a $2 William Shatner Star Trek mask, painted it white, teased the hair, and changed the eye holes. The house that they used as the Myers house in the film is still in South Pasadena, and was an old abandoned house.
- They’re following the classic John Carpenter film from 1978. They’re starting with the Myers’ house again, but this time they wanted to focus on what the house looks like later in the film, when Dr. Loomis and Sheriff Brackett visited in 1978. The house is the book-ends to the maze because it starts and ends with it, and since the movie takes place in the ‘70s, the props and dressing team has to make sure every piece of decor, every photograph and every painting comes from the era.
- They are visiting all of the iconic scenes and kills. Michael Myers created a sign to his sister Judith, who he murdered. Because he couldn’t stand to have her stare at him, he crossed and scratched her eyes out of the photos around the room.
- They typically stay very true to the movies for the mazes, but they also try to expand on ideas presented in them. There is a reference in the film to Michael Myers having eaten a dog, even though it’s never shown on screen. For the maze, they’ve decided to not only show that, but to have those visiting the maze actually smell it. The final scene of the maze is also an original idea that they’ve added.
- There is an homage to Halloween 3, with an important scene at the babysitter’s house. When you come up to the house, you see the trick or treaters, who are played by little people performers wearing the masks from the film.
The mazes are comprised of scenes that include jump scares and action, but also very theatrical moments . For the scene with Linda being strangled to death with a phone cord by Michael Myers, they spent a lot of time on the choreography, so that the performers remain safe and uninjured during the 60,000 times they have to do it throughout the run of HHN. With this particular moment, the performer playing Linda is wearing a necklace that looks like the phone cord around her neck, and then the cables are attached to a harness, so that none of it actually affects her neck while Michael Myers is strangling her to death.
- The maze utilizes various projection, lighting and audio throughout the maze. At the beginning of the maze, there is projection and lighting in the upper window of the house, with young Michael Myers in the clown costume, murdering his sister Judith. It’s very tricky to light a maze and get the right levels of dark and spooky while still allowing people to be able to appreciate all the details. The scareactors have audio-lighting triggers to control those moments themselves while they’re performing. There is also multi-channel audio throughout with the music heavily featured. Dr. Loomis’ voice is the narrative thread for the maze because he spent his life with Michael Myers, as his doctor, before he realized that Myers is nothing more than a relentless killing machine with no emotion.
- Michael Myers has a supernatural/paranormal quality to him, where he often appears and disappears, and they decided to utilize that for this maze. They use the magic illusion Pepper’s Ghost technology effect, which is also used in the ballroom scene at the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. It’s a reflection of an object on glass that allows something to appear and disappear through lighting, and in this case, that object is Michael Myers himself.
- They’ve created hundreds of characters, in the last 10 years, and of all the things they’ve had to create, the Michael Myers mask has been the hardest because it is so simple. They went through seven iterations of the sculpt before they decided on what they’re using.
10 Things to Know about the “Alien vs. Predator” maze:
AVP is the most challenging maze they’ve done for HHN, up to this point because they’re stepping into the world of sci-fi and from a production standpoint they had to build a Predator spaceship and a variety of creatures, including the Predators, the Aliens, the face-huggers, the chest-bursters and the Queen alien. Mostly everything you see in the maze comes off of the original molds from the film, and then they’re made to work for HHN, so that they continue to work with and for the performers.
- When they decided to do AVP as a maze, they knew that it was going to be such a huge endeavor to produce it that they had always intended to do it two years in a row. They also wanted to make technical improvements on the Alien puppet characters by adding a traveler to give them forward movement.
- The maze is based more on Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, where a spaceship crashes in the forest, so they had to build a Predator spaceship to take people through. The spaceship has fiber glass panels with sections cut out that have other materials behind it, and with lighting they do a pulse effect so that the ship feels alive.
- There are speakers throughout the forest making the sounds of the face-huggers. There is different music, this time around, that’s more atmospheric and spooky and that’s all original.
- Along with lighting and audio, the maze makes use of compressed air and water blasts to make it more interactive.
- The first room of the ship has some face-huggers in containers, but two have escaped and are loose. There are performers in black-out rooms with face-hugger puppets on a handle that they can slam against the ship to scare you.
- For the Alien performers, they’re inside the puppet rig and they have control of the arm and months. They’re wearing a backpack, so that they can control their own audio and lighting.
One of the most elaborate rooms in the maze is one that includes multiple victims of the face-huggers, in chairs, on a couch and against the wall, and includes live performers working the chest-bursters.
- They like to use distraction scares throughout the mazes, where they have one performer distract you before you get hit with what they’re actually trying to scare you with.
- The grand finale of the maze is the barn where you come across the Queen alien. She’s operated by three people, one for the left arm, one for the right arm and one for the head, who all have video monitors to see the people walking through.
Halloween Horror Nights is at Universal Studios Hollywood on select nights from September 18th through November 1st. You can find more details at http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/hollywood/2015/.
Here’s more images from the AVP Maze. All images attributed to Christina Radish:
Here’s more images from the Halloween Maze. All photos credited to Christina Radish: