In this job, I get to do some really cool things, and one such cool thing happened when I was recently given the opportunity to tour the new Insidious: Into the Further maze for Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood, taking place on select nights from September 20th through November 2nd, prior to its debut. Walking through each scene, accompanied by the film’s producer Jason Blum and HHN creative director John Murdy, it was clear how much time and thought was put into every little detail.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, Jason Blum and John Murdy talked about how this particular maze came about, what it’s like to see a movie brought to life in this way, how long they spend planning out the mazes, figuring out which scenes to include, that they’ll have about 40 performers in the maze, that they’re already thinking about the next movie they can collaborate on a maze for, and whether they’re tempted to get dressed up and scare people themselves. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
For those who have never been, Halloween Horror Nights brings together the sickest minds in horror to immerse guests in a three-dimensional world of terror. With mazes such as “The Walking Dead: No Safe Haven,” based on the AMC TV series, “Evil Dead: Book of the Dead,” based on the chilling remake of the cult classic, “Black Sabbath: 13 3D,” inspired by lyrics from the legendary rock band’s 43-year history of music, “Insidious: Into the Further,” based on the film franchise and “El Cucuy: The Boogeyman,” based on the Latin American legend of the mythical, shape-shifting monster, with narration by actor Danny Trejo.
Collider: How did this maze happen?
JOHN MURDY: It started last year, at Halloween Horror Nights. I’ve known Jason [Blum] for four years. We met at the event, years ago, and we’ve been talking for years about getting together and doing something. And then, James Wan, the director of Insidious, was at Halloween Horror Nights last year. He called me on his cell phone, and I was up in a part of our park where we have all these chainsaw performers, so I couldn’t hear a word he was saying. I was like, “James, I can’t hear you! There’s chainsaws!” What he was calling about was that he just went through one of our mazes and was like, “Oh, my god, we’ve gotta work together!” Years ago, we did the Saw franchise, but by the point we did it, it was Saw 5 and James had moved on to other projects. I think he was doing Dead Silence, at the time. We never got a chance to work together creatively, but he really wanted to do that. So, we all got together over at Jason’s company, Blumhouse. Myself, Jason, Leigh Whannell, the writer, and James all sat down with my art director and partner, Chris Williams, and we just started kicking around ideas. It all started there.
Jason, you do these micro-budgeted horror films that become so successful that now you have a maze. How crazy is that?
JASON BLUM: It’s insane! It’s awesome! The reason I get up in the morning, professionally, is to talk about a low-budget movie, and then, a year later, to see it in a movie theater. Now, a year after that, to see a live event around it is equally as thrilling. It’s really cool. The haunted house actually looks much better than the set of our movie ever looked. The set of a movie is only for 180 degrees. This is much bigger. It’s 360 degrees. It’s actually like stepping inside the movie, which you don’t even get to do on the set. On the set, there’s 100 people and cameras, and it’s only half dressed. It’s really, really fun. As a producer of these movies, it’s totally awesome.
There must be a little bit of envy, when you see the maze and wish you could have done it that way for the movie?
BLUM: Yeah, there is! We should shoot the third movie in the maze.
MURDY: One of the things I love about what Blumhouse does is that, when you have a limited budget to work with, you have to be very creative, and we certainly can appreciate that when we’re building multiple mazes. Until Jason arrived on the scene, I think we went through an era of horror that was just bloated and wasn’t terribly scary, honestly. One of the things that really excited us, working with Jason and all the people at Blumhouse, is that they’re incredibly successful at making really scary movies that affect you, and they have an amazing audience of fans. One of the reasons we’re doing Insidious is Twitter. I do Twitter for Horror Nights, every day. As soon as the first movie came out, all of our fans were going, “You should do Insidious,” over and over and over again. They even formed Team Insidious on the internet, and they were campaigning for us to do it. We spend a lot of time listening to our fans. We’re really in touch with our fans. If there’s one thing that’s true about horror movie fans, I always equate it to when I was growing up in the ‘70s with Trekkies. They’re really obsessed with the movies they love, and they’re very passionate about them. They were telling me that they wanted to see Insidious, so we listened to them and here it is.
John, how early do you start planning out the mazes?
MURDY: It’s year-round. We started planning during the event last year. When James called me, it was like, “Okay, let’s start talking.” We live horror 24/7, and it never stops.
Do you collaborate on which scenes you want to bring to life?
MURDY: Yes, very much.
BLUM: Because James didn’t get to be that involved with the Saw maze, when we started talking about Insidious, he said, “The one thing I really want to do this time is have a say in it.” And John and his team were all super-welcoming. James and Leigh’s imprint on this is big and everywhere. They’ve both seen it and they love it. These guys are not only nice about it, but they encourage the filmmakers to give input and put their stamp on it, and James and Leigh really did that.
MURDY: That’s our creative ideal. That’s what we ask to do, every single time we work with anybody. The first scene in the maze is a perfect example of the influence of James and Leigh on our maze. Insidious is different from a lot of horror movies, in the sense that it doesn’t hammer you over the head, right out of the gate. It’s a slow burn. And they really wanted that creepy feeling, which is honestly, for us, very different. We tend to hammer you over the head. But Chris Williams, my partner who’s an art director and production designer, designed all of these amazing sets. That’s one thing that we really listened to James talk about because, even though it was totally different and alien to us, we thought that he had a really good point. Our job is to nail the film and make fans of this film feel like they’re living it.
One of the great things about Insidious is that it just gets more and more intense. So, in the first scene, there are no actors. In working with Jason and everybody, I get the actual sound from the movie, and it’s a very paranormal scene. When you come in, you’ll hear dialogue from the film, talking about, “There’s something wrong with this house.” All of a sudden, everything transforms around you. You see the energy being sucked into the lamp, and then it transfers over to the baby walker, and it lights up and does it’s thing. And then, you very subtlely see the face of the old woman, who appears and then disappears. We’re not knocking you over the head. That was all James Wan. All through the attraction, those are things that he or Leigh talked about, that we made sure to get in, as a distraction.
When the movie comes out, you have the advantage because people don’t know what to expect. Is it challenging to then still scare them, once they have a certain expectation?
MURDY: Yeah, that’s why we have a whole mathematical philosophy about how you scare people. A lot of it is what we call, “Set ‘em up and knock ‘em down,” or distraction scares, where we try to draw your focus someplace other than where we’re going to try to scare you.
Once you start getting people in the maze, if you notice that something is not working, do you constantly tweak things?
MURDY: Oh, yeah! We have crews that work 24/7, around the clock. It’s not that often that we radically change anything because we’ve thought about it for a year and we’ve gone over it and over it. When we’re designing it, we make a lot of changes. Once we’re here, at this point, we might subtlely tweak things, but for the most part, we know what we’re going after and that’s why we train every single actor ourselves. Usually, the creative director and art director don’t do that with projects like this, but we want to invest every single performer with the passion that we have for Insidious. Luckily, when I say, “How many of you guys have seen Insidious?,” every hand went up. They’re huge fans.
How many performers do you have working this maze?
MURDY: I think this maze has about 40 total. It varies, depending on how many roles there are and what the roles are.
Jason, what was it like for you, the first time you walked into the maze?
BLUM: It was really weird! But, it’s great. Actors and especially directors are super-picky, and they loved this. The fact that the movie could turn into this is a great thing. The reason it’s great is because there’s such attention to detail everywhere, so you feel it and it feels like the movie. It’s hard to achieve that.
BLUM: It does!
MURDY: Oh, yeah, we’re already talking about it.
Is there one room or one aspect of this maze that you’re most excited about?
MURDY: I like the seance room. I like the red-faced demon’s lair. And from the second film, I like the scene that is every kid’s nightmare, where Dalton hears voices and the spirits all come out of the closet and come at his bed, at once. We’ve recreated that scene, both with static figures and live actors. That reminds me of being a kid, and being scared of something you watched on TV or a movie you saw and hiding in your sheets. We actually have an animated Dalton in there, shaking and quivering in fear. That, to me, is the quintessential thing that a kid imagines in his mind, with the monsters coming out of the closet brought to life. It’s very terrifying in the new film, too.
Are you ever tempted to get dressed up and scare people in the mazes yourself?
MURDY: Oh, I’ve done it.
BLUM: I wanna do it, too. I’m gonna do it this year.
MURDY: It’s fun, but it also really taught me to really appreciate our scharacters ‘cause it’s physically incredibly difficult to do. The mantra that we drill into every single performer’s head is that every scene is a new show, every 10 seconds. You have to be on that kind of cycle to really impact the audience. So, I’ve done it, but I’m not that good at it. I’ll still get out there and do it, so that I can tell a cast member, “Hey, I’ve done it.” I want to be in touch with what that’s like. And it is fun.
Halloween Horror Nights is at Universal Studios Hollywood on select nights from September 20th through November 2nd.