I recently was lucky enough to take a tour of two of the upcoming mazes for this year’s Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood given by John Murdy, Creative Director and Producer of Universal Studios Hollywood’s “Halloween Horror Nights.” Before we dive into the mazes, I want to give a little background on my love of HHN. I grew up in Southern California and Halloween was always my favorite time of the year. Over the past 30+ years, Universal Studios Hollywood has done Halloween events a few times. Heck, I even worked for the park during a few years in the middle. But it wasn’t till 2006 that HHN became the west coast Mecca that it is today with such hot properties as Trick ‘r Treat and Stranger Things being two of the big ones this year.
For those of you who have never been to HHN, a “maze” is just a spook /haunted/scary walk-thru where you go from room to room and, along the way, try not to drop to the floor crying because you get so frightened.
Trick ‘r Treat Maze
The all-new “Trick ‘r Treat” maze, based on Legendary Pictures’ iconic cult horror film, will dare guests to live by the rules or suffer the consequences.
Trick ‘r Treat was a perfect property for a maze to be based on. If you have not seen the film, it is an episode-based film a la Creep Show or Tales from the Crypt but in this case it is five smaller stories all based around Halloween on the same block in Warren Valley, Ohio and people learn what happens when they don’t follow the “rules” of Halloween. One of the really cool things about this maze since it is really just beats from the film to break up each chapter as you transition you find the title done in the exact font from the film. The maze, in my opinion, is a perfect translation of the key scenes from the film including a fan favorite from “The Principal” sequence on the front stairs of the house *spoiler* you may get wet.
The maze incorporates some of the best tech, including projections, puppeteering, and smell and water effects. While guests who have not seen the film will get the normal scare those who have seen it will find so many small touches. Trick ‘r Treat writer and director Michael Dougherty, as John shared with us, was a big Horror Nights fan so he was really involved and “understand the language of scaring people in a physical environment verses on film.”
Stranger Things Maze
For the first time ever, Netflix’s hit original series, “Stranger Things,” will come to life at “Halloween Horror Nights.” The “Stranger Things” maze will give fans a chance to brave the Upside Down and confront the supernatural. From the menacing Hawkins National Laboratory, under the U.S. Department of Energy, to the Byers home adorned with an erratic display of flashing Christmas lights and the eerie Upside Down woods oozing a shower of floating orb-like spores, the chilling new mazes will offer surprising twists and unexpected turns around every corner.
Now if you are anything like me you have binge-watched both seasons of Stranger Things a few times in anticipation of the upcoming third season…plus it is just such a great show! Very few shows nowadays become cult classics almost overnight but when I first saw the teaser for it that was the day I signed up for Netflix. I won’t go into the details of the show because either you have watched it or you are someone who isn’t reading this already. You may have seen the First Look at Stranger Things Maze last week, which were all photos from the Universal Orlando HHN but for this tour we were in one of the first mazes to be done in a soundstage for Hollywood, soundstage 29, and they had just started with the set dressing in some of the rooms.
John started the tour telling us about how this maze started its life last year when he started writing the treatment for it in December just as the 2017 event was finally wrapping up. Stranger Things was created, written, and directed by The Duffer Brothers who, as was Michael Dougherty of Trick ‘r Treat, were huge fans of Horror Nights and were thrilled to be part of the event. One of the first things that was decided on was this maze would focus just on the first season because the attention to detail is always one of the main goals during HHN and John knew that fans of the show would want every detail as they are known for. By far one of the most exciting things John was able to share, via a photo on his phone, was the Demogorgon that was in his makeup artist shop being made and as a fan of the show it looked AMAZING! Because HHN has become a main stay in Hollywood, John and his team over the years have made contacts with almost every person and studio that has anything to do with horror and he was able to work with Spectral Motion, who originally created the Demogorgon, and take what they had created both practical and CG and create a full body suit to be used in the maze that was identical to that which terrorized the kids in the show.
The maze follows the season perfectly starting in the woods of the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana and the disappearance/abduction of Will, this scene in the show felt very E.T. the Extra–Terrestrial to me which is funny because in the maze it comes full circle as John confirmed that there is at least one tree in “the forrest” that was saved from the queue of the E.T. attraction that used to reside on the lower lot not too far from the soundstage this maze is being built in. As you start though the maze you will see Will’s bike crashed as you did at the start of the first episode and you’ll hear the other kids via walkie-talkies which play a key role in the show but what you will really start to feel and hear is the presence of the Demogorgon, for this maze John let us know that they installed a 5.1 surround sound system that will be playing sounds and music direct from the show.
As we visited the Byers House, John did share that his crew has been visiting all the yard sells and flea markets to get as many tacky 70’s decor to fit in perfectly. Some of the really cool effects will be a stretching wall where you will see the Demogorgon pushing on the wall trying to bust through as you are moving through the Byers house. Once you are out of the house you see the iconic Castle Byers fort before heading into the Upside Down where you will feel like you stepped into the show with some fun fiber optic lights and projections to really give you the feel you crossed through the portal.
The Hawkins Lab will be the key spot where we feel like Eleven being chased by the “goons of the lab” before being chased back into the Upside Down where we see the beloved character, Barb in her final state. After our last trip though the void guests are headed into Hawkins Middle School to witness the final battle between Eleven and the Demogorgon take place in the Science Class.
As I said I am a huge fan of Halloween Horror Nights and this maze really is one of the most detailed mazes I have ever seen, it will take many visits to catch all the details. John and his crew did an amazing job and this will be the “must do” for any visit! Halloween Horror Nights 2018 kicks off Friday, September 14th in both Orlando and Hollywood while Singapore’s season will begin Thursday, September 27. Tickets for this year’s events are on sale now at HalloweenHorrorNights.com.