Murdy, executive producer of Halloween Horror
Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood, during a
tour of the mazes that are being set up around the
theme of the horror movie "An American
Werewolf in London" in Universal City,
Calif., on September 12, 2014.
re-create a bloody scene from the 1981 horror flick
"American Werewolf in London," crews at
Universal Studios Hollywood installed
computer-controlled strobe lights behind the walls of a
dark maze to simulate the flash of bullets.
actor wearing a rubber prosthesis connected to a tube of
fake blood around his neck reenacts a gruesome
execution. It all plays out to the sound of gunfire and
blood-curdling screams, blasted from speakers in the
technology used at gore- and chaos-filled mazes, haunted
houses and other scare shows has advanced dramatically
from a decade ago, when rubber masks and fog machines
represented the most advanced special effects used to
the scares are created with the help of 30-channel audio
mixers, animatronics, computer-controlled lights and
made a quantum leap in technology, especially this
year," said John Murdy, director of Halloween
Horror Nights, the annual fright fest at Universal
Studios that draws thousands of scare fans over 22
nights leading up to Halloween.
masters such as Murdy say such high-tech gadgets are a
must to put a genuine shock into teens who have become
thick-skinned from daily exposure to gore and violence
in movies and video games.
attention span today is much shorter," said Lara
Hanneman, technical director for entertainment at Knott’s
Berry Farm, a theme park in Buena Park, Calif. "We
need to make the scenes move faster."
which recast its park as Knott’s Scary Farm, may be
taking the biggest leap in the use of technology this
year by arming guests with infrared-emitting rifles to
hunt zombies through a six-acre section of the park.
idea really spawned from video games," said Jon
Cooke, the lead props designer at Knott’s.
all, bigger scares mean bigger crowds — and higher
the country, Halloween attractions such as haunted
houses, theme park mazes and festivals generated more
than $300 million last year, a slight increase over
2012, according to the trade group Haunted Attraction
many as 36 percent of Americans are expected to attend
some type of Halloween attraction this year, the group
parks don’t disclose attendance numbers, but Dark
Harbor, a Halloween event created by the operators of
the Queen Mary in Long Beach, had more than 103,000
visitors last year, a 40 percent increase over the
previous year, according to Long Beach officials.
Berry Farm estimates that its Halloween attractions draw
about 15 percent of its annual attendance.
the opening night of Universal Studios’ Halloween
Horror Nights, the crowds were so big that visitors
waited in line for up to 90 minutes for the most popular
the long lines, horror fans say the scares were worth
they were going for realistic, they got it," Josh
Ault said after visiting the Universal maze "Alien
versus Predator" with his wife, Liz.
most frightening scene, they said, showed a woman
screaming while being eaten alive by an alien. "It’s
pretty jarring," said Liz Ault.
keep visitors coming, the operators of Halloween scare
fests say they are under pressure to come up with more
realistic special effects each year.
industry is evolving," said John Eslich, president
of the Haunted Attraction Association. "A lot of
the electronics and controller prices have been on the
downward slide so that more mainstream parks can afford
the annual Halloween event at the Queen Mary, work crews
installed tiny lights, the size of lipstick containers,
into the walls and ceilings of a maze called "Soulmate"
to create the effect of flickering lights and candle
flames, said J.J. Wickham, the creative director for
can control the lights to go off and on throughout the
night," she said.
Universal Studios Hollywood, workers at a central
control center can watch video feeds from every maze and
attraction to see if visitors are stuck in a bottleneck
or technology is malfunctioning.
always think that the technology will make our job
easier, but it makes it just as complicated as
always," Hanneman said.
special effects in the "American Werewolf in
London" maze combines high-tech and low-tech scare
example, the worker who controls a life-size werewolf
that lunges out at guests near the end of the maze can
see when guests get close through video monitors
installed behind the scenes.
have never done a scare that is this complicated,"
for low-tech scares, he said that thick string hangs
from the ceiling throughout the maze to distract and
disorient guests stumbling around in the dark.
Knott’s Berry Farm, the area known as Camp Snoopy will
be converted this year to a land called "Special
Ops: Infected." About 135 actors, made up to look
like zombies, will wander throughout the area while
groups of 12 park visitors enter for periods of about 10
minutes, armed with specially made infrared-emitting
effects emitted by the rifles signal when park visitors
have successfully shot a zombie. But the weapons will
also signal when a zombie comes too close, temporarily
deactivating the rifle and endangering the group.
always a challenge to be different and innovative,"