Dash Porter stands in front of a fan to dry makeup
backstage at Halloween Horror Nights at Universal
ANGELES — Six years ago, director Eli Roth pulled on a
costume from his film "Hostel" and staged an
impromptu performance inside the film’s maze at
Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights.
showed up, he had the costume from the movie, and he acted
in every single scene in the maze for over an hour,"
recalled John Murdy, creative director at Universal
Studios Hollywood and executive producer of Halloween
Horror Nights. "When I came down, he had gone
backstage afterwards and hung out with the cast, took a
million selfies, thanked everybody and as he was coming
out he gave me a big bro hug."
course, Roth was still drenched in fake blood from the
never been able to get (the blood) off, so now it’s just
the Eli Roth memorial jacket," Murdy said with a
fans and filmmakers alike flock to Universal Studios for
the Halloween-themed seasonal attractions, which compete
with the longer-running Knott’s Scary Farm by taking
full advantage of licensing opportunities to bring thrill
seekers’ favorite movies and TV shows to frightening
we’re in the most competitive market in the world for
this, I focus specifically on branded horror," Murdy
said. "It’s a lot like doing movies except we’re
doing multiple movies at the same time."
parks are getting into brand-name scares, but Universal
has established itself as the leader in the field. This
year, during 29 nights from September through November,
Universal Studios Hollywood has scared up mazes based on
Stanley Kubrick’s "The Shining," TV’s
"American Horror Story: Roanoke" and "Ash
vs Evil Dead," the "Saw" and
"Insidious" franchises plus "The Horrors of
Blumhouse," featuring elements from the studio’s
films "The Purge," "Sinister" and the
just-released "Happy Death Day" as well as
"Titans of Terror," featuring Leatherface from
"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," Jason from
"Friday the 13th" and "A Nightmare on Elm
Street’s" Freddy Krueger. That’s on top of the
park’s popular "The Walking Dead" attraction
and the "terror" tram ride that is hosted by
Chucky of "Child’s Play."
most definitely is associated with the horror movie, going
all the way back to the birth of the studio," said
after its inception in 1915, Universal Studios originated
modern-day horror on screen with films such as "The
Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923) and "The Phantom
of the Opera" (1925) before producing monster
franchises such as "Dracula" (1931),
"Frankenstein" (1931), "The Mummy"
(1932), "The Invisible Man" (1933), "The
Wolf Man" (1941) and "The Creature From the
Black Lagoon" (1954), films the studio seeks to
capitalize on with its ongoing Dark Universe series of
reboots. And in the 1960s, after he shot
"Psycho" for Paramount on the Universal lot,
Alfred Hitchcock set up shop at Universal.
Horror Nights, which originated at Universal’s Florida
park, began in Hollywood during the 1990s before being
rebooted with Murdy at the helm in 2006. His vision is to
evoke the studio’s history by creating "living
horror movies" in collaboration with popular
filmmakers, movies and TV shows in the horror genre.
"That just wasn’t being done anywhere," Murdy
said. "And that’s really what put us on the
key was bringing in characters and environments from
current movies and TV shows.
think the best example is what we’re doing with Jason
Blum and Blumhouse films," Murdy said, "because
they’re on the cutting edge of modern horror."
who has produced "Insidious," "The
Purge," "Paranormal Activity,"
"Sinister" and their sequels, is widely
considered to be the fresh face of horror, thanks to his
ability to produce low-budget films that earn high
really think Stephen King deserves the title, but I’ll
take the runner-up face of horror," Blum joked.
partnering on the mazes with Universal, Blum staged his
own "Blumhouse of Horrors" in downtown L.A.’s
93-year-old Variety Arts Theater (rumored to be haunted).
It was a hit indie movie version of the blockbuster
Universal Studios events. In 2013, the producer, 48,
joined forces with Universal to stage a maze based on
met John (Murdy) at the opening of ‘Paranormal Activity
2’ and since then, we’ve just worked more and more
closely together," said Blum. Where once Murdy was
tasked with creating an experience based solely on a
finished film, today he’s privy to the script and plans
with Blum far in advance. "He’s super respectful of
our ideas, but ultimately he has the final say," Blum
added. "Over the years, I’ve come to really trust
trust is how this year’s "The Horrors of Blumhouse"
maze came to have moments from "The Purge" and
"Sinister" franchises and "Happy Death
Day," which premiered on Oct. 13 (Friday the 13th,
of the things I was really hoping to do that we’d never
done before is to do a maze which encapsulates a handful
of our movies as opposed to just one movie," said
Blum. "That’s what’s new this year with the
Horrors of Blumhouse."
some of the props sprinkled throughout the mazes are
actual set dressings from the film (for example, the baby
masks worn in the "Happy Death Day" portion of
the Horrors of Blumhouse maze), many are convincing
replicas. "The Shining" maze, for example,
evokes several sets from the classic film.
a heck of a challenging movie to turn into a seasonal
haunted attraction," Murdy said. "Sets,
everything, they look straight out of the movie."
addition to familiar props, guests should also be on the
lookout for famous faces scattered among the Horror Nights
crowds: Lebron James, Ariana Grande, Pharrell Williams,
Leonardo DiCaprio, the Kardashians and even the cast of
"American Horror Story" have all been known to
drop by for a scare.
fun for our cast particularly when ‘American Horror
Story’ is here, because my performers are scaring the
very people from the show," said Murdy. "That’s
one of the things I do to psych them up every year. Like,
‘Hey, guess what? You’re going to get to scare the
very people whose role you’re playing.’ "
biggest corporate contender in the movie-branded scares is
the recent release of the record-breaking "It"
and an entire theme park at its disposal, the company is
making the most of this year’s Halloween season with
attractions at its studio lot in Burbank and at Six Flags
walking past Hollywood and Vine in August may have noticed
a 5,000-square-foot, two-story re-creation of "It’s"
terrifying Neibolt Street house, the home to Pennywise the
Clown. An immersive marketing experience in the style of a
haunted house, the Neibolt house quickly became a
must-visit pre-Halloween haunt and a social media
phenomenon before the operation was moved to the Warner
Bros. Studio Tour for a six-night "Horror Made
Here" experience through Oct. 28.
(Vine Street) idea was that there would be tremendous foot
traffic there because it was right as ‘Hamilton’ was
opening at the Pantages down the street and there’s an
enormous amount of tourism there for summer," said
Blair Rich, president of worldwide marketing at Warner
Bros. "So we knew that it could be an incredibly
they didn’t expect was for lines to wrap around the
block and for tickets for the entire run to sell out
within seven hours, especially considering the house was
promoted only on social media and fan sites.
we started the project we expected to get 7,000 people
through it in its entire run," said Rich. "By
the time we finished, 38,000 people had gone through it
and we had a waiting list of 85,000 people that we had to
director Andy Muschietti, who brought the town of Derry to
life on-screen for the film, was part of the planning for
the Neibolt house.
worked hand-in-hand with the filmmaking team and with Andy
to make the design of the inside as close to the film as
possible," said Rich. "He was extremely involved
in making sure the design was authentic, the rooms were
the right amount of scary and that it was true to the
experience of the film.
even had the dead grass and dead trees," Rich added.
"It’s about conjuring what people imagine the
experience to be."
addition to the "It" house, a replica of the
fictional town of Derry, Maine, will take over the lot’s
Midwest Street, and there will be mazes surrounding the
"Annabelle," "The Conjuring" and
"Nightmare on Elm Street" franchises.
also going to be conducting mini tours of the back lot,
which we’ve never done at night before," said Jon
Gilbert, president of worldwide studio facilities at
Flags Magic Mountain, owned by Warner Bros., is jumping on
the branded horror wagon with Suicide Squad: The Six Flags
Fright Fest Experience.
walk-through attraction riffs on the 2016 movie, using the
art directors’ drawings, new props and the rock-infused
soundtrack to create an entirely new experience based on
essence, we’re trying to create the same tone that the
movie did," said Scott Sterner, producer for live
experiences at Six Flags Magic Mountain. "We tried to
make it so guests get the sense that they’re walking
through Midway City."
and his team met with the producers of the film to plan
out an experience that would be true to both brands.
a very high awareness of the ‘Suicide Squad’
brand," said Sterner. "We share a lot of the
same demographics between the movie and our visitors here.
It is so right for who our audience is and what they
attraction offers photo ops with some of the villains of
"Suicide Squad" including Harley Quinn, the
Joker, Katana and Killer Croc, whose likenesses are based
on the filmmakers’ 3-D models rather than the actors
also took the soundtrack from the movie and embellished
it," said Sterner. "We took songs that were
similar to the classic rock kind of sound in the
soundtrack and developed more songs."
STORY CAN END HERE)
the same vein as the Suicide Squad Experience, the latest
season of Creep LA, one of the city’s most admired
immersive haunted house experiences, aims to put its own
flair on an already established entertainment property —
in this case, the Amazon Prime Exclusive series
really fabricated everything and built (it all) from
scratch using the episode for aesthetic, tone, mood and
style," said Justin Fix, creator, producer and
director of Just Fix It Productions, which is staging the
Creep LA: Lore multi-sensory maze. "But then over the
last five weeks we’ve really been able to build an
entire world from scratch."
on Aaron Mahnke’s popular podcast of the same name,
Amazon’s "Lore" is a six-episode anthology
series that presents the real-life events and stories that
have led to our modern-day myths and legends about
traditional horror fare such as vampires, changelings,
werewolves, seances and possessed dolls.
LA: Lore, which will take place at the Reef in downtown
L.A. through Nov. 12, heavily evokes the spirit of the
show, guiding a group of eight through an hourlong walk
featuring moody rooms and scary scenarios. Mahnke himself
served as creative director for the experience.
basically listened to what he did," Fix said,
"and thickened it up."