Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights Kicks Off With 'Crimson Peak,' 'This Is the End'-Themed Mazes

This year also features a 'Walking Dead' maze based on season five.
Columbia Pictures

Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights kicks off Sept. 18, and this year the mazes include a “living trailer” for Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, a horror-comedy combo based on This Is the End (a first), Halloween, Alien vs PredatorThe Walking Dead and others. 

In advance of the opening, del Toro talked with The Hollywood Reporter about the event, noting that he's been coming to the event since before he moved to the United States in 1997, but for the first time he’s contributing a maze to the scary series that began in the 1980s. He designed a “living trailer” to promote his gothic horror romance Crimson Peak, out Oct. 16.

He believes the movie translates perfectly since it's the story of a woman trapped in a house and a marriage, so the maze can mimic that sense of dread and claustrophobia. Del Toro marvels at the level of detail that went into the maze. Universal is “ordering the right wallpaper, the right fabric, treating everything with such care. He adds that the advantage of doing this in L.A. is that industry special effects vets, set designers and craftsmen can contribute to the project. “There’s a level of artistry to the mazes here that is unlike any other in the world.”

That level of detail was evident in a walkthrough with John Murdy, the creative director at Universal Studios Hollywood and executive producer of Halloween Horror Nights. Up close it is easy to see the care and craftsmanship that goes into the mazes, especially the mannequins and a cool bathtub that is overflowing with blood.

Murdy also pointed out how all the effects work (don’t worry, no spoilers of the scares here). One thing that’s interesting about the mazes is that there is very little automation. Almost all the scares are done by real people controlling the effects. Behind the scenes the actors have small video monitors that display their section of the maze so they can time their scares. Murdy says a huge amount of practice goes into perfecting the scares from timing (some are five seconds, others ten or longer) and the movement (whole days are devoted to moving like an authentic Walking Dead zombie).

Murdy is also excited about the This Is the End maze — designed with input from stars Seth Rogen and James Franco — because it is the first time one has mixed humor and horror. Horror Nights has branched out in recent years to do music themed mazes, including Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath. Murdy says he gets pitched ideas for new mazes from celebrity fans of Horror Nights (and as we walked through the maze his phone buzzed with messages from celebrities hoping to come), but he confesses that one of his dream mazes would be one based on Psycho (sadly, like many older properties, rights issues make this unlikely).

Other mazes this year include one based on Halloween (on the night Michael Myers returned home) Walking Dead (season five’s Terminus) and the horror movie Insidious.

Del Toro says he’s looking forward to opening night on Sept. 18 and he’s reflecting at what an institution Horror Nights has become. ”It’s almost like Comic-Con. When I went to Comic-Con in the early '90s, almost nobody went. You didn't have movie promotions. You had poster signings, stuff like that. Then it blew up into a whole sort of Burning Man of comics.”

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