- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
When Halloween Horror Nights opened at Universal Studios Hollywood in September, it was a true return to the full-throated event creative director John Murdy has been used to putting on for nearly two decades.
“In 2020, the season was canceled — as, I think, everybody’s life in 2020 was canceled. But when we came back in 2021, we were dealing with all the uncertainty, like everybody. We didn’t know which way things were gonna go, so it felt very different to me as the creative director and executive producer,” he says about last year’s in-person event.
Coming into 2022, the team behind one of Halloween’s greatest scare events not only wanted to return to its terrifyingly good time roots but “step it up across the board, in every possible way,” according to Murdy.
While HHN L.A. has always been known for its incredible scenic design — something Murdy says makes attendees feel like they “walked through the movie screen and are now living in a horror movie” — the team wanted to go further both in terms of the physicalized experience but also the thematic one.
“We really took that scenic design to the next level this year, but also in the special effects, in our characters we create — we were really trying things we’ve never done before,” he adds. “That also translates to the properties or individuals we chose to work with. The Weeknd is probably the ultimate example of that.”
Designed with the Grammy-winning singer’s 2020 After Hours album and respective videos in mind, Murdy worked with The Weeknd to create a music-infused nightmare that had the musician’s touch in every element of the experience.
But that approach also bled into the other seven experiences Universal Studios Hollywood attendees can enjoy when they come to the park during Halloween weekend. Beyond After Hours Nightmare, HHN 2022 also includes the classic and signature Terror Tram experience themed around the work of Jordan Peele. That’s thanks in part to the recent addition of the Jupiter’s Claim set, the fictional theme park featured in Nope.
Additionally, there are the original concept houses including La Llorona: The Weeping Woman, Scarecrow: The Reaping and Universal Horror Hotel, alongside IP houses like Killer Klowns From Outer Space, Halloween (1978), the second half of Universal Monsters: Legends Collide and the Horrors of Blumhouse, a Freaky and The Black Phone double-feature.
“Horror fans are very protective of the genre that they love and so sometimes they try to put the genre in a box,” Murdy explains about HHN Hollywood’s approach to expanding its horror brand. “I think what’s fun as a creative person is to break down those walls and make people think of horror in a different way. I think that’s one of the things we’re doing this year.”
Murdy spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about what attendees should expect — and look out for — during Halloween weekend from several of the park’s houses, including Freaky, Halloween and Killer Klowns From Outer Space.
Killer Klowns From Outer Space
HHN L.A.’s executive producer says he might be one of the few who saw Killer Klowns From Outer Space when it was released in theaters in 1988, but that isn’t stopping him from sharing his love for the cult classic with the HHN masses yet again.
Back by popular demand after finding some success with it during the 2019 event, Murdy says this experience is a “different flavor entirely” from many of the other houses.
“It’s a comedy-horror film about clowns that wrap people in cotton candy and drink their blood through crazy straws,” he adds, laughing. “You want to be completely true to that, so we hit all of those classic scenes from Killer Klowns. They’re way more funny — a totally different vibe than Halloween — but those Klowns are big.”
Murdy says they use the same suit “pods” for their Simpsons and Minions characters, making the clowns weird and bulbous-shaped.
“Then we give them these custom gloves with these giant clown sausage fingers. The whole outline and look of their body, especially with the mask on with the big weird heads, is alien. They are aliens in the movie, but it is truly alien-looking when you see these guys coming in the house.”
Taking visitors into the world of two Jordan Peele films — Nope and Us — is this tram experience exclusive to the Universal Studios Hollywood park. The original Bates Motel and the Psycho House, along with the huge plane crash set from Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, are part of the experience which Murdy says allows visitors to explore an expanded backlot attraction.
“The footprint has always been those areas,” Murdy explains. “But now the tagline in our marketing is a dark new turn. You’re literally going to continue walking up the street, make a turn and you’re in Jupiter’s Claim.”
Around 200 performers await those who enter the two-part experience, the first of which is themed around Hollywood Harry, an original character designed by the HHN team who will inhabit the area around the Bates Motel and War of the Worlds plane crash. After, attendees enter the Peele-themed second section where they’ll face power outages and deflating Sky Dancers as the sound of an alien ship approaches.
“There are some employees in Jupiter’s Claim that have been left after the alien attack,” Murdy teases. “And that last aerial shot in the movie Us where people are holding hands across America? Well, they eventually get to the desert and to Jupiter’s Claim right after the aliens have left.”
The Horrors of Blumhouse
Murdy says the HHN team really embarrassed its focuses on the senses to amp up the terror in the first half of the house, Freaky. Smell, specifically, helped with executing one of the more challenging conceptual houses which attempts to physicalize how a teen girl and serial killer body swap. To do this, Murdy zeroed in on one scene: a very brief nightmare sequence, dreamt by leading teen Millie, in which she’s in the butcher’s lair before she’s attacked by him.
“There’s a section of the house where you enter Millie’s bedroom and it looks like a typical teenage girl’s bedroom. There’s a candle that a teenage girl might have and you walk in, it smells really pretty and flowery. The way I described it to my special effects person was how it would smell in a Bed Bath and Beyond or Claire’s boutique,” he explains. “Then you turn the corner and you’re in the butcher’s lair. It has this big wardrobe with a mirror in it and the smell goes really nasty — like mildew or laundry that’s been sitting in a laundry basket for months.”
For The Black Phone, Murdy says he played with the masks of Albert Shaw, better known as The Grabber. While inside, fans will get to see its various versions. But before they arrive, they’ll also get to explore a creepy tribute to Blumhouse.
“We come up with a facade statement that can tie the two things together and this time, we went in the direction of an abandoned strip mall that’s been scheduled for demolition,” he says. “All the storefronts are closed, boarded over and they have condemned building signs. Then a pop-up has opened — it’s a supernatural Blumhouse video store. Everything’s kind of lit with this hellish light and it only rents horror movies.”
For those paying attention, they might catch window displays that feature VHS tapes of Freaky and Black Phone. In addition, HHN-goers will begin with seeing a reproduction of the Freaky film poster “before the walls become lined with posters for missing children and a reproduction of the teaser poster for Black Phone appears.” There awaits a surprise for house-goers, Murdy promises.
Halloween Ends is still in theaters, but Horror Nights is taking Michael Myers fans back to his ’70s roots with a house honoring the franchise’s first installment. “It’s the idea that you can’t kill the Boogeyman. The Boogeyman is everywhere,” Murdy says of the house’s thematic experience. “All throughout the movie, he’s appearing and disappearing. It’s so weird how paranormal Michael is in that first film.”
The house avoids recreating a specific sequence and instead leans into the theatrical. That means choreographed scenes where Laurie and Loomis confront Michael, ending in a wild and intense sequence “that goes for the throat.”
“At the end of our house, we built this crazy room where every single surface is a mirror. Then we stacked the room with a mix of Michael Myers static figures and live performers,” he explains. “We’re strobing the room on top of it, so when the mirrors are flashing with the lights, you get this infinity effect. It looks like Michael Myers is literally everywhere — and then they start to move.”
Universal Monsters: Legends Collide
A new frontier for HHN, Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Orlando teamed up to do a cross-country two-part tribute to the classic Universal monsters Dracula, The Wolf Man and The Mummy. The Hollywood park’s fourth turn with one of the studio’s longest-running screen staples, the story for Legends Collide actually begins in Orlando and concludes in L.A.
“As our conversations evolved, at one point, I just said to them, ‘The story is so big that we’re putting together. Why don’t we do two-parter? You guys do the origin story and we’ll do the second part,'” Murdy explains. “So we collaborated on the overall arc of that story, the characters and how the plot devices would tie them all together.”
While Orlando’s story is based in Eygpt amid an archeological expedition, L.A.’s is based in London, a location inspired by several Universal films. There’s the 1931 Dracula film during which Renfield and the legendary vampire sail to the city. Initial shots of an archaeological dig in 1932’s The Mummy see excavated artifacts taken to the British Museum. And with the Wolf Man’s ancestral estate connected to Wales, all three horror icons are now suddenly in the same place. From there, Murdy says, it’s “game on” for the monsters.
He also promises “lots of references that tie back to the old films” for those with the fortitude to keep their eyes open. That includes everything from the shipping warehouse facade — featuring the name Alucard Trading Company (Dracula spelled backward) — to a poster tribute to the houses’ composer.
“We vaguely put an easter egg in for Slash because he does our scores for the L.A. houses,” Murdy says. “There’s a poster in the museum section talking about how there’s going to be a lecture on Egyptian music by Saul Hudson, which is Slash’s real name.”
Halloween Horror Nights runs through Oct. 31 at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day
Women in Entertainment
Women in Entertainment 2022