- 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
That’s according to John Murdy, creative director for HHN in Hollywood, who teamed with Abel Tesfaye (known professionally as The Weeknd) to create a real-life nightmare based on the singer’s 2020 album for the 2022 event.
“We take it to the next level,” Murdy tells The Hollywood Reporter of the experience, which runs as part of the larger event through Oct. 31. “It’s probably one of the most surreal experiences we’ve created.”
In a statement given ahead of HHN’s early September kickoff, The Weeknd shared that this project was one of his professional dreams. “I always wanted my own Halloween Horror Nights haunted house as Halloween has always been significant to my music, so this is a total dream come to life,” he said. “I feel like my music videos have served as a launching pad for a collaboration like this, and I cannot wait for people to experience this madness.”
The award-winning artist gave the Halloween Horror Nights creative director quite a bit to work with after approaching Murdy with an idea for a house based on his hit 2020 album, as well as his latest release Dawn FM. With the help of super-producer Michael Dean, songs from both albums were remixed for the house, which itself is divided into three sections inspired by a handful of After Hours music videos.
That includes the industrial warehouse rave-set After Hours club, which is “probably the closest to the literal music video,” according to Murdy, and pulls from the “In Your Eyes” video. That’s before it turns into a bathroom-based plastic surgery nightmare that brings to life the terrifying two women from the “Too Late” video.
“It’s this crazy liposuction sequence and it’s one of the most outrageous scenes we’ve ever done,” he says of the moment, set in the club’s women’s bathroom and featuring an “awful” botched procedure that “just drains” a body. “But then when you go to the men’s bathrooms, they’re making an idealized boyfriend. There are different arms stitched onto his body and they’re using The Weeknd’s head. It’s just dead bodies, missing arms, heads all over the place.”
The house ends with a Vegas-based section, dubbed the After Hours Hotel Casino, which combines elements of “Heartless” and “Blinding Lights” and sees the carpet, at one point, literally climb the walls.
“I spent a ton of time researching ugly Vegas carpet. Vegas is the king of the ugliest carpet in the world,” Murdy says, laughing. “So we take you into that environment where the curtains also come to life and try to attack you. By the very end of the room, the architecture has gone all crazy, the floor feels kind of squishy and you see The Weeknd’s giant eye looking at you through the window.”
That feeling of disorientation and anxiety was inspired not just by The Weeknd’s trippy toad-licking experience in “Heartless,” but by Murdy’s own time in the city during a period in the ’90s when they were trying to make it a “family-friendly destination.”
“I had to stay in Vegas for weeks at a time and would be doing nights working on a project. With the ‘ding, ding, ding, ding’ of the slot machines, after a while, you feel like you’re going crazy. I wanted to replicate that,” he says.
It’s a musical and visual experience the team was excited to realize for the annual event, but for it to work, it couldn’t be done in a totally literal way. “L.A. is a wonderful place. It’s an amazing city. There’s all this energy, but there’s a darkness to it, too. That’s what After Hours taps into,” he says. “It gave us a clear roadmap of where to go, but not be a literal reproduction. We wanted to create an experience that was inspired by all those things, but then put through the lens of Horror Nights.”
Going into this year, Murdy and the Universal Studios Hollywood’s HHN team already had experience working with musicians on music-injected houses. Legendary Guns ‘n’ Roses guitarist Slash frequently collaborates with the park on the soundtracks to its mazes, but Murdy has also done houses directly themed around rockers. Two for his childhood hero Alice Cooper — “Welcome to My Nightmare” based on his famous ’70s concept album and a 3D house based on Alice Cooper Goes to Hell — and one for Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne’s reunion album and tour.
“Those artists, there is a direct and obvious connection to horror. All you have to do is look at a Black Sabbath or Alice Cooper who’s famous for inventing shock rock with the stage show,” he tells THR. “So we just translated their songs and albums into a haunted house.”
The Weeknd, he says, was different, and both the team in L.A. — including production designer Chris Williams and Universal Studio Orlando’s HHN creative team, led by Charles Gray and Michael Aiello — knew that when they sat down to hash out how they were going to infuse the musician’s brand into a Horror Nights house.
While Murdy says he was familiar with Tesfaye’s sound from the radio and the 2021 Super Bowl halftime show, after the artist reached out to him about potentially doing a house, he dug a little deeper and found that musically, The Weeknd spanned quite a few genres. He also discovered that those After Hours videos were not only outrageous but thematically connected.
“The Weeknd thinks very cinematically. He has a really good knowledge of film and was giving me very specific references,” Murdy recalls. “He would say, ‘Well, for this, I was thinking about Clockwork Orange or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.’ And you can go back and watch the videos for like ‘Heartless’ and see Fear and Loathing. Or even ‘Save Your Tears,’ he told me that’s like Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and it’s there in the masquerade audience members.”
“He had a very specific vision of what he wanted to do, which is great,” the HHN L.A. creative director added. “I love collaborating with people who come to us with an idea.”
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day
Representation in Hollywood
Women in Entertainment