Pretty soon, the gates of Universal Studios Hollywood will be open for all to enjoy the 2021 return of Halloween Horror Nights, but we got a sneak peek at two of this year’s new mazes. Be warned that the following does contain spoilers!
John Murdy, creative director of Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood, first took us to “The Haunting of Hill House” maze based on the hit Netflix series. Murdy mentioned how the series is an elevated form of horror, saying, “We wanted to be consistent with the tone of the show. So, this maze, like the series it’s based on, is a slow burn and the paranormal stuff ramps up as you go along.”
When the process of designing the maze begins, he gets approximately 40,000 photos of reference material from the project’s location photographer. This massive amount of research allows for extreme amounts of details within the mazes. Such is the case with the wallpaper seen in “The Haunting of Hill House,” which was painstakingly recreated for Halloween Horror Nights. “The more I stare at this, the more faces I see,” said Murdy.
One of Murdy’s favorite effects seen at Halloween Horror Nights is the disappearing room illusion done with the use of large scrims. When the scrim is lit from the front, it looks like an opaque wall. When lit from behind, you can see the performer and set pieces behind it. The photo above shows how this effect works, as you can see some sunlight shining through the back. This particular effect is being used in this maze to help with the back-and-forth timeline used in the series.
Mike Flanagan, who created, produced, directed, edited and wrote the series, recently visited the maze and marveled over how much it felt like being right back on the show set. Through the years, it’s become a big deal for horror creators to have their projects turned into a Halloween Horror Nights maze. Unlike the film and television mediums, which are typically made in a bubble, the haunt maze is sort of like a piece of theater, where the creators get to see their work in front of an audience.
As mentioned, since this maze is designed to be a slow burn, a lot of the scares come toward the end. That works perfectly into Murdy’s plan of scaring the hell out of people, as he stated, “We’ve discovered that if you make the guest think ‘Oh, it’s over,’ that’s when they’re most vulnerable and the most fun to mess with. This maze has a final scare. A final, final scare. Then it has a final, final, final scare. Then it has a final, final, final, final scare.”
After leaving Hill House, we ventured over to Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives maze, which is the continuation of something that started in 2018 — bringing the Universal Monsters to Halloween Horror Nights. These films had a huge impact on Murdy, who first saw “Frankenstein” at the age of 4. He always wanted to propel this brand into the future, but was admittedly scared to tackle the concept. Considering how emotionally invested he is with the franchise, he was worried about failure, but luckily for HHN fans, these mazes have been largely successful.
“Things are iconic for a reason. The creative impulse to change it all and make it all totally different needs to be tempered with that knowledge that things don’t last one-hundred years later with no reason […] That being said, we also had to admit it’s one-hundred years in some cases or ninety-years later […] People ran out of the theater screaming the first time they saw ‘Frankenstein,'” said Murdy. “But the world has changed, so we do need to find a way to make it work for Horror Nights. And what we settled on was [that] we’re going to take each character, we’re going to break them down to their essence, and we’re going to find the things that are intrinsically horrific about their character that’s already in their story. And we’re going to bring those to the surface.”
This original maze is a sort of sequel to the 1935 “Bride of Frankenstein” film, where the titular character appears for only a few minutes. Most other Universal Monsters got sequels from the studio, but she did not. This is her chance.
The entrance to this maze is designed as a gothic novel featuring the final scene from “Bride of Frankenstein.” Once you enter, the story continues. Frankenstein’s Monster is trapped under beams and The Bride realizes that he was the only person to show her kindness. She then decides to save him and bring him back to life.
The Bride gets four different looks throughout the maze as she tries to save The Monster and kill off vampire brides. She does so with a stake she’s made from sharpening the end of a religious cross. In the maze, you can see the exact spot where she got her cross from.
She goes on to set up her lab inside of a church, as she’s learned that the cross helps keep the vampires away. As the story takes place a bit later than “Frankenstein,” it was decided that the technology would be more steam-based than powered by electricity. You can see this decision reflected in the set pieces and props. Some set pieces were even recreated directly from the original film, including the gate pictured below.
In this maze, we get to hear the Bride of Frankenstein utter those famous words,“It’s Alive!,” as she brings The Monster back to life.
Our female-led story doesn’t end with the maze, as the scare zone it exits into celebrates other female monsters, including Dracula’s Daughter, She-Wolf of London and Anck-Su-Namun.
Halloween Horror Nights opens at Universal Studios Hollywood on Sept. 9, 2021 and runs on select nights through Oct. 31. To learn more, visit Hollywood.HalloweenHorrorNights.com.
Jeff DePaoli is a voiceover artist and producer living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice and producer of “That Halloween Podcast” featuring exclusive interviews with talents from within the horror and haunt industry at www.DePodcastNetwork.com.