Living in Los Angeles, I never take for granted that haunt season kicks off the second week of September every year with opening night of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood, and it has consistently been one of my favorite experiences as a genre fan over the last decade. Ahead of HHN’s opening night on September 14th, Daily Dead had the opportunity to tour the upcoming Stranger Things maze, which will be featured not only at Universal Studios Hollywood, but will also be part of the fright-filled festivities at both Universal Studios Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Singapore.

John Murdy, Halloween Horror Night’s Creative Director here in Hollywood, took our press group through the impressive setup for Stranger Things last week, and for the first time ever, Murdy and his team were able to utilize a sound stage for a maze, giving them an enormous amount of space to build in, and allowing them the ability to enact some of their more ambitious technical feats in their Stranger Things attraction.

Murdy explained how the stars aligned this year, saying, “With all the construction going on around the park, this sound stage became an island amongst all that construction and we were able to get it, which was fantastic because we don’t often get sound stages. It was very exciting, and I immediately knew Stranger Things had to be inside the sound stage because a lot of it deals with lighting control, and I knew we could really utilize all this space to its fullest.”

The Strangers Things maze will transport fans throughout a variety of familiar locations from season 1 of the hit Netflix series, including the Byers House, the Hawkins Laboratory, the Upside Down, and the kids’ elementary school science classroom for the big showdown with the Demogorgon, plus attendees will also experience a few more key places like Castle Byers (both iterations) and a lot of wooded terrains as they essentially travel through the maze following the journey of Will Byers in that inaugural season.

“Initially, we thought about combining both seasons, but halfway through that process we stopped and realized it didn’t feel right,” said Murdy. “It felt like we're jumping around too much. It didn’t have a flow to it. And so, the more that we watched season 1, we just knew that this is a great show and we had to take our time with it. So, we went back and took a season 1 approach. It’s a good thing we did that, because that’s exactly what they [the Duffer brothers] had in their heads, too.”

“That’s the thing—TV is usually harder in the sense that there is always a wealth of material, and trying to fit it all in can be a challenge. This stage that we’re on is bigger, so that gives us a lot more room and we took more time to do all these extra things so that we could do justice by season 1.”

According to Murdy, the Demogorgon will be teased throughout the Stranger Things maze, and while they were excited to get the molds of the creature from Spectral Motion that were used for the series, he quickly realized that there was still work to be done in bringing the monstrosity to life for Halloween Horror Nights.

“I contacted Spectral Motion, and we got the molds and ran positives of the molds. Pretty quickly, though, we realized how much of this creature is CGI, as there was a guy on set wearing a suit, but his entire head was just a green hood, so all the of the teeth and the mouth and the movements were due to CGI effects. The feet also stuck out, where the performer was wearing green booties over his feet, so it wasn’t practical to take that exact sculpt and make it work for the maze. So, what we had to do instead is we had our sculpting team sculpt out their own version using the positive mold that we had of the original design, and then we could fill in those blanks and create our own version.”

Because of their ambitious approach to the Stranger Things maze, Murdy and his various teams encountered several other challenges while crafting the maze’s various areas. For the Byers house, even though the show takes place during the 1980s, the art department had to dial everything back to the 1970s, down to the wallpaper and furniture, because this isn’t a home that had really seen any major improvements over the years. Another big challenge was recreating the Upside Down, as the Duffer brothers have the advantage of utilizing technology for the series, but for Murdy, they had to find a way to do it all practically, which involved wrapping hundreds of fiber optic lights in swatches of cotton in order to diffuse the extremity of the micro-fixtures for park guests.

And while it might seem like there would be a simple setup involved with installing all the Christmas lights in the Byers house, it turned out that the HHN team had to run every single strand of lights over 150 feet back to the lighting room in order to achieve the chasing effect that was introduced in Stranger Things, as Will would communicate with Joyce through the lights. Oh, and for fans who are curious, even the rotary phone that Joyce uses play a key component in the Stranger Things attraction, effectively proving that once again, Murdy and all the talented artists behind this and all the Halloween Horror Nights are the masters of tuning into all those key details that fans enjoy about their handiwork each and every year.

Before we wrapped our tour of the Strangers Thing attraction with Murdy, he also discussed two of the other immersive experiences that fans in Hollywood will get to walk through during this year’s festivities: the Halloween 4 maze (where he confirmed that good ol’ Bucky would be making an appearance!) and their tribute to the Universal Monsters, which features an original score from legendary musician and horror enthusiast Slash.

“I’ve said before that a Universal Monsters maze was never going to work, so I’ve eaten my words a few times over the years. I said the same thing about The Shining, and then one day we did it. The same thing with The Exorcist, too. I had always wanted to do it, but I thought it would be terribly difficult to translate that movie to a maze. For the last 13 years, we have this list of 40 to 50 properties that we keep and pull out as we start the planning process, and then we eventually whittle that list down to a certain amount of properties that we’re going to go after. Every single year, the Universal Monsters have been on that list, and every year I personally take it off out of fear, more than anything. Because I love those films more than anything—except my children, of course—and they’re a huge part of my life.”

“So, to make something that didn’t work, I wasn’t willing to go there. It’s not easy to do, either. It’s not easy to take movies that are nearly 100 years old and make them relevant to a modern horror audience without obliterating what they are. It’s got to be scary, but it’s got to be scary without completely ignoring what made these characters so iconic in the first place.”

“For Halloween 4, a lot of times when we work with movies, sometimes spoilers are an issue and sometimes they’re not. A lot of the time, we’re out in front of these new movies, like last year, we were months ahead of the last Insidious movie, but that was fine. It wasn’t fine for the new Halloween. We knew that this is a movie that is a big relaunch for the franchise, and it doesn’t even come out until October 19th, so we would be giving it all away because we can’t just half-ass anything. We had a very difficult decision to make because we wanted to do it.”

“But we did “Titans of Terror” last year, and Michael [Myers] wasn’t invited to the party, so I wanted to do Michael Myers again. We ended up doing Halloween 4 because we wanted Michael back and it has a lot of great beats to it that work really well for a maze. On the surface, it may not seem logical, but we’ve done Halloween, we’ve done Halloween II and we have touched on Halloween III multiple times, so it made sense to do Halloween 4 this year,” Murdy added.

For more information on Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights, or to purchase tickets for this year’s event, you can visit or click HERE.

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.