If you’ve ever attended Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood, then you know that John Murdy, Chris Williams, and their entire team have turned haunted attractions into something of an art form over the last 19 years. The lineup for HHN 2017 is wickedly impressive, with seven mazes, a Terror Tram hosted by Chucky that also features several other horror icons, a handful of intense Scare Zones scattered throughout Universal Studios, and a brand new Jabbawockeez show to boot.
Recently, Daily Dead had the opportunity to tour two of the upcoming mazes—The Shining and Insidious: Beyond the Further—that attendees will have a chance to see for themselves when HHN opens in SoCal on Friday, September 15th, as Murdy took us through all the intricacies that went into bringing these attractions to life for this year’s haunt season.
Murdy’s tour began with taking us inside the latest Insidious maze, Beyond the Further, which marks the third time that the Blumhouse property will be making an appearance at Halloween Horror Nights. According to Murdy, “Insidious has always been a fan favorite for us. In previous years, our Insidious mazes have always ranked really high whenever we ask people attending to rate the mazes. And working with Blumhouse, we’ve done a lot with them over the years, so I get in on the ground floor with those guys, and he let me read the script for this fourth Insidious before shooting even began. When I read this script, the thing that really jumped out at me was that this could really be something very different than the other Insidious mazes, particularly in the setting where we start.”
“The house where we’re standing right now is the Rainier House, which is New Mexico, and it’s Elise’s parent’s house. It’s where she grew up. And the story in this new movie takes her back to her childhood home, where she must investigate something that’s going on there in the present day. Through the course of the movie, you come to realize why she has such dread in coming back to this house, especially because this is the place where she first encountered the supernatural.”
With the past meeting the present in Beyond the Further, Murdy and his team have brought together several key locations from all the Insidious films for this new maze, and attendees will interact with a variety of supernatural entities from the newest installment, including the “Red Haired Ghost,” the “Key-Faced Demon,” and a ghost child from Elise’s childhood dubbed the “Duck-Face Boy,” who appears several times throughout the maze as something of a sinister guide for those who dare to go Beyond the Further.
Murdy also confirmed that we’ll meet other members of Elise’s family throughout Beyond the Further, and as far as familiar faces from the first three Insidious films go, fans will be greeted by Tucker and Specs upon entry and will see some of the key demonic figures from Elise’s past appear as well. The balancing act of new and old was a challenge for Murdy and his team, but he discussed how he hopes that the maze will help prepare attendees for the newest Insidious movie when it arrives in theaters in 2018.
“I don’t think we’ve ever been this far out from a movie’s release before. The fourth installment comes out in January, and we’ll be done with our event months before then. But Jason Blum said to me, ‘This is like the ultimate trailer for our movie.’ And I agree, because our guests get to live out parts of this movie way before it comes out, and that’s pretty cool.”
After we finished our visit Beyond the Further, Murdy took us over to another HHN Maze he’s put together for this year’s haunt season—one that this writer has been particularly geeked out about since it was announced—The Shining, which ambitiously transports you to the Overlook Hotel, both inside and out.
Immediately upon arrival, the first thing that struck me was seeing a smaller version of The Shining’s unforgettable outdoor setting, the infamous hedge maze, there to greet us, as well as an entrance map display, complete with lists of activities and other notable tidbits for those who happen to be staying at the Overlook. The one thing I’ve always appreciated about Murdy and HHN Hollywood is the attention to detail that happens in every single nook and cranny of every single haunt they put together, and The Shining features a lot of great nods to Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel.
“The Shining, very much like [last year’s maze] The Exorcist, was a maze that I have been wanting to do forever,” explained Murdy. “In our opinion, it’s one of the great horror masterpieces of all time. As we began to work on this maze, we had the added pressure of the fact that this is based on something from Stanley Kubrick, and because he’s such a legend in the world of filmmaking, you have to be sure to stay true to his vision.”
“When we started with this, my production designer and art director Chris Williams and I just sat down and made a list of our must-haves. We made a list of everything we knew that had to be in this, and everything that we put on our list is in this maze.”
Being able to incorporate many of The Shining’s iconic moments into the HHN attraction wasn’t the biggest challenge Murdy and Williams faced, though. He discussed how he approached the scale of the film’s vast locale, as well as handling the different aspects of the movie’s storyline throughout the maze.
“The trick with this movie is that it’s a very difficult movie to make a maze out of, because the Overlook is so gigantic, so you can’t possibly replicate it as a façade for a maze. So, we decided to focus on the hedge maze as the bookends for this maze. At the beginning, it looks like it does when the Torrance family arrives at the Overlook, and then the last section of the hedge maze near the exit is filled with snow, like at the end of The Shining.”
“The thing about the story of The Shining is that it’s really about two things: you’ve got the one storyline with Jack and his descent into madness, and this idea that he’s somehow always been there, and the other is this story about Jack’s son, Danny, who has this psychic ability called “The Shining.” So, as designers, our biggest challenge was to resist your typical haunt designer’s bag of tricks, which is to have someone waiting around the corner to jump out at you with an axe. Yes, you’re going to have those moments, but we’re balancing out the physical scares with the psychological scares in this maze.”
And the various locations of The Shining maze do a great job of blending the different types of scares, whether it’s a room full of corpses at a New Year’s Eve celebration, the notorious Room 237, or a walk-through area that becomes a physical manifestation of the idea that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” it’s evident that those who dare enter the Overlook this Halloween season should be prepared to keep their guards up, because Murdy and his team have some impressive shenanigans in store for HHN 2017.
And for those fans who might be wondering, the girl in the bathroom, the man in the bear suit, and some of Wendy’s visions pop up during the maze, too. And, of course, no Shining experience would be complete without Jack Torrance chopping his way maniacally through the bathroom door, either. That being said, the maze’s most impressive gag looks to be a moment that pays tribute to the Grady twins and their grisly fate in The Shining.
“We had to order a special piece of giant custom Plexiglas made for the illusion involving the twins,” said Murdy. “What we’re doing with them is based on an old magician's trick called ‘Pepper’s Ghost,’ which involves a reflection of an object through angled glass that ends up making someone look translucent. We’ve used it before in the past, but this instance is different because we’re not creating the illusion of a ghost, but more so creating an illusion of a before-and-after. It took a lot of trial and error to see if we could even pull this off, but we think we’ve got it all figured out now. And if it works, I think it’s going to be a really cool effect.”
As someone who has been attending Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood for over 10 years now, I always look forward to whatever Murdy and those who work tirelessly to bring his twisted vision to life have up their sleeves, and 2017 looks to be another stellar year for those who can make it out to Universal Studios during the upcoming Halloween season. There’s a fun variety of old and new properties this year, but I’m just geeking out at being able to see The Shining maze fully brought to life this upcoming weekend when HHN officially opens.
For more information on Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights 2017, or to purchase your tickets to attend, click HERE.