EXCL: Murdy on Changes at Halloween Horror Nights

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New scenes, new scares, more screaming

Before the spilled fake blood dried on the pavement and the shrieks of terror waned during the opening night of Universal Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights 2007, Creative Director John Murdy began making mental preparations on how to scare the crap out of visitors during the following year’s attraction.

“Once the event gets up and running, the wheels already start turning,” he tells ShockTillYouDrop.com during an exclusive preview of 2008’s HHN (we’ll just abbreviate it from here on out, cool?). “I was walking through the Terror Tram last year thinking Okay, [I’ve got plans] for next year.”

The strategy included continuing a partnership with Warner Bros./New Line to utilize top brass bogeymen Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Leatherface, but Murdy knew the environments through which attendees walked through needed some freshening up and the scare gags had to be amplified. So this year, HHN will see a few more tweaks since its resurrection in 2006, namely the introduction of three new characters you may remember from an early-summer hit horror film called The Strangers.

“You’re always looking for new properties to bring to the Universal family of horror,” says Murdy. The Strangers was a pretty successful horror movie for us and it’s a natural fit into the event. When you translate a film into a living, breathing experience like Halloween Horror Nights, there are certain things you look for. If you look at something like The Shining, you might think that’s a great idea, but then you remember you have to cast fifteen Jack Nicholsons. The fact that the characters are masked, it makes it a much easier thing to adapt. Just the look of the Strangers is great.” Expect to see the home invaders, nicknamed “The Man in the Mask,” “Pin-Up Girl” and “Dollface,” stalking the park’s Scare Zones. “We’re also incorporating them into our House of Horrors – our attraction that embraces the world of Universal horror from the Phantom of the Opera to the Wolf Man to Chucky who was the most recent character to be added.”

Does this mean The Strangers will have a permanent place in Universal’s dreaded pantheon post-Halloween? Murder chuckles at the idea. “They’re pretty edgy! They’ll be there for Halloween then we’ll see how it goes.”

And as for the aforementioned triumvirate who made their debut at HHN last year, a certain green ‘n red sweater-wearin’ teen killer is stepping up to take his place as this year’s official sinister spokesman. Gone is “Jack” the malicious clown from last year who, honestly, didn’t seem to fit in with the attraction’s heavy movie themes. Yessir, HHN has elevated Freddy Krueger to icon status. “Our whole tagline is Live Your Worst Nightmare and that got our juices flowing,” Murdy explains. “The Nightmare franchise offers so many possibilities because you’re in the world of dreams and nightmares. That’s what’s so cool about what we’re able to do with New Line – there is nothing better than to take horror movies and invent these things that are entertainment experiences around them and it seemed unnecessary to cloud that with a made-up character.”

Because A Nightmare on Elm Street offers unlimited potential – since it is steeped in the surreal whereas Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre are more grounded in reality – visitors this year will notice the greatest maze metamorphosis has occurred in the Nightmare attraction.

Murdy takes us through the updates: “Last year, people went through the Weston Hills Asylum. When we set out to think about the Nightmare attraction this year, we were knew we had to do the house of Freddy on Elm Street. We’re going to reincarnate the house, but once you get inside, you enter the world of nightmares so we went back to the fan sites to get a read on what the fans’ favorite nightmares are.” The Roach Motel feature from 2007 proved to be a big hit, as did the boiler room scene, so those will encore, however, Krueger fans will be especially happy to hear, “[there will be] the Freddy snake eating Patricia Arquette’s character! And it’s like, that’s great – now how are we going to build it?” Murdy laughs, admitting it’s one of his favorite nightmares from the film series.

“You have to have a girl getting eaten by a giant snake. But we figured it out and we’re going to do that,” he continues. “Another one that seemed to register with the fans is a good scene where the anorexic girl is force fed until she explodes. That is going to be ramped up on a number of levels. She’s literally going to puke all over our guests and we’re working with our technical folks to engineer a new way to make it dramatic. Because we like to prey on every sense we can, we covered the room in puke – we labeled the girl ‘Pukey’ and surprisingly a lot of girls wanted to play that part! Of course it involves a lot of prosthetic makeup. We also wanted to push it further by pumping in the smell of puke. It’s the nastiest puke scene you’ve ever seen.”

Other recreations include Tina in a body bag gag from Craven’s original Nightmare. And while Murdy takes pride in these reverential nods to the films, he’s happy he was granted a certain liberty to come up with new twists steeped in the franchise’s lore. Guests wandering the maze will get to see the birth of Freddy (“We’re just really pushing the envelope there. Stirrups, the whole detail. We’re going to see baby Freddy for the first time!”) and a unique “shower scene” that boasts the most elaborate makeup design in the park.

“We’re doing this shower scene where you walk in and you think there’s a beautiful naked girl in the shower and as you get further into the bathroom, the shower door opens up and there you’ll find what we’re calling ‘Shower Freddy’,” says Murdy. “It’s a full creature suit head-to-toe. Imagine a bloated water-soaked woman that’s turned into Freddy. We’re jokingly calling him ‘Full Frontal Freddy.’ It’s the nastiest creature suit we’ve seen.”

That said, what’s in store for Jason Voorhees and Leatherface? Well, the latter chainsaw-wielding fiend walked away from last year with the bragging rights of having the highest rated maze amongst HHN’s guests; furthermore, it was the highest rated maze in Universal’s history. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Wrong. Murdy says while Texas Chainsaw Massacre guests will still head into the Hewitt house and the Blair Meats Factory, there will be a few tweaks along the way. The same goes for Friday the 13th.

“For Jason – staying within the confines of Camp Crystal Lake – it’s about making the scares better and making the characters better,” he explains. “The one I wasn’t happy with from last year was [Baghead] Jason from Friday the 13th: Part 2. I don’t think we nailed that last year, so we went back and re-did the character and got him right.”

Jason’s slaying grounds are extending into HHN’s Terror Tram feature, too. According to Murdy, the tour is twice as long and the discovery of some dirt roads in the woods surrounding the Universal property presented him with the opportunity to set Friday the 13th in its natural environment. “As we explored that idea, we found it was possible [to use this land],” Murdy says. “During the Tram we’re going to take people off the beaten path and into the Universal backlot that has been transformed into Camp Crystal Lake. Then we have to get them out of there and back on track. And that presented another area [of land] which looked like Travis County from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre so we’re building the trailer park from the remake and you’re going to go through that experience.”

With Leatherface clones running around with real chainsaws, Murdy hints at a real freakshow of a tour featuring a clothesline maze and victims having their faces peeled off. “The last section of the Tram is all Freddy. For the first time ever, he’s going to have a major presence out there. When you first get off the Tram we’re going to take you through the old Universal sets you were only able to walk by in the past. You’ll enter through a child’s nightmare with all of the things you would come to expect in a child’s room like toys gone bad, so you’re getting much closer than you’ve ever gotten before.”

Tickets for Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights are now on sale at UniversalStudiosHollywood.com. For a complete list of event dates, click here and stay tuned for more coverage!

Source: Ryan Rotten