We tour the Halloween Horror Nights maze!
Universal’s annual Halloween Horror Nights, the premiere haunted attraction that descends upon Universal City in California’s San Fernando Valley, is going to Haddonfield, Illinois this season to recreate the night HE came home. Halloween: The Life and Crimes of Michael Myers is one of three new mazes visitors will scream and whimper through when HHN runs October 2-31.
This particular attraction, inspired by John Carpenter’s 1978 film and its sequels (two of which were released through Universal Studios), stemmed from a conversation creative director John Murdy – the fiend and walking encyclopedia of Universal horror films who has overseen HHN since its return in 2006 – and writer-director Rob Zombie had last year when the latter’s visit to HHN came to an end.
“I was walking Rob out and he said, ‘Hey, you’re missing something,’â Murdy recounts to ShockTillYouDrop.com. “I said, ‘Oh yeah? What am I missing?’ And he said Michael Myers. I needed some help on that front so he introduced me to Malek [Akkad].” Akkad, of Trancas International, has been carrying on the Halloween legacy since his father, Moustapha, passed away tragically of a terrorist bombing in 2005.
With the blessing of the Akkads, Murdy has spent the last few months devising ways to bring the many of faces of Michael Myers and his grisly murders to life.
On a sweltering Thursday afternoon, I join Murdy on the Universal backlot for a tour of the Halloween: the Life and Crimes of Michael Myers maze. He prefaces our jaunt with a warning that the attraction is still under construction and we’ll be met with props lying about. Nevertheless, I’ll still get a good idea of what’s to come.
“What’s unusual on how this maze is constructed from a design standpoint is we’re doing the linear story of Halloween,” Murdy begins, standing outside of an accurate facade of the Myers house (the visitor entrance to the maze). Where this edifice is established in the park is where the Friday the 13th attraction resided the last two years of HHN. “We’re picking up where the movie begins in 1963 on Halloween night with Judith Myers being murdered.”
Guests waiting in the line that wraps around the front of the house will witness the murder of poor Judith. In an upper window of the house, they’ll see Michael’s sis going about her business (post-sex with her fella, as we all know) until young Michael comes into view and kills her.
Halloween: The Life and Crimes of Michael Myers will seamlessly blend various environments. The journey transitions from the Myers house, circa ’63, to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium to Haddonfield ’78 as guests chart Michael’s younger years, his days as Dr. Loomis’ patient and his subsequent escape and killing spree.
Murdy begins our tour with the Myers living room – couch, staircase, television setâ¦all from the ’60s – and mentions the original The Thing will be playing on the tube. All props in this attraction were culled from around town by crew members who work in film and television.
Murdy then drops a small surprise.
“We wanted to embrace a film Universal actually made called Halloween III,” he says. That’s right kiddies, the Michael Myers-less Season of the Witch. “The reason why we looked to it is because the movies take place on Halloween night, of course there will be trick ‘r treaters around. So rather than do generic trick ‘r treat kids when we’re outdoors, we use the pumpkin, skull and witch [masks] from Halloween III for the trick ‘r treaters.” These lil’ bastards will be the first scare gag of the maze.
Where Halloween is recognized as a highly effective, yet almost bloodless film, Murdy says they did succumb to the desire for gore from fans who track his progress on Twitter (follow ‘im: @HorrorNights). And they’ll trace Michael’s bloody footprints through the living room and into Judith’s bedroom. Sound design, which plays an integral part in the maze with original music stings and sound effects, will figure prominently here. Listen closely and you’ll hear the sound of Michael’s breathing.
“Judith’s scantily clad body will be laid out on the floor,” Murdy explains. “You’ll have to walk around it and young Michael, in the clown costume, will pop out to scare you. You’ll then get to see something you didn’t see in the film. You’ll see Michael’s room and it’s all done in that horrible ’70s [vibe] with clown [figurines and paintings].” Fans will notice another creative liberty being taken down in the kitchen where Judith’s boyfriend has come back, for some reason, and is found murdered. “One thing we know about our fans from the surveys we do is there is no line that we could cross that they would hold us accountable for.”
The next stop is Smith’s Grove Sanitarium with its sign, stark white walls and security windows. This is where Dr. Loomis first makes an appearance (“He’s gone! The evil is gone!“). A meticulous casting session was done to find actors that had a close resemblance to the late actor Donald Pleasance (who essayed the Loomis role). And no, they wonât be wearing bald caps. In whole, there will be an estimated 24 actors, or as Murdy calls them “scare actors,” working in the maze.
Smith’s Grove will be brimming with sundry jump scares, mostly featuring Michael with a bandaged visage (similar to Halloween 4). It’s in Michael’s cell – covered with newspaper clippings – that one genuinely gets the sense that Murdy strives to transcend the usual haunted attraction experience where many believe the success to a scare is a dude in a mask simply jumps out and says, “Boo!” HHN, and this maze, will assault all senses.
“For our Michael performers, if you know the movie, every time you see Michael there’s a music sting. Those stings John Carpenter wrote. I have access to all of that stuff. So every time Michael appears, that performer has a foot pedal switch that allows him to control his own audio and also control the lighting cue in the room,” he motions to a hidden door in the room. “Behind here, we’ll place a strobe light behind him, so when he busts through that door it’s very disorientating. Our guests will be blinded.”
Much like last year’s maze offerings, Murdy is pumping scents through the environments. In the woods, it’ll smell like pine. In Smith’s Grove, guests will be greeted with the smell of raw sewage – an aroma Murdy knows all too well from his days delivering medication to mental hospitals when he was younger.
For the final leg of the maze, guests will venture through the woods past a sign that reads “Welcome to Haddonfield, A Friendly Community.” This is where the trick ‘r treaters return and Michael Myers, in his famous white mask guise, runs rampant. What version of the mask will he wear? Murdy tells me they’re presently sculpting their own and he has turned down seven designs (!) because it wasn’t close enough to the original.
The first set of “Haddonfield ’78” is the laundry room where guest will meet Annie Brackett. Michael is stalking here, slamming on the window and then the door to drive you onto the next room.
“There are two songs I always associate with Halloween,” Murdy says guiding me along. “Mr. Sandman and Don’t Fear the Reaper. When you’re in the kitchen, even though it’s ’63, you’ll hear Mr. Sandman on a little radio. We took the song [in the studio] and layered Michael’s breathing on it, for the rest of the audio in the room, and then we layered the string cue when you’re in the ’63 house underneath that. That combo made it really freaky. Once you come into the Wallace house, there’s a kitchen radio playing Don’t Fear the Reaper and again, the combination of the breathing and Carpenter music, it’s awesome.”
He pauses to point out a spot where guest will find Bob pinned to the wall. Murdy tells me Michael will pop out at a certain hiding spot to stab Bob again and guests will be sprayed with what they think is blood, but it’s actually water. And when Michael is done, he’ll do his signature head tilt as he surveys his work. “I wrote the ten commandments of Michael Myers that every single performer gets. They have to learn the specific things Michael does and that’s one of them.”
Continuing further into the house, another homage to Halloween III will be found in the living room. The television here will be playing the Silver Shamrock jingle (“Happy, happy Halloween, Halloween, Halloweenâ¦”) and on the couchâ¦a kid with a melted mask – smoke and bugs pumping out of it.
Recreations of the Linda (an actual actress will be flirting with the guests) sequence with “ghost” Michael, Judith’s tombstone on the bed, and a trip through a closet lead guest to the finale for one last scare outside, when your guard is down, that I won’t reveal here. “Halloween is relentless. We don’t let up for a second. You come into our park, you’re going to get messed with.”
And with that, our tour ends. As usual, Murdy has demonstrated that every detail is going to be accounted for to remain as true to the Halloween franchise as possible. Hell, he personally typed out one of Dr. Loomis’ case files that will be sitting on a table. To most guests it’ll likely go unnoticed, but it’s a testament to Murdy and his team’s persistence for realism.
Halloween: The Life and Crimes of Michael Myers still has a bit to go before completion. As Murdy supervises this attraction, he’s putting the finishing touches on Saw: Game Over (sneak peek) and overseeing the development of My Bloody Valentine: Be Mine 4 Ever. Visit the official HHN website at HalloweenHorrorNights.com.
Source: Ryan Rotten, Managing Editor