Behind-the-Scenes: Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights’ Saw Maze

In preparation for the launch of Southern California’s highly anticipated Halloween Horror Nights (which kicks off October 2 at Universal Studios Hollywood theme park), Universal invited some key members of the genre press to the backlot this afternoon for a tour of one of their key upcoming attractions: the Saw: Game Over maze. Bussed down the hill upon arrival to the attraction’s location (just behind the static The Mummy Ride), Dread was greeted by long-time Halloween Horror Nights creative director John Murdy, who served as our enthusiastic guide through the soon-to-be blood-spattered and booby-trapped labyrinth.

Exclusive: Behind-the-Scenes: Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights’ Saw Maze

At present only the scenic aspects of the maze are complete (meaning the structure has been built, although as of yet not dressed – palettes of nefarious torture devices and set dressing lay neatly stacked at the maze’s entrance, ready for tomorrow morning’s commencement of installation). Murdy told us his intention as a designer was and is to “target the hardest-core horror fan of any particular film series because we figure if we get it right with that demographic, then everyone else is going to dig it. I’ve actually been doing surveys via Twitter - informal market research to make sure that we are hitting the fan’s favorites.

Moving into the structure, Dread is unsurprised to find that Murdy and Universal have brought to bear their requisitely high attention to detail in the plan and fabrication of the Saw maze. This is inherent in the plethora of schematics taped to the walls detailing the layout of the various traps that will soon be implemented, all of which according to Murdy faithfully recreate “the greatest hits of the Saw franchise.” (Here they are focusing mainly on Saw 1-5).

Behind-the-Scenes: Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights’ Saw Maze

Venturing further, Murdy explained with glee the gags which will await (we’re keeping mum on a few of the surprises though), as well as allowed that, “The moment you walk in here, you’ll see that you are on surveillance camera so every time you hit a transitional space, there will be two monitors: one with an image of you, and one with something you haven’t seen yet. And somewhere down the line someone will be abducted and placed in a trap! It’s something we are doing throughout the attraction!

Park visitor plants: it’s a welcome idea and one that hasn’t been utilized by Universal to its full extent in the past. Dread’s looking forward to seeing how much more the terror will be ratcheted, not only by this, but by the malevolent ingenuity of the gags planned, which include the initial ‘Razor Wire Room’ which visitors must wade through, as well as the gloriously gory ‘Shotgun Collar’, ‘Hacksaw’, ‘Gun-Door’, ‘Freezer’, ‘Water-Box’, ‘Needle-Pit’’ and ‘Knife Chair’ traps, among others.

Behind-the-Scenes: Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights’ Saw Maze

In keeping with Saw authenticity, Murdy and his crew also tackled the aural component of the maze by mining the franchise’s original sound files. “We went back to the audio, sound effects and dialogue stems from all five films so that every room has its own multi-channel audio.” The use of varying temperature and smell comes into play too. “We have sourced a urine smell to pump into the bathroom (scene)!” Murdy tells us. “We like to psychologically play with all of your senses.

In addition to the maze, Saw also flavors two of the park’s ‘scare zones’ and apparently plays, “…into the Terror Tram this year, especially (the Saw character of) Billy,” revealed Murdy. “Most of the time in the films Billy (which for the maze is realized via a fully articulated, animatronic creation) reveals himself to potential victims of Jigsaw through video recordings so we are actually filming Billy here tomorrow because he has a little message for people on the tram.

This is an adult event,” concludes the creative director. “We are going for R-rated horror here. You can’t be too intense for our guests, and there is no such thing as too much.

For a full preview of the event and the highly coveted Chiller-Eyegore Awards, click on our Halloween Horror Nights database and be sure to follow @HorrorNights on Twitter, join the official Halloween Horror Nights Facebook page, and of course visit the official Halloween Horror Nights website!

- Sean D.

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