This past Thursday, September 12th, marked the 2019 commencement of Universal Studios Hollywood’s annual Halloween Horror Nights, and we were in attendance to shoot the red carpet roll-out, as well as to get a few words from HHN’s Executive Producer John Murdy, Ghostbusters star Dan Akroyd, and a whole lot more. Read on!
Kicking off at CityWalk in the early evening, HHN 2019 saw the arrival of Academy Award-winning Us filmmaker Jordan Peele and his cast (including Evan Alex, Madison Curry, Alan Frazier, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Cali and Noelle Sheldon); filmmaker Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters); filmmaker and FX legend Greg Nicotero (Creepshow, The Walking Dead), filmmaker Eli Roth (Haunt), Guns n’ Roses guitarist Slash, musician and filmmaker Rob Zombie (3 From Hell) with wife and actress Sheri Moon and longtime collaborator Bill Moseley, executive producers Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer of Stranger Things fame, and Killer Klowns from Outer Space creators The Chiodo Brothers, among others.
HHN’s Murdy, sporting his signature silver-capped wolf’s head cane (pulled from a mold made from the original used in 1941’s The Wolf Man) found us on the carpet to chat, and offered of what excited him for 2019, “Having done fourteen years of Horror Nights, and having done (mazes based on) just about every horror franchise you can think of, what I really like at this point is expanding the boundaries of not only of our brand, but of asking, ‘What is horror?’”
“So take this year’s maze Ghostbusters for example,” Murdy expounded. “I never would have thought of doing Ghostbusters (as a maze) ten years ago. But this year is the 35th anniversary of the film, so I went back and watched it again – I’d first seen it in high school and I loved it – and it got me really excited! Because the film lives in a different realm of horror, which we haven’t really touched on here, which is the horror-comedy. So it was the task of literally recreating those classic moments from the film, and hopefully scaring you a little bit along the way.”
Comic legend, actor and musician Dan Akroyd, who co-wrote and starred in the Ivan Reitman-directed 1984 hit film, said of Murdy’s recreation of it as a three-dimensional walkthrough, “It’s just genius. What he’s done is to blend the original concepts of the first two movies into an experience where the laughs are there, and the comic value of the creatures are there, but it’s surprising and scary too.”
As for Akroyd’s own filmic approach to combining comedy with fright in the Ghostbuster films, he recalled, “I just went back to the old comedies of the 30s, 40s and 50s: The Ghost Breakers, The Ghost Chasers, the Abbott and Costello films, The Bowery Boys, and Bob Hope, they all did ghost hunting comedies. We thought we could put into Ghostbusters that type of anarchistic, absurd humor and marry it to the real science of the paranormal. You know, millions of people didn’t know what ectoplasm was until our movie came out! Now everyone knows!”
Heeding the genre-viewing public’s current craving for nostalgia, Murdy and company reached even deeper into cinema history’s rich bag of 80s horror comedies for yet another beloved intellectual property, although one which resides in the cult section: Killer Klowns from Outer Space.
Speaking to Dread, co-writer Charles Chiodo said of genre audience’s renewed interest in he and his brother Stephen’s 1988 film (which revolves around intergalactic alien jesters who terrorize a small American town), “You know, it only took thirty years! It was the fans! They love it. Last year it started as a scare zone at Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando, and this year a full-on maze at both parks! You know, everyone has a thing about clowns, whether they love them or they hate them, and it carries through right into the Killer Klowns from Outer Space mazes. And the fact that we’re walking into a Killer Klown maze is amazing.”
Will we see another filmic foray into the Killer KIowns universe?
Said Stephen, “After the popularity of this event, maybe we’ll get a green light. The stuff that we are currently presenting is on a grand scale, and while we don’t need a huge budget, we need enough of one to do it right. It’s franchise’able, and it can be a huge property.”
And with that, it was off to the park to check out Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood’s offerings for 2019.
(What follows is our list of the top seven, starting with our favorite and working our way down, delivered in bite-sized mini-reviews intended to be as spoiler-free as possible.)
#1 “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man”
Like last year’s maze Universal Monsters, HHN leans into their Golden Age vault and serves up a heady concoction, featuring iterations of both Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein’s Monster from the classic J.1931 James Whale film and Lon Chaney Jr.’s Lyle Talbot from 1941’s The Wolf Man. Murdy pays respect to both original creature designs, while also updating them slightly (and frighteningly) along the way, and the delightful result is a three-dimensional plunge into those classic Gothic monster mashups of yore. Sublime.
#2 “Killer Klowns from Outer Space”
Given the collective reaction of the group which we toured the park with, whether you are fan of clowns or not (or for that matter even a fan of the 1988 film which the maze is based on), you’ll regardless love Killer Klowns from Outer Space. It’s colorful, it’s vibrant, it’s wacky, and it’s just downright fun.
#3 “House of 1000 Corpses”
Like Killer Klowns, House of 1000 Corpses is a deep dive into the narrative of its namesake. It’s a grittier version than HHN’s previous maze realizations of the flick (Universal Hollywood has tackled it twice before, once in 2000 and again a decade later in 2010), and that works to its advantage. Eschewing the 3D paint and psychedelia of its previous, the now grimy environment rings true to the source material, and thusly immerses you in the world of the Firefly clan. From the film’s Murder Ride to Dr. Satan’s laboratory, you’ll, You’ll run, rabbit, run!”
From the firehouse façade which immediately conjured nostalgia for those of us who grew up on the film to the highly detailed interior, the maze just feels right. Populated by multiple Ghostbusters trying to wrangle that “disgusting blob” Slimer, several Zuuls (you know, the Gatekeeper of Gozer) waiting to pounce and one giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, fans of both 1980s flicks will have a blast.
#5 “Holidayz in Hell”
It’s in the title: a gory walk-through of vignettes featuring holidays gone horribly wrong. From sadistic Easter bunnies and attacking leprechauns to a stuffing-filled human and a juvenile Fourth of July reveler blown to literal bits, this maze delivers on the grue, and then some. For gorehounds, it’s a must.
Leaning heavily (and happily) for the most part into 1982’s Creepshow for design and narrative inspiration, fans of the film will get their birthday cake and will be able to eat it too. With passageways adorned with riffs on the covers of vintage EC comics and a whole bevy of Creeps and Fluffys to keep you on your toes, you’ll feel as if you are in the Stephen King/George Romero anthology come to life.
#7 “Curse of Pandora’s Box”
An original maze, this one started off strong in production design (which many in our party commented on that) but weak in story (which also was a topic of conversation). Traversing it, there seemed many opportunities missed, not only in potential scares, but in piecing together a cohesive storyline, more than simply, “Someone opened Pandora’s Box and haunted items spanning centuries have spilled out.” We left underwhelmed.
Unfortunately, given the sheer number of park visitors and attractions, we were unable to tour the mazes “Us,” “Stranger Things,” and the “The Walking Dead” due to a lack of time (and therefore we strongly recommend purchasing a Universal Express pass and moving rather quickly from one attraction to the next, as even with priority access, we weren’t successful in taking it all in).
All in all, it’s a solid year for Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood.
Tickets are available at Hollywood.HalloweenHorrorNights.com and advance purchase is recommended as event nights will sell out.
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Writer’s note: My thanks to Universal Studios’ Lindsay Kwek for arranging our visit.