- Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) returns to Universal Studios in Hollywood and Orlando in September.
- The annual celebration was canceled last year due to the pandemic.
- Executive producer of HHN at USH John Murdy tells Insider it’s been an emotional homecoming.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
When Halloween Horror Nights was canceled last year, it was like a knife to the gut for creative director and executive producer John Murdy and his crew.
“We designed all of this stuff and then [Murdy pretends to get stabbed in the front],” Murdy told Insider and a small group of press when we recently asked him what it meant to be back with the live event this year.
Murdy, who has overseen Universal Studios Hollywood’s annual HHN event since 2006, recalled how disappointing it was to get the news that HHN 2020 wasn’t going to happen after they’d started working on it at the end of 2019.
“I remember getting on a team call right after we knew we weren’t going to be doing the event, talking to the whole team and just going, ‘I’m more proud of you guys for all we didn’t do,'” he said.
Insider attended a press preview event at Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles on August 26. Murdy spoke with reporters about how it feels to reopen HHN after last year’s disheartening cancelation, plus gave us a sneak peek at two of the new mazes.
It’s always ‘maddeningly insane’ to produce HHN, and this year was no exception
Universal Studios Hollywood has regularly hosted the annual scare fest for 15 years, complete with elaborate mazes inspired by popular franchises and TV shows, scare zones, and a terror tram (a play on the park’s regular tram ride through Universal Studios’ backlot). The same event has run at Universal Studios Orlando since 1991.
This year feels a little extra special though, since it’s a bit of a homecoming after the creative team abruptly stopped work on last year’s event.
The group has been back at work since this spring. On August 25, Murdy started training with his performers for the first time in two years — practically an eternity for the close-knit team — and said being back at it feels “like a family reunion.”
“We were doing chainsaws last night. If you can get in that chainsaw brigade that does the chase out [of the park] at the end of the night, they’re serious. They have their own T-shirts. It says, ‘The Saw is Family,'” Murdy said, adding that most of the crew working on HHN have been there since the beginning, working other jobs in the off-season but returning each year for the event.
This year’s Halloween Horror Nights at USH is a mix of new ideas and items they originally had planned for 2020. A “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” maze was completely built and later bubble wrapped to preserve it for this fall. “The Haunting of Hill House” and “Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives” were also set to appear last year.
“To produce all of this is maddeningly insane. It would drive a normal person crazy,” said Murdy, who’d already started preliminary planning work on next year’s HHN about five months ago. (Designing for the 2022 event will begin in earnest by the end of September.)
Currently, he’s at the parks until about midnight or later every day as they count down to this year’s opening night on September 9.
Here’s what to expect at Halloween Horror Nights in 2021, from the full list of mazes to COVID precautions
Fans will be able to go through seven mazes, including the reopening of “The Walking Dead” attraction, three scare zones, and a “Purge”-themed terror tram through Universal’s backlot where they film shows and movies.
Universal Studios Hollywood requires visitors to wear masks and follow California state guidelines for COVID-19. A USH spokesperson tells Insider they are “complying with all health and safety protocols.”
Here’s the full list of Halloween Horror Nights mazes this year:
- “The Haunting of Hill House,” based on the Netflix thriller
- “Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein,” which gives the Bride an original story of her own featuring Frankenstein and vampires. Slash collaborated to score original music for the maze and a scare zone nearby.
- “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” based on the franchise, featuring Leatherface
- “The Exorcist,” based on the 1973 film
- “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers,” based on the 1988 film and will feature Myers
- “The Curse of Pandora’s Box” is an original concept inspired by creatures in Greek mythology.
- “The Walking Dead,” based on AMC’s zombie series, USH is reopening the attraction for the holiday. It was previously closed when the park debuted its Secret Life of Pets attraction.
We previewed two of the new mazes: ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ and ‘The Bride of Frankenstein Lives,’ which were receiving their finishing touches
Most of the items you’ll see in “The Haunting of Hill House” maze are all sourced from
‘s hit horror series, from the wallpaper to the ghosts. The streamer provided Murdy with creator Mike Flanagan’s materials for inspiration, including thousands of photos and audio.
Don’t be fooled by the walls. Some of them are partial see-through walls with hidden ghosts behind them waiting to scare visitors at unexpected moments.
Murdy teased that fans can expect multiple final scares in the maze so when you think you’re done, there’s still another fright or two to come.
When Flanagan stopped by to walk through the maze recently, Murdy said he didn’t have any critiques, something that’s surprisingly common when a creator comes through.
“Whether it’s been Guillermo Del Toro or Jordan Peele or whoever we’ve worked with, that’s a very common thing,” Murdy said. “They’re incredibly enthusiastic about having their film or television properties be part of the event.”
Murdy’s particularly excited about “The Bride of Frankenstein Lives” maze, which functions as an original sequel to the 1935 Universal film to give the bride her due. The story was created specifically for HHN and picks up where the film leaves off.
Fans step inside a massive book and you walk through its chapters as it’s narrated by the bride, who, it turns out, survived the end of the film, though badly burned.
“Even though the movie is called, ‘The Bride of Frankenstein,’ she’s in about five to seven minutes at the end of the movie,” Murdy said, explaining their inspiration for the maze. “She doesn’t show up in any other Universal monster movies, unlike Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Wolf-Man.”
He continued: “Yet, almost 90 years later, you see her on T-shirts, you see guys with tattoos of her, women with tattoos of her. She’s existed as a pop-culture icon. She kind of got the short end of the stick in the original movie.”
“We wanted to create a different story that was more of an empowerment story for the bride,” Murdy said. “Through the course of this maze, her quest is to save the monster. Why does she want to save the monster? He was the only one who ever showed any kindness to her whatsoever.”
On her journey, the Bride encounters some unsavory vampires and becomes a vamp huntress as she tries to harvest their blood to bring Frankenstein back to the land of the living.
One of the coolest things about this maze is that Slash — yes, of Guns N’ Roses fame — created an original score for it. And longtime HHN fans will know this isn’t a one-off — the rocker is a big horror fan and has collaborated with the crew on four mazes since connecting with Murdy in 2013.
Murdy describes HHN’s return: ‘It’s like coming home’
“Our fans were so devastated when the event was canceled in 2020,” Murdy said of how he was eager to see fans back in the park for HHN. “They’re a loud and passionate group and it just ripped their hearts out.”
“With everything that everybody’s been through in the last two years, what I’ve noticed is that there is a pent-up hunger for people to come back and experience events like this,” he added, recalling a “wave of energy” from an audience when he took the stage at horror convention Midsummer Scream in August.
“I keep saying it’s like coming home. We’re comfort food for the horror fans.”
As Murdy looked around, he noted the crew fixing things up and the smell of fog juice. Despite the work that still had to be done, he knew everything would be finished for opening night, but it’s a huge undertaking. At the end of the day, they’re reminded of why they’re doing it.
“Everybody on this team has such a passion for what we do. We know we’re incredibly grateful for our fan base because they’ve been so loyal to us for 15 years,” Murdy said. “They always push us to try to come up with something new, to come up with something different. That’s always driving this regardless of what the world conditions are.”
“While our fans felt a whole huge loss, our performers, they live to do this,” he added. “I think they’re, more than anything, dying to scare people again.”
Halloween Horror Nights will run on select nights at Universal Studios Hollywood starting September 9. The 30th annual HHN at Universal Studios Orlando will kick off on September 3. Both events run through October 31.