Halloween Horror Nights: A Photo Tour Of The New 'Ghostbusters' & 'Us' Mazes At Universal Studios
Halloween's almost here... well, OK, it's more than a month away, but that means it's time for Halloween haunts — aka Halloween mazes, aka scary Halloween things at theme parks and the like, to start.
Halloween Horror Nights has been taking over Universal Studios Hollywood for 21 years, and we got the chance to take a behind-the-scenes tour of two of the brand new mazes, Ghostbusters and Us. We were guided through by Creative Director John Murdy, the man in charge of creating the stories and the scares inside all of the mazes.
He works with an art director to design every moment, writing treatments for each attraction than can run up to 100 pages.
"It's a narrative from the guest's POV — everything I see, hear, smell, etcetera, as if I'm going through the maze," Murdy said. "But it also has a very elaborate technical breakdown by scene, by discipline, down to the timecode of the audio cues."
He started writing in November last year before finishing in June, putting down a number of words equivalent to a Game of Thrones novel. Beyond that initial design, they've got everyone from production designers to prop masters, tailors to mold makers.
"Not every movie is a maze," Murdy said. But a select few are. This is why, despite a lot of people asking, there's no Jaws maze. "Fans always want these movies, and you're just like, they don't think how it actually would work."
Here's a sneak peek of what you can expect from two that they hope will work.
This maze marks a rare entry from Halloween Horror Nights into the world of comedy horror, showing that mazes can be more than just adapting slasher films.
They want to satisfy all those fan service cravings, which means a maze filled with little details from not just Ghostbusters, but Ghosbusters 2, the 2016 Ghostbusters, and even ideas taken from the video games.
You start outside the trademark firehouse the spectral hunters call home. You'll see Louis Tully, the character made famous by Rick Moranis (and his glasses). He'll be in his possessed mode, searching for the Keymaster.
BONUS: If you tell Louis the right password, he'll think you're the Keymaster and hand you a special surprise — and if you tell him the wrong password, you'll get a much more negative reaction. You can find the password via the Halloween Horror Nights Twitter account.
Once inside, you'll be greeted by the Ghostbusters' secretary-who-couldn't-care-less Janine Melnitz. Like the rest of the live performers with dialogue, her lines are all pre-taped — Murdy explained that, with new groups coming in every 10 seconds, actors would blow out their voices in the noise of the maze trying to say their lines that much. So they lip-synch, and also have controls that let them activate different dialogue options.
One of the Ghostbusters (either Egon or Winston) comes in with a ghost trap, and then you head to the containment unit — which is dangerously full due to all of the paranormal activity taking over the city.
Actors own their own likenesses, so it varies based on film contracts how close the characters are allowed to get inside the mazes. In the case of Ghostbusters, they were looking for actors of the right type, body build, and who could play the role.
The filmmakers are more involved with Halloween Horror Nights than you might expect — Murdy had to pitch the maze to original Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, as well as his son Jason, who's directing the 2020 revival. One of the ideas that they pitched, according to Murdy, came from an early draft of the original movie that they'd read in the meticulous research that goes into making a Horror Nights Maze: that you can see inside the containment unit, behind the wall.
They extended that idea with a concept from one of the Ghostbusters video games, using ectoplasm to go in and out of the spirit realm, taking you between locations.
As the containment unit starts to burst, you'll see ghosts inspired by the 2016 Ghostbusters movie — a bunch of green, amorphous, floating specters with red eyes. Fun!
Once inside the containment chamber, it's a blacklight environment featuring a variety of ghosts, including Easter eggs from other movies in the franchise like Ghostbusters 2's Scoleri Brothers.
Next up you get the library, featuring the Library Ghost, aka the Grey Lady. She'll start out as your friendly librarian... before going full beast.
You get to use the spirit realm like the ghosts do, serving as an ethereal subway, before landing in the Sedgewick Hotel (which L.A.'s own Millenium Biltmore stood in for in the movies).
Here you'll get a chance to meet Peter Venkman, played in the movies by Bill Murray, bringing more of the comedy relief amidst you being startled constantly. He'll deliver classic one-liners from the movie before you turn the corner and meet up with Ray Stantz, played on screen by Dan Aykroyd.
And what would a Ghostbusters attraction be without their little buddy/tormentor Slimer? You'll get to see the Ghostbusters try to zap him... then you should prepare to get slimed (or at least something that will feel close enough to give you the vibe when you're in the dark).
You get to visit Dana's apartment, one of the locations filled with the most circa 1984 period details — cool cassette deck, bro.
Next you'll get the iconic Ghostbusters terror dogs, then you get to choose the form of your destructor courtesy of Gozer the Gozerian... and just like Ray, you end up creating the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
You'll get to see the iconic final battle, complete with all four of the Ghostbusters assembled together — with special effects used to show the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man's face shifting, grimacing in pain.
There's also a special treat at the end meant to imitate Ghostbusters' post-credits scene — in other words, it's time for even more slime.
The maze meant so much to Peele that, according to Murdy, he was the one interested in doing a Halloween Horror Nights maze based on his work, rather than their team having to reach out to him.
When we toured the maze, Peele was even scheduled to come give his personal approval to everything before it opened. Murdy was excited to put this one together, because he didn't think Get Out would have worked as a maze — but Us gave him a chance to do something with a director who's led the way in evolving the horror genre.
The maze performers are wearing real costumes from the movie's Tethered villains. Peele's team even offered them the same scissors as the film, but those were a little too dangerous even for a Halloween maze — Murdy had his team use those to cast a mold and make the ones they did use.
From the outside, the maze is the '80s Shaman Vision Quest Forest funhouse, as seen in the film. As if normal funhouses weren't already creepy enough, here's your chance to explore one that's meant to be scary.
The first scare in the maze is simple — an owl coming out at you, scaring you like young Adelaide in the movie. But Murdy described the maze as a slow burn, ramping up in intensity as it follows the movie's story.
You start to see hints of the Tethered — watch out for that mirror — before you come across the maze's version of the moment with the Tethered family holding hands in the driveway. But be careful, because while those may look like wax figures, they're not all statues. (Boo!) That's the case throughout the maze, with incredibly realistic figurework used to distract you from the fact that there are real people waiting to scare the bejeezus out of you.
You head toward the family's house, and along the way is what Murdy described as a "bang window." That's because it's designed for performers to bang on it as hard as they want without breaking it, and for them to make a lot of noise. (We'll note that even one of the people from Universal who was with us on our tour jumped out of their skin when Murdy started to bang on this thing.)
Next up is the home invasion scene with Abraham. He drives you into the living room, which is immaculately re-created from the film.
"I went through about 40,000 pictures on this, one at a time, making selects for what I wanted for the location photography, to give to my art department so that they could re-create it," Murdy said. "And now that I see it, it's pretty much spot-on to what's in the film, down to the guitar and every other detail."
Some of the characters are even presented to give a vibe, but not for the jump scare — they're there to distract you from the scare you're about to get from someone else.
Next up is the Tyler family's home, with some of the most believable dead bodies you're likely to see outside of, um, actual dead bodies. Watch out on the way in, because a Range Rover may be headed your way (or at least the half they had to build for this maze to almost run you over).
One of the key ways that Universal keeps their mazes immersive is by making sure their scare actors are always in character, even on their way out after scaring you. Murdy said that they gave a little extra to their rich jerk doppelganger on his exit — try to shake his hand and find out what happens.
After that, you get one of the many movie references Peele makes within his movie. In this case, it's the dead twins, referencing the Shining. It was important to him that, just like in the film, they're posed the same way they were in the Shining.
Then you return to the boardwalk, this time to the modern version of the funhouse, "Merlin's Forest." After some more scares from more characters, you go back to the mirror maze from the earlier funhouse scene, where you find a secret exit into the underground.
Adelaide will be on the hunt for her son, and you'll come across the villainous Red in a long hallway. She's tasked with picking someone in line to focus on and creep out, stalking and whispering as you move along.
There are bunnies everywhere in that hallway, before you move into the classroom with even more bunnies and cages. Here's where you witness Red and Natalie's dance of death from the film.
Now comes the big finish, with the biggest spoiler and some of the biggest scares. In a reference straight from the film, you get a Hands Across America scene — except some of those figures are statues, while others are scare actors who will be doing their best to reconfigure themselves and block your path forward.
You'll finish off with a last bit of dialogue. Gabe asks, "Who are you people?" Red responds: "We're Americans."
And those are just two of the 10 mazes this year, the most Halloween Horror Nights has ever had. While most are based on the movies and shows you know and love, there are two completely original ideas: the Curse of Pandora's Box, and Holidayz In Hell. (In case the holidays weren't already hell enough, RIGHT?)
Murdy said that he thinks he knows why filmmakers love being part of Halloween Horror Nights: being able to show their work to a real audience, getting real, immediate reactions.
"It's really important to them," Murdy said. "They get to see an audience experiencing a different version of what they created, but still their creation, in real time. They can see people screaming, they can see people coming out laughing, cheering — and it's a big high for them."
Your chance to scream, laugh, and cheer is here. Halloween Horror Nights has a preview fan event Thursday, before opening for all your scare delight this Friday.