Halloween is big business at Universal Studios Hollywood. So big that they play host to an annual horror awards show this time every year. MiceChat stopped by to visit the EYEGore Awards and see the first performances of Halloween Horror Nights.
THE EYEGORE AWARDS RED CARPET
Southern California is known for it’s sandy beaches, Hollywood studios and some of the best haunts in the world. It can be kind of hard to think of that when the weather is over 90 degrees. So to help things along, Universal Studios brings together icons of horror and science fiction in the lesser known, but no less coveted, Eyegore Awards to kick the season off on the proper tone.
The Eyegore Red Carpet included Oscar nominated filmmaker Guillermo del Toro as well as Chad Michael Murray, Silas Weir Mitchell, Bitsie Tulloch, Angelica Vale and McKenzie Westmore from “FaceOff” and those are just the presenters and award winners.
The great beauty of the Eyegore Red Carpet is that you don’t have to be a horror celebrity to get your invite to walk the carpet, it is one of the few places where you will see Matt Barnes of the Los Angeles Clippers standing on the same carpet as Josh Sussman of “Glee” or Corbin Bernsen walking with Michael Berryman of “The Hills Have Eyes”. With the exception of answering the occasional serious question (were any of them not asked what their favorite scary movie is?) they played and hammed it up across the carpet mock fighting, frighting, and jumping in each other’s arms. You could tell Derek Mears from “Friday The 13th” (2009) was there as much for the comradery and spooky mazes as well as the awards, as was Todd Farmer from “Halloween III” and Bill Moseley from “House of 1000 Corpses”.
Guillermo Del Torro
Universal Creative Director, John Murdy
The mingling continued inside the awards as stars went from buffets to bars to get settled in for the awards show itself. With the room decorated as a slasher film camp (Camp 666) complete with cricket noises, fake sky, picnic benches and the entire staff dressed as camp counselors, the mood was truly set for the winners to make a killing. Host McKenzie Westmore delivered her lines flawlessly as recipients stepped up to pick up the coolest looking trophy in the business.
HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS
It was all fun and games for most who came out for the awards, for one man though it was the ending of one stage of the season and the beginning of the next. Opening Night. Sure it looks so easy once it all comes together, but he is the one who makes sure you get a scare without losing an eye. Possibly the only thing John Murdy knows more than Universal Studios history would be showmanship, and with the Eyegores underway, the stage was set for his month-long main event, Halloween Horror Nights. This is not his first rodeo, or haunt for that matter, and his blood, sweat and tears was about to hopefully result in terror induced sweat and tears a plenty. Not only is his personal pride tied into the project, it is year two of his partnership with his personal idol, Alice Cooper.
La Llorona: Cazadora de Ninos (Weeping Woman: The Child Hunter):
With everything else in the park being based off an intelllectual property, La Llorona is based solely on folklore. A couple of years ago, the topic was tackled as a scare zone which honestly turned out with terrible results. The theming was a mashup of Day of The Dead with The Weeping Woman legend and the result was a festive atmosphere with many taking advantage of the situation to do an impromtu photo op with the mother holding a dead baby while people made peace signs and even rabbit ears behind the grieving woman. Murdy vowed to correct that situation and make the maze as true to the folklore as possible, incorporating as many elements as he could and not shying from the most disturbing aspects of the legend. The result was a maze both beautifully historic and terrifying graphic that angered some people but taught just about everyone to properly respect the legend. It turned out to be so popular that Universal brought the maze back for an encore this season. La Llorona has been tightly refined with effects that didn’t work removed and a stronger, more accurate and even creepier ending.
Welcome To Silent Hill:
When an intellectual property is based off more than one source such as in this case, a video game and movie franchise, then you have to balance between the two or pick one. For this property, Universal and Murdy decided to balance between both, including a movie that will be coming out on October 26th. The maze re-used certain aspects of previous years but Murdy more than made up for it with his outstanding scrim work and misdirection that has you impressed and awed from room to room. It’s an excellent maze and probably the best scrim work we have ever seen anywhere.
Alice Cooper Goes to Hell 3D
With John Murdy being a lifelong devout fan, it had been his dream to bring Alice’s music to life in all it’s nightmarish detail. So, last year he spent an immensse amount of time and effort making sure everything turned out just right for the maze no matter what. The result was a maze that even seasoned professionals in the haunt field were amazed by and fell in love with. To not mush on it too much you felt the love of the work like the details in a fine painting, fleshed out into an experience that transcended a maze, it was a horror masterpiece.
The problem with something as amazing as that is how do you top it. I like the idea they came up with for this year, using the same impressive 3D technique they had developed for Rob Zombie’s maze. Current maze 3D is standardly based entirely on paint color so red and yellow colors pops forward and blues seeming to recess.
It’s a great illusion where the spacial awareness part of your brain swears you are about to hit something that isn’t anywhere near you. This usually is effective enough but John and his talented team developed the concept of lighting an area for the 3D instead of relying on the paint. As you walk through the room, the light changes causing what was recessed to pop forward and what was popped forward to recessed. The result was a moment of vertigo that was more thrilling than disorienting and created a new kind of scare which for seasoned haunters can be a hard thing to find
To hear Alice Cooper was in 3D we expected that to be as prominent as it was in Rob Zombie but seemed to still need some refining. The maze seemed to really rely more on color 3D rather than lighting 3D which would have been a dissapointment if they hadn’t balanced it with scope. The 3D may have felt like more standard 3D, but to see a whole giant room filled with a river of fire and souls and giant gates at the other side that say “Abandon Hope All Who Enter,” all in brilliant 3D, is pretty darn impressive and the scenes throughout are enough to thrill even the casual fan of Alice Cooper.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Saw Is The Law
Based off of the Tobe Hooper 1974 horror classic, rather than modern takes resulted in great iconic scenes coming to life in a creepy, nasty way. People who went in expecting the recent reboots might have been a little disappointed at first (I heard someone ask where the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket was). The disgusting, creepy and claustrophobic feeling that made the first so hard to sit through makes it even more difficult to walk through. It has the feel of parts of previous mazes in a good way, the parts that bothered you in others hit you face on in this one. Even without a fear of chainsaws this maze seems to be tight walls, chainsaws and stifling smells leaving you very happy to get back out in the open air at the end.
Universal Monsters Remix
No offense to the powers that be, but The House of Horrors overlays have been duds with occasional moments of success over the years. When talking to other veterans and reviewers of haunts, the message kept coming through loud and clear over and over: “I really liked it!” Normally my favorite part is the Bruce Campbell face casting followed by Nostferatu masks. This year the maze was solid all the way through with no real weak points and talent that was on fire. The re-envisioning of the Bride of Frankensein is inspired and when the scene is taken as a whole, it’s extremely creative.
The Walking Dead: Dead Inside
This was probably the most anticipated maze of the whole lot and the sole reason some people went to HHN. Based a bit off the comic but mostly off the AMC television series, the maze promised a journey through the world of The Walking Dead with iconic moments and locations recreated as realistically as possible. This is exactly what they did right down to a realistic looking tank in one room and plenty of realistic looking guts. It feels like you are just a step or two behind the characters trying to catch up with the group since there is safety in numbers, but the only numbers are the walking dead. The makeup job shines greatlly in this maze and combined with the effects harkens back to the way the Halloween tribute maze managed to pull you into the scene rather than just making you feel like a spectator.
Terror Tram: Invaded by The Walking Dead
Technically not a maze or a scare zone the Terror Tram almost gives you enough space and outdoor feel to seem like a scare zone but your movement is restricted like a maze. Either way you get a great experience with more scenes from The Walking Dead series and the fun of walking past the Bates Motel and the Bates house as well as the War of the Worlds plane crash set. When you get off the tram and look upon a chainsaw brigade with bloodied safety helmets waiting to fire up either a scream catches in your throat or if you are me a grin spreads quickly across your face at the perfect moment of tension before chaos.
Effective as a zone since it is at the bottom of the escalator down to the lower section it does draw a little away from the effectiveness of the maze. There is a priceless quality to watching some teenager talking on the phone and realizing a ten foot Pyramid Head is right behind them or that a bloody bandaged nurse is peering over their shoulder. At a location of chaos after the order of the escalator they do a great job of entertaining and horrifying at the same time.
This is often a great and effective theme since toys come to life is an old and very creepy storyline throughout fables. A well dressed area it is also one of the foggiest which make the neon “toy” signs stand out like a beacon only to have a twisted play-toy pop out of the fog in front of you. Very effective scare zone.
Though we liked the idea of this area it just didn’t quite work out. In 2010 at HHN Orlando we saw a witch zone where they were burning and tormenting puritans, kind of a reverse on the whole witch persecution theme. This year at HHN Hollywood they seemed to just be witches running around for the sake of having an area of witches. No coven feel and some props recycled from the Freaks zone added to the muddling. Maybe it would help if the witches were doing something more, witchy?
Let’s face it, you can’t go wrong with clowns, though there are ways to do better than others. The more like Killer Klownz From Outer Space the less scary they are compared to say the clown toy in Poltergeist or even more more the old school Ringling Bros/It type clowns. I know people who will crap their pants from that at first sight and the Klownz in this zone never disappoint. Of special note is the Ringmaster, he is worth a stop, watch and listen for a while during your night.
HHN Hollywood does a great job every year and this is no exception. If you have never been or not been in years you are missing out on some truly creative genius. You want to be able to look back and say you were there for the John Murdy Days, we already know it is a special time that will be hard to reproduce.
Have you visited this year’s Horror Nights yet? MiceChat is having a meet up and we are just dying to have you with us.
Have you already been to USH Halloween Horror Nights? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.