Tucked behind a massive backdrop on the Universal Studios Hollywood Backlot lies the new Halloween maze, From Dusk Till Dawn. Based mainly on the new television show running on the El Rey network, From Dusk Till Dawn is being constructed into a living, breathing, terrifying reality in time for Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights. MiceChat was invited to take a tour of the maze, which was still under construction, with Creative Director John Murdy to discuss the development of this long gestating idea. Also along for the ride was Actor, Producer, Wilmer Valderama, who plays the series baddie, Don Carlos Madrigal.

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Wilmer Valderrama and Creative Director John Murdy in front of the maze, From Dusk Till Dawn.

We stood before the facade of the maze as the sound of drills and hammers echoed from the foreboding structure. When asked how the maze finally came to be, Murdy explained, “I have been a fan of the film From Dusk Till Dawn since it came out, since 1996. I have always wanted to develop this into an experience for Halloween Horror Nights. I had actually been trying to reach Robert Rodriguez, you know, the director of the film, for the past 3 years but he’s always busy. He always has something happening. I mean, now he has the El Rey network that he is developing. So it was tough for a while.”

That’s where Wilmer Valderama came in.  Wilmer had been a fan of Halloween Horror Nights for years, attending 4 or 5 nights during the run of the event.  He had been cast in the television series adaptation of From Dusk Till Dawn by Rodriguez to play Don Carlos Madrigal, the shape shifting villain for the new show.  As a fan of the event, Wilmer also saw the potential for a great haunt experience in the franchise and kept reminding Rodriguez of this golden opportunity.

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Discussions were held but the series had not even aired yet. There wasn’t a single bit of footage that had been seen when Murdy had to make a decision on whether or not to pursue the idea. Enter legendary Makeup Designer, and 2014 Eyegore Award recipient, Greg Nicotero (The Walking Dead, Django Unchained).  Nicotero was hard at work creating the make up effects for the yet-to-be-aired show, and had a long history working with Halloween Horror Nights. John Murdy explains, “So right when I was at that decision point I called Greg up and asked him what he thought. I said, ‘Greg I need your expert opinion. What do you think? Does this series have the potential to be a good maze?’  Without hesitation Greg told me, ‘Absolutely. This series is going to have everything you need.  I can’t tell you everything, because the show hasn’t aired yet, but just trust me.’ ”  John continued, “So when I finally got to watch the series I saw that what Greg gave me was expert advice.”

Standing before the façade of the new maze we began to talk about the attraction itself. Set in a remote spot south of the border, at a bar called The Twister (a sanitized version of the name from the show), we prepare to enter and get a tour from John about what’s in store for haunt goers this season.  As with any Halloween Horror Nights maze, there is far more to the story than just a bar.  The Twister masks a devious secret temple of reptilian vampires. This was only touched on in the film, but the series allowed more time to explore. “What’s great about the show is that we get to explore so much more of the temple.” says Valderrama. “In the movie you just stay at the bar. You really don’t get to see much of anything else. But with the series we got to explore everything below.  We go through the dressing rooms, the warehouses, the temple, everything.”

“Things start right off the bat with three characters out front before you ever go inside.” John begins, “We’re going to have the Gecko Brothers out here with the Doorman.  Another thing, if you recall I always like to ad these little easter eggs in my mazes.  If you follow me on twitter @horrornights, I’ll be giving followers a password. If you tell it to one of the actors playing Richie this password, he will trigger an effect out here, and show you his notebook that he doesn’t show anybody. It’s going to be cool.”

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We walked into the first room of the maze and found ourselves inside The Twister’s main bar and theatre. John explains that a trademark feature of Horror Nights mazes are the smells. This year will be no exception as visitors will smell cheap perfume as the strippers dance and writhe around the bar scene.

Around the corner we wander deeper into the backstage area of the bar and enter the dressing room of Santánico Pandemonium, the wicked temptress and lead dancer. Her lair will feature a clawed bathtub and minions lunging from every corner.

As we walked through the maze John began to talk about the actors that were cast to inhabit the set around us. “I always like to give them something, you know, something special to use whether they are playing Freddy or Jason.  A specific quality that would lend another level of realism. That’s where Wilmer came in.”  “Yeah, I did this thing, “added Wilmer, “in one of the episodes where I attack a guy in a pick up truck.  I didn’t want it to be this normal, you know, ‘rawr!’ and biting them.”  In the scene, Wilmer’s Don Carlos is preparing to lunge and attack an unsuspecting young man that has kindly offered to give him a ride in his old pick up truck. “It was the first take, and I thought of this thing to do with my neck.” Wilmer explained then demonstrated the movement by hovering his head left and right, like a cobra preparing to strike, squashing any doubt that CGI was used to make his head sway. “Robert (Rodriguez) yelled cut and I thought to myself, ‘Oh man that was cheesy I shouldn’t have done that.’ But Robert loved it and it became a trademark.”

Necking in the truck.
Necking in the truck.

We then turned a corner and were in the infamous dining room scene from the show.  Here Santánico and Don Carlos attack a group of men at the table. The prop and set dressing stage had just begun when I visited the maze, yet the level of detail was surprising. The figures lay slumped over a table strewn with body parts.

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Another remarkable thing about the maze is the broad variety of settings that we encountered.  A bar, a dressing room, a subterranean tunnel in a temple, every one of them done with the utmost concern for the detail. Art Director Chris Williams has a knack for texture and environment and this maze allows him to sink his teeth into all sorts of locales. “We are so fortunate.” Explained Murdy  “We have all these trades people here. Right here on the backlot. They are here all year, working on movies and building sets.  When Horror Nights comes along, those same people that build movie sets come in and bang out these sets. They’re just awesome.”

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John guides us through the warehouse scene.

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Wilmer no!

We wandered a few more sets in various levels of completion. We passed the alter room, a warehouse full of weapons and contraband, a few other freakish environments and then we are seemingly back where we started. “I love to do this, “Explained John, “I love to take guests through an area that they have been before.  We do it in the American Werewolf in London maze this year and we are doing it here.” John motions to the room that is an identical, mirror image of the room we first saw at the beginning of the maze and says, “When people come though this set, at the end of the ma, it’s going to be torn up, like in the Pandemonium episode when suddenly everything goes wrong and the big fight happens.”

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Valderrama and Murdy are eager to bring visitors through on Friday, September 19th, when Halloween Horror Nights opens.

Having walked the entirety of the maze while it is still under construction we can tell you we really liked what we saw. John Murdy and his team pushed through a rather precarious creative challenge in the variety of landscapes presented to them, while at the same time, offering a short narrative that captures highlights from the series. We look forward to experiencing the full production on Friday September 19th.

You are invited to a VERY SPECIAL Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights MiceChat Event!

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Here’s your chance to get the wits scared out of you at MIceChat’s Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights and the Eyegore Awards, open to the public for the very first time!

  • DATE: Sept 19th at 5:15pm
  • Dinner included
  • Admission to Halloween Horror Nights
  • Front of the Line access to the mazes.
  • Admission to the exclusive Eyegore Horror Awards
  • Limited to 50 people
  • All for only $125 per person

This is simply an event that cannot be missed. But act fast, tickets are limited to only 50 people.

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  • Jeff Heimbuch

    I am WAY psyched for this maze.

  • Wilmer Valderama is still looking studly.

    Really looking forward to Universal Studios Hollywood this year. Amazing that they are allowing 50 MiceChat readers into the Eyegore Awards Show!!!

    • Marko50

      Still? Guess I think of him as That 70’s Show actor. Not very studly in that show (except in his character’s mind).

  • aashee

    Awesome article. For those who haven’t done these smaller MiceChat events, I highly recommend going. You’ll get even more that getting the VIP pass directly. If you are thinking about going to USH this season, THIS is the one to go to. 100%!

  • UUOP Darren

    Cannot wait for this year’s event! Great Article Norm!

  • Marko50

    Wouldn’t mind going to some of these events, but they don’t seem to be made for peeps in wheelchairs. Matter of fact, last time I went to USH, most of the park didn’t seem to be made for wheelchairs.

    • BlahBlahson

      For what it’s worth, all HHN houses are ADA compliant. I will say that the corners in the mazes are tight enough that motorized chairs are not allowed in. Last year I worked HHN Orlando as an attendant and was asked 2 or 3 times by guests to wheel them through, which nobody on staff said I couldn’t do and worked pretty well since I knew where I was going in the dark and wasn’t trying to experience the house myself. In addition, you may be able to get an AAP pass and not have to physically go through the regular queues and switchbacks.

      Disney does ADA compliance much better for sure, but Horror Nights is accessible.

      • BlahBlahson

        …Should mention that Motorized chairs are not allowed in but each house has 2 or 3 transfer wheelchairs available for the lines and the house.