Bloody guts dangle from the ceiling, swaying as we make our way through a maze filled with bodies, scarecrows and towering corn stalks. Through the darkness, beams of sunlight creep in. It’s an unnerving scene, even though it’s daylight outside.
Halloween Horror Nights creative director and executive producer John Murdy cracks a smile as our crew collectively reacts with an “ewwwww” as we brush by what appears to be human entrails. Of course, it’s all an elaborate illusion pulled off by the folks responsible for some of the most terrifying modern horror films and from a studio that gave life to the original Universal monsters.
We were deep in the heart of one of Universal Studios Hollywood’s annual scare-a-thon’s newest attractions, Scarecrow: The Reaping, where Murdy’s crew were feverishly putting the finishing touches on scenes in an already elaborately detailed maze. He gave us tours of the attractions ahead of the event officially kicking off on Thursday, Sept. 8 and running select evenings through Oct. 31.
HHN was shut down in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but returned for a smaller event in 2021.
“This feels more like us,” Murdy said. “For so much of last year, we were asking ‘Is it going to even happen?’ Things were changing every week, as far as the regulations, and there was just less content last year than we typically do. Now we’re back to doing eight houses, the Terror Tram — where we’re adding a whole new section — plus our three scare zones.”
Things do look and feel a bit more normal throughout the theme park as we head into the haunting season and there are quite a few new additions to the seasonal event. Here’s what’s coming in 2022.
Each season, HHN produces walk-thru attractions based on popular horror films, television shows, video games, original concepts and even collaborations with big-name music acts like Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper.
This year, Murdy and his team worked with longtime HHN fan and pop star Abel Tesfaye, who is professionally known as The Weeknd. They had no idea the 32-year-old had been coming to their event for years, until he approached them with the idea to turn his 2020 “After Hours” album into a real life horror story.
“He comes at things very cinematically and he had an interest in being a film director when he was younger,” Murdy said of Tesfaye, who was very hands-on in the creation of The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up directing a movie at some point.”
Though the attraction is based on songs like “Blinding Lights,” “Escape from LA,” “Heartless” and “Save Your Tears,” Murdy was more interested in bringing out the thoughts and emotions that were in The Weeknd’s head during the writing and recording process.
“It goes to some very dark places,” he said. “We want fans to feel like they’re living it, so while it takes its inspiration from the songs and the music videos, we take that and turn it up to 11.”
Other new attractions include Scarecrow: The Reaping, a maze that cropped up at Universal Orlando in 2017. It’s set at a Depression-era farm where extreme drought and inexperienced farmers ravaged the land.
“I see it as an ecological horror story,” Murdy said, noting that the scarecrows, crows and Mother Nature are the biggest threats within. “We grounded this story in the ’30s with the Dust Bowl, which was the biggest ecological disaster that ever befell America up until that point. So it seemed, in this day and age, very much a hot topic, so we’ve made it a cautionary tale for our times.”
There’s also an original maze dubbed Universal Horror Hotel that is set inside a 1920s Hollywood hotel, which was once the hunting ground of a notorious serial killer. His ghost still lurks inside and guests must try to check-out before it’s too late.
An attraction based on the 1988 cult classic film “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” will return to HHN this year with alien clowns, colorful environments and the best scents, as the cotton candy aroma fills the air throughout the maze.
One not-so-pleasant-smelling maze will be on modeled after the original “Halloween” film. With the franchise, starring original Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis, coming to a close with “Halloween Ends” hitting theaters on Oct. 14, HHN takes a nostalgic look back at John Carpenter’s 1978 classic which spawned the iconic boogeyman, Michael Myers. And there’s plenty of “rotten flesh” smells to enhance the experience.
Universal is bringing back La Llorona: The Weeping Woman, an attraction based on the Latin American mythical ghost who seeks out children. It will be located on the upper lot, adjacent to the Dia De Los Muertos Plaza and the all-new El Pueblo del Terror scare zone. The area will feature Latin American and Aztec mythical creatures like El Cucuy, chupacabras and more.
“It’s almost like a mini land dedicated to Latin American myths and legends and a celebration of Latino horror heritage, which I think is cool,” Murdy said. “So many people have reached out to us and said they are thrilled to see their culture represented at our event.”
The Horrors of Blumhouse is back, too, this time focusing on the movie studio’s horror-comedy “Freaky” and the paranormal-thriller, “The Black Phone.” The Universal Monsters maze will be resurrected as Universal Monsters: Legends Collide, which focuses on an original story featuring The Wolf Man, The Mummy and Dracula and includes a musical score composed by Guns ‘N Roses guitarist, Slash.
Jabbawockeez, a hip-hop dance crew that won the first season of “America’s Best Dance Crew,” will once again take the stage multiple times per evening with an all-new show that mixes dance, special effects, music, horror and humor.
Expanding the scares
Fans will notice that the HHN footprint has dramatically expanded this year. Aside from the three dedicated scare zones — El Pueblo del Terror, Sideshow Slaughterhouse and Clownsawz — there are designated immersive photo op areas where guests can pose with creepy characters and, for the first time ever, Death Eaters will roam Hogsmeade Village inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
The Terror Tram has also been extended and will once again be taken over by scary failed clown Hollywood Harry. He’s throwing a Halloween party on the backlot and everyone is invited. Each themed area along the walking path pays homage to classic Halloween imagery, including jack-o-lantern’s, ghosts, black cats and skeletons and it concludes inside the all-new Jupiter’s Claim set from director Jordan Peele’s latest thriller, “Nope.” In a rare attraction crossover moment, The Teathered from Peele’s 2019 horror film “Us” will be occupying this space and are ready to terrorize those who innocently cruise through.
Halloween Horror Nights
When: 7 p.m. select evenings Sept. 8-Oct. 31
Where: Universal Studios Hollywood, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City
Tickets: $72-$102 general admission; $179-$289 Universal Express; $219-$329 Universal Express Unlimited; $112-$154 After 2 p.m. Day/Night Passes; $319-$449 R.I.P. Tour; $199 Frequent Fear Pass; $329 Ultimate Fear Pass. All tickets are now on sale now at universalstudioshollywood.com.