One of the most anticipated mazes of 2013 at Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights is El Cucuy: The Boogeyman. On Thursday, September 12th, Theme Park Adventure went behind the scenes of this horrifying new addition to HHN with Creative Director/Producer John Murdy to have a peek at the thing that lurks in the darkness of Mexican folklore…
Here’s the catch, before we begin: Our tour was complete, and TPA was allowed to shoot as many still images and capture the entire trek on video. However, as is the current standard with shooting previews at Halloween Horror Nights, only 90 seconds of footage may be used, and it cannot be in a cohesive presentation. In other words, the footage is short, and it is chopped up like one of El Cucuy’s victims; don’t try to make sense of it, because it’s completely mixed up and out of order. We also are going to be selective with the images we share; while Universal doesn’t put any restrictions on how many images we can share, Theme Park Adventure treats these sneak previews as just that – very brief sneak previews. That said, enjoy the shots we do share, watch the video a zillion times waiting for HHN 2013 to begin, and then get your butt to Universal Studios Hollywood and experience this for yourself!
El Cucuy is deeply rooted in Mexican and Latin folklore as their form of the Boogeyman. In short, naughty children are snatched up in the night and taken by El Cucuy to his lair, where he eats them. The end.
Pretty plain and straightforward, if you ask me. However, the masters of terror behind Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood, John Murdy and Chris Williams, dug deep and not only researched the hell out of this character – they put some heavy duty twists of their own into the already nasty mix!
El Cucuy, or El Coco, is a shape-shifting beast with a hunger for human flesh; specifically children. He is the monster under your bed or hiding in your closet. He’s every Boogeyman story wrapped up into one hideous, razor-toothed creature that is unrelenting, has no regard for human life and thrives on morbid, cannibal consumption of the weak and ill-behaved.
Murdy and Williams collaborated on El Cucuy, bringing two differing ideas to the table. The result is a maze that is unique and very dark, filled with frightening and disturbing imagery as well as some strange twists that will definitely take guests by surprise. Part monster, part “souvenir collector”, El Cucuy not only steals away with victims to his cavern lair – he mocks them and enjoys the pain that he inflicts on the lost and their loved ones.
El Cucuy: The Boogeyman is located in the Parisian Courtyard, just behind Mel’s Diner on the upper level of Universal Studios Hollywood; the queue/switchback area will be mainly in the new plaza space that has just opened up at the park. The facade of the maze will be an old Mexican movie palace that is showing a film named the same as the title of the maze. The storyline of El Cucuy is that a little boy watches the movie on his birthday; when he realizes that everyone in the theater has been slaughtered, he hurries back home only to find that his loved ones and home have been destroyed by the evil Cucuy.
The second portion of the maze takes guests on a harrowing journey into the foul lair of El Cucuy, where remains and artifacts belonging to his countless victims are on morbid display. It seems also that the Boogeyman has a sick fascination with Jack-O-Lanterns, and uses them very… creatively… when preparing and cooking his cannibalistic meals!
El Cucuy: The Boogeyman follows in the tradition of La Llorona, which was a fantastic maze at Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood for two years running. Not only is this maze steeped in Mexican folklore, it is one that is not IP-based, compared to the other mazes and attractions at Universal’s HHN. And that is much of the appeal in this case – the fans of Halloween Horror Nights love original themes and ideas in Southern California; perhaps an indicator of new direction for Murdy and Williams to explore more with each coming season. If you have a maze that is IP-based, you already know what to expect going in; you know what the monster is, you know what the key scenes will be, and it’s all neatly delivered on a sterling platter to guests in the highest quality that Universal is known for. However, with a non-IP such as El Cucuy or La Llorona, guests only have a vague idea of what they can expect – and that is what plays into the designers’ advantage. John and Chris are very well aware of this and took some really cool creative liberties with this character as they developed the look and feel of El Cucuy.
Physically, the maze is not very large; in fact, it seems to me that this is one of the shortest mazes I’ve been through at Universal Studios Hollywood. The footprint it is built in is fairly small, so John and the team have worked some serious magic to fit everything they did within those parameters. That said, every inch of El Cucuy is very nicely themed and propped out. From a dank movie theater to a backyard birthday gone wrong, to the grotesque cave that the Boogeyman dwells in – everything looks really great and is definitely very dark and twisted. And then there are pumpkins – pumpkins everywhere, which is kind of bizarre, but I think works nicely, especially considering this is a Halloween attraction. The idea behind the Jack-O-Lanterns is that before cooking his victims, El Cucuy stuffs them with the guts of large pumpkins, and then carves the hollow gourds into hideous faces before placing them over each victim’s head as they go into the fire. It’s all very strange, rather unexpected and definitely ghoulish.
El Cucuy: The Boogeyman will feature scents, as is customary with Universal’s HHN mazes in Hollywood. In this maze, they’re using pumpkin scent for the first time, as well as buttered popcorn. However, John Murdy assures us that there will be hallmark “awful scents” as well in El Cucuy, such as burning flesh. It’s going to be a wild ride on the senses, that’s for sure!
We thank John and the team at Universal Studios Hollywood for allowing Theme Park Adventure to come along for this sneak preview of one of the year’s most anticipated mazes for Halloween Horror Nights; enjoy the images and video, and get your ticket to HHN 2013 now!
– Rick West