Historically, the one maze that has been the most elusive in Halloween Horror Nights history has been The Exorcist. For more than a decade, Creative Director/Executive Producer John Murdy and Art Director Chris Williams have chased the rights to use that intellectual property for a walk-through Horror Nights attraction, which finally has become a reality. The devil in the details remained challenging Monday afternoon, when Theme Park Adventure was scheduled to have a behind-the-scenes tour of The Exorcist with Murdy. Just prior to our arrival, inspectors came to walk The Exorcist maze, making it impossible for media to take a tour. Stubborn to the bitter end, we now wait on pins and needles with the rest of Universal’s fans until Halloween Horror Nights opens this Friday and we can finally see The Exorcist in person!
Switching gears from The Exorcist, John took us on a tour of American Horror Story, a maze that is comprised of three of the popular franchise’s seasons: Murder House (Season 1), Freak Show (Season 4), and Hotel (Season 5). The maze is still under construction at the time of this writing, but it’s pretty damned close – and looks really good.
Beyond this point, there will be visual spoilers.
That said, TPA never describes mazes room-by-room or in great detail; that isn’t the purpose of attraction previews. Instead, we will give you glimpses of what we saw on the tour – and comment about the maze in general as we go. If you do wish to remain 100% spoiler-free, I would recommend bookmarking this page and coming back to it after you’ve visited Halloween Horror Nights for yourself.
Entering American Horror Story, guests find themselves smack in the middle of Season 1, Murder House. As someone who has not seen Season 1 or Season 2 of AHS (I know, I know), I can say that while the set design is impressive as you would expect from Universal, those unfamiliar with the storylines or characters from the various seasons depicted will be pretty much clueless as to what – and who – they are encountering throughout this maze.
Most of the scenes selected from Murder House will be instantly recognizable to fans, such as the burned-out room of Larry Harvey’s children, which will come complete with smoke scent and faux fire lighting effects. Other characters that John opted to use in the first part of the maze were only on screen briefly, but left a lasting impression on viewers, such as Piggy Man, who appeared in the Primetime Emmy-nominated episode, “Piggy Piggy”.
Moving through a transitory portal, guests find themselves in the world of Freak Show. Depending on your stance on clowns, you’re either going to be delighted or terrified to learn that this is where you’re going to immediately come face-to-face with Twisty, the season’s most iconic character.
Definitely a contender for “best visual moment” of Halloween Horror Nights this year, fans of American Horror Story will soon be gawking and attempting to take numerous photos as they walk toward and through the iconic Freak Show entrance. Lining the walkway are the Freak Show posters as seen in the show – Universal was able to obtain high-resolution image files of these posters and reprint them for use in this maze; just one of the many details that will leave American Horror Story fans grinning from ear-to-ear.
Passing through the final transition portal, HHN fans will end their terror trip through the world of AHS as they arrive at the Hotel Cortez on Devil’s Night – Halloween. In fact, Horror Nights fans will likely pick up on the one common thread shared by each of the season depictions in this maze – they all are tied to Halloween, grinning Jack O’Lanterns from key moments in the series lighting the way.
The Art Deco appearance of Hotel is carried very nicely through the final portion of the American Horror Story maze, where guests will encounter several key characters from Season 5, including the Mattress Monster and Addiction Demon, who are more than ready for fans to begin checking in this weekend!
As usual, the tactic of distract-and-scare is going to be abundant throughout this Halloween Horror Nights maze, as well as some really cool visual tricks. The set design throughout American Horror Story is very impressive, on par with the high quality of production we’ve come to expect from Universal.
Yes, fans of American Horror Story are going to get much more out of this maze than those unfamiliar with the various seasons. However, the maze is beautifully-crafted, and will be admired and appreciated for what it is at face value regardless. I would suspect that this is going to be one of the most popular mazes at Halloween Horror Nights this year.
Moving on, we walked next door to the home of the Engel family – home of Krampus this year at HHN. The exterior of the suburban house and front yard are covered in snow, icicles hanging from the eaves. At night, this facade is going to be gorgeous, for sure.
Much like American Horror Story, it was apparent immediately that those not familiar with the IP are going to be at a bit of a loss. As ashamed as I am to admit it, as I’m writing this preview piece, I’ve not yet watched Krampus. The good news is, by the time we attend Halloween Horror Nights this weekend, that will have been corrected, as Krampus is now at the top of our must-watch list.
Each of the home’s rooms are nicely detailed, with freshly-flocked snow covering much of the maze’s interior. Those familiar with the film will no doubt appreciate the kitchen scene – definitely amusing, unless you happen to be a gingerbread man!
There are plenty of frosty rooms throughout the Engel home to explore, where guests will encounter strange Christmas characters, including some pretty gnarly-looking snowmen!
During our tour, we didn’t encounter any large Krampus figures – which tells me a few major props haven’t been installed yet, or we’re going to be dealing with talent made up as the mythical demon throughout the maze.
I personally am very excited to see Krampus in all of its HHN glory. Coming off of the fantastic Dark Christmas scare zone that we all fell in love with the past two years at Halloween Horror Nights, I can only imagine that this will be somewhat of the “maze version” of that – very different than all of the other mazes, which will be a great contrast, and perhaps give it a leg up on its competition for “favorite maze” at HHN 2016!
Both American Horror Story and Krampus are just about complete; by the time this story runs on Theme Park Adventure, we’ll be literally just days away from the beginning of the event’s 2016 run. It’s exciting to know that finishing touches are happening right now at Universal Studios, and that soon, we’ll be enjoying what I personally feel is the best lineup of mazes we’ve ever seen in a single season at Halloween Horror Nights.
This is definitely not the year to skip Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood. People often ask me what the best way to go about seeing everything at HHN is, and my response is always the same – if your budget allows, Front of Line is definitely the ticket you want to get. The queues for Halloween Horror Nights can be extraordinary in length, and it’s not uncommon for wait times to exceed two hours for popular mazes. Considering all of the mazes this year promise to be very strong, you should expect very heavy crowds throughout the season at HHN.
Each year, Theme Park Adventure looks forward to our Halloween Horror Nights experience here in Southern California. This is the most excited I have ever been personally for the event as a whole – from The Exorcist all the way down the list. I can’t wait to see what John Murdy, Chris Williams, Larry Bones and Bone Yard Effects crew, as well as the entire team behind HHN have in store. We are completely pumped and ready!
Thank you to Universal Studios Hollywood for inviting TPA and its readers to take a look at two of this year’s mazes! Pazuzu may have evaded us today, but the Christmas demon and horrors of Murder House, Freak Show and Hotel got us even more excited than we already were! Halloween Horror Nights 2016 is going to be fantastic!
- Rick West