One of the hottest mazes at Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights in 2013 was Insidious: Into The Further, based on the popular Insidious film franchise. While I am personally not a huge fan of the movies, I felt the 2013 maze was really well done; it certainly was a fan favorite. When this year’s Insidious: Return to The Further was announced for Halloween Horror Nights, fans reacted very positively to the news.
Recently, Theme Park Adventure was invited along with a handful of other media outlets to get a sneak preview tour of Insidious: Return to The Further by John Murdy, Creative Director and Executive Producer of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood. Total transparency here – on that same day, we toured Halloween: Michael Myers Comes Home. Being a huge fan of Halloween, that was the one maze I was absolutely interested in checking out; Return to The Further was a “whatever” for me, since I am not really into the film franchise itself.
That said, after walking through Insidious: Return to The Further, I have to say that I was beyond impressed – and if the maze looks half as creepy and incredibly well-designed in the dark as it does in the daylight, this could very well be the maze of the season at Halloween Horror Nights. Without doubt, if you are a fan of the films, Return to The Further is going to make your mind melt.
As stated in our sneak preview of Halloween: Michael Myers Comes Home, while we’re going to show you some images from within the maze and talk about a few of the components of the design, we are not out to deliver major spoilers. If you want to know all about Insidious: Return to The Further, you’ve gotta look elsewhere for that information; it’s not coming from us, because we want you to be surprised when you visit Halloween Horror Nights this year. The point of this story is to tease you – to get you to go see Halloween Horror Nights for yourself.
Insidious: Return to The Further is based heavily on the franchise’s third film, Insidious: Chapter 3. As is the case with just about every IP-based maze, the more you know about the movie going in, the more you’re going to understand what you’re looking at. I haven’t seen the film yet, so I am fairly clueless when it comes to characters, settings and the story line of the maze. Maybe I will see Chapter 3 before I see the maze in operation later this week at Universal Studios Hollywood; probably not, though. That said, as a lover of haunted attractions and a designer myself, what I saw during the tour was big-time impressive, and I was able to appreciate the effort that has gone into bringing Insidious back to HHN this year for horror fans.
This year’s incarnation of the Insidious maze takes guests back into The Further, a dream-like realm filled with souls of the dead. The entire maze takes place in this “lost realm”, and to support that story line, Murdy and his team have developed a special system that will allow low-lying, dense ground fog to creep through the maze as terrified guests pass through, from scene to scene. It’s been a fairly challenging task, but John says the final result will be pretty effective and will look great – that is, if you can peel your eyes away from the rest of the eye candy this maze promises to deliver long enough to look down at your feet!
Insidious: Return to The Further takes guests through multiple scenes, which have been lit and decorated with props so incredibly well, you’ll swear you’ve stepped onto a movie set. Not that all of the Halloween Horror Nights mazes aren’t detailed – this one is simply very heavy of props and scenic elements, something that Murdy stated during our tour. I’m hoping guests can and will keep their hands to themselves – because Return to The Further is gorgeous, one of the most elaborately-dressed mazes I’ve ever seen at Horror Nights.
Chris Williams had a hand in what could be the maze’s biggest single effect – a transformation of sorts that will leave guests completely slack-jawed. John explained that it was a crazy idea of Chris’ and that it had been super tricky to execute. However, seeing how it looked with daylight streaming into the maze during our tour, I can hardly wait to see it done with proper show lighting at night. If it comes off as planned, it’ll be a first in any maze I’ve ever seen, let alone unique to HHN!
Speaking of sunlight streaming into the maze – I would be remiss if I didn’t pause and acknowledge the incredible work of the entire team installing Insidious: Return to The Further in this story. This maze is located next to Jurassic Park, downstairs on the Lower Lot in the ride’s extended queue space. It’s bad enough that temperatures outside have been in the upper 80s and 90s during construction; Insidious: Return to The Further is under a huge tent – a huge black tent! Inside, it literally feels like an oven. As we moved deeper into the maze, the heat was oppressive – sweat dripped off of our chins as we spoke, and I couldn’t help but feel badly for the install team – what troopers they are; huge props to them – I hope as a reward, they all get to rest in an air-conditioned room for the remainder of the year! It’s amazing what these folks have to endure to put on such a great show for us; utmost respect and gratitude for everyone on the HHN team.
The level of design that’s gone into Insidious: Return to The Further is extremely high; some of the nicest set design we’ve seen at Halloween Horror Nights. Guests will absolutely forget that they’re in a maze – each room and every hallway feels legitimately real, even in the daylight. After dark, with proper show lighting – the maze is going to be incredible. As we walked through Insidious, I remembered how I felt the first time I saw Quarantine at Knott’s Scary Farm – one of the first highly-detailed mazes at that event where the interior of an apartment building was faithfully recreated for the environment. Insidious is pulling that off, too – and the results are truly impressive.
Show lighting and special effects are going to be in full play throughout Return to The Further, including some really nice projection work in ways never done before at HHN for a maze, which is also exciting. The end result is going to have guests screaming – the ability to use projected media allows John and the team to have fun with demonic apparitions and defy gravity in ways HHN visitors haven’t seen until now. Digital effects combined with practical set pieces, props and of course, plenty of scareactors, will push the limits this year in Hollywood between what is real and what isn’t.
There’s so much visually to take in throughout the Insidious maze that fans will need to do this one more than once; I know we will!
If you haven’t seen Insidious: Chapter 3, I’d recommend doing so, if at all possible, since the maze relies heavily on established characters and story. If you don’t get the chance, as I likely won’t before visiting, don’t worry – even though I haven’t seen the other mazes under construction at Halloween Horror Nights, I am already saying that Insidious: Return to The Further could very easily be the best maze of the group this season!
After leaving Return to The Further, I was completely pumped about returning to see this maze in particular in all of its Halloween Horror Nights glory. Trust me – John, Chris, and the team have knocked it out of the park in this case; it’s going to be fantastic.
Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights 2015 opens Friday, September 18. For tickets and further information, please visit HalloweenHorrorNights.com.
– Rick West