Behind the doors of Universal Studios Hollywood’s Stage 29 — what used to be the filming studio for the lighthearted game show “Family Feud” — lies something slightly darker in preparation for the upcoming Halloween season.
Universal Studios Hollywood is fervently preparing for one of the theme park’s most popular events of the year: Halloween Horror Nights. On select nights from Sept. 14 through Nov. 3, park visitors can venture through eight horrific mazes, with this year’s headlining maze inspired by the Emmy Award-winning Netflix show “Stranger Things.”
The Daily Trojan was able to capture a behind-the-scenes look at the main attraction, and even with construction still underway, Universal is gearing up for a promising season.
The “Stranger Things”-themed maze physically navigates participants through season one of the show, starting with Will’s abduction and ending with Eleven’s conquering of the Demogorgon. From walking past Christmas lights adorning the Byers’ house to taking a portal through the Upside Down, the maze pays acute attention to detail in recreating a lifelike experience that places visitors right in the middle of the “Stranger Things” universe.
Creative Director John Murdy is the true mastermind behind intricate components of production that bring in guests from all around to celebrate the spooky season. Murdy said he has been a fan of horror since childhood.
At a young age, Murdy was known for flipping his home into a haunted house and helping plan “haunts” in his local community. He studied theater in college, which eventually landed him a tour guide position at Universal Studios Hollywood in 1989, an experience he cites as a stepping stone into the entertainment industry.
This opportunity allowed him access to the production of “Back to the Future 2” and a place as a production assistant for Universal’s “E.T.” ride, which was later replaced by the “Revenge of the Mummy” ride. In 2006, Murdy returned to his horror roots by resurrecting Halloween Horror Nights, which had been on hiatus for a few years prior.
“It’s weird to end up doing what you were doing at 10 for a career,” Murdy said with a laugh.
Now, Horror Nights is a Universal Studios Hollywood staple event that continues to grow every year. When “Stranger Things” premiered in 2016, Murdy immediately recognized the show’s potential for adaptation and began writing the script for the show’s maze in November 2017.
“[Creating Horror Nights] is like producing eight movies at the same time,” Murdy said of the elements that go into producing such grand attractions. For developing projects composed of multiple episodes, such as the “Stranger Things” maze, Murdy said it took him about eight hours to go through each episode and determine what details would make it into the maze.
With so much demand on Twitter for the addition of “Stranger Things” to Horror Nights, Murdy fully plans on delivering an experience that visitors won’t forget. In fact, just when participants think the maze and the scares are over, Murdy has another trick up his sleeve.
“[Once they think the maze is over], they let their guard down. We realized that’s the perfect time to scare them,” said Murdy, who plans to surprise guests with two more Demogorgons to round out the fun.
Murdy recognizes that not everyone is a fan of horror. Nonetheless, he encourages those interested to face their fears.
“It’s like when you’re a kid and you’re looking at that rollercoaster you really want to ride, but you’re terrified of,” Murdy said. “It’s that same kind of right of passage. You’re sitting there like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this,’ but once you do, you fall in love with it.”
Other mazes featured at Horror Nights include those inspired by the classic horror film “Poltergeist” (a maze where Murdy’s 5-year-old daughter plays the voice of Carol Anne), AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” an amalgam of classic horror characters in “Universal Monsters” and many more.