By: Daisy Murguia
As September rolls around each year, Halloween decorations are hung, stores are packed with costumes, and scary mazes are opened for business. A popular choice for horror fans and maze-goers alike is Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood. This year’s Horror Nights will feature mazes such as “Stranger Things,” “Us,” “Ghostbusters,” “Creepshow,” “Killer Klowns from Outer Space,” and “House of 1000 Corpses.” Horror Nights began with a Fan Preview Night on Sept. 12. Regular ticket sales began on Sept. 13 and will continue on select dates through Nov. 3.
Upon entering Horror Nights, there are over a dozen actors dressed as creatures, holding chainsaws, walking on stilts, wearing face makeup, and many donning creepy masks. One thing becomes very apparent: these creatures can smell fear. If you stare at a creature for too long, they lunge at you, and if you walk too fast, they just might chase you. Despite seeing the creatures, knowing that they’re there and all around, there is still an innate human instinct to flinch and pick up your pace when they invade your personal space. This welcoming sets up the ambiance of the night.
A compelling choice for this year’s Horror Nights was the “Ghostbusters” Maze, based on the film series and movie script that fits more into the “supernatural comedy” realm than pure “horror.” Yet, it was one of the most pleasant surprises of the night. How does a fantasy comedy like “Ghostbusters” become a stand-out maze among other, more obviously creepy mazes? The answer is quite simple: John Murdy, Creative Director of Horror Nights. He explained, “The challenge with this maze is that the movie is a comedy, it’s not a horror property. But that’s what we’ve been doing throughout the years. When we brought this [Horror Nights] back in 2006, in the early years, we were exclusively doing slasher movies […] and then we did them all, multiple times, and in multiple different ways.”
Murdy continued on to say that “Ghostbusters” is a different experience in that it is more of a “fun scary,” which is pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable to do in haunted attractions. Throughout the “Ghostbusters” maze, you are not necessarily on edge, but rather, you are intrigued and interested, looking at the stunning visuals, quirky set, all while appreciating the actors’ performances.
Next up is the “Us” maze, based on the 2019 thriller film that was written, directed, and produced by Jordan Peele. The eerie carnival sign that is so relevant in the film greets you and as you step inside, you are transported into a funhouse from the 80’s. Throughout the maze, there is a precise attention to detail. You feel like you are in the film, but unlike watching the film in a movie theatre or from the comfort of your home, you are in dark hallways, walking through twists and turns, making your way through small spaces, trying to find your way out. There are live performers, wooden furniture, tethers, bloodied carpet, rabbit cages, 50/50 mirrors, mannequin figures, and so much more. Best of all? Every part of the “Us” maze is an important scene from the film, and it’s creepy as hell. Even in the queue to get into the attraction, the unsettling music from the film begins and fills the air with an eerie dread.
At some point in the maze, there is a voice that says, “Who are you people?” to which another voice simply responds, “We are Americans.” Lines like this make the maze as unsettling and scary as the movie. This leads you to dozens of theories and interpretations for what the deeper meaning might be, but that’s up to you to decide.
Another part of the maze that could have many different interpretations is the Hands Across America scene, which is an essential part of Peele’s film. Hands Across America was an event by the USA for Africa in 1986, where 6.5 million people held hands to attempt a human chain across the United States, to try and get people to donate to charity. In the maze, there is a room with figures in red jumpsuits, “tethers,” creepily holding hands in a circle, representing Hands Across America. Some tethers are mannequins, while others are actors, it is hard to distinguish them, making it quite unnerving to make your way out of the room.
At some point in the night, all the mazes begin to blend into one. It becomes hard to distinguish the mazes from each other, although clear standouts—due to detail and uniqueness— differentiate “Ghostbusters” and “Us.” “Killer Klowns in Outer Space” had vibrant colors and brighter hallways that distinguished it from the other mazes. Near the entrance of the maze, there’s an actor in overalls getting electrocuted by a string of lights that is connected to a circus tent, shouting, “This is fire!” The other mazes, “Creepshow” and “House of 1000 Corpses,” were scary enough to be almost completely blocked from my memory. I can only recall a section from “Creepshow” that smelled like feces and a room filled with cockroaches (thousands of them) and while they might not be real cockroaches, they are still frightening.
As someone who has recurring nightmares from watching a scary movie trailer once, I can say Horror Nights is doable and entertaining, and it’s an experience best shared among friends or family. It is not necessary to be a dedicated horror fan to have a good time, but background knowledge on the mazes’ subject matter always heightens the experience. Horror Nights is an experience you won’t want to miss because of the sensory overload of weird smells, loud noises, abrupt jump scares, and intriguing sets.