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Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood Starts Oct. 5th 2007


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This week we had the chance to speak to John Murdy, Creative Director for Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights team which starts this Friday, October 5th, 2007.

 

John discussed with us his thoughts on the event, where he draws inspiration from and what we can expect to see in upcoming years.

 

TPR: What has made HHN Hollywood more successful now than it was prior to the event being put on hiatus?

JM: As you know I spent the past few years in Florida working in Universal Creative designing rides like The Mummy. I had never experienced the previous version of Halloween Horror Nights at the Hollywood theme park, but I had seen year after year the success of the event in Florida.

 

When I moved back to California, one of my goals was to bring back Halloween Horror Nights and bring to California what made the event so amazing in Florida.

 

First off, the event is very expensive to produce and we had to stay conservative our first year back. Last year was a baby step for us, a test to see if the event could be successful again. We took a lot of risks that people were unsure about. For example the Terror Tram. Nothing like this has ever been done before where we stop the tram and allow guests to get out and wander around the backlot!

 

It opened up new possibilities that would not only increase the guests experience to what had been done in the previous version of Halloween Horror Nights, but it offered something that was unique to the Hollywood park. Where other park events have sets, we let you walk around the REAL Psycho house! Where else in the world can you do that?

 

We exceeded our expectations and this year we intend to step things up quite a bit!

 

TPR: Can you give us some insight as to how Universal will "step things up?"

JM: The heart of the event is the mazes. Of course everyone wants the shows, the atmosphere, etc, but when the guests come to the park they want "mazes, mazes, mazes."

 

This is why we did the deal with New Line Cinema.

 

When you walk through the Nightmare on Elm Street or Texas Chainsaw Massacre mazes we are DOING the movie. The sets are amazing. I've been through a million different mazes at events all over the world and I've never seen anything like this.

 

TPR: When it comes to mazes, is there ever a "scare limit" meaning at what point does something become "too scary" and have you ever had to tone down a maze or a show?

JM: No, NEVER! Push it! Push it! Push it! Every year new scares and new effects are introduced. And this year is no exception. What we are doing this year is so extreme. You want gore? This year we are ripping someones face off! Every time someone asks me "Should we be doing this?" I say "YES! ABSOLUTELY!"

 

TPR: How as the relationship with New Line Cinema helped with pushing that limit?

JM: New Line has never allowed anyone to do something like this before. They were a little hesitant at first, but we told them "We're Universal. We invented the horror movie and we will give you movie quality mazes."

 

In the Nightmare on Elm Street maze you will go into Freddy's boiler room, you will go into the Roach Motel, you will feel as though you are in the film.

 

TPR: Can you tell us a bit more about the synergy you have with the Florida event?

JM: This year, for example, we are bringing back the Bill & Ted show. Last year we had tried something different, but it did not come close to measuring up to the success Florida has had with this show. And this year we have brought in the same writer and director to produce our version of the show.

 

And even with the success in Florida, it is still a risk for us. The show is a legacy in Florida. They will show clips from previous years on the screen prior to the show and the crowd is going crazy before it even starts!

 

Bill & Ted, while well known characters are also dated. But the show revolves around pop culture and what has happened in the current year.

 

TPR: Will the Hollywood version of Bill &Ted be the same as this year's show in Florida?

JM: Other than some minor changes to accommodate local pop culture, yes. Why mess with a formula that has worked for years? We realized last year that we needed to go to the experts and we brought in the Florida guys to produce our show. The ratings have been through the roof there and we hope we can have the same success in Hollywood.

 

TPR: Do you think the scale of Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood will ever equal or excel the scale of Halloween Horror nights Orlando in terms of number of mazes and shows?

JM: Our goal is to build Halloween Horror Nights. Bring out of it for so many years we really did have to "start over." This is a new beginning for us.

 

As for if we can equal the scale of the event in Florida? Well, there are geographical limitations we have that challenge us. This park was not "master planned" like Florida. We have a working film studio that we need work around.

 

But attractions like the Terror Tram allow us to make use of that real estate and help to expand the event in a direction that isn't possible in Florida. And like I said we do have REAL sets like the Psycho house, the REAL War of the Worlds set that guests can explore.

 

We feel the level of quality will absolutely match what we do at our Orlando sister park.

 

TPR: John, THANK YOU very much for your time, and we're looking forward to our visit to HHN on Friday!

JM: We will see you then. Have a great time!

 

For more information about Halloween Horror Nights please visit the official site:

www.halloweenhorrornights.com/hollywood?__source=PR

TCMFamilyDinnerCropped_small.thumb.jpg.b3dc4201285599509b56438605888426.jpg

Texas Chainsaw Massacre Maze concept artwork.

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It sounds really exciting. Guess I'll just have to experience the Terror Tram myself to see what new goodies they brought to the table.

 

But really, the new options in shows as well as the 3 main mazes are more then enough to keep the event fresh compared to last year. I'm planning on visiting at least two times this year.

 

Thanks for posting the interview Robb!

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The whole "Terror Tram" concept sounds like a great idea to me. I haven't been to USH in years, but a good Halloween event would probably get me there.

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So who else from TPR is going to HHN at Universal Hollywood tomorrow night (Friday)?

 

--Robb

 

I will be there on behalf of Theme Park Village. This event is going to be awesome! I can't wait.

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So who else from TPR is going to HHN at Universal Hollywood tomorrow night (Friday)?

 

--Robb

 

I'm going to be there as well. Like Ethan representing Theme Park Village. Will you be attending the media event Robb?

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So who else from TPR is going to HHN at Universal Hollywood tomorrow night (Friday)?

 

--Robb

I would have loved to go tomarrow night but I didn't get work off.

 

I think I'll go next week.

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So who else from TPR is going to HHN at Universal Hollywood tomorrow night (Friday)?

 

--Robb

 

I'm going to be there as well. Like Ethan representing Theme Park Village. Will you be attending the media event Robb?

Yes we will be there.

 

--Robb

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The employee preview Wednesday night was absolutely awesome!

 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre maze was as good as anything Knott's has pulled off in years, and the Freddy maze is right there - some excellent teamwork by the scareactors to pull off multiple scares.

 

Have fun tomorrow night, everybody.

 

I put up some pics at http://picasaweb.google.com/CoasterMatt/HalloweenHorrorNights2007

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Just got back...fun event as always!

 

Robb and Jahan are still there getting great pictures and video.

 

I so need to talk to Florida people about this years Bill & Ted show as I'd love to figure out all the differences...IM me people!

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I've never been to Horror Nights before and since a few of my friends have never been to a theme park Halloween event and want to go, would any of you recommend this over Knott's Scary Farm? I've seen the Horror Nights TV commercial with the new Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface and it looks pretty scary.

 

I've been to Knott's Halloween Haunt before and think it's an absolute blast...just wondering how the Universal event compares...any thoughts would be appreciated!

 

P.S. I'd especially like to hear from people that have gone to both this year -- just to know how this years events stack up to each other.

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I try to do the trifecta, Knott's, Universal, SFMM - and that's the order of quality imo.

 

While I can't compare this year yet, I felt that the Terror Tram missed amazing oppoortunities last year. So much of that backlot tour is basically horror themed - flash flood, Jaws, King Kong, falling bridge (back in the day), Fast And The Furious (for different reasons), old exterior Frankestein village, earthquake & bugs in tunnel. I wish they would eventually incoporate the entire tram tour into the event. How could would it be to see Frankenstein in his village, zombies attacking the tram on the city sets, Kong with victim, dead bodies in the quake, and so on. They can still drop people off at the Psycho house and then pick them up after WOW sets. I think that might help thin the herd in terms of capacity.

 

I'm still checking it out this year, to see the improvements. Unicersal did do one of my favorite mazes of all time, a Rob Zombie one back before the put the whole thing on ice until last year.

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^Quality you have to put Universal over Knotts!!!! The set designs alone win this hands down!

 

Quantity, obviously Knotts wins...but how many times can you go through the exact same house as it's been for the last 5 years. (Or put clowns in a random theme with black light)

 

I haven't done Knotts this year, but read our comparisons from last year and now keep in mind that Universal added two additional mazes this year. The Friday the 13th maze was AWESOME!!! If you've seen the movies, it's basically like going through the movie yourself! There are some exact scene replicas, some great scares, and awesome makeup. I've always much preferred Bill & Ted to the Hanging, and now having that show at USH is a great improvement as well.

 

Finally, all of the employees and scaractors are just so much more fun, friendly, and pleasant than dealing with the Knotts staff! Go to HHN, it's fun and you won't be disappointed!

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I plan on going to HHN later this season but Knott's has more 'new' mazes this year than HHN has in total. Not bad if you ask me. Also I never thought the Knott's staff was unfriendly at all..

 

That said I look forward to HHN this year as last year felt a bit lacking in the show quality and maze quantity departments.. and both seem to have been improved this year! How busy was opening night?

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I personally take quality over quantity. The effects and tricks I see in a Universal maze is far above and beyond I've ever seen Knott's pull of. They just have more money and more resources at hand.

 

I think Knott's pulls of a great event, but it's like the best "carnival style" haunted house and Universal pulls off movie sets. Although I will say there was one section of Universal's Terror Tram set that was littered with "shaker can" monsters. Something you normally don't see at a Universal park. IMO, it was the "Knott's section" of the event. Very disappointing, but that was really about the only thing I found disappointing at HHN.

 

The mazes were completely awesome. I was very impressed to see "movie scenes" from the Friday the 13th films. You saw the scene where Jason impales the couple having sex, you saw him attack the girl through the roof of the VW bug, you saw the dude get his spine crushed in the fold up bed. All REALLY great props and great effects!

 

The mazes felt more like being on a movie set and less like going through "the line ride."

 

The Bill & Ted show was great! I thought it played better in Florida, but that's also because it has a 17 year following. I think as it continues here in Hollywood it may also get a similar following. Remember that the Bill & Ted show is *NOT* "The Hanging." It's a very different type of show. The only similarities between the two shows is that they make fun of pop culture icons. Bill & Ted is a comedy/music show where as The Hanging is a comedy/horror show.

 

People may prefer one style over the other, fine, but trying to compare the two shows is like comparing a wood to a steel coaster. If you go in expecting "The Hanging" you may be disappointed. The show is something completely different, but IMO, totally awesome.

 

It's easy to compare Haunt to HHN, and I'm ok with that. And there will always be people who cannot look at it objectively and are just fanboys of one or the other.

 

For where I spend my dollars its where I can have the best time with the least amount of hassle. My past 2 or 3 visits to Knott's Haunt was met with unruly crowds, obnoxious employees, and mazes that pretty much backed up into "the line ride." I really don't like that. Universal on the other hand seems MUCH better at crowd control and the mazes are of higher quality.

 

I would rather go to an event where they have focus on 4 really awesome mazes than mostly re-hashed, re-used mazes that I've already seen in previous years. I know in Florida, HHN has never re-used the same maze two years in a row. Each year the entire event is "new." New mazes, new theme, new characters, new scare zones, new shows, etc.

 

I think the ONLY common ground between every HHN in Florida has been the Bill & Ted show and some of the "major" characters they have introduced over the years - Jack, The Director, The Caretaker, etc.

 

I really hope Hollywood follows in this pattern because it would be dissapointing to see the same mazes year after year. That's a "Knotts" thing to do. If Universal wants to raise the bar, they need to make sure that each year is fresh.

 

Anyway, I'm about to post my full review of HHN in a little while.

 

--Robb

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My favorites go in this order:

 

Halloween Horror NIghts

 

Shipwreck @ the Queen Mary Long Beach

 

Knott's Halloween Haunt

 

and then I've never been to SFMM's Fright Fest but it doesn't look that great either.

 

HHN simply makes up for in quality what it lacks in quantity. If your one of those people who really don't get scared easily, the mazes are at least good for pretty objects. But with that in mind pretty objects help the scare factor, imo, because often times I find myself distracted by them and then I find a scareactor popping out from behind me delivering a good startle.

 

Queen Mary is just one maze after the other. Fair ammount of scare.. still Haunt styled, but still good.

 

Haunt.. well I dunno if it's just because it's knott's but I've gone 2 times per year for the last 3 years and it's just really nothing new... even if it is new... I'm so over it.

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Thanks for all the input Robb, I really appreciate it. That really gives me a better idea of where to take my friends this October. Since I've been to Haunt in the past before (and the last visit wasn't as great as my previous visits) I'll probably check out Horror Nights this year. Thanks again for the help.

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