John Murdy’s mother made the mistake of showing him Frankenstein when he was four years old. He fell in love with classic horror monsters, and from there started using his parents’ garage to host his own neighborhood haunted house at age 10. “Every year it got bigger and bigger. My dad finally told me we couldn’t do this anymore.” In the end, hundreds of people lined up to see the event.
Murdy is now the creative director at NBCUniversal for Halloween Horror Nights, where he brings that childlike fascination with horror to life in the form of mazes for thousands to witness. The creation of this attraction is a year-long process. “By December we usually have already starting planning for next year,” Murdy revealed, “and we are working up until opening night.”
During my preview of the mazes that will be debuted later in September, even in the daylight, and with Murdy explaining his creative decisions along the way, it was a scalp-tingling experience. While Murdy described different scenes the mazes bring to life from the FX series “American Horror Story,” I tried to focus on my notebook instead of the almost too realistic dead bodies swaying from the ceiling.
The maze itself bears an uncanny resemblance to the show. Murdy shared that to create just one maze, he’ll go through thousands of frames trying to find the perfect images and scenes that will best translate into sets. Each time you turn the corner of the maze you are in a different scene from the show. It begins with the pilot episode of the series, and then progresses into a morbid carnival aesthetic, complete with murderous clowns and deranged circus performers.
From there is one of the most impressive parts of the maze: The hotel. In the series, the hotel season is a period piece that takes place in an art deco style building. Much care has gone into the building and design to make this version of the hotel feel authentic and downright terrifying.
For his process, Murdy says he tries to seek “a balance of the expected and unexpected,” giving fans enough of what they want and love about the show while still surprising them at every turn. Before anything can be built though, Murdy writes a 100-page treatment for each maze. There are 10 mazes this year, which brings his total written in the investment in the project to the length of a long novel. When he described this, it sounded like he was still the same kid who fell in love with horror monsters like Frankenstein, and just happened to be getting getting paid to bring them to life now.
Besides “American Horror Story,” there are also more recent franchises showcased like “The Purge and The Walking Dead.”
Of course, there’s still plenty of room for the classics this year at Universal. Among the other attractions are quintessential horror stories like “Freddy vs. Jason,” “The Exorcist,” and Michael Myers’s “Halloween.”
During a visit to Kraven Industries and Elm Street, you’ll be thrown into one of the most realistic horror sets you have ever seen. It’s definitely too close to the real thing for comfort. Freddy is arguably one of the most classic and terrifying characters to exist within the horror world, right up there with Frankenstein himself, which makes this maze one of the highlights of the event.
This year’s Horror Nights is sure to be a thrilling night out, and well worth the ambitious commute from the Riverside area.