T.J. Kosinski is back as a contributor for Hero Complex, this time with a quick preview of the seasonal scares coming soon to Universal Studios Hollywood…
Want to play a game? This October, Universal Studios Hollywood wants to take you on a hellish ride with Jigsaw, Michael Myers, Chucky and more as part of its Halloween Horror Nights. This year’s event, entitled “You’ll Wish it Were Just a Movie,” is the biggest in park history, and there will be some very familiar faces lurking in the dark corners of four new mazes.
“Our big vision was to take the most popular horror movies in the world and turn them into living horror movies that people get to experience,” said Universal’s John Murdy, the longtime horror aficionado who directed, designed and wrote everything the audience experiences in those mazes.
As you might expect, Universal officials say this is the biggest and baddest edition of the fright franchise, which launched at the Universal City park in 1986 with sequel years in 1992 and 1997 through 2000. The event was revived as an annual tradition in 2006 and has been a potent draw in Southern California, explaining the calendar expansion this year to 16 horror-dedicated days, the most ever.
For Lionsgate, which will release “Saw VI” on Oct. 23, the event is a fairly potent marketing opportunity, although the franchise is a killer all on its own; the worldwide box office for the films to date is $669 million, an impressive total considering the production budget for the first was $1.2 million and, reportedly, none of the sequels have cost more than $11 million to film.
In the “Saw: Game Over” maze, park-goers venture into the lair of Jigsaw, the demented and ingenious killer, and they dare to inspect some of his intricate death machines from the films, among them the razor-wire trap and the needle pit.
That may be the centerpiece attraction, but the other three mazes offer frights of different flavors.
“Halloween: The Life and Crimes of Michael Myers” takes brave souls through the odyssey of the masked mass murderer who first appeared on screen 31 years ago and has proved himself a supernatural survivor after nine films (with a 10th reportedly on the way). “Chucky’s Funhouse” brings back everyone’s favorite demonic doll (five films from 1988 to 2004) and gives him an army of playthings — think “It’s a Small World” but with a body count. “My Blood Valentine: Be Mine 4 Ever,” keyed to the 2009 remake of the 1981 movie, digs deep into the horror of an abandoned mine where a pick-ax killer looks for unromantic revenge.
In addition to the mazes, there are six “scare zones” with varying themes — two have “Saw” imagery (think pig-masked minions, like the one in the top photo); another is devoted to the zombie shenanigans of the 2004 film “Shaun of the Dead” — and the park’s signature back-lot tour has been refitted as “Terror Tram: Live or Die,” with, you guessed it, a “Saw” theme. If you need a psychic break from the flood of arterial blood, there are also two ensemble performances: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show: A Tribute” and “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure.”
After all that, if you make it out in one piece, you might feel the true weight by Jigsaw’s famous words: “Congratulations. You are still alive. Most people are so ungrateful to be alive, but not you. Not anymore ...”
Halloween Horror Nights event dates are: October 2-3, 9-11, 15-18, 23-25, 28-31. The event will begin nightly at 7; closing hours vary by night throughout the event.
— T.J. Kosinksi
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Upper photos: Scenes from Halloween Horror Nights. Credit: Universal Studios
Lower photo: Sam Raimi. Credit: Ann Johansson / For The Times