It’s become a tradition for us to meet John Murdy, creative director of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood, days before the opening of the popular annual event, which is still considered the best of its kind due to its sophisticated level of production. and the variety of its proposals, and that it will have its doors open from September 8 to October 31.
This year we went through a single labyrinth with him -still in the preparation stage-, unlike what happened on previous occasions, when there were at least two; in fact, we know that other outlets not only had more access to more during their respective visits, but were able to see completely different attractions. In our case, the tour was limited to observing the progress of the new version of “La Llorona: The Weeping Woman”, which undoubtedly had to do with the misconception that, as members of the Spanish-language press that we are, we only we are interested in seeing what is related to Latinos.
Be that as it may, Murdy, who is a careful and generous guide, gave us abundant information about a haunted house that has already had three previous versions, but which, in this case, welcomes us from its entrance with a facade inspired by a Spanish mission of San Antonio, Texas, which, once crossed, places us squarely in the middle of what is undoubtedly the most impressive moment of the enclosure: a kind of gloomy parish in which the remains of the three children of La Llorona are kept awake , after being drowned in a river by the same character.
Before the small group of reporters in which we were, the creative director, originally from Southern California, recognized the influence of the Mummies of Guanajuato in the elaboration of the funerary remains that appeared later, and before standing before a huge figure who imagines a monstrous characterization of the protagonist of the myth of Mesoamerican origin, pointed out that the countless variations that exist on this same story allowed him to design scenes as particular as the one that will show the mournful murderess carrying on her shoulders a bleeding horse’s head.
“Since 2011, when we had the first version of ‘La Llorona’, many of the Latinos who wrote to me or passed me in the park asked when I was going to bring it back, because they were excited to see their culture reflected in this event. ”, Murdy told me later, during a personal interview that took place in the middle of the Dia de los Muertos square, which debuted last year but, this time, intends to be part of a complete Latin American-themed area in which There is also the ‘fear zone’ “El Pueblo del Terror” -made up of illustrations of supernatural characters linked to other myths, such as those of El Chupacabra, El Cadejo, El Charro Negro and Tlahuelpuchi- and, of course, the haunted house of “La Llorona”.
“Anyone who is part of the Latino culture has grown up surrounded by this story, which is very different from the stories I grew up with; but the fact that I didn’t experience it as a child doesn’t mean we were going to ignore it, because the idea is to reach all of our fans and show things that come from other cultures, that expand our minds and that have to do with the incredible diversity of a city like Los Angeles”, detailed the executive.
As we said before, our interest was not limited to a single area, so we couldn’t help but ask him about “The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare”, which is without a doubt the most controversial labyrinth of this season, as has been shown by the countless comments on the networks that question the credentials of the popular artist as a representative of terror, unlike what has happened with all the rockers who have had their own haunted houses over the years, such as Slash, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath and Rob Zombie.
“Once you start delving into The Weeknd’s universe, it just gets more and more sinister,” Murdy said; and when we told her about the surprise we were caused to see the music video for “In Your Eyes”, which is a direct tribute to the ‘slasher’, she also had something to say about it. “The ‘Too Late’ one starts with two girls who just had cosmetic surgery in Beverly Hills, and after finding a head in the middle of the road, they cut off a stripper’s head and put it on. Things get really weird in his videos.”
The creative director said that he was contacted directly by the representatives of the Canadian idol and that, during an hour and a half meeting, he told him of the interest he had in making an attraction based on the album “After Hours” (2020), marked by strong eighties influences.
“This is the first time we’ve done something with a pop or R&B artist, although I think what he does transcends genres,” our interviewee emphasized. “It is very exciting to do this. We’re getting into uncharted territory, but I’m very confident that people are going to like him.”
“La Llorona” is not the only one to return this year. So does the “Halloween” haunted house, this time focused on the iconic original title from 1979. “The reason we’re going back to the first Halloween is because there’s a new movie coming out, ‘Halloween Ends,’ and we want to tell our visitors that in October they will be able to see the end of the story, but that here they will be able to see its beginning”, Murdy pointed out, later acknowledging when asked by us that the lack of the respective rights prevented him from creating a labyrinth that was precisely related with David Gordon Green’s recent trilogy.
The maze from “Killers Clowns from Outer Space” is also back, basically by popular demand. “It’s located in a different place, so it had to be reconfigured, which makes it a little bit different than before,” said the creative director. “Like ‘La Llorona,’ it’s an attraction that I didn’t think would be as successful as it ended up being, because it’s based on a B-movie from the ’80s that became a cult favorite.”
For its part, “Scarecrow: The Reaping” is an original house, inspired by one that was made at Universal Studios in Orlando in 2017, but with several of its own contributions. “What I wanted to do was place myself in a specific time and place: the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, when the ground in the middle part of the US turned to dust, accompanied by huge storms and black clouds, which that caused the largest migration in the history of the country”, recalled our interlocutor. “It is ecological terror; I see it as a warning about global warming.” In his words, this was also a logical way and in keeping with our times to approach that trend of terror that creatively alludes to social and conjunctural problems.
Another labyrinth of his authorship is “Universal Monsters: Legends Collide”, which follows the line of “Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives”, one that was presented during 2021 and was also Murdy’s creation. “Here, Dracula, The Mummy and The Wolf Man come together for the first time in the same experience,” said the aforementioned. “Their personal stories tie into a new story I wrote, which finds them trying to find a cure for the ills that have doomed their lives.”
Finally, when it comes to new and recent movies -beyond “The Horrors of Blumhouse”, an attraction in which “The Black Phone” and “Freaky” join, and which we unintentionally left aside-, we will be able to get on a version of the “Terror Tram” that will start as usual in Halloween Horror Nights (ie, with a walk through the Bates Motel and a personal visit to the house of “Psycho”), but then has an interesting detour.
“Once you’re done with that and back on the main road, you come to Jupiter Clam’s, a set from the Jordan Peel movie ‘Nope,’ which has just been taken over by the ‘Stunt doubles’ from ‘Us,’ right after they the aliens have taken everyone from the open-air auditorium”, described the creative director. “We are merging two different cinematic universes of Peele. It was his idea; he came up with the combination, and I thought it was fantastic.”