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Sept. 1, 2022

Day 1: Previewing Halloween Horror Nights with John Murdy

Day 1: Previewing Halloween Horror Nights with John Murdy

This is day 1 of our 61-day Hauntathon! Today we’ll hear from John Murdy about the design process for this year’s Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood, live from Midsummer Scream. This is the full panel presentation, and includes...


This is day 1 of our 61-day Hauntathon! Today we’ll hear from John Murdy about the design process for this year’s Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood, live from Midsummer Scream. This is the full panel presentation, and includes discussion on Scarecrow: The Reaping. Follow along to our Hauntathon: https://linktr.ee/hauntedattractionnetwork

Transcript

Welcome to Midsummer Scream, Universal Studios Hollywood is just about ready to unleash the terrors of its 2022 event on fans in the weeks ahead. But first, we have a special guest ready to share more secrets about this year's event. All the way from his home in Ireland to sunny Long Beach, please welcome the creative director and executive producer of Halloween Horror Nights, John Murdy.

John Murdy: Hello, you lovely people. How you guys doing today? I'm John Murdy, creative director, executive producer of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood, and the first thing I want to say is, thank you, thank you all you guys.

You know we had 2020.

Audience: Boo!

John Murdy: It hurt me more than it hurt you. I don't know, that might not be true, it hurt you guys really bad, didn't it? But then we were able to come back last year, and boy, did we come back. So, thank you so much. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I feel like I owe you something, right? I feel like I owe you something. You know this, this is my phrase, I didn't write this, this is Shakespeare, in case you were wondering, it's from Macbeth. 

"By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes."

How about an announcement right out of the gate? Let's go.

How about an announcement for an original... I almost said Maze, but I caught myself, House? Coming to Halloween Horror Nights 2022, Universal Studios Hollywood Scarecrow the Reaping. Are you guys familiar with this? Do you guys know what I'm talking about? Credit where credit is due, this is a house that was originally done at our sister Park Universal Orlando Resort.

And thank you very much, I'll see you guys later. Now, I can't be doing that because I'm not pushing a button. Are we cool, I don't have to get a priest or anything? OK, it only goes downhill from here guys, and don't drop the clicker, that's the other thing you got to do.

Give me a break, I just flew 11 hours, I don't even know what time zone I'm on. I woke up at 4:00 in the morning. Seriously, woke up at 4:00 in the morning wide awake and I was like, "OK, the show is at 5." So, I started dusting my monsters in my monster room at 4 in the morning. I was like, "well, I could dust the monsters. I guess I could do that."

So, what excites me about this particular house is that we get to do history. So, the first part of this presentation is going to be a history lesson. Is that OK with you? I didn't expect that enthusiastic of a response, but ok.

I'm a big history nerd and what really excited me about Scarecrow was the setting of where it takes place, which is the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Anybody familiar with the Dust Bowl? Give it up for the Dust Bowl! For those of you not familiar with the Dust Bowl, indulge me for a second, because I'm going to give you a little history lesson.

We Americans, and I'm going to count myself. live in Europe, I've been in Ireland for five years, I'm an American, right? But we believe some crazy stuff, don't we? So, there was this thing called Manifest Destiny was this belief that we had to not only settle, you know, the original 13 colonies, but we had to go all the way across the entire country, settle the entire land.

So, in 1862 there was something called the Homestead Act. Check that out, how is that recall from high school? 1862, Abraham Lincoln came up with this thing called the Homestead Act, and basically what it was is if you wanted free land, 160 acres, you could fill out the paperwork and pay the registration fee, and they would give you free land. This went on for a long, long time, started in the Civil War, continued afterward. But what it meant is, a whole bunch of people that went West, you see them in the picture next to that 200-foot giant woman striding across the land, they weren't farmers, they had no idea what they were doing, so they didn't know anything about crop rotation or the proper management of the land. So, they went West, and they started opening farms, and then something else happened, World War One came along. America suddenly became the breadbasket for the world, right? So, that means they had to plow up more land and more land, and when I said we Americans believe some crazy stuff, this is something they actually believed back then, if you plowed the land, the rain will come. It's kind of like if you build it, another great Universal movie, they will come.

So, they plowed up all this land thinking, "well, the environment will change, it'll start raining." But it didn't happen. In fact, they had a drought. The area we're talking about is in the South American prairies, so this is kind of the hot spot where you see on that map. All of the land just turned to dust, and as the winds came along, it just blew it all off the land, destroyed thousands and thousands, millions and millions of acres. These are actual newspaper headlines, and this is all part of the research I do when I'm first starting to work on a house. So, you have these things called black rollers or black blizzards, and to me, there's nothing scarier than history. Why is that?

OK, just imagine yourself, imagine that's your house, OK? You're a farmer, you're waking up on a Saturday or Sunday and you come outside, you're like, "oh what a beautiful mor... OH MY GOD!" Look at how big that is. Imagine this 200, 300-foot dust cloud is coming at your house. Then when it left, it left this. "Honey, I'm going to get the car and I'm going to go... Oh, never mind. I think I'm going to hitch up Nettie, and we're going... Oh." 

Everything was covered in dust. And if that wasn't bad enough, after the dust storms swept all the topsoil off this country, then came, not kidding, the plague of locusts. Millions and millions and millions of locusts descended on the land. Actually, my grandmother grew up in South Dakota around this time, right? She remembers the plagues of locusts that were coming across the prairies and into the farms in those days. I remember as a kid, she told me that they were so thick on the windows that blacked out, like all light, everything went dark. So, when I say history is horror, this is what we're talking about?

So what did people do? They left. It was the biggest mass migration in U.S. history up to that point. I think it was 3.5 million people just got up, abandoned their houses, and left. These are all famous photographs taken by Dorothea Lange. they're in the Library of Congress, and this is great research for us. So, when we're starting work on something like this, we start plowing through all of those pictures, we start studying everything, and it suddenly dawned on me that what we were really doing was an ecological Horror Story, right?

Horror as a genre, since the beginning of time, it always deals with the existential threats of our time. Do you remember, like back in the 1950s when there was all those giant, atomic, mutated insect movies? Universal made some of them like Tarantula or the Deadly Mantis, or the Warner Brothers filmed them. What that was really dealing with was the atom bomb and the fear of the atom bomb. So, this is an ecological Horror Story about a climatic disaster. 

Now, when I was doing research, I kind of focused on these three images, the image of the Scarecrow that's from Orlando, that's from their house. But I also like the idea of these abandoned farmhouses, and I like the idea of like nature trying to reclaim itself. So, that's why you see all the vines crawling up the farmhouse. But then I also started zeroing in on crows, because technically crows are supposed to be afraid of scarecrows, but in this particular house, they are in league together. I liked one phrase that I pulled from Orlando's treatment that I thought was excellent and that is, "the silent sentinels of the land." What's a Sentinel? A Sentinel is a guard, like a soldier that's on post. 

So, we really like the idea that these farmers have come in, they've overworked the land, the land is all blown away, the topsoil is blown away, and everybody is leaving and abandoning their farmhouses. Who's left? The scarecrows and the crows, and now they're going to come back and reclaim the land from the people. These are the people, this is another picture by Dorothea Lange. So, the farm families that stayed behind that didn't leave yet they're the ones that are at peril because the scarecrows are coming for them.

Now, we'll get into the environments real quick and we have a lot to cover today, so I'm going to go kind of fast. When I gave this to my art director, production designer Chris Williams. Give it up for Mr. Williams! Tomorrow is Chris's birthday, so he's off at a family thing this weekend, but he sends his best to all of you. But I gave Chris all of the research, all of the pictures I pulled, and then he designed our farmhouse. This is the original elevation. You see all the crows lining the roof you see the vines overtaking the house. Then we turned that into a color elevation, which looks like this. Then, if you're on the parking garage of Curious George, just happen to notice on Twitter that a lot of people take pictures of this particular facade, you can see it being built right now. 

So, we carried that theme through in the beginning of the house. As you go inside, the vines are crawling all over the walls, they're actually grabbing things and taking things out of the house. Then we carry it all the way through into the family room where you see the crows, they've all come in through the chimney. 

When I was doing research, there was one image that I particularly liked that I gave to Chris, and it's this image, you see this little girl in a kitchen. Back in the 1930s they didn't have money for wallpaper in these farmhouses, they didn't have money for insulation, so what they used is old newspapers. So, I gave that to Chris, and then working with our art department he started to develop elevations that would work that into it, along with the idea of like makeshift furniture. They didn't have money to go buy nice furniture, they usually went to a junk heap, found some old pieces that were broken, they'd hammer some boards across it, and that would become your kitchen table. So, in Chris's drawing, it looks like this.

Then, everything had to be self-sufficient. You know, if you were on a farm somewhere in the middle of nowhere, you couldn't go to the grocery store to get groceries. So, what they did in those days is they had pantries and a lot of canned goods and goods in jars. So, again, I pull all the research, give it to Chris, and he draws it up. Then even like the animals, they would have like a smokehouse on the property where they would butcher their own animals and make their own meat. So, we're going to take you through the smokehouse. Now, of course, it'll start out as pelts hanging on the walls, and eventually, it turns into intestines and skin people. Because what the scarecrows are doing is they're taking anybody that's left on the land and they're turning them into more scarecrows. So, they're building their ranks that way.

Then we have to leave the farmhouse. I loved this picture when I was doing research of this outhouse, thought this is a wonderful water spritz opportunity. You're welcome. So, you're going by this old outhouse, and of course, you know you're going to get sprayed. But again, the keep seeing these crows showing up, they keep showing up through the whole thing. You see them as you go through the entire experience, including when we get to the barn, there's a whole number of them on top of the barn.

Since we were talking about water spritz effects, I did a lot of research on bird poop. Hours and hours, I think I spent a whole day researching bird poop, because I wanted to get something like this, this kind of consistency. Why does that come into play here? Because there's a scene in the barn, we call it the Rookery. Does anybody know what a Rookery is? That's where crows make their nests, they make their nests in a Rookery. So, we're going to take you through the Rookery, this is a ground-down view of it there. It's a 10-sided room and the crows are all above you, and then all those dark spots, that's their poop. Just to go one better, they're going to poop on you as you go through the scene. I've got my special effects guy working on this, it's going to be excellent. 

At the very end, you end up in this place called the Hive, and this is where they're taking all of the farmers, anybody who stayed on the land, who overstayed their welcome, and they're ripping their guts out, stuffing them filled with hay, and turning the humans into scarecrows.

I'm going to run you through the characters really quick. So, this is the work of our artist Lucas Cole Shaw, I think you guys know who that is. He's been our artist since I bought Horror Nights back in 2006, he's been with us every year. If you went through The Bride of Frankenstein lives last year, Lucas did all those gorgeous illustrations. So, we have a whole bunch of different kinds of scarecrows. I'm just going to click them through them really quick. These are our baseline scarecrows, and then these are what we call dusty-crows. So, they're like covered in that in the topsoil that's blowing all over where they're all chalky looking. These are the skele-crows. The seepy-crows, so these are the ones that were human not so long ago, but the blood from their wounds is still seeping through their scarecrow wrappings. Beast-crow and barn-crow, and these are the humans that are being turned into scarecrows, these are our cocoon-crows.

Then when we got to the ending, we thought, "well, who's behind this all? Like, what's causing all this? There has to be somebody leading these scarecrows." So, we decided to invent a character that didn't exist in the previous version in Orlando, somebody that would be behind all of this, we call him, King-crow. I want that coat, and that hat, maybe not the pants, but the hat

So, obviously this is a stilt walker, and he's actually got LED eyes because all of the crows in this house there, they all have red eyes, and they all glow red. So, this is the man behind everything, and this is a bonus shot that Lucas did. This is just the full cast. And that's Scarecrow.

All right, what should we do now? Do you want to hear a Hollywood ghost story? You want to hear an old Hollywood ghost story? Back in the 1920s, at the early days of the birth of cinema, not too many years after Carl Laemmle moved his company West and opened Universal Studios in 1915, the local newspapers in Hollywood have this headline: "Lilian von Drake, the heiress to the von Drake oil family fortune, has announced that she's getting married to a man named Maxie Deville." Now, Maxie Deville is what you would have called back in the 1920s, a drugstore cowboy. What that means is, it's a guy who dresses up in all fancy clothes and hangs out in front of drug stores in order to pick up women. In this case, he met Lilian, and he swept her off her feet, she falls head over heels in love with him, and they get married, much to the chagrin of her mother, Mildred Van Horn, who is the widow who has the entire oil fortune. Because no sooner do they get married, Maxie starts to work on a luxury hotel, it's up in the Hollywood Hills it's just directly below the famous Hollywood land real estate development sign. But he spends all of this money, millions of dollars, building this beautiful luxury hotel, and starts hobnobbing with the rich and famous of Hollywood. Then, only a few months after that, tragedy strikes.

A pair of sisters, Dottie and Dolly Clampendorf are found dead on the premises. Dottie, the maid, is found swinging by her neck in the elevator, Dolly the cook is found with her head in the oven, an apparent double suicide. But then more stuff happens, strange accidents that can't be explained, suicides, until the Hollywood press starts labeling Maxie's hotel a hotel of horrors. Then tragedy strikes again, Mildred Van Horn, the mother-in-law, is found dead in her bathtub, electrocuted when a radio accidentally falls into it. And then tragedy strikes again, Lillian Deville, former Van Horn, dies in a freak fire in her bedroom. 

Now, during the fire, Maxie rushes to her side and an act of bravery tries to put out the flames. He's badly burned, but he survives, and then the police start getting suspicious. They begin to suspect that Maxie Deville is behind all of these murders. There is a long trial, and after several months the jury returns a verdict of guilty, and Maxie gets sentenced to death. Now, there are appeals, and that goes on for years and years and years, but finally in San Quentin, as they're closing the gas chamber door and the gas fumes are coming up to his face, he laughs and cries out, "I'll be back."

And that's all I'm going to say. Stay tuned, boys and ghouls.

You know what? What would be better than that? How about a surprise special guest? All right, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage our good friend at Halloween Horror Nights, Slash.

Have a seat. I think they like you.

Slash: You're pretty good up here.

John Murdy: Well, you know, I was thinking about this. Slash texted me and he offered to come down and hang out with us today, which I thought was super, super cool and very nice of him. I was thinking about it, and I was like, you're very quickly becoming probably the person we've collaborated with the most in the history of Halloween Horror Nights.

Slash: You think? 

John Murdy: Yeah, we've done a lot of these now. So, I thought it would be cool just to start at the beginning, if you wouldn't mind. In 2014, do remember even back from there, the first time you came to Horror Nights?

Slash: I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the Black Sabbath maze, and I think that's the first time you and I met.

John Murdy: It was, yeah.

Slash: I was so blown away by this maze, I had the best time, and I was very vocal about it, probably more animated than you'd usually see me. Anyway, I was hooked on Halloween Horror Nights from that moment on.

John Murdy: I remember that night when we came out of that maze you said, "I'd like to do this. How can we do something together?" And so, I was like, "OK, let me think about that." Then a year later I sent you the treatment for Clowns 3D.

Slash: Which was super exciting, because I did, I offered to get involved, but I mean like, what capacity? I didn't know. He called me up and he goes, "yeah, I've got this original maze that we're doing. Would you be interested in doing the music?  It's this psycho clown thing." I wrote something in my mind that second.

John Murdy: You wrote it like right away, didn't you?

Slash: Yeah, literally when you told me that, I had a melody in my head and that's basically what this is based on.

John Murdy: Cool. Well, I brought a lot of goodies today and we have a lot of ground to cover, so I'm going to play a little sample from this. I think I brought the track of the whole maze, so forgive me, I might have to cut it off a little bit early. We're going to go back down memory lane and revisit some of the things Slash has done with us in the past and we're going to share some of the things Slash is doing with us in the future. So, here's a little bit of clowns 3D.

[Music Interlude]

John Murdy: All right, give it up for clowns 3D. Then a little bit of time went past, about four years, and we found out that we were going to be bringing the Universal Monsters to Halloween Horror Nights, and you were the first person I called right after that. Do you remember? What was your reaction when I made that call?

Slash: Well, it was out of the blue, so I was like, you know, really, really surprised. You told me what the concept was, and it was just super exciting because I'm an old school fan of the Universal Monsters and to get the phone call. Because, he was really, really polite about it, like seeing if maybe I was busy or whatever.

John Murdy: Well, you're in a pretty big band.

Slash: Well, yeah, but I mean all things considered. I'll find time. So, he told me what the concept was, and I was just super ecstatic to get involved with it, and it was a lot of fun to do. The artwork was amazing, it was very inspiring, so it was easy to come up with a melody that I thought would work for it.

John Murdy: Of all the Universal Monsters, do you have a favorite?

Slash: I'd have to say I'm pretty partial to Frankenstein. The tragic, you know? So, it would be Frankenstein, Dracula, the Werewolf, and then the mummy. 

John Murdy: The mummy. We're going to talk about the mummy, don't worry, the Mummy is getting his due. So, Speaking of Frankenstein, here's a little sample from Universal Monsters 2018, We Belong Dead.

[Musical Interlude]

John Murdy: Then a change of pace, the next year, 2019, Frankenstein meets the Wolfman. And this is a different kind of piece of music that you created for us. Why don't you tell us about that?

Slash: Yeah, well, there was a real story going on here and it sort of evoked, I thought, something that was a little bit more classical and moody.

John Murdy: Also, the setting, the beginning of the house was the gypsy camp, right?

Slash: Yeah, there were different feels for the different aspects of this story, because you have the gypsy camp, you have the lab, you have all these different elements going on, so they all had different moods. 

John Murdy: So, this is a little snippet from Frankenstein meets the Wolfman, the Gypsy camp.

[Musical Interlude]

John Murdy: I take it you guys like the Bride of Frankenstein Lives, huh? Now, what do you remember about this particular one?

Slash: Well, I mean, it was cool because it was all female themed, right? Ha ha. I was sort of partial to that idea, you know? Then, I mean, you have this, this great story of the Bride of Frankenstein trying to revive her mate, and having to deal with getting the vampire brides to work with her, and in order to work with her, she had to kick the shit out of them. So, this is just a really, really interesting concept and it was just fun to make up something for it?

John Murdy: I and I know you guys, all the time, are asking about the music from the Bride. So, this is a little snippet from the Bride of Frankenstein Lives.

[Musical Interlude]

 Speaker 1

I had to let that one play out. I'll go on record, so far that's my favorite of all the scores you've done for us over the years. The Universal Monsters legacy at HHN is not over. As you all know, we announced earlier this year a new house called Universal Monsters Legends Collide. Just real quick, I'll tell you a little bit about the concept of this house. 

So, it starts with this, believe it or not, Universal made a ton of Universal Monsters movies. Do you remember all those ones, like towards the kind of when they got into the 40s and they just started throwing the kitchen sink at it, like House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula? It was like, "OK, we'll have the Wolfman, Frankenstein, Dracula..." They just pile them on. Believe it or not, they never did a movie in the original Universal Classic Monster horror cycle that had Dracula, the Mummy, and the Wolfman. Never happened. So, now it is.

So, what we did is we partnered with our Sister Park Universal Orlando Resort. Our creative teams joined forces to create this overall concept, and we actually did it as kind of a two-parter. So, in Orlando, that's like part one of the story that's going to Egypt for the expedition, and then Part 2 is in Hollywood, which is where it picks up when it comes back to London. So, speaking of London. This particular house for Hollywood is set in the Limehouse District. Now, you grew up in England, right? Do you know what I'm talking about? The Limehouse.

Slash: Never been there.

John Murdy: It's along the river Thames. But why it's important is, when the British Empire was in its full glory, that was like the equivalent of like Amazon, right? All shipping for the world came in and out of the Thames. Why does this relate to the Universal Monsters? It's because it's already in the story. If you know Dracula from 1931, what does he do? He gets on the Vesta, and he travels to England and then the majority of the film takes place in England. In the mummy in 1932, the expedition where they're trying to find the mummy is funded by the British Museum. Lastly, in the Wolfman story, of course, that begins at Talbot Castle, which is in the UK, it's in Wales. So, we brought all of these characters to London. Now, why are they there? Just for a goof. We just thought it would be funny, let's just have them all show up at the same place at the same time. No, there always has to be a conflict. So, for us, it's this idea of curses. 

So, each of these characters are cursed in a different way. What's Dracula's curse? Well, he can never go out when the sun's up, right? He always has to exist at night, he can never go outside in the daylight. Think of how prolific Dracula would be if he could just go out in the daylight and start biting people. So, Dracula is seeking an end to the curse that is on his life, and he's represented in the house by a blood-red moon. Then you go to the mummy, he's an eternal slave, he's cursed for all eternity to be a slave. He has the harvest moon, the kind of gold moon you see in the middle. Then the wolfman. His curse is obvious, every time the moon is full, he turns into a beast and ends up having to kill people that he doesn't want to kill.

So, all of these characters are searching for an end to this curse. What it's all tied up with, or what we decided it's all tied up with, is a character named Amun Ra, sometimes just called Ra, he's like the god of gods and ancient Egypt, and just above his head, that hieroglyph, that's his symbol. So, we wanted something to represent him in the house and we thought of the idea of burial amulets. The Egyptians would bury mummies with amulets that were supposed to help them in the afterlife. 

So, we decided that the mummy needed an amulet of his own, so we designed one. So this is the amulet of Amun Ra, this is what our mummy character wears, this is what's keeping him alive, this is what's making his heart still pounding. It's a special effect and a costume piece, so it's actually got LED technology so that the fire opal in the center of it pulses with his heartbeat throughout the house. And I want one, I've seen the prototype, it's awesome. And here's some new music.

[Musical Interlude]

John Murdy: Right, give it up for Slash. It's funny, we didn't know if that music would be ready, like if it was going to make it, because our audio designers are working furiously on everything for Horror Nights right now. I was flying and I got to like an airport and I was like, "oh, there's music."

Slash: I got it at the same time.

John Murdy: So, that's like the first time I've actually sat down properly and listened to that track. What was different this time around working on the new House? Did you have a different inspiration or different vibe you wanted to tap into?

Slash: It's always, for some reason, it's always completely different from one to the next. But this one was such a great idea, right? Again, I was like trying to evoke some sort of, you know, for that period, a little bit of a classical kind of thing to it and also keep it really heavy. He just put this together from all the stuff that I wrote and sent him. So, I was really impressed how he edited it together.

John Murdy: To give credit where credit is due that is Stacey Quinealty.

Slash: Yeah, Stacey is not here, but he's dynamite to work with this.

John Murdy: Stacy does, overseas, all of the audio for Halloween Horror Nights. Now, we're like really down to the wire, so I'm going to do this really, really fast and then we're going to get to a ticket giveaway. All right, real quick, here are 13 monster Easter Eggs you can look for when you're going through Universal Monsters Legends Collide. Starts at the facade, as I mentioned that it's a shipping warehouse in the Limehouse District of London. This is my original research image and then I gave it to Chris, and he came up with this. If you're going down the starway and you look to your right, you'll see it, it's in the park right now. Did anybody pick up on this Easter egg? Alucard, Dracula spelled backwards. That comes from the movie son of Dracula.

The next one, the London Docks, another research image I pulled for Chris, and then this is his ground plan looking down on it. So, we have all of these crates and boxes, and I wanted all of them, kind of did a little foreshadowing that this is going to involve the Egyptian God Amun Ra, I wanted his hieroglyph stamped on them. So, you're going to see that if you look really carefully, you might have to look really, really carefully because the last picture I saw, they weren't on it. So, like Monday, I'm going to get a stencil and start painting, but you'll see the symbol of Amun Ra on all of the crates.

The dead dockworkers from Dracula. I love that scene when they come on the ship and there's just, everybody on board the ship is dead. We wanted to work that into the experience so when you enter the shipping warehouse, you'll notice that everybody working inside is dead. Except for one guy. This guy.

Renfield is behind the shipping and receiving counter desk, you know going, "he, he, he." Doing his freaky laugh, and he has that line in Dracula that I love that is also applicable here, where he goes, "Master, we're here." So, of course, if Dracula is coming to London...

[Inaudible]

Yeah, I'll be doing Renfield.

Slash: It sounds good.

John Murdy: Yeah, I've got a few credits, I've got some weird ones. I do Mother Bates, too, if you ever in front of the Psycho House.

Slash: Is that you? I did not know that.

John Murdy: Yeah, probably shouldn't have told you that. But Renfield's going to make a cameo in our house as well. Of course, shipping warehouse has always had these huge holding rooms. Of course, that gives us an opportunity to have a bigger scene, this is a really big scene in the house. Now over the years you guys have seen lots of this type of stuff in our houses before, right? You know what I'm talking about, Anubis, that medallion, these are from real movies, from The Mummy Returns and Scorpion King. Believe it or not, the whole inspiration for this House and wanting to do it, I was in our warehouse about this time last year and I walked into our offsite facility, and I was like, "Damn, we've got a lot of Egyptian statues." Because back when they made the Mummy in 99 and the Mummy Returns, they just gave us that stuff. So, we have all these huge, huge Egyptian statues and we've never used them for Horror Nights. So, I wrote a whole house just so I could use them. So, when you're going through the holding room and you're admiring the statues, just know those are all real film props.

Then there's this, also when you're going through this scene, you'll see a chest and it's glowing and you'll hear this, "du-dun, du-dun," and it's a reoccurring element. You'll see it a couple of different places in the house. I just like Pulp Fiction, really. I always liked the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, and I was like, "oh, we should do that with, like, the mummy. Like, this is the case where they keep his heart and it's still beating." 

Then we're going to need a really big tent in the future to build this house because when I say this is the Amazon of the world, look at how big these places were. We wanted to take you through the storage rack, so you're going to be going through the storage rack scenes, you're going to run into another character named the High Priests of Karnak. This is a stock Universal character, you see him in all the sequels to the Mummies, but we wanted to bring him to life, a new character for Halloween Horror Nights. So here is our high priest of Karnak, he gets his very own medallion that he gets to wear.

Then all the sequels to the mummy, they always go to a graveyard, right? There's a good reason for that, it's because they didn't want to go to Egypt to film these movies. Like, you ever notice this about the Mummy movies? The first one, there's all this amazing Egyptian sets, and then all the other ones are like in America.

Slash: It's just yeah, it's too expensive.

John Murdy: The mummy! He's here in America! It's because the sequels didn't have the same budget as the original and as they went along, they had to come up with different storylines. But that meant we could take you to a graveyard, and there are some Easter eggs in the graveyard. Look at the names above the crypts, and you'll see some of them, including this one, which has got the name Browning, which of course is a Todd Browning, guy who directed the original Dracula. And then the graveyard also gave me this idea, have you ever been to Highgate in London? The cemetery Highgate, have you ever been there?

Slash: No, Highgate, no.

John Murdy: We got to go sometime, because it's really cool. It was built in the Victorian times when there was a huge obsession with Egyptology, so they have an Egyptian wing of this entire cemetery. So that gave us an idea, "Oh, we can go into the cemetery, and then it can take on an Egyptian feel, and then there could be a secret passageway that takes you to the museum."

Slash: Where is it exactly?

John Murdy: It's just outside London. Turn left at Big Bend and then...

Slash: I will check it out.

John Murdy: I was just in London I can't even remember.

Slash: I was too, we just played over there.

John Murdy: How come we didn't see each other?

Slash: Same day?

John Murdy: No, you guys were right before me. So, the secret passageway takes you into the curator's office, and there's the glowing chest, and the curator, of course, is dead. This is Dracula's scene where he comes busting in with Renfield and he's trying to steal the amulet, but the amulet's gone. What is Dracula doing? He's trying to raise an army like himself to take over the world, like all good vampires. So, that means we could get a couple more Easter eggs in, including posters for the Egyptian exhibit they're planning for the museum. If you look really carefully underneath where it says the public celebration, it says there will be a short address by S Hudson on Egyptian music.

Slash: Oh shit.

John Murdy: How much do you know about Egyptian music?

Slash: A little bit. Actually, I wrote something for this.

John Murdy: So, this is a tribute to Slash, of course.

Slash: Thanks, John.

John Murdy: That also means that we get to bring back the vampire bride, so they're going to be making a cameo in this house as well. Then when you get to the final scenes in the maze, when you're in the display rooms where there's mummies everywhere, the high priest of Karnak has the mummy's heart, and he's doing that spell they always do in the Mummy movies trying to bring all these mummies that are in the museum to life. That's a special effect as well, the heart is designed, it's got LEDs, it's wireless so that it can take an audio signal and it starts doing the "du-dun, du-dun." So, this is what was inside the chest.

Last but not least, Anubis factors into this house in a very direct way. One of the inspirations for this whole original story that myself and my counterparts at Universal Orlando Resort came up with was, because recent research has discovered something about Anubis. They always thought he was a Jackal-headed God, that he had a Jackal head, which would be a dog right? Now they've come to realize, I don't know if you know but this is pretty cool, but they've realized that they were wrong all these years and it's actually a wolf. So, Anubis is a wolf man.

Slash: Right, right.

John Murdy: So, we're going to bring a new monster into the Pantheon at the end of this House we're going to have the Anubis werewolf. Be careful messing around with amulets when you're trying to do all this stuff you might bring something back you didn't want to bring back, like this guy. He's got an amulet too. So, this is a stilt walking version of this character, the Anubis Werewolf, and that is the sculpt we're working on right now, it's being finalized. Can you see where the head form is? That's how tall this guy is. The mask actually doesn't even go on his face, so his head's way up here. So, a little something for you to look out for.

 

John Murdy Profile Photo

John Murdy

Creative Director at Universal Studios Hollywood

John Murdy is the creative director of Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood. He worked on Universal Studios Hollywood's Revenge of the Mummy ride and Universal Orlando for a bit. He successfully brought back the Halloween Horror Nights event in Universal Studios Hollywood from 2006-present.

Slash

Guitarist

Saul Hudson, better known as Slash, is the British-American lead guitarist of the American hard rock band Guns N' Roses. He also has consulted with Universal's Horror Nights periodically since 2014 to help create the music for some of their mazes and attractions.