Brace yourself for the terrors of the Upside Down from Stranger Things and the clicker-infested post-apocalyptic world of The Last of Us at Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood. io9 recently took a lights-on tour of both highly anticipated haunted houses at this year’s spooky season theme park event.
Horror Nights Hollywood’s creative director John Murdy was on hand to talk about what fans can anticipate seeing in the houses inspired by some of genre’s most popular titles right now. “You’re trying to hit on all of the the things that are iconic about each brand. With Stranger Things, a lot of it’s just the sheer scope, size, and spectacle of it,” Murdy shared while walking us through key sets like Eddie Munson’s trailer, Eleven’s rainbow room, and the impressive Upside Down Creel house from season four of the hit Netflix series.
“Something like [the Creel house] is a big room for Horror Nights. This is huge room; this would be like three rooms in a normal year,” Murdy said. He described his process in creating adaptations of film, TV, and gaming properties through the lens of Horror Nights. “[The] first thing I do is I go through every episode. It takes me like a day to go through one episode because I’m constantly stopping and taking time code notes—just pages and pages of notes. So it takes probably a week just to get through it all and and notate it, then I will develop an outline. And usually it’s more than we can do. It’s like, ‘Oh, now I have to figure out how to edit it to get the story down to the space we have,” he laughed, standing in one of the Universal Studio spaces on the lot that Universal Parks has access too—it’s near Super Nintendo World and just right off the bend from the World Famous Studio Tour. “Luckily, we’re in a soundstage; it’s a pretty big house. This is as big if not bigger than the Weeknd house last year, so it’s a little bit bigger than some of our other footprints. Obviously Stranger Things is one of our three big premiere properties—it’s in the scope and scale. The show is so big we’re just like, ‘Nope, this has to go here.’ It’s driven by those kind of decisions.”
Alternatively, The Last of Us house—inspired by the game and not the HBO show—occupies similar amounts of space but in a tighter way. Instead of Stranger Things’ greatest hits of iconic moments, you’re plopped right into the world of The Last of Us game. “It’s less big huge rooms and more cavernous, twisting and turning. And that’s by design,” Murdy said, referring to the the infamous sewer and FEDRA sets he toured us around. “We wanted to slowly kind of get you in the sewer and then it’s just… turning to kind of replicate that first-person experience of playing a video game.” If you have claustrophobia, beware of that house for sure.
However if you’re a fan of the talent featured in the game you’ll be excited to find out that new dialogue was recorded by the original Joel and Ellie from Neil Druckmann’s original franchise. “We specifically worked with Troy [Baker] and Ashley [Johnson], who did Joel and Ellie, and that was a whole separate record session. I remote-directed them from Ireland,” Murdy said. He works remotely for most of the year from Ireland with his Hollywood Universal Creative team, and comes home to Horror Nights for the yearly haunt event. This year he and Druckmann worked closely to recreate memorable moments from the game using original materials. “The dialogue … I basically pulled stuff from the game and then I sent it to Naughty Dog. And then their writers tweaked it. So it’s specifically recorded just for this house.”
When it comes to Stranger Things, the process was a bit different. Murdy explained a lot of that house’s plot is carried out by “scareactors” portraying the characters like Eddie and Vecna, using a lip-sync track of sorts from key season four moments. “In Stranger Things, the dialogue we’re using is all from the show, so it’s specifically pulled from the series,” he said. The house’s cast was able to be filled with people instead of statues of the kids like in years prior, thanks to everyone growing up. In both attractions, he said, “We always want to put you in the middle so the threat is coming at you.” In other words, if you’re a haunt aficionado, the horrors of clickers, bloaters, Demogorgons, and Vecna will creep around every corner.
Due to the sheer popularity of Stranger Things season four’s soundtrack, we had to ask if Kate Bush and Metallica would be featured in the house, considering their music was instrumental in breaking Vecna’s curse. “When you’re waiting in line with the video content refreshing your memory of the past season, we’re also hitting all of the songs. Metallica [ ‘Master of Puppets’ ], [Kate Bush’s] ‘Running Up That Hill’ and all of that was popularized by the show,” he confirmed, but also clarified, “When we’re in the house proper, it’s primarily the score from the show. And then, right as you end, you hear a reprise of ‘Running Up That Hill.’ The queue line is all about the pop music and all of the stuff that we heard in the show. And then once you’re in here, it’s more the score music and we’ll tag ‘Running’ at the end.”
For a lights-on spoiler-ific preview of the mazes, click through the gallery ahead!
This event roundup, which includes activations for major studio projects, was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of writers and actors currently on strike, the films and TV covered here wouldn’t exist.