Interview: Universal Studios Hollywood creative director John Murdy on how movies influence Halloween Horror Nights

in Events, Movies, Theme Parks, Universal Studios Hollywood

Each year since 2006, Universal Studios Hollywood creative director John Murdy and his team put together a younger version of Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights that derives its scares from the movie history found around every corner of the lot on which the horror genre was essentially invented.

Murdy has worked with Universal Studios for years in a creative capacity. Formerly based out of Orlando, he worked on a popular ride based on The Mummy film series. When it was time for him to move to the original Universal Studios in Hollywood, he insisted that Halloween Horror Nights follow him there.

While the Halloween Horror Nights 2010 at Universal Orlando features nothing but 100% original haunted houses, scare zones, and characters, without relying on outside properties or film franchises, Murdy feels that it is only appropriate to base the Hollywood version almost exclusively on the familiar frights from famous horror films of the past and present.

In a recent interview, I asked Murdy how he and and his team bring films to life at Halloween Horror Nights each year:

RICKY BRIGANTE: Given that your Universal Studios out there is obviously THE Universal Studios for so many years, how do you tie in decades and decades of film history with this Horror Nights event?

JOHN MURDY: The horror movie was invented, literally, where we’re taking our guests, which is pretty cool. Universal’s horror history goes all the way back to the silent film era – 1923 Hunchback of Notre Dame, and ’25 Phantom of the Opera, the great Lon Chaney silent films, but the of course Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolfman, all the classic horror films from the ’30s, ’40s. But also Psycho was filmed on this lot. The house [seen on the backlot tram tour] is the house from Psycho and this year it’s the 50th anniversary of Psycho, so we’re doing a lot with Psycho this year. So every year we look to work with our own movie studio and our own horror history but also we work with a lot of other movie studios in town and use some of their film properties as well.

R: And, as such, do you feel obligated to go with the film route for your haunted houses or do you like to work in some new characters every once in a while?

J: I’m very much about movies because, again, this is the place where the American horror movie was born. Universal, since 1964 with the start of the studio tour – our brand has always been taking people inside the movies and bringing movies to life. So when we started to talk about Halloween and bring back Halloween Horror Nights way back before 2006, my hook was always the movies. I didn’t see anybody out in the landscape of haunted attractions that was trying to do movie-quality haunted attractions based on popular horror franchises. And that’s proved to be a huge hit for us because the horror movie fans are very, very rabid about the particular films that they love, so we always look to work with franchises that are iconic, that have great environments, that have great characters, that can be replicated in a live attraction. What we found over the years is that horror fans just love that. They love the ability to kind of step through the movie screen and find themselves inside a horror movie.

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