Last year, when Scream Factory put out their jam-packed and long-awaited special edition of Creepshow, I wrote about how even though it was only partially set on Halloween (the Tom Atkins wraparounds), it was kind of a perfect movie for the season. The variety of the stories, the vivid colors, and the general "fun" of it all perfectly matches my mental image of October (and September, if I'm being honest), and as a result the film is just as likely to get put on this time of year as anything featuring Michael Myers. So when Universal announced that there would be a Creepshow maze as part of their annual Halloween Horror Nights celebration, I was kind of ecstatic. Horror Nights is ALSO part of my mental image of Halloween, so to make my way through a maze inspired by those EC Comics images seemed too good to be true. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to get a sneak peek at the Hollywood incarnation of the attraction, with designer John Murdy walking us through it and giving us behind the scenes info about how and why it all came together.
Unsurprisingly, the new Creepshow series that is premiering on AMC's Shudder network on September 26th was a big part of the idea. Murdy explains:
"Last year, I think it was opening weekend [of Horror Nights], I was sitting with Greg Nicotero talking about Creepshow - this is typical for us; I'm already working on 2020 even though I'm still finishing this year. And he started talking about this series, and like, "Wouldn't it be fun to do a maze?" So we decided it would be best to mash up the original film and the new TV series; there are five stories when you go through this maze: three from the original film and two from the Shudder series, and there's also a prologue and epilogue inspired by the film. One of the big advantages of working with Greg is that he's a makeup artist, so when we got into the new TV series we had the actual molds that Greg created for all the creatures and monsters for the new show, so when you see the maze, and see what characters are wearing, it's directly from the TV series."
It makes total sense - while Creepshow 2 has its fans it's not exactly treasured (rumors about the existence of a Creepshow 3 are false and you should ignore them), the original film has the most iconic monsters and images, and by splitting the maze between the film and the show they'll rope in fans of one who might not know about the other. And that's not blasphemy; the movie is 37 years old at this point; us old-timers have to accept that there will be people watching the new show that might not even know the old movie exists, let alone saw it before. Murdy says there will be Easter Eggs for other stories sprinkled throughout the maze, but the main focus will be on the "Father's Day", "The Crate", and "Creeping Up On You" segments from the movie, and then the new show's episodes "Gray Matter" and "Bad Wolf Down". But Murdy says the comic book influence will also play a big part:
Part of the conversation with Greg was how to approach the maze, and we both kind of landed on the same idea: Creepshow is inspired by comics, specifically the EC comics from the '50s that George Romero would have grown up with. So we decided to really embrace that aesthetic, and that's why the facade of the maze is a giant comic book, which is something we haven't done before. It's funny; when I got the artwork from Greg and his team from Shudder the comic book was very pristine-looking, it was this beautiful perfect graphic. But... kids who read horror comics roll them up, crumple them up, shove them under their beds so their parents don't find them... we wanted to make it look aged and distressed! So my designer Chris Williams dug out his old comics and scanned them so everything down to the staples and creases and aging, those are actually Chris' comics, combined with our graphic."
Furthermore, the maze even has some representation of the "Become a muscleman!" and "Get your real-life spy glasses" kind of ads you'd see in those old comics, so it really nails the movie and show's original inspiration. Murdy and his crew have also recreated the film's red and blue "lightning" images that appear whenever something horrific happens in the movie, giving the maze a real funhouse vibe that's often lacking from some of the mazes, which are more concerned with jump scares. Don't get me wrong, the maze will have plenty of that too, but they are clearly going the extra mile to give this attraction the nostalgic vibes its namesake franchise offers.
Things get a little more traditional as we enter the TV show part of the maze, but that makes sense - we haven't even seen it yet, so there obviously isn't a lot of nostalgia for it - might as well ramp up the scare potential as we won't be spending less time ooh and aahing over this or that detail we fondly recall from the film. Not that the sets aren't equally impressive; the first episode, "Gray Matter" (based on a Stephen King short) is about a man who drinks some bad beer and becomes a monster, and again Murdy was able to rely on Greg's connection with the show to get dozens of set photographs in order to perfectly recreate the man's apartment and other places he terrorizes in the episode (set to be the series premiere tale). From there we enter the world of "Bad Wolf Down", a WWII-set werewolves vs. soldiers tale written and directed by the great Rob Schrab. Bloody paw prints, a ravaged jail, and wolves that are a mix of the designs we will recognize from Howling, American Werewolf, and (naturally) Universal's own Wolf Man suggest this will be one of the series' scarier and action-packed episodes, making it a great fit for the maze's finale before sending us on our way.
That said, "fun" seems to be the theme behind many of this year's mazes; apart from Rob Zombie's returning House of 1000 Corpses maze and Jordan Peele's Us, the licenses are just as famous for making us smile as often as scream. The others include Stranger Things (themed after the second season), Ghostbusters, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (my personal favorite of the "Monster Rally" entries from the era), and - YES!!! - Killer Klowns From Outer Space, which we are also given a peek at (sans Murdy, however - he had to get back to finishing things up!). It looked like it took you through the entire movie, from the Klowns landing in the woods, to their various attacks in the city, and finally the funhouse set finale. The cotton candy cocoons were accounted for, and while it was still in progress I'd be willing to bet that the shadow puppets are represented with some kind of projection. Not sure about you folks, but this will be the one I beeline for when I come back for opening night - which is tonight, as it turns out.
The thing I like most about Universal is that they're not beholden to their own licenses: Killer Klowns is an MGM property, Ghostbusters is Sony, Stranger Things is Netflix, etc. I went to Warner Bros' similar event last year and I felt like I was just being treated to an interactive commercial for the WB studio store - there's little of that feeling here. Rather than mine their own properties and force themselves to dig deep into their history to find new attractions (I'm imagining poor Murdy having to sell us on a Virus maze or something), they open their doors to their competitors and give audiences a well-rounded experience that is able to surprise year after year - I mean, I am STILL kind of blown away about Killer Klowns - a 30-year-old cult film that was barely released - being up there next to Ghostbusters. Plus they have all the original themed scare zones (one of this year's concerns Pandora's Box) and, let's not forget, the park's usual attractions are largely open for business, so you can continue that "not just Universal" fun with Warner's Harry Potter, Paramount's Transformers, and Fox/Disney's Simpsons.
Long story short, the lineup is one of their most impressive and colorful in years, and seems like it's taking up even more of the Universal backlot than ever. Tickets are on sale now for both parks, click here for info on prices, hours, etc. Wear your most comfy shoes and prepare for lots of walking (maybe bring a portable charger too for line-waiting, unless you splurge on front of the line passes), and if you have a bug phobia, you might want to avoid the Creepshow maze, as Murdy left us with a warning as we passed through the "Creeping Up On You" section:
"You're going to feel things under your feet, you're going to feel them touching your body, and... I'm just going to leave it at that."