John Murdy and Chris Williams cannot stop smiling.
In fact, the Universal Studios Hollywood Creative Director (Murdy) appears so excited he gestures wildly as he says, “We have the actual director!”
Chris Williams, Universal’s Art Director, sits calmly, but you can see the joy in his face.
Between these two—who have become icons in the haunting industry over the last few years—sits John Landis, also iconic director, writer, and producer who has contributed film gems like Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Trading Places, and Michael Jackson’s short, Thriller. Most of all, he brought us An American Werewolf in London.
“I had all these ideas…”
Halloween Horror Nights fans have been speculating for many months that this attraction would be coming to Hollywood this year, carrying over from sister park in Orlando where Mike Aiello organizes their HHN event that will be entering into its 24th year this Halloween season. This announcement was no great surprise to those who closely follow the development of the Hollywood event, but rather, a great relief, especially for those who cannot attend HHN Orlando.
“I had all these ideas,” Landis explains as he talks about his collaboration with Aiello for the first appearance of this maze. “All these ideas and I sat down and he says, ‘okay, remember we have to get and least 4.5 thousand people through an hour’ and I’m like, ‘okay, f**k this shit.” Then Murdy, quick-witted whenever he gets up in front of an audience to talk about what has been his biggest focus at the park since 2006 responds, “We do 2,000.”
“…the assembly line of gore.”
He and Williams continue to explain the work that has gone into this maze and their slideshow is full of sneak peeks into what is coming. Landis is so jazzed with what is to come that he forces Murdy to skip quickly through the slides to what promises to be some excellent effects work come opening.
One of the major differences between the Orlando and Hollywood HHN events is the caliber in which makeup effects are executed. In the past few years, the risks to bring dazzling makeup and costume design have been greater and this year’s Werewolf are making huge leaps forward. Landis asks how they are capable of getting so many prosthetic pieces on the scare actors in such a short amount of time. Williams explains how the pieces are pre-painted and that they only have about 30 minutes for application. Murdy leans back and says, “I call our process the assembly line of gore.” We have heard him use this term before when he gets this question at events, and he begins to compare the process to Henry Ford building the Model A. But Landis quickly interrupts him, “It’s very much like building a car,” and gives the audience a sarcastic look.
“…like a horror film”
Landis wrote the original script for Werewolf back in 1969 when he was barely 18 years of age after witnessing a bizarre scene while he was just beginning his film career as a ‘gopher’ on Kelly’s Heroes in Yugoslavia where priests of a local village were burying a criminal at the crux of a crossroad. “Who had been wrapped in a shroud […] and this shroud was wrapped in garlands of rosaries and garlands of garlic cloves.” From then on, he decided he wanted to write a film about the supernatural in reality, which later spawned An American Werewolf in London.
The story of the gap between when Landis wrote the movie and actually made the movie, Murdy comments, “…is quite like a horror film.” Although Landis conceived the idea in 1969 and wrote the script shortly after, the bureaucracy of Hollywood filmmaking and the confusion of whether the movie was to be a horror film or a comedy prolonged any chance of seeing through his vision. Eventually, Landis got the support he needed and in 1981, we got the movie that revolutionized the way Hollywood thought about special effects makeup and the Academy created a special category in which Rick Baker won the first Oscar in this new type of recognition*.
Baker, who has an incredibly long list of films he has worked on, spent six months creating the iconic prosthetics and practical makeup effects for Werewolf.The famous transformation scene included a technique Baker invented himself called the “changing head” which gave the audience (at least for the time in the 80s) a convincing portrayal of evolution from human to lupine.
“They do shows…”
As the panel comes to a close, Murdy opens up the floor for questions, insisting that the audience focuses on Werewolf. The first question comes from the back and disregards Murdy’s request entirely, instead, asking whether there will be any announcements for shows in this year’s HHN. Murdy rolls his eyes and responds, “If there are shows about American Werewolf in London…” Landis picks up the question “They do live shows…” he leans over to Murdy and says, “Why not, you’re here to hype the f**kin’ thing…” We applaud and cheer them on as Murdy reiterates (as he always does), “Some things are top secret.” Landis again answers, “Yes and they’re very cool.” The response is finished with Murdy affirming the announcement season is not finished yet, “There is still a major announcement yet to come.” The rest of the Q&A session finishes brilliantly and remains on the subject of the new upcoming HHN maze that many have been waiting for, but what is really exciting is the use of the plural bomb Landis dropped on the audience.
Of course, the question about HHN shows is really on all our minds. After the drama of last year’s infamous Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure show suffered accusations of being homophobic and racist. Although the show is chocked full of crude humor and touches on the taboo, what is really important is that the show serves as crowd control for the late-night event that often completely sells out. While attendants could shell out the $200+ for a VIP pass that includes access to the faster line and a special tour, or $100+ for the Front of the Line pass that allows faster access to each maze once over the course of the whole night, basic passes put you waiting for hours in crowded lines and limits the ability to see all the attractions in just one night. Shows like Bill and Ted are essential to unburdening the wait times and alleviating the stress that comes with standing for hours on end. Last year, the event saw the long-awaited return of the Chucky’s Insult Emporium, a short street show in a scare-zone, only to get discontinued soon after the Bill and Ted debacle. Both of these decision though—we have to keep in mind—are beyond Murdy’s control.
Could Landis’ comment about ‘they’re very cool’ have already spilled the beans about show announcements? Will we see two shows come to HHN with one possibly being the return of Bill and Ted? Whatever the case may be, we are excited that the HHN Hollywood hype train has not ended and that the Scare LA panel was magnificent. It was a real treat to watch John Landis speak about his film, but one of the best highlights, at least for us, was Murdy’s words, “We are the keepers of the flame of practical effects,” and so far, the work they have done on this project is a testament to that.
Now that some of our hopes have been confirmed, let’s cross our fingers that we see the return of Slaughter World.
*William Tuttle received the first honorary recognition for his work on 7 Faces of Dr. Lao in 1964
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