Among the scares this year at Universal Studios’ always terrifying Halloween Horror Nights is an all-new experience inspired by The Weeknd, who is known for his eerie and even creepy videos.
John Murdy, the creative director and executive producer of Universal Studios Hollywood, said the musician, whose real name is Abel Tesfaye, contacted them. Murdy was immediately aware of the Weeknd’s radio hits like “Save Your Tears” and “Blinding Lights,” but didn’t fully grasp his entire brand — darkness and glamor with a rumbling bottom — until he watched his movies music videos. Then, he got it right away. They brainstormed together, and Murdy’s team worked out some ideas to present to the artist, who was very “hands-on” in the creation.
“I think,” Murdy tells Yahoo Entertainment, “the first line of my pitch to Abel is, ‘If we, the audience, could be inside your mind when you were conceiving and creating [2020 album] After hours and all the darkness that it represents – because, for me, as someone who grew up in Los Angeles, you know, a lot of the album speaks a lot about LA culture: our obsession with looking and keeping up, cosmetic surgery, too much focus on appearance, even life in nightclubs, it’s all in After hours — but, I said, “If we could be inside your head, what would that be like? What would that look like? How would that be? And would we survive this experience?’
The Weeknd told Universal that he’s beyond excited.
“I’ve always wanted my own Halloween Horror Nights haunted house, as Halloween has always been important to my music, so this is an absolute dream come true,” he said. “I feel like my music videos have served as a starting point for such a collaboration and I can’t wait for people to experience this madness!”
The result is The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmarewith experiences including After Hours Club, based on the video “In Your Eyes,” in which a woman is stalked, and a segment called After Hours Hotel.
“This is really inspired by music videos like ‘Heartless’ and ‘Blinding Lights,’ where you’re in this Vegas setting,” says Murdy. “That was particularly exciting because I was like, ‘Wow, we’ve never done Vegas as horror,’ but there are so many things in Vegas that could be horror, you know? And especially the carpet. If you go to a casino or a hotel /casino, I always admire the rug design. I’m like, “Why would you have chosen that rug? It’s so ugly… and busy.”
Such rugs were key to one section in particular.
“We have this scene where you go down a hallway, and it starts out very much like a typical Vegas hotel, you know, hallway, with the awful carpet and the awful wallpaper, and it gets progressively more surreal the further you go down that hallway, where it changes the shape,” says Murdy. “Well, it starts to get all curvy and the carpet pattern starts to encroach on the rest of the environment, so it starts, like, going up the walls, by the time you get to the end of that row, it’s just carpet.”
Murdy’s team, which numbers hundreds at peak times but about 10 year-round, used a process called dye sublimation to make one of the effects he’s most proud of this year.
“It’s being able to print, say, the rug, and then translate that into a costume through a printing process. And basically,” Murdy says, “imagine someone in a head-to-toe ninja costume with a bodysuit, but it’s All Carpets. But so is the environment around you, so they can just disappear into the set. So out of nowhere, the carpet attacks you. And the curtains attack you, too, which is fun.”
Not really the kind of thing horror fans would have seen in the early days of Halloween Horror Nights, which started in the 90s. (Murdy has been overseeing Hollywood’s scariest since 2006.) But audiences find more than Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees scary.
“My original vision of what I wanted to do with the event was to bring horror movies to life, the quality of the movie, so that people feel like they’re living their favorite horror movie,” says Murdy. “And it was a very specific, you know, vision, in what we were going to do Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street and Carnival, and we would have passed almost the entire horror canon. After doing this for several years, we started to say, “Wow. Horror is starting to shift, like, TV is a big deal for horror. And it was about that time The Walking Dead was knocking So we worked, obviously, with The Walking Dead for years. But then we started doing american horror story and this ultimately led to Stranger Things. And that was a… breaking point, as far as our brand is concerned.”
This year, horror fans can also walk – or, more likely, run – through areas dedicated to them ghost Busters; Blumhouse Movies the black phone and Freaky; Killer clowns from space; Jabbawockeez dance crew; Universal’s classic monsters Dracula, the Wolf and the Mummy. Carnival; and more.
The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare is currently open at both Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood. The tickets are available now.