Monday, July 15, 2024

Halloween Horror Nights 2023 unleashes more Latin folklore and monsters

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Universal Studios Hollywood is bringing Monstruos: The Monsters of Latin America to life at its annual Halloween Horror Nights event, which kicks off Thursday, Sept. 7 and runs select evenings through Oct. 31.

The new original concept maze, which was revealed during a presentation at the Midsummer Scream convection in Long Beach on Sunday, July 30, will feature three creatures from Latin American folklore including the Tlahuelpuchi (vampire witch), La Lechuza (owl witch) and El Silbón (The Whistler) and their stories will be told by an original grim reaper/grave digger character simply known as Muerte (death).

“It’s a continuation of another long legacy we’ve had in our Latin American-themed houses that goes back to a scare zone we did in 2010 with La Llorona,” Halloween Horror Nights creative director and executive producer John Murdy said during an interview before the presentation.

The La Llorona scare zone was so popular, Murdy & Co. designed entire attractions around “The Weeping Woman” in 2011 and 2012. They went on to explore other Latin American legends including El Cucuy in 2013 and began working with more Latin directors and actors to build the attractions and stories including Diego Luna (La Llorona: Villa De Almas Perdidas 2011 maze), Danny Trejo (El Cucuy 2013 maze), Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Till Dawn 2014 maze) and Guillermo Del Toro (Crimson Peak: Maze of Madness in 2015).

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After seeing how much fans loved the newly decked out Día de Los Muertos-themed Universal Plaza, Murdy said he knew he wanted to do more Latin horror-themed programming and he brought La Llorona back last year.

“Watching the fans’ reactions last year as they walked through that maze really made me feel like it’s just such an intrinsic part of what we do in Hollywood,” Murdy said. “It’s so appropriate for the market of Los Angeles because Los Angeles is so seeped into that culture and heritage, so we wanted to create the next generation of our Latin American houses.”

Fans at the convention got the first look at what these monsters will be like up-close-and personal. The Monstruos attraction will be accompanied by the El Terror de los Momias scare zone located on the upper lot in the Parisian Courtyard. The zone will feature Aztec warrior mummies, led by their mighty queen, and a brood of mummified villagers who will haunt the souls that make it through the attraction. The entire zone was inspired by 1950s Latin American films about mummies.

“We took that, but gave it our own twist,” Murdy said, noting that the area will also feature large-scale movie posters, lobby cards and screenings of fake movies they created to go along with the theme.

As for the characters in the maze, Murdy gives a brief rundown: Tlahuelpuchi comes from Tlaxcala, Mexico, and is a vampire witch, but “unlike other vampires, they don’t bite people, they suck the blood through the skin and leave tell tale bruises behind, so it’s a witch story, but with a vampire twist,” he shared.

La Lechuza, which comes from parts of Mexico and the Southwestern United States, is an owl witch that “can disguise her voice to sound like a baby crying, which is really creepy,” he said. “Late at night if you hear a baby crying outside and you go out to try to help — it’s a trap.”

El Silbón, from Colombia and Venezuela, is probably the most gruesome of the three. We’ll spare the too-gory details, but basically a man is forced to carry a bag filled with his father’s bones upon his back and after his death, he returns seeking revenge mostly against womanizers and drunks, adding more bones to his collection.

Since it’s a culture he did not grow up in, Murdy said he does a lot of research and noted he owes a lot to Rose Gonzalez, a senior member of Universal’s marketing team, for helping him truly understand these tales and get them right.

“Aside from all the years she’s worked here in Hollywood, she also lived in Mexico City and she’s been my touchstone for these things and gives me great pointers,” he said. “It’s been really fun to dive into that culture and I know it means a lot to our fans, so we’re really excited to bring this new maze to life.”

At the Midsummer Scream, Murdy is a rock star. He drew a massive crowd to the Grand Ballroom inside the Long Beach Convention Center and as he appeared on stage, horror fans cheered and began chanting his name. He relished in the moment, but then got down on his knees and bowed down to the fans.

“Without you, the fans, none of us would be here,” he said.

And he meant that sincerely.

Just before the panel discussion that took place on the final afternoon of the three-day convention, we met up with Murdy, who recapped a little of his busy day, walking the convention floor and seeing all of the creativity inspired by Halloween and the horror genre. He said he was blown away by the ingenuity of the folks in the Hall of Shadows, showing off their home-haunt tricks, stuff he wished he’d thought of or had access to when he built his first haunt inside this parents’ Hacienda Heights home in the late ’70s.

Aside from Monstruos, Murdy also talked about the new Universal Monsters: Unmasked attraction. It’s the fifth Universal Monsters maze that pays tribute to the original creatures created by the film studio. Murdy said that since the back lot is celebrating its 100th anniversary, he wanted to give a nod to the 1923 film, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” which starred Lon Chaney.

“Without the Hunchback, none of this would have ever happened,” he told the audience. The new maze will feature The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde and The Invisible Man.

“This is an opportunity to do history of horror, which I love,” Murdy added.

Fans also got to listen to a bit of Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash’s score for the Universal Monsters maze and got to hear “Silent Screams.” This is the sixth time Murdy has teamed up with the legendary guitarist (they did the Clowns 3D maze back in 2014, too) to do an original score for an attraction.

“He’s so into it,” Murdy said. “I remember the first time I went to his studio and I walked in an there was a big picture of the Bride of Frankenstein and I was like ‘Ah, we are the same.’ We share the same love for that brand. I think this is really the longest collaboration I’ve ever had for Horror Nights.”

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