Every fall, the scaremeisters at Universal Studios theme parks translate some of the most macabre movies and TV shows into pulse-pounding haunted mazes. This year’s Halloween Horror Nights is no different, with Universal outposts in Hollywood, Orlando, and Singapore offering terrifying treks through Poltergeist, The Walking Dead, and Trick ’r Treat. But the highlight of 2018’s frightfest is a trip into Stranger Things.
Yahoo Entertainment got a behind-the-scenes sneak peek at the Upside Down at Universal Studios Hollywood and lived to tell you six scintillating secrets.
This maze is unlike any other
The Stranger Things maze is the first in Universal’s history to be built on a working soundstage. “This is Stage 29. Literally a couple months ago, Family Feud was taping in here. It’s just wrapped, and we got in here right after them,” says John Murdy, the park’s creative director and executive producer of Halloween Horror Nights. “What a soundstage allows us to do is to use height … and you’ll see that as we get into the Hawkins Labs.”
The maze follows the storyline of Season 1
“This is basically Will’s journey,” explains Murdy. The maze will travel a circuitous route through Hawkins, from the woods to the Byers house to Will’s Castle Byers fort and then into the Upside Down, back to the Hawkins National Laboratory, through the Void back to Castle Byers, and finally to a climactic showdown at Hawkins Middle School. Along the way, guests will encounter actors playing Joyce, Nancy, Hopper, Dr. Brenner, and Will (all lip-syncing actual dialogue from the show), as well as lifelike models of Eleven, Dustin, and Barb (RIP).
It takes lots of work to get the Upside Down just right
Murdy says it took nearly 10 months from conception to opening night. He pitched Netflix to do a Stranger Things maze a year ago, and he began writing the script last December.
Over the course of development, he sorted through almost 40,000 production photos and reference images to make sure every detail was perfect. “All the props, set décor, and the wallpaper, and everything has to match the show exactly,” says Murdy. His production team scours Universal’s massive props warehouse, flea markets, and yard sales.
Each Christmas tree light in the Byers house is individually wired and will spell out “R-U-N” to guests.
All the dialogue and music was taken directly from the show’s audio, and the Demogorgon suits were created from the actual molds used by the effects department.
But the biggest challenge was executing the Upside Down. “It’s all CGI on the show, and we needed to create a practical experience,” Murdy says. The floating particles were particularly tricky to get right; it took the team lots of experimenting before settling on hundreds of fiber-optic lights on wires manipulated by tiny fans.
All told, about 25 cast members (all of whom had to attend Universal’s “Scare Academy” boot camp) will be working the maze at any given time, with the performers having to repeat the script about 60,000 times before the run is over in early November.
This has the official Stranger Things seal of approval
The show creators, Matt and Ross Duffer, didn’t need a lot of convincing to let Universal transform their show into a maze.
“When the Duffer brothers got involved, it was great to learn right out of the gate that they were huge Horror Night fans — they come all the time. They didn’t give me one note on this maze, not a single one. They were like, ‘We get it,’” Murdy recounts.
“They really appreciated that we embraced the full [first] season and tried to hit as many beats as we could. It’s exciting to have the people who created the show cheering you on.”
The attraction’s Easter eggs literally include eggs
Aside from painstakingly re-creating the Byers home and Hawkins Middle School science classroom, the Universal team made sure to put in some extra Easter eggs for eagle-eyed fans to spot, including Murdy’s favorite.
“When you’re in the Upside Down woods, the [Demogorgon] eggs, which are only briefly seen in the show, are there,” he says.
“We take the philosophy that if we get it right for the über-fan of the show, then everybody else will come along.”
When you least expect it, expect it
The entire Stranger Things experience takes between five and seven minutes to walk through, but the scares are relentless.
“What we’ve learned over time with our guests from studying them during the event is that once they know the end is near — figuratively — they kind of let their guard down,” Murdy says.
“The minute you enter, you’re like, ‘Where’s the scare coming from? Where’s the scare coming from?’ But when they get to the point that they’re like, ‘This is the end,’ they let out a sigh of relief. And that’s the perfect time to get ’em.”
Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights opens Friday and runs through Nov. 3.
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