Universal Studios Hollywood will feature an all-new haunted house this season for Halloween Horror Nights — and the attraction is as twisted as it is graphic. In other words, fans of the spooky seasonal event are going to love it.
"Scarecrow: The Reaping," which will be exclusively at the Hollywood theme park, is one of eight haunted houses on offer this season. The disturbing tale takes place within an abandoned Depression-era farm where the land and scarecrows have come to life to create death.
Halloween Horror Nights Creative Director John Murdy said he did a great deal of research on the Dust Bowl period to make the haunted house as historically accurate as possible. And then came all the horrifying and disgusting elements of the ravaged land getting its revenge.
"In my mind, this is an ecological horror story, because horror as a genre has always tapped into the existential fears of its time. Back in the 1950s, there were all the atomic mutated giant insect movies," he said. "These days, of course, climate change is one of our major existential threats. So, I thought it would be interesting to go back to a 1930s ecological horror story about man's abuse of the land and nature taking revenge."
WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Scarecrow: The Reaping
Filled with what seems like endless vines, 1930s housewares and mutilated bodies — most turned into scarecrows — the setting also features a couple of gross-out moments: one when an outhouse backs-up (and guests are spayed with water) and the other, a hallway filed with crows on the ceiling beams (where water drops fall on guests to simulate bird droppings.) The smell of the house adds to the discomfort: a pungent mixture of dried vines, hay and metallic antique housewares.
Murdy proudly noted that several of the haunted houses, both at Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando, are more immersive than any in the history of the Halloween event, which began at Universal Orlando in 1991 and at Universal Studios Hollywood in 1997.
"In 2020, the events were canceled [due to the pandemic]. And then in 2021, we were going through the year, and you just didn't know what was going to happen, so it was really difficult to plan," he said. "But this year, it was like, 'Okay, let's go!' So, we're stepping it up across the board. We're stepping up our special effects."
Another new haunted house that's getting plenty of buzz this season and will be featured at both Universal theme parks is the ingenious "The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare," which the 32-year-old Grammy-winning artist worked on directly with Murdy for guests to experience a surreal nightmare of his After Hours album come to life — and then brutal death.
Although the finishing touches are still being put on the haunted house, The Weeknd visited the L.A. park on Monday and gave kudos to Murdy for how it all turned out, the creative director humbly noted.
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"He loves Halloween, so this is like the ultimate wish fulfillment in some ways for him," Murdy said. "I always find that whether it's filmmakers or music stars, they love to collaborate on Horror Nights. They just go nuts over it, and I think it's because there's an instant reaction you get when you can see the people reacting in real-time, whereas if you're making an album or a movie, you're in isolation. So, it's super mind-blowing."
Universal Studios Hollywood kicks off Halloween Horror Nights on Sept. 8. Universal Orlando Resort's Halloween Horror Nights, which includes 10 houses, begins Sept. 2.