John Landis, the critically-acclaimed writer and director of ÒAn American Werewolf in LondonÓ visited Universal OrlandoÕs Halloween Horror Nights 23 on Friday, September 20, 2013 to enjoy the elaborate haunted house that brought his classic horror film to life.

Entering its 23rd year, Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights has a simple directive: to scare you senseless. While the haunted mazes inspired by original and obscure content offer plenty of chills, the main draw is being able to step inside a beloved horror franchise. This year’s incarnation dares fans to confront the demons of Evil Dead, the lickers of Resident Evil, the lycanthropes of An American Werewolf in London, the shuffling walkers of The Walking Dead, and the smorgasbord of baddies beneath The Cabin in the Woods. Universal Studios invited /Film to a V.I.P. – sorry, R.I.P – opening night, beginning with a special walk-through with the creator of a bona fide classic.

An American Werewolf in London at HHN 23 - HR
Stick To The Roads. Stay Away From The Moors.

For those weaned on eighties horror the most anticipated attraction may be John Landis An American Werewolf in London. The tragic story, nightmarish imagery, and sound design lend themselves to an unsettling, immersive experience. Writer-director John Landis and Mike Aiello, creative director for Halloween Horror Nights, chatted briefly with /Film before and after the maze. “We’re not taking you,” Landis laughed. “We’re following you!”

Tailing a briskly moving party, relishing their screams, is payoff from a long process of persuasion and planning. Aiello called Werewolf a “passion project” that took some convincing before getting off the ground. “For years they wanted to do this but I wouldn’t give them the rights,” Landis said. “How do you generate real tension with thousands of people walking through?”

A trip to the annual event changed his mind. Landis found the attractions to be a visceral type of immersive theater. “It’s actually a theatrical event,” Landis said, “Like a bar or a nightclub: You never want to see it with the lights on! You want to see it with the good lights and the music.” Landis wrapped up, saying, “I think you’ll enjoy it – depending on just how sick you are.” The director and Aiello joined the rear and we embarked to the English countryside.

If you haven’t seen Werewolf (or need a refresh): backpacking Americans David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) seek shelter. After a stop at the Slaughtered Lamb, a pub populated by secretive and hostile locals, the pair head back out across the moors, where a werewolf pounces, wounding David and killing Jack. David wakes in a London hospital with strange urges and visions of his undead friend. Jack warns that David must kill himself or continue the werewolf curse. A lovestruck nurse (a luminous Jenny Agutter) invites David home. The moon turns full. David transforms into the beast. Bloody havoc ensues. Good fun.

You needn’t be familiar with the film to find the maze effective. (Landis mused that for the uninitiated, it might be even scarier.) However, fans of Werewolf should be impressed by the details. The Slaughtered Lamb; attack on the moors; family massacre nightmare; “Blue Moon” transformation (I spotted surely the only Mickey Mouse figure within Universal’s confines); and mayhem in Piccadilly Circus – each of the major set-pieces are recreated. Most impressive is the London tube, fluorescent-lit and white-tiled, with adverts for the porno and recurring Landis in-joke “See You Next Wednesday.”

You really want to stop moving and soak in the atmosphere. But you can’t. Werewolves appear out of nowhere. “scharacters” (Universal’s term) lurk in the shadows, waiting to lunge into view. Keeping the line in constant motion is imperative to Universal’s success, while also bittersweet for the director. “People don’t see it,” Landis said, referring to the attack on the moor. “They go AHHH! And they don’t fucking look at it! And I’m wanting to go ‘Look! Look, it’s very cool! Look at this!’

Aiello explained that the werewolves are all puppeteered, which accounts for their erratic motion. “We developed a brand new armature that we’re able to move and manipulate.” Smiling, Landis added, “The wolf is very much like what Rick Baker did.”

According to Aiello, Landis challenged the designers, radically altering sets while emphasizing texture. “Did you notice the ceiling in the Tube?” Landis asked. “It’s round. It wasn’t at first. I made them do that.” Such a specification might seem trivial or go unnoticed, but the cumulative effect is felt. Landis also provided the original sound effects, snippets of dialogue, even Elmer Bernstein’s score.

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