Universal Studios Hollywood will be inundated with zombies as “The Walking Dead” takes over a haunted maze, a scare zone and the terror tram during Halloween Horror Nights 2013.
I recently got a behind-the-scenes walk-through preview of “The Walking Dead” maze from Halloween Horror Nights creative director John Murdy and the hit AMC show’s executive producer and makeup designer Greg Nicotero.
After taking visitors through the zombie-infested streets of Atlanta last year, the all-new Walking Dead maze returns this year with scenes from the show’s third season set in an abandoned prison and its rural Georgia surroundings.
Still under construction, the haunted maze will be located in a corner of the studio backlot, a first for Horror Nights. Crews were still busy painting sets and installing props during our visit.
During the event’s seven-week run, Horror Nights “scareactors” will wear foam latex masks created from the TV show’s zombie molds in hopes of making the maze scenes as faithful as possible to the Emmy-winning series.
“I love the attention to detail,” said Nicotero, who is working with the Horror Nights crew on the Walking Dead maze. “It’s as close as you can get.”
Fans of the show will recognize several characters in the maze and in some cases relive their untimely demise.
Spoiler alert: What follows is a detailed and often gruesome scene-by-scene preview of the Walking Dead maze. Consider yourself warned.
Visitors arriving by tram on the studio backlot will be dropped off in the West Village streets, an urban area filled with butcher shops, beauty salons and churches -- and during Horror Nights, lots of zombies. The Walking Dead scare zone will wind through passageways and past burning buildings patrolled by soldiers and military tanks before eventually arriving at the zombie-infested West Georgia Correctional Facility.
Once inside the Walking Dead haunted maze, visitors will step into the towering Cell Block C, the tallest set ever built for Horror Nights. In one cell, a zombie will be eating the heart and liver of a prison inmate. In another scene, a man will be amputating the leg of a friend who has just been bitten by a zombie.
“We go overboard with detail because we know how rabid the fans of ‘The Walking Dead’ are,” said Murdy, describing how visitors who venture too close to the prison cells will be sprayed with “blood.”
The boiler room scene will re-create the gruesome death of Lori Grimes, the wife of the show’s hero Rick Grimes, a small-town sheriff who descends into madness in the third season.
A trail of flesh and blood leads visitors deeper into the darkened prison tombs where an animatronic horde of zombies will burst through a jail cell door.
In a laundry room rank with the smell of detergent, visitors will stumble upon prison survivor Tomas dead on the floor with a machete in his head before zombie guards burst from either side of the room for a tandem scare.
“It’s what we call playing the angels,” Murdy said. “We think a lot about the math of scaring people.”
In one of the most elaborate scenes in the maze, visitors head outside the prison to a military helicopter crash where a zombie soldier lays on the ground, his torso severed in half. Nearby a pair of armless zombies will emerge from the forest, an illusion achieved by digital effects on the TV show.
“Obviously we can’t digitally remove our actors arms and we can’t cut them off either,” Murdy said.
In the maze, the “scareactors” arms will be concealed behind their back in a backpack while their severed arms will be crafted out of foam latex.
The most ingenious sight gag in the maze will be found in the home of the Governor, the leader of a seemingly utopian community. An aquarium filled with severed zombie heads will include one live actor’s head seemingly bobbing inside the bubbling tank. The scare comes when the Governor’s zombified daughter bursts out of a closet.
The final scene takes visitors through a cage where zombies are fed before being led into a gladiator-like arena for a fight to the death.
And if you haven’t had enough “Walking Dead” for one night, a separate Terror Tram will take visitors to another area of the park where zombies will roam “The War of Worlds” airplane crash set and the Bates Motel of “Psycho” fame.
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood runs on select nights from Sept. 20 through Nov. 2.
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