Halloween Horror Nights is my favorite event.
The Weeknd is one of my favorite musical artists.
So, you can imagine how amped I am for these two things to come together in one haunted house.
Halloween Horror Nights is a preeminent Halloween event that besieges the Universal Studios theme parks every fall in Orlando, Florida and Los Angeles, California. It combines the biggest names in horror along with original abominations through terrifying haunted houses, frightening street experiences or “scare zones,” live entertainment and plenty of nightmarish “scareactors” who prowl the streets during the event.
The Weeknd is a global music superstar. Within his repertoire, you will find Grammy awards, album and record chart-toppers. Plus, a smashing (and meme-inducing) Super Bowl halftime performance of Blinding Lights — the No. 1 Song on Billboard’s Greatest Songs of All Time Hot 100 Chart. And one of the six songs to enjoy from the album After Hours as you experience The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare at both Universal Studios Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood.
Two of the creators behind The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare — Charles Gray, Orlando-based Senior Show Director, and John Murdy, Hollywood-based Director of Creative Development and Executive Show Producer — perfected the haunted house experience through great collaboration.
“One of the things that’s cool is the concept collaboration between the east coast and west coast,” says John. Charles adds: “John and I meet once a week and have ongoing conversations about where we are going and what we are doing.”
How It Started
Over the past several months, I have been playing After Hours on a loop because I wanted to immerse myself in The Weeknd’s mind to better understand this surreal haunted house experience we are all getting ready to take on. The Weeknd, who is a huge fan of horror and Halloween Horror Nights, also has an eye like a film director — which is evident from the craft he presents in his videos. “Abel Tesfaye [The Weeknd] thinks very cinematically,” John mentions. “One of the first things [his team] provided for us were all of the cinematic reference points from his album.”
So, we are going to witness his creative mind unfold as he becomes the creative director in this haunted house. “The very opening line of our pitch to Abel was, ‘If people could be inside your head as you were concepting the idea for After Hours, what would that look like?’” adds Charles. And the very answer to that question will be found inside The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare”.
Step into the Nightmare Extraction
John outlines an excellent framework for the haunted house experience. The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare allows us to, as he puts it, “see the story Abel is telling.” John explains that it’s as if the darkness inside his conscience is being pulled out: “Think of what’s happening as Nightmare Extraction. We’re creating something that makes you feel like you are inside Abel’s head.”
So, you can expect a front row seat as The Weeknd orchestrates his latest horror masterpiece at Halloween Horror Nights. The haunted house is loosely based off his After Hours music videos and explores several dark themes such as the Seven Deadly Sins (think greed and vanity) that play out in one’s quest to survive the nightlife in L.A. “They call Los Angeles the City of Angels but there is a very dark current to fame and what happens to you when you become famous,” says John.
Get ready to enter The Weeknd’s head and immerse yourself in the creative mindset he was in while creating After Hours. Music enthusiasts, video buffs, creatives and all horror fans will appreciate this for sure.
The Haunted House Experience
We will experience this surreal haunted house in three main chunks: the After Hours Hotel, the After Hours Club and the After Hours Station.
We start the experience with the After Hours album cover, which ominously beckons us into the horrors that lie within. Once we enter the house, we then venture into the triad of the haunted house for one unforgettably terrifying nightmare.
After Hours Club
Our torment commences with a rave-fueled night club where we are met with a sense of recognizability of a traditional night club, but as we take in the environment around us, we realize things are not what they seem. We are going to witness people on the dance floor dressed as mannequins and other elements that make the club progressively weirder as they prove this will be one trippy and surreal experience unlike any night club we have entered before.
PRO TIP: Check out the In Your Eyes video to get a glimpse of this club.
After Hours Hotel
We then descend upon a bizarre mirror maze which leads us to a classic Las Vegas lounge where everything is in white, and we begin to notice some strange mannequins, who have now disguised themselves by wearing masks over their true evil forms. As we venture deeper into the hotel scene, we discover we are walking on some ugly hotel carpet that looks like it’s growing. Just when we thought the carpet was bad, we suddenly realize the curtains are coming alive. The entire hotel scene riffs on the excess of Las Vegas and is a foreboding insight into the remainder of this trippy haunted house experience. But don’t forget the carpet just yet — you must go through the house to see what happens to it… and to you.
After Hours Station
In this final section we find ourselves attacked by The Weeknd, who has taken on the image of a character from one of his music videos (I don’t want to include a spoiler, but I will tell you to watch Heartless for a reptilian hint). We then end up in a subway tunnel and the fear intensifies as it looks apparent that we are going to get run over by a subway train. We’ll soon discover the insidious reality that defines this station — it won’t take you to the expected destinations though, because as John reveals, “all the destinations are referencing After Hours.”
PRO TIP: Charles disclosed this house will have more programmed lighting than they have ever done. As you walk through the tunnel, check out the bits of lights leaking because they will be pulsating to the music.
A cool thing to look out for after you go through all three sections of the haunted house is where you end up in the end. You’ll find yourself reacquainted with a familiar dark setting that befell you once you started the journey through The Weeknd’s mind. Will you notice it?
The Disturbing Characters You’ll Meet
An interesting note about this haunted house is the variety of characters that we’ll encounter. From plastic surgeons and axe wielding girls, to attacking fixtures to the various characters The Weeknd himself becomes, there’s so much to take in and so many scare actors to come face-to-face with. Definitely go through the house multiple times as you’ll likely spot new scares you might not have noticed previously.
This House Would Not Be the Same Without the Soundtrack That Carries It
Of course, the music had to be a central component. “Every section of the house is connected to music,” reveals Charles.
“The Weeknd’s music videos are disturbing”, John adds, “but we take it and twist that dial and amp it up. So, for things that are hinted or teased at in his music videos, we are bringing to life.”
As I mentioned earlier, the haunted house is based off The Weeknd’s After Hours album, but what you may not realize is that there were six songs that were selected for the house so that you have an experience worthy of someone creating their horror masterpiece. I recommend listening to them all (the whole album really) so that you become one with the mood that is this After Hours nightmare.
Behind the Scenes of the Announcement Video
Fun Fact: The Universal Studios soundstages are home to real production from music videos to TV shows and even Halloween Horror Nights reveal videos. We shot the video for The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare in the Spring right on the studio backlot at Universal Studios Florida. I had a chance to be a part of it and am happy to share some behind-the-scenes photos from the shoot.
The Weeknd is really a creative horror genius and everyone on the Entertainment team behind Halloween Horror Nights is a brilliant creator. So, the pairing of these two could not be more fitting.
The passion the Entertainment team had in creating this house is highly evident because, as Charles says, “we are telling a story that John and I are very excited to tell.”
Be sure to make this haunted house a must-do at Halloween Horror Nights this year because The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare is sure to be the music to your screams.
Which song are you looking forward to hearing in the haunted house?