How meta can you get?

by Lito Velasco, Associate Producer, Scream: The Inside Story

My wife and I have been attending Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios annually for the past five years, I must say…it’s a blast.

Of course there are always problems: the estimated wait times for mazes are sometimes wrong, the cafes run out of food (HOW?!), Universal usually “oversells” the park so that you’re nose-to-back with the person in front of you while going through the mazes (how scary can jump scares be if they always originate from the same position in the room you’re in and due to the fact that you’re moving at a snail’s pace you can see the scares coming as you watch everyone in front of you get “scared”?!).  Most of these problems can be easily “fixed”: be sure to bring at least one companion to have fun and eliminate line tedium, take a few snacks, and when you’re in a packed maze…simply stand in place and refuse to move for a few seconds so that the room in front of you clears.  Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

For me, the big problem is one I had no control over.  A problem that presents itself in the form of the question I asked myself every year: how can Universal have a Halloween/scary movie themed park featuring icons of horror without two of feardom’s biggest stars?  Where are Michael Myers and Ghostface?  It seems I wasn’t the only person to ask this question: when I visited horror website forums, I found these questions being asked repeatedly by others too.

In 2009 it seemed that Universal finally addressed the concerns of fans as Michael Myers made what I believe was his first-ever appearance at Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood (I’m going to abbreviate that to HHNH from now on, folks).  The maze devoted to the character was brilliant and one of my favorites of all-time.  Never mind the fact that it was a “one-and-done” (as Michael didn’t show up last or this year) appearance, at least horror fans like me could say that Universal finally gave him his due…even if it was only once.  Since Michael, Freddy, Jason, Leatherface, Chucky, and Norman had made their appearances at HHNH, to me…that left Ghostface as the only missing icon.

In early April of this year, I was sure that would change.  The release of Scream 4 would surely herald the coming of Ghostface to HHNH, right?  But shortly after…the film received mixed critical and box-office reception.  So I worried: would Ghostface get his due?  After all, let’s be honest…most of the films and characters represented at HHNH are probably selected with financial concerns foremost in the minds of the Universal execs.  This month will see the release of a new The Thing film which was produced by Universal Studios.  Is it any surprise that there’s a Thing-themed maze at the park this year?  Or how about the fact that there was a Saw-maze for many years…until this year: the first fall season to NOT feature a Saw film in theaters since 2004?

I think you get the picture.  So again, I was fretting: if ever the timing for a Ghostface appearance had been right, it was this year.  But would he show?  Or would Universal once again turn their backs on what can surely be considered one of the most familiar icons of fright in the past fifteen years?  Most people easily recognize the Ghostface mask, even if they don’t know much about horror.  The pale, sad, dreamlike visage strikes fear into the soul of almost everyone I know, whether they’re familiar with the films or not. 

Yes, surely it was time for Ghostface to scare the crap out of HHNH attendees.  I could only hope Universal did what I considered to be “the right thing”.  And just about six weeks ago, the studio did…but not exactly in the manner I’d hoped for.  The Facebook page for HHNH announced that Ghostface would indeed be featured in the attraction…but he wouldn’t be getting the “royal maze treatment”.  No, his appearance would be relegated to the infamous Terror Tram.  Better than nothing, right?

On September 30th, my wife and I headed to the park, anxious for the general attraction and to see our “old pal”, Ghostie.  While working on Scream: The Inside Story, my wife and I spent months essentially living ScreamNot to mention, Ghostface has always been my wife’s favorite “slasher”.  Needless to say…we were hyped (even though I was a still a tad miffed that Ghostface wasn’t receiving “proper tribute” with a maze).

Before we got to the gate, we passed one of the many Universal merchandise stores: and in front of the store was an enormous pillar with the Scream 4 Your Life banner.  Photo op, for sure.  Inside the store was tons of Ghostface/Scream merchandise in the form of masks, shirts, bobbleheads, shot-glasses, figures, etc.  It may have been crass commercialism, but it warmed my heart to see that familiar ghostly face leering at us from every possible direction.

Speaking of which, when we arrived at the main park gate (after passing through one of the dozens of metal detectors- YIKES! -stationed about thirty feet before this point we peered excitedly through the bars to see Ghostface again gazing at us from every direction: each of the metal balconies just inside were adorned with a Father Death costume.  Once the gates opened and all the eager horror junkies poured inside, my wife and I walked just a few feet before coming face-to-face with what appeared to be a six-foot Ghostface statue standing motionless atop a pedestal.  We leaned in to get a better look…and he thrust his knife towards us, scaring the you-know-what out of us both!  Well played, Ghostie!

After checking out our “number one” maze (The Thing: Assimilation…which was VERY entertaining and frightening), it was on to the Scream 4 Your Life Terror Tram!  Jogging quickly through the thick fog that enveloped nearly every corner and thoroughfare of the park, I started to hear the familiar strains of Marco Beltrami’s incredible score to Scream 4, and shortly after, Roger Jackson’s ominous voice greeted the two of us as we passed under the Terror Tram archway entrance.

On the way down the escalator, I caught sight of a Ghostface lurking behind a metal pole, waiting to scare those lucky enough to have “Front of Line” passes.  A huge sign adorned the wall leading to the Terror Tram line, welcoming attendees to the “Stab-A-Thon”.  Hand-in-hand, we were all smiles…until another Ghostface jumped out from behind the massive sign and yelled loudly, causing my wife to unleash one of her own Scream-s that would surely rival even Jamie Lee Curtis!  The smile quickly returned to her face as she gazed at me lovingly, relishing the feeling of fear that was coursing through her system: we were definitely in our element!

It’s at this point that I have to start letting the videos I supplied speak for themselves.  I don’t want to write everything down for a couple of reasons: there’s simply a lot to “recap” and I also don’t want to spoil everything for those who might still attend.  So…if you choose to view the videos…BE WARNED they are SPOILER HEAVY!

That said, let me give you a few quick highlights…

-  Your tram tour guide informs you that four new horror movies are shooting on the backlot at Universal Studios Hollywood…one of which is the most highly-anticipated sequel in horror flick history: Stab 8

- You get to see clips of the making of Stab 8…or is it?  They take the “movie-within-a-movie”/”found footage” approach to this film and you’re left wondering…is it real?  Or is it fiction?

- When walking past the Bates Motel set, there are more signs welcoming you to the “Stab-A-Thon” 

-  Plenty of Ghostfaces await your visit and “greet” you during your backlot walk to make you feel like you’re in Woodsboro proper

- The visual and design highlight of the entire park has to be the “Tram of Ghostfaces” that await you on the final leg of your walk: you have to walk between two trams FULL of Ghostfaces.  Are they real?  Are they dummies?  Do they move?  Will you survive?!

- Finally finishing your backlot walk…you must surely be safe, right?  Wrong.  Look who’s driving/guiding your tram ride back to the main park 

Aside from the Terror Tram area, we figured Ghostface wouldn’t make “personal appearances” in the park.  Boy, were we wrong.  Later in the night as we made our way back to the Thing maze, we saw three teens running at us at top-speed, crying like babies and banshees.  They rushed past us as fast as their legs would carry them, and behind them was Ghostface…hunting knife raised in the air and chasing them around a corner.  Again, all we could do was smile.

Since we’re both such horror aficionados, my wife and I stayed in the park until they practically kicked us out.  And while leaving, we snapped a few cool shots of the lights that scroll across the entrance/exit once dark is upon you.

 Now that I’ve given you a taste…time for the review.  Was it fun to see Ghostface everywhere I looked?  As a Scream and Ghostface devotee, my wife and I would both agree that yes, it’s a tons of fun.  There’s something to be said about being chased around by this legendary horror figure and knowing that while it’s terrifying in a way, it’s also completely (I hope!) safe.

Was it everything I wanted and expected?  Well…sadly, no.  I still feel like MORE could’ve been done with the “is it real or not?” angle they were going for.  I wanted to see more of the blur between the line of fiction and reality and didn’t get enough of this from the backlot walk.  There are plenty of places to incorporate some great Ghostface themed kills and scares and even though I took delight in what was there…I wanted more.

What I really want is a proper Scream-themed maze.  Don’t tell me it can’t be done, Universal.  There are PLENTY of memorable set-pieces in the four films that can be recreated room by room.  There are dozens of iconic images that can be exploited to scare the bejesus out of guests.  I already have a list of seven different visuals that would be perfect and not only scare but thrill fans of not just horror, but this particular franchise.

I’d love to somehow be involved if that ever happens, so…I’ll take the chance to sound desperate and make this my personal public plea: John Murdy…please give me a call.  At the risk of sounding conceited, Mr. Murdy and company can check my credentials via any Scream-related forum, website, or just the credits of our documentary.  Further, I’m about as diehard a Scream fan as you’ll ever find.  I LOVE this franchise dearly, and I think there is a lot of room for development and so many ideas to be explored.  Come on, Universal…let’s make it happen.

For now…this is as good as it gets for Scream fans.  Even though I sounded a tad disappointed, I really can’t be, because I try to view it with the perspective of “it’s better than nothing, and it’s about damn time”.

So if you’re a fan of the grisly Ghostface, if you love Scream, and if you’re able, I recommend checking it out.  At the very least, you’ll be able to safely live out your fear/dream of Ghostface running after you, knife brandished, black robes flowing in the wind.

It’ll scare you…it’ll be tons of fun…it’ll be a Scream!

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