Director John Landis was all smiles amid the screams and assorted terror at the opening of Universal's Halloween Horror Nights. The man behind 1981's "An American Werewolf in London" had a hand in the haunted house based on that movie and was relishing the reactions.
"It's very fun to watch people scream," he said.
But Landis was frustrated by guests who closed their eyes or sped past the hard work of the maze's creators.
"The first kill in the moors [scene] is incredibly well done, but they're all running screaming," he lamented last Friday.
Universal had "Werewolf" on its HHN wish list for years.
"For years they wanted to do this, but I wouldn't give them the rights," he said. He wasn't fully aware of the process or the scope of end product, but then an encounter with the event's famed chain-saw gang gave him a fright and a little push.
"It's actually a theatrical event," he says now.
"John was hard to convince to come play with us. But I think it was good that it took time," said Jim Timon, Universal's senior vice president for entertainment. "I think it pays off. That time that it took gave us a lot of time to think about it."
Once on board, Landis challenged the creative team to make the house as realistic as possible, said creative director Michael Aiello. Among the filmmaker's suggestions: Reverse the traffic flow in the movie-theater scene of the house.
Landis was a quote machine at a handful of media events in Orlando. Some of his thoughts weren't quite ready for print. ("Where's my [expletive deleted] smoke?")
•On seeing the mazes in the daylight: "It's very much like a bar in a strip club. You never want to see it with the lights on."
•On the popularity of zombies: "I really believe they are so popular because they represent anarchy and the loss of control and the collapse of society. And look around the world. I think that's what we're scared of, and that's what's happening in a lot of places."
•On seeing his movies on TV: "I don't watch my films. I've seen them."
•On finally granting the "Werewolf" rights to Horror Nights: "I said yes, and I'm actually very pleased I did."
Other HHN notes
•I feared the wolf puppets in Werewolf house would be cheesy, but the right combination of puppetry, lighting and sound effects resulted in little to no cheese. My sidekick Greg said he was nipped by a wolf. "The scare actors can't touch you … but the puppets can," he joked. (For the record, he was grazed — accidentally, I'm sure — and not gnawed. No sidekicks were injured in the making of this post.)
•Also in Werewolf, there are a couple of references to "See You Next Wednesday," a fictional movie that recurs in many Landis works.
•The Walking Dead: No Safe Haven house is bigger than last year's Dead house, and I liked some of the imagery, particularly the chain-link fence path near the tower and the harrowing stretch through the prison. Visually speaking, I keep thinking about the masks in Urban Legends: La Llorona and the trippy 3-D action in Afterlife: Death's Vengeance. (Note: The latter is where the vortex lurks this year.)
•If you're longing for a central icon for HHN, you're out of luck again this year. But there are glimpses of some (Jack the Clown, the Caretaker) in The Cabin in the Woods house.
•Is it my imagination or are there more entrails this year? And fewer bars?
•"Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" has a slight horror theme this year, but it's still the pop-culture skewer that's been at 22 of the 23 years of Horror Nights. Making appearances (spoiler alert) are actors representing Taylor Swift, Paula Dean, "The Voice" judges, "Big Bang Theory" actors, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Anne Hathaway in "Les Miserables" mode, and Kim Kardashian in labor. There are Disney-based jokes, including one involving Avatarland.
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