"Do you want to play a game?"
Chances are, if you wake up, dazed & confused in a dingy room and that question comes to you from Jigsaw's creepy Billy the puppet figure on a flickering TV, it'll probably be the last words you'll hear. Thankfully, you can hear that phrase and walk away unscathed, instead left to experience several of Jigsaw's most infamous traps first hand in Universal Studio's new Halloween Horror Nights maze aptly titled SAW: GAME OVER.
Shock Till You Drop got a chance to walk through the maze for an advance sneak peek at what the theme park has in-store for its unsuspecting fans when the attraction opens its doors in October. Our guide for this trip is Universal Theme Park Creative Director John Murdy, who's been responsible for the Halloween Horror Nights at the Hollywood park since 2004. Last year's show focused on the horror holy trinity made up of Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Leatherface. However, with the ever evolving horror genre, Jigsaw seemed like a suitable franchise-based character to explore for this year's show. "SAW took horror movies to a different level, so we have to be up to that level too," says Murdy. "SAW definitely represents the new generation of horror, which is why it made perfect sense to do it for Halloween Horror Nights. When we license a property, we do the whole property. We find the â€˜greatest hits' of all of these movies and try to bring it all to life."
And bring it to life they have. SAW fans will recognize traps from all of the SAW films when braving their way through the maze. Everything from the â€˜reverse bear trap' in the original to the â€˜furnace trap' in its sequel all the way to the â€˜water box trap' from SAW V. Even the most diehard of SAW fans should be impressed with the level of detail going into this maze. "Our main thing for Universal Studios Hollywood, we do things to the level of a movie," explains Murdy. "Our target is the hardest core fan for any particular film series, because we figure if we get it right for that demographic, then everybody else is going to dig it. So if you're a big fan of these movies, you'll see ridiculous detail in these attractions."
The structure itself housing SAW: GAME OVER for example has been fashioned after the abandoned mannequin warehouse from the first movie, which served as Jigsaw's original lair. Once we walk into the first room, we're immediately thrust into the world of the SAW films and greeted by Jigsaw's creepy puppet Billy. >"Billy is an animatronic figure," Murdy tells us. "The minute you walk in here, you're going to see that you're on surveillance cameras, just like the monitors you see in Jigsaw's lair. In each transitional hallway, there'll always be a pair of monitors. You'll always see yourself in the scene you're in and you'll see a scene you haven't gotten to yet. As you (and your group) move down through the line, somebody from your group is going to get abducted and placed in a trap."
Abducted you say? Gulp! "The goal is to put the guest right in the middle of it," continues Murdy. "So in this first room, we're putting you right in the middle of the razor wire trap. You're going to have to walk through the razor wire. We like to physically affect our guests by getting stuff on them, so there will be bodies through this whole thing as you're wading through it, and there's a body that's tangled up on a razor wire dripping blood on you, and you have no choice, you have to walk through it."
As we make our way to the next room, it's immediately recognizable as the bathroom that Doctor Gordon and Adam are trapped in for the duration of the first SAW movie. "We as designers have to pick a scene from the movie & encapsulate it in 10 seconds, so we tend to pick the goriest moment of that scene. So for the bathroom, Doctor Gordon is going to be sawing his leg off and you'll get hit with blood. And of course, you'll see the dead body on the floor, in a pool of blood, tape recorder in one hand, gun in the other."
And if the appearance of this grisly scene alone doesn't get to you, Murdy and his crew have thought up other ways to subconsciously get under your skin. "We use smells a lot," he reveals. "The basic idea is that we like to psychologically prey on every single one of your senses, so one of the ways we do that is with smell. So the bathroom will smell like a bathroom. You'll smell the scent of urine. And then when you walk into the next room, the furnace trap with Obi, you'll smell the scent of burning flesh. You'll see poor Obi inside the furnace trap banging away and trying to get out. As Obi has to crawl through the furnace, his charred corpse comes popping out the other end."
Scent won't be the only one of your senses under attack we realize as we walk into the next set piece recreating the freezer trap from Saw III. "We also physically affect you with temperature," elaborates Murdy. "So when you get to the freezer trap, we have AC units behind these walls, and we'll be pumping in freezing cold air into this room. The temperature drops dramatically. You'll go from that hot environment of the furnace instantly to this cold environment."
Besides making you feel physically like you've stumbled into the world of SAW, Murdy's quick to point out the importance of the actors portraying the recognizable characters from all the SAW movies. "One of the challenges is getting the right actors for SAW: GAME OVER. Last year, we had several people playing Jason behind a mask. But this year, we had to cast a type. We really had to find people that looked like the characters from the SAW movies. And so far so good. We actually found them all. And that's very different for us from past shows."
Not only will the actors physically resemble their on-screen counterparts, but they'll be getting in on the fun of scaring theme park guests. "We like to give our scare actors control of the scare, because scaring people is all about timing," Murdy points out. "So, in order to give them the tools to scare people the way we want them too, we use technology for that. In the case the razor wire victim for example, he'll have an audio/lighting trigger. It's basically like having a foot peddle. That's his own lighting cue, his own audio cue, so he can affect the environment himself to time it with the people interacting with each environment."
We've already gotten glimpses at traps and set pieces spanning the first 5 films, so we're pleasantly surprised to stumble into a room that recreates the one trap that started them all; Amanda in the â€˜reverse bear trap'. "In the movie, Shawnee Smith finds herself in this bear trap, but then she has to get the key. And the key is in the body of her cell mate, whom she thinks is dead. Right before she takes the scalpel to him, he wakes up and she actually has to murder him to get the key. That's the scene we wanted to do. Her with the bear trap, digging through his intestines, looking for the key with blood spraying all over people that pass. The difference between movies and what we do is that for a movie, it just has to work once. For us, it has to work thousands upon thousands of times! Literally every time someone passes through this room."
Before Murdy mentioned how pivotal it is to assault the guest both physically and with their sense of smell. He reveals that sound plays equally an important part. "We want to nail every single aspect of the movie, so working with Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures, we got the original pro tool sessions. We went back to the audio stem, the sound effect stems, the dialogue stems. We went through all that material for all 5 films so that when you're in here, what you're hearing is authentic to the movies. Everywhere in this maze, there's multi-channel audio."
And as if tall this wasn't enough to already make the average maze explorer queasy, the Halloween Horror Night's team hits you with one more gruesome obstacle to pass before the completing your tour. A run in with Jigsaw himself, butâ€¦ not in the way you might expect. "We really liked Jigsaw's autopsy scene. There's just something really wrong about an autopsy. Last year for TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, we invented this make-up effect where we can peel someone's face off. We'd done that before, so we're actually going to have Jigsaw on the table during the autopsy scene where you're actually seeing the bone saw and them ripping his face off. This room matches up a couple of different ideas." Meaning the autopsy is only one element of what's in store for you when you pass this room.
Face peels? Needle pits? Razor wire? We asked Murdy in creating these mazes, if he and his crew ever felt they were crossing the line and taking it just a little too far. "This is an adult event and we go for R rated horror," he affirms. "I always get asked, where's the line? We haven't crossed it yet. We do survey's every night and our guests, they want more. You can't be too intense for our guests I've learned over the years. There is no such thing as too much gore for our fans. I have yet to find that line. That's what our fans want, and that's what they tell us so we try to give it to them."
As far as continuing with SAW for future Halloween Horror Nights, Murdy and his team are definitely up for it. "We always leave these options open, and what's great about SAW, if we do continue on, we've got so many more traps to keep it going."
Regardless if it comes back next year or not, this year SAW fans that have relished in the mythology created by this series can finally experience it for themselvesâ€¦ that is of course, if they dare.
Source: Robert Galluzzo