In the music video for “Heartless,” The Weeknd mistakenly licks a toad in a dark Vegas hotel room and begins to transform, Wolf Man-like, into an amphibious creature. Now, nearly three years after the clip’s debut, fans can experience the full extent of the pop star’s mutation – all they have to do is visit Universal Studios Hollywood to see it.
In a highlight of “The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare” – a spooky new maze at the LA theme park’s popular Halloween Horror Nights attraction – we watch the singer after hours The character endures an extension of this briefly glimpsed metamorphosis, culminating in the monstrous revelation of a giant toad-man in a red jacket bursting out of an opening in the wall. (Talk about a jump scare.) This moment is arguably the centerpiece of the new maze, which pulls on the disturbing imagery contained in after hours‘ and music videos to create an immersive experience that immerses participants in the world of the album. For the Horror Nights creative team, the maze also marks a milestone: the first such attraction they’ve created with a musical artist at the top of their game.
“This is our first time working with…an artist who’s top of the charts and I guess you’d say pop music today,” says John Murdy, the longtime creative director and executive producer of Halloween Horror Nights, who has held the role since 2006. Although he and his team have worked with other musicians in the past – namely Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne/Black Sabbath – they were artists who had long been associated with the horror genre. For all his star power, The Weeknd, a frequent Horror Nights attendee who reached out to Murdy with the idea, wasn’t so obvious.
“I knew him, of course, and I knew his songs, but I didn’t really understand how it all related to horror until I sat down and started talking to Abel and then I dives deeply into his music. His music videos and his cinematic inspirations…it was really, I think, the ‘a-ha’ moment for me,” Murdy says.
During an introductory video chat lasting approximately 90 minutes, The Weeknd presented Murdy with a list of his after hours visual inspirations, including left-centric films like Jacob’s ladder, A clockwork orange, Eyes wide closed, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and 12 monkeys. But instead of just rehashing the music videos they inspired, the pair instead agreed it was more interesting to “dip into the essence” of the album. This involved expanding on flashes of images – as with the toad creature – and leaning into after hoursvisual aesthetics and lyrical content from the dark side of Hollywood.
Throughout the maze, various iterations of The Weeknd roam, attack, and buzz (in two separate locations, we see the singer getting fried in an electric chair) around stages that incorporate footage from his videos while pitching original concepts. . In the first section, loosely inspired by the slasher music video “In Your Eyes”, we watch him stalk a blonde-wigged woman through a club and, in a bit of grotesque creative license, slit her throat like a collection of aliens. silent-looking creatures sit silently. As in the video, the singer/murderer gets his reward; we later see the same woman (played by a different actress) happily hoisting the demented pop star’s severed head into the air.
The other two sections of the maze, divided into what Murdy calls three “chapters,” take place in a macabre hotel-casino — much like the videos for “Blinding Lights” and “Heartless” — and a “nightmarish version of the LA Metro where The Weeknd filmed the after hours short film, released before the album. For the former, Murdy and his team drew inspiration from the notoriously gaudy interiors of Vegas hotels, exaggerating its hideous carpets and wallpapers to Kafkaesque heights. For the latter, the creative team constructed the front of a “subway train” that jerks menacingly at visitors as they pass.
The experience wouldn’t be complete without the true music of the pop icon. To that end, Murdy enlisted frequent collaborators from The Weeknd Michael Dean to create maze-specific remixes of songs from after hours, Dawn FM and even from 2016 starboy which, in Murdy’s words, “would work for a live visit experience.”
True to his reputation, Murdy says The Weeknd was intimately involved in all aspects of Labyrinth’s creative development, from costumes and sets to plastic surgery makeup designs gone wrong. All this, it seems, to ensure his ultimate vision for the maze comes to fruition: “One of the first things he said to me was, ‘I want this to scare people alive.'”
“The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare” can be experienced select nights at Universal Studios Hollywood through October 31.