How The Weeknd brought ‘After Hours’ to gruesome life with New Universal Studios Horror Maze

In the music video for “Heartless” The Weeknd ill-advisedly licks a toad inside a dark Vegas hotel room and begins to transform, Wolf Man-like, into an amphibian creature. Now, almost 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.

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In a highlight of “The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare” – a new scare maze at the popular theme park Los Angeles Halloween Horror Nights attraction – we see as the singer’s After hours character endures an extension of the briefly glimpsed metamorphosis, culminating in the monstrous reveal of a giant, red-jacketed toad bursting from an opening in the wall. (Talk about a jump scare.) That moment is arguably the centerpiece of the new maze, which draws on the disturbing imagery contained in After hours‘ lyrics and music videos to create an immersive experience that makes attendees slam into the world of the album. For Horror Nights’ creative team, the maze also marks an important milestone: the first such attraction they’ve created with a music artist at the top of their game.

“It’s the first time we’ve worked with…a chart-topping artist, and I guess you’d say pop today,” says John Murdythe longtime creative director and executive producer of Halloween Horror Nights, who has served in the role since 2006. Although he and his team have previously worked with other musicians—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 Weeknda frequent Horror Nights attendee reaching out to Murdy with the idea wasn’t such an obvious fit.

The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare

The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare

Courtesy of Universal Studios

“I knew him, of course, and I knew his songs, but I didn’t really understand how it all connected with horror until I sat down and started talking to Abel and then delved into his music. His music videos and his cinematic inspirations… were really, I think, the ‘a-ha’ moment for me,” says Murdy.

During a roughly 90-minute introductory video chat, The Weeknd took Murdy through a list of his After hours visual inspirations including left-of-center movies like Jacob’s Ladder, A Clockwork Orange, Wide closed eyes, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and 12 monkeys. But instead of simply recreating the music videos they inspired, the pair instead agreed it was more interesting to “tap into the essence” of the album. It involved expanding with flashes of imagery — like with the toad creature — and leaning into After hours‘ Dark-side-of-Hollywood visual aesthetics and lyrical content.

Through the maze, various iterations of The Weeknd (at two separate points we see the singer being fried in an electric chair) wander, attack and buzz around scenes that incorporate images from his videos while also throwing in some original concepts. In the first episode, loosely inspired by the slasher-esque “In Your Eyes” music video, we see him stalk a blonde-wigged woman through a club and, in a grotesque bit of creative license, slit her throat like a collection of aliens. – looking creatures sit quietly next to it. As in the video, the singer/murderer gets his comeuppance; we later witness the same woman (played by another actress) cheerfully hoisting the demented pop star’s severed head into the air.

The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare

The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare

Courtesy of Universal Studios

The other two sections of the maze, divided into what Murdy refers to as three “chapters,” take place in a macabre hotel-casino — a la the videos for “Blinding Lights” and “Heartless” — and a “nightmare version of the LA Metro, ” where The Weeknd shot After hours short film which was released prior to the album. For the former, Murdy and his team took inspiration from the notoriously opulent interiors of Vegas hotels, exaggerating its hideous carpets and tapestries to Kafkaesque heights. For the latter, they built the front of a “subway train” that lurches menacingly towards visitors as they pass.

The experience wouldn’t be complete without the pop icon’s actual music. To that end, Murdy brought in frequent The Weeknd collaborators Michael Dean to create maze-specific remixes of songs from After hours, Dawn FM and even the 2016s Starboy that, in Murdy’s words, would “work for a live walkthrough experience.”

True to his reputation, Murdy says The Weeknd was intimately involved in every aspect of Maze’s creative development, from costumes to sets to plastic-surgery-gone-wrong makeup design. Everything, it seems, to ensure that his ultimate vision for the maze came true: “One of the first things he said to me was, ‘I want this to scare the living daylights out of people.”

“The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare” can be experienced on select nights at Universal Studios Hollywood through October 31.

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