Universal City, Calif. - With his legs propped up on a teacher's desk, shock rocker Alice Cooper looks right at home inside a demented science classroom filled with phony spiders and snakes. The eerie enclave is just one of the stops in a haunted maze attraction inspired by the "School's Out" headmaster at Universal Studios Hollywood's annual Halloween Horror Nights event.
"I hope we don't have any heart attacks in here," Cooper says with a grin while leaning back in his seat.
After years of Jason, Freddy and Leatherface terrorizing visitors to the Universal Studios backlot, the designers of this year's Halloween Horror Nights have enlisted icons such as Cooper - who has freaked out audiences with horror-inspired theatrics for more than 40 years - to inject fresh frights into the annual theme park event.
"This is where 'The Wolf Man' and 'Frankenstein' were born," Cooper said from behind the desk during a recent visit to tour his under-construction maze. "This is the lot where those classic horror monsters were born. To be included with that is such an honor. I've done horror all my life, but I've never been in that class. I'm one of the new monsters."
Cooper's maze, named after his 1975 album "Welcome to My Nightmare," takes place inside the foreclosed home of Steven, the semi-autobiographical character concocted by Cooper. As a mash-up of Cooper tunes fill the space, visitors to the nightmarish abode will encounter guillotines, creepy babies, electric chairs, cadavers and stilt-walking creatures.
"We always want to scare the living fill-in-the-blank out of our guests," said John Murdy, the event's creative director and a lifelong Cooper devotee, who worked for the past year with his team to transform Cooper's songs into scares. "Every year, we push it a little further. We're doing some things this year that are out-of-this-world extreme."
That includes a Halloween Horror Nights maze depicting the gory scene in "Hostel: Part II" where a woman showers in the blood of a nude college student hanging upside down above her. It's part of "Eli Roth's Hostel: Hunting Season," based on the actor-director's 2005 and 2007 horror flicks about a secret human-hunting society that tortures and kills unsuspecting young folks for sport.
Roth, who has attended Halloween Horror Nights since 1999, said he pitched the idea of collaborating on a "Hostel" maze to Murdy when he was honored at the opening night party of last year's event. Roth met with Murdy and his team to conjure up ideas for the attractions. They kept Roth up to date on the maze's progress through photos and emails.
"We wanted to honor the films and have certain things that fans expected to see, but we also wanted to come with new ideas that I was never able to film," said Roth. "I was actually blown away by what they proposed and were able to pull off. I thought the stuff I was asking for would be too expensive or too crazy. They were absolutely gung-ho about it."
Murdy and his team sought more diverse disturbances for this year's event after making mazes based on such long-running slash-'em-up franchises as "A Nightmare on Elm Street," ''Friday the 13th" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" each Halloween season since 2006. He thinks the wider variety of this year's spooky slate will please more fans of horror.
Besides the over-the-top shock of Cooper's "Nightmare" maze and the torture porn of Roth's "Hostel" attraction, Murdy promised slasher thrills on the studio's tram tour showcasing this year's "Scream 4," as well as classic frights in a maze based on Universal's 2010 remake of "The Wolfman," and paranormal chills in a maze inspired by the Mexican folk legend of The Weeping Woman.
Murdy enlisted Mexican actor Diego Luna to serve as a creative consultant on "La Llorona: Villa De Almas Perdidas" (or "The Weeping Woman: Village of Lost Soul"). Unlike the film-centric mazes, this attraction tells the 500-year-old story of a woman doomed to wander the world after drowning her children in a desperate attempt to win a lost love.
Halloween Horror Nights, which runs various nights from Sept. 23 to Oct. 31, will also feature the return of the 3-D maze "Rob Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses" and a new attraction based on the upcoming prequel to the sci-fi horror film "The Thing," which takes place just before John Carpenter's original 1982 film about bodysnatching aliens in Antarctica.
"We're like the ultimate trailer for the film," said Murdy. "We've been working closely with the movie's make-up and effects teams to bring it to life. This is not a movie though. If they have an alien eating a guy, it really only has to work right once in front of the camera. In our world, it has to work right every 10 seconds, thousands of times a night."
For more information, visit www.halloweenhorrornights.com/hollywood/