Running the gauntlet through nearly a dozen Halloween mazes in a single evening is a pretty daunting task for all but the hardiest haunt-lovers… and despite being a bit beaten and bloodied by the Midnight hour, I promised myself I’d seek out certain sites at all costs. The new TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: BLOOD BROTHERS maze was my Priority One for the night — and it rewarded my fortitude with geysers of blood, the stink of rotting flesh and the eye-stinging smoke of deadly power tools. (That’s a good thing in my book, just so you know.)
I’ve been a CHAINSAW fan since Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original creeped the hell out of me and ascended to my list of the greatest horror movies ever made. But unlike some purists, I’ve found something of value in nearly every installment of the franchise — including Hooper’s insane splatstick 1986 sequel, the 1990 semi-reboot LEATHERFACE, the 2003 TCM remake and its 2006 prequel… and yes, even the oft-maligned entries TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION. Yeah, I probably lost a few of you on those last two… but this isn’t a movie review, so chillax.
I went into this maze with great expectations, but very little foreknowledge of the presentation itself; my hope was that the designers would create an appropriately seedy, gritty and grisly amalgam of the best moments from the entire Sawyer Family mythos. The mighty Leatherface, of course, is a given, but I was also hoping to cross paths with celebrated cook Drayton Sawyer (“I’ve got a real good eye for prime meat”), Leatherface’s manic brother Chop-Top (“Music is my life!”), and the half-alive, half-mummified Grandpa… and thankfully I was not disappointed.
The maze’s entrance façade was modeled after the gas station and barbecue shack from the original film (including the sign “WE SLAUGHTER”), and passing through the door is… let’s just say a dramatic transition: greeting patrons is Drayton himself, decked out in his chili-cookoff-winning finery and laying out portions of the most disgusting barbecue you’ll ever see. The whole scene is accompanied by the acrid stench of rotting meat, which I presume is being pumped through the maze from vats of “That Old Corpse Smell.”
This gross-out scenario, along with the corpse “art” which opens the first film, was just one of nearly a dozen eerie attempts at misdirection: before I could pinch my nose shut, the first incarnation of Leatherface explodes from a secret chamber, his flesh-mask garishly painted and apron spattered with fresh gore, his mighty chainsaw roaring just a few inches away. The impact of this first appearance caused a groundswell among the current group of guests, who nearly fell like bowling pins.
I saw a faint psychedelic shimmer break through the smoke-filled corridor, and my expectations were rewarded by the appearance of Chop-Top, sporting his hippie shades and denim vest, sorting through a stack of records… and just as I began to wonder if they would be recreating a major jump-scare from TCM 2, Bubba’s chainsaw roared in reply.
As I hustled to get clear of the next noisy onslaught, I got my first genuine scare when I collided with what I first thought was a gang of clammy naked people, thrusting their sweaty torsos in my face… only to realize I was surrounded by flayed human corpses, swinging from meathooks in the ceiling. They really outdid themselves on this section: these damn carcasses seemed to go on forever… and those suckers are heavy.
Combined with the dark, heat, stink and smoke, this meaty assault really sold the whole claustrophobic hellscape, and by the time I came across Grandpa and a “helper” busily bashing the brains out of the Sawyers’ latest victim, I was unprepared for yet another Leatherface assault. On this particular night, at least, the haunt actor portraying the masked cannibal was particularly bulky — the kind of physical presence that almost unconsciously pushes you just by moving in your direction.
Finally bursting into the fresh night air, I got the visceral sense of waking from a smothering, sweaty nightmare… and if you’re not really the kind of person who considers this sort of thing entertainment, I wish I could replay the raucous laughter coming from my fellow escapees; you might rethink your perceptions.
Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood is open now through Saturday, November 5. Visit them online to learn more about the event and purchase tickets.
This story is part of a series done in partnership between Blumhouse.com and Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights.
Listen to our interview with John Murdy, the creative director of Universal Halloween Horror Nights, Hollywood for a behind-the-scenes chat explaining how the event comes together every year. Exclusively on Shock Waves, embedded below!