To the surprise of most Halloween Horror Nights fans, Universal Orlando released information during the month of April for two of the forthcoming HHN 26 mazes. One of those mazes will be The Exorcist, the legendary 1973 film directed by William Friedkin and written by William Peter Blatty. Wow.
These are deep waters for Universal Orlando. I have been attending HHN every year since 2003 and I cannot remember a maze that will have dealt directly and specifically with such an acutely religious demonic possession theme. I mean, sure, every haunted house has an element of the spiritual and supernatural attached to it, but “Demon Cantina” from HHN15 and “Hades” from HHNXX hardly compare to the serious minded, intellectually driven nature of The Exorcist.
A little background…
Roman Polanski’s 1969 smash hit Rosemary’s Baby brought something disturbingly fresh to the cinematic world of horror; a mainstream film centered around religion and the occult. At the time, movies tended to be either belligerent or overly sentimental concerning the topic of religion, but Rosemary’s Baby changed the landscape. For the first time, author William Peter Blatty pondered whether his idea for an exorcism story might actually find an audience. But there was something markedly different about Blatty. Unlike Polanski who was an agnostic Jew, Blatty had given himself to faith as a young man and took a theology class at Georgetown University where he heard about a real life demonic possession story, even going as far to track down the priest involved with the exorcism to learn more. Blatty enjoyed Rosemary’s Baby, but took issue with the cliched “glowing eyes” ending, thinking that Polanski dismissed any credibility of a serious minded religious film and instead opted for another horror freak show that pointed to nothing greater than itself.
This was an important topic for Blatty and he desired to make the possessed girl, Regan, only a tool by which the devil could attack the real star of the film – faith itself. Father Karras isn’t sure of himself or his religion, but is forced to deal with it face to face. That is what makes The Exorcism a movie for the ages.
Friedkin and Blatty ended up having some disagreements over the direction of the film, as Friedkin wanted to keep things morally ambivalent and hype up the gore elements, while Blatty pushed for a clear explanation, a la the ending of Psycho, for how faith won in the end. But even with Friedkin’s ambiguity, The Exorcist packs a much bigger punch than the just the famous spinning head and vomiting scenes.
So, what does this mean for the HHN26 maze? Well, probably not much. It’s a haunted house, so what can you do? Director for Creative Development, Michael Aiello, provided some insight into how the HHN team would be approaching The Exorcist maze. He said, “…translating The Exorcist presented us with many unique tests and questions. One big question was, ‘How do you adapt a film where most of the story takes place in a single bedroom?’ The answer we landed on was first to break down and assess all the visuals and moments from the film. Piece together every moment within that bedroom and examine why it was intense, scary or even vile. What textures can we reconstruct differently, sometimes in an incredibly abstract way?”
He then goes on to describe an example of how they might tell the story in an “abstract way.” He says, “The famous ‘pea soup’ scene for instance. What if we were surrounded in the materials of the retch-covered bed? What if those layers of mattress padding literally enveloped us? And let’s be honest, traversing through a vomit-covered bed is pretty horrifying and disgusting by itself. Now add a possessed girl into the mix!”
This makes sense, of course! For a Halloween Horror Nights maze, this makes perfect sense. Notice the words Aiello uses to describe their process for creating the maze: “visuals, intense, scary, vile, abstract, horrifying, disgusting.” Everything fans like us want! But still yet, those were just the tools necessary in the film to tell a much deeper, much scarier story.
My greatest fear is that The Exorcist maze, because it will be nearly impossible to capture the intellectual and faith tension of the film in a haunted house, might simply become a super exaggerated display of already exaggerated imagery from the film. Will we be placed in a spinning room and made to think we are inside Regan’s head? That is the kind of thing I could see HHN doing, in line with Aiello’s aforementioned “pea soup” example. This maze has the potential of feeling like “Alice Cooper: Welcome To My Nightmare” of HHN22, where we we “journeyed inside Alice Cooper’s twisted mind.”
But count me among those who are excited to experience this! If anyone can pull it off, the creative team for HHN-Orlando most certainly can, and you better believe that Rex and I will be ready and willing to be a part of the carnage. RexandtheBeast.com – Join The Journey!
*For a wonderful history of modern horror, I recommend “Shock Value” by Jason Zinoman.