We've known about Chucky's glorious return to Halloween Horror Nights since last Halloween; but after taking a tour led by Horror Nights Creative Director John Murdy, there's reason to believe Chucky: Ultimate Kill Count is the event's most ambitious house ever.
We also got a tour of Universal Monsters: Unmasked, but more on that later. For now, we'll take an extended look at Chucky, who gets his own house for the first time since 2009. He has since been featured as a pop-up show and, more notably, as the host of the Terror Tram in 2010. The house appearance, inside the long-defunct House of Horrors, was perfunctory and didn't live up to the lofty standards of the aggrieved doll.
As it turns out, he's not much of a fan of Universal's latest effort, either. Here's the very meta lowdown on Ultimate Kill Count. Horror Nights has built a Chucky maze to its usual high standards with one problem: Nobody actually is being killed. Enter Chucky, who hijacks his own maze in order to set things right and best his slasher rivals by generating the ultimate kill count.
That's fun, but part of the reason Chucky has been notably absent from Halloween Horror Nights is more practical: it's very challenging to cast a two-foot tall doll. And while Horror Nights has done impressive puppet work in the past, taking on the Chucky problem required slightly more advanced technology.
David Borning, a special effects designer at Universal Creative, crashed our tour of Chucky — giving us a chance to see what he and his team have been working on. There are 18 animated Chucky figures throughout the house performing a variety of actions. You'll see Chucky appear to run across a counter, wield a knife and drill and slide from under a fireplace.
The movements (video recording was not allowed during the tour) look lifelike; these are not rudimentary animatronics. And if they looked impressive on a sunny morning in Los Angeles, you can imagine how frightening they may be when properly lit in a dark environment. The process of animating, re-animating and dressing every Chucky doll in the house is incredibly ambitious — not just because of what Universal hopes to accomplish on opening night. Keeping these dolls in show-ready state will be extremely difficult, though it's possible there are backup dolls just in case. (Borning said they ordered 30 dolls to modify.)
But the figure that may get the most attention is saved for the end of the house. A massive, performer-controlled Chucky will serve as something akin to a chaseout scare. Also be sure to keep an eye out for some fun Child's Play Easter eggs throughout the final forest scene, including nods to Chucky's many on-screen deaths.
Universal Monsters: Unmasked takes us into the Parisian catacombs, where The Gang has established a makeshift home for themselves. That gang includes the Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, and the Invisible Man. A full backstory is literally written upon the newspaper-themed facade, which our fearless leader Robert Niles should get a kick out of. But without getting too into the weeds, just know the entire house takes place underground with each monster (save the Invisible Man) getting an extended vignette.
The catacomb treatment is a lot of fun and the rows of skulls feel like a nice, if unintentional, homage to the old House of Horrors attraction. Some of our stops through the catacombs include The Phantom's lair, complete with a (fake) pipe organ and fainting Christine. We also get an epilogue of sorts to the Hunchback of Notre Dame, which gives Quasimodo a bit more motivation to attack all comers... and an impressive showpiece.
We also get a look at Dr. Jekyll's laboratory, giving Universal another crack at a transformation scene. While less ambitious than what we saw in American Werewolf in London, the transformation to Mr. Hyde should be a crowd pleaser. It will also set up one of the best scares in the house, using darkness and the ever-popular boo holes to elicit screams from guests all the way to the finale of the house.
That finale, an homage to old theaters in Paris, features the monsters throwing something of a wake with the village of dead bodies buried in the catacombs. We get a couple impressive set pieces here before being unceremoniously chased out by the monsters.
Monsters, at least in the form we saw it, doesn't quite hit the high watermark for set detail as last year's edition. But it does offer some show-stopping set pieces while giving some shine to lesser known monsters from Universal's catalog. In that way, Chucky and Universal Monsters: Unmasked are kindred spirits. They're just looking for a little credit.
Halloween Horror Nights opens at Universal Studios Hollywood on September 7.
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