The relationship between Blumhouse Productions and Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights is a terrifyingly creative match made in hell that spans over a decade. It has reached a new level with this year’s annual event at the iconic Hollywood theme park and studio in a landmark and bumper box office year for the film company.
At the heart of that collaborative commitment are John Murdy, the Executive Producer of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood, and Jason Blum, founder and CEO of Blumhouse Productions. After working together for so long to bring such IPs as The Purge and Insidious to life at the seasonal scream fest, they have what Blum refers to as “a mind meld” where they can almost finish each other’s creative sentences.
“It’s very true,” he admitted. We’re both in the business of scaring people. I do it with TV shows and films, and he does it live, and the one thing that bridges the gap between those two things is horror movies. We’ve had a lot to discuss over the years.”
“I also think we have a similar creative approach to producing, and there’s a lot of similar DNA in the jobs. I know now when I watch our movies which scenes he will pull for his experiences.”
Because of the synergy, Blum acknowledges that as the films influence how and why Halloween Horror Nights does what it does, the event can influence creative choices in their movies.
“I think for sure it goes both ways. Our directors, all of them, love Halloween Horror Nights and going through all the houses. I can’t give you a specific example, but I would be shocked if John’s work hasn’t inspired them in crafting scares in their movies,” he mused.
Among the centerpieces of this year’s event, which rolled out the blood red carpet for guests and VIPs on Thursday, September 7, 2023, are several Blumhouse properties, including a terrifying, immersive experience inspired by their upcoming film The Exorcist: Believer and, for the first time, a stunt show called The Purge: Dangerous Waters. The live-action performance platforms the $450 million franchise, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, on the open waters where the Waterworld show usually resides.
“It never occurred to me to add a water element to any of our IPs or haunted houses. That was all John and his team,” Blum explained. “I don’t know who came up with that idea, but I was thrilled when they pitched it to me. The idea that we made this little movie a decade ago for $2 million and a decade later it’d be a water-based attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood is amazing. I wish I could take credit for the idea, but I had nothing to do with it. I was thrilled about it, though.”
Excited to attend opening night, he continued, “In the years past, I’ve visited the houses a handful of times before they opened, but this is the first time seeing any of these iterations in person. I’d seen footage of them but hadn’t experienced them, so that’s new and different for me. It’s exciting to get to experience it more like a fan.”
There have been five Purge movies, two seasons of a spin-off TV show, and numerous Halloween Horror Nights attractions inspired the franchise, proving the IP remains as popular as ever. Fans remain hungry for a sixth movie.
“I would never say never,” Blum hinted. “I’d love to do another Purge movie.”
As well as the brilliant The Purge: Dangerous Waters, the house that has evolved out of The Exorcist: Believer is a standout attraction at this year’s event.
“It’s a live experience of a trailer because it’s rare that Halloween Horror Nights has had a house based on a movie or a TV show that hasn’t yet come out,” Blum said. Will that make people want to visit twice, once before the film’s release and again after, to pick up on the details they missed?
“I hope so,” he enthused. “Blumhouse has a unique relationship with John Murdy in that we both trust each other enormously. I share with him very, very early cuts of our movies and scripts very early on, which I think is special. The houses he does are based on other pieces of intellectual property; he often sees the finished product and then figures out the attraction, but with our material, he’s woven into the process much earlier on.
“I think that makes for better experiences because he sees how our shows and movies evolve as I share the material with him. Several times, he’s put something in one of the houses that was in an earlier script and didn’t wind up in the movie, and I was fine with that. The collaboration starting much earlier in the process than it does with other people helps and improves our attractions.”
Something else that’s a departure for the partners is Blumhouse: Behind the Screams, which is described as “an original concept that showcases a selection of Blumhouse horror films” and “breaks the fourth wall.” As well as an elaborate show, it also offers fans an up-close look at authentic props, costumes, and character encounters. It features upcoming releases, The Exorcist: Believer and Five Nights at Freddy’s, and fan-loved hits like The Black Phone.
“These things allow fans to experience our movies in different ways, and that’s exciting to me,” Blum explained. “The animatronics from Five Nights At Freddy’s are in Behind the Screams, and maybe we tip our hat to M3GAN in that event, too.”
When it landed in theaters in January, M3GAN grossed over $181 million worldwide against a $12 million budget. More recently, Blumhouse struck gold again this summer with Insidious: The Red Door, which became the highest-grossing film in the franchise. It has grossed $188 million worldwide to date.
“I was very pleased about our worldwide success with Insidious: The Red Door. Managing franchises is something our company spends a lot of time thinking about and strategizing about. It’s complicated to do because people are cynical about franchises and feel like they’re money grabs. You’ve got to inject them with something new, but you’ve also got to make them relate to the original, and it’s a complicated balancing act.”
“I’m very proud of what we did with Insidious, particularly Leigh Whannell and James Wan, who came up with the original movie and have kept a hand on the tiller through all five movies. I think that’s the primary reason the movies keep resonating with audiences.”
As a producer, Blum already has two successful films under his belt this year and two major theatrical releases imminent. It remains at a shaky time at the box office, and he’s aware that audiences expect their money’s worth when they pick what to watch in theaters. Blum knows demanding audiences expect to be terrified.
“It’s always challenging. That’s kind of an understatement,” the producer confessed. “To come up with movies that scare people, get them into the movie theaters, and try to connect with wide audiences is an incredibly complicated but fun thing to do. Is it harder now than it was? I don’t know. It’s always been hard.”
Blumhouse Productions recently got a scare of its own when Taylor Swift announced the release of her film Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, based on her blockbuster shows, would be landing in theaters on Friday, October 13, the exact date that The Exorcist: Believer was due to open. The supernatural horror film quickly shifted to Friday, October 6, 2023.
At the time, Blum tweeted, “Look what you made me do. The Exorcist: Believer moves to 10/6/23″, adding #TaylorWins.” Swift’s movie is expected to gross over $100 million in its opening weekend. It broke AMC Theatres’ record for the most single-day advance ticket sales with a staggering $26 million and has now gone on to sell over $70 million.
“She scared me to death,” the seasoned scaremonger confessed with a laugh. She scared me even more than Donald Trump winning the next election.
While Blum has succeeded in seeing many of the company’s biggest IPs manifest in new and exciting ways, there is still one whose complexity has yet to be tackled by the team at Halloween Horror Nights.
“Have we ever done Paranormal Activity? I don’t think we have. That’s always one I’ve wanted to crack,” he revealed. The franchise has grossed $890 million. “I think it’s a hard one to do. I don’t know what we’d need to do, but John would have to figure that out. I’ve talked about how that movie does not lend itself to being turned into a house at Halloween Horror Nights. If John could crack it, it would be so great.”