At Halloween Horror Nights, Universal Studios’ annual scare event, you don’t have to look far to find something iconic. There’s The Shining; there’s Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface; Ash vs. Evil Dead; American Horror Story; you name it. The Saw and Insidious franchises are also represented with mazes at the year’s event, and we took a terror-filled tour of each with the man who created them both.
That man is Leigh Whannell, who wrote the first Saw and Insidious films, as well as many of the sequels. Having inspired two HHN mazes in the same year is a pretty special thing. “It’s a complete honor,” Whannell told me. “I love what [creative executive] John Murdy and the Halloween Horror Nights team does. So I am, to quote a scientific term, ‘stoked’ to have two mazes there.” I can verify this, because I walked through both of them right at his side.
While Whannell may be responsible for two of the more recognizable horror franchises of this century so far, he walks around an event like Horror Nights relatively unnoticed. Even the fact that he’s co-starred in the first Saw and each Insidious movie doesn’t really matter. Fans running from maze to maze let him walk by pretty quietly. In fact, the one time it seemed someone did recognize him, they had actually mistaken him for Lin Shaye, the star of Insidious. Few people know the man who invented these nightmares was within reach.
On our tour of the Insidious maze (my first, his fourth—Horror Nights can be incredibly manic, especially on opening night), he pointed out that all of the Insidious films are represented, even the still-mysterious creature from the upcoming fourth film, The Last Key, which he also wrote. “The first time they did an Insidious maze we had a great amount of input and they were very inclusive,” Whannell said. “In fact, we asked them to go a bit quieter, which they weren’t used to.”
After encountering all of the Insidious demons in rapid succession at the end of the maze, we jumped into some vans and headed over to Saw. The franchise has been missing from Horror Nights since its last movie installment in 2010; it’s back now, courtesy of a new film out this year, and its maze is called Saw: The Games of Jigsaw. You basically encounter all of the best torture devices from all the films, with plenty of Jigsaws around every turn to jump out at you. As we went from blood-soaked room to blood-soaked room (this time, the first for both of us), Whannell couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. Each time we entered a new room he was first surprised, then visibly humbled and pleased. In a franchise known for keeping its budgets modest, the sets and props in the Saw maze almost equaled what you see in the films. “There were amazing production values, especially with the gore,” he said. “It was quite sickening, actually.”
When we reached the room from the first Saw movie, we found Whannell, dead on the floor—or rather a dead body representing Whannell’s character, Adam. The living Whannell got on the floor next to his corpse and smiled as a bunch of people took photos.
“It’s amazing,” Whannel said as he exited the maze. “This place is packed with horror fans and to have a film here? It’s like being a member of some special club.”
In the US, Halloween Horror Nights is currently open at both the Hollywood and Orlando Universal Studios through Halloween. It’s also open in Japan and Singapore. Learn more here.