Universal’s Halloween event gives ‘Last of Us’ fans what show can’t

rewrite this content and keep HTML tags “The Last of Us” house at Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights starts with a scene outside the house.Julie TremaineEven before you walk inside, they’ve already found you. “What the hell did we get ourselves into?” Ellie asks. AdvertisementArticle continues below this adAdvertisementArticle continues below this ad“We’ll get out of here,” Joel says, not quite reassuringly. “Don’t worry.” Then, you walk past the pair and through the door into the dank, dangerous space, where you’ll spend the next five minutes trying to survive. If the monsters don’t get you, the humans doing anything to stay alive definitely will.Every year, the Universal Studios parks in Hollywood and Orlando hold Halloween Horror Nights, an after-hours, adult-oriented event. HHN is full of nightmare dolls chasing you with chainsaws, evil clowns trying to steal your soul and murderous butchers hoping to carve you up into bits. Some of the haunted house mazes, the event’s biggest component, feature original concepts, like this year’s Monstruos: Monsters of Latin America and Holidayz in Hell. Others are based on famous franchises, like this year’s “Chucky,” “Stranger Things” and, of course, “The Last of Us.” HHN is — it goes without saying — delightful. First a video game and then an HBO show, “The Last of Us” is set in an apocalyptic world where a pandemic caused by a mushroom-based fungus called cordyceps has infected humans’ brains. Joel, a grieving father who has turned morally dark in his struggle to survive, is tasked with getting Ellie, a teenage orphan with no close ties, to a group of rebels who believe she holds the key to a cure. AdvertisementArticle continues below this adA “clicker” inside Universal Studios Hollywood’s “The Last of Us” house.Courtesy of Universal Studios HollywoodRather than base the Halloween Horror Nights house on the HBO show, though, Universal based its maze on the 2013 video game. What’s particularly interesting about the maze — other than getting to experience clickers and bloaters in real life — is that it focuses on a component of the game that never made it to the small screen.HHN’s “The Last of Us” house is set in Pittsburgh, where Joel and Ellie are attempting to escape the rebel Fireflies who are trying to capture (and likely kill) them. All the while, they’re avoiding attacks from the murderous cordyceps-infested zombies who used to be humans. It’s a crucial phase in the video game, but there’s no Pittsburgh at all in the TV show. All of that action takes place on screen in Kansas City, Missouri. (Showrunner Craig Mazin and showrunner/game designer Neil Druckmann explained in “The Last of Us” podcast that they made the change for budget concerns: Alberta, Canada, where they were filming, looked more like Kansas City, meaning its transformation would take less work.)The maze brings other elements to life. As you walk through the house, you’re with Joel and Ellie on their journey through the Federal Disaster Response Agency quarantine zone and then down into the sewers trying to escape. AdvertisementArticle continues below this adYou see lights flickering all around you. You hear people screaming and scareactors shouting dialogue. You have monsters jumping out at you, trying to capture you — or at least terrify you to your bones. You get caught in a crossfire. At a certain point, you get sprayed with “cordyceps” which is (hopefully, as I didn’t fact-check this) only water. And when the action descends from the streets into the sewer, you truly smell the difference.The house uses smells and water effects for more immersion into the story.Courtesy of Universal Studios Hollywood“There’s something really special about this experience, but how do you articulate it? You want to put the players in the game,” Druckmann told Chris Hayner in an interview for GameSpot. “And you can argue, ‘Well, they’re already in the game. They’re playing as Joel, they’re turning the camera on. They’re deciding what they’re doing.’ Yes, but they’re seeing it through a 2D frame on their wall. “And what if you break that frame, and now they’re surrounded by it, and you can walk, and you can touch it, and you can feel it, you could smell it? And it’s a different kind of an emotional experience.”AdvertisementArticle continues below this adHalloween Horror Nights has had video game-inspired mazes in the past, for games-turned-movies like “Resident Evil” and “Silent Hill.” This experience feels revolutionary, though. Beyond all of the sensory effects, there’s a component to the house I’ve never seen before. Unlike the other mazes that start when you step inside, “The Last of Us” starts the show outside. You watch the first scene as you’re in the queue waiting to go in. Joel and Ellie are in a scene outside the maze, talking about how they need to escape. Even before you walk through the doors, you’ve seen part of the action and been introduced to the storyline. “The Last of Us” isn’t the scariest house at HHN this year — that distinction goes to Monstruos: The Monsters of Latin America, which features absolutely chilling scenes of legends like La Llorona. But it’s definitely the best of 2023’s IP houses, both in its intricate execution and level of detail and in how closely it follows the story. If you’re afraid of haunted houses but really love “The Last of Us,” you’ll probably be OK … as long as you don’t get infected.Get insider access to all things Happiest Place on Earth, from historical deep dives to trending park news and beyond. Sign up for our Dispatches from Disneyland newsletter here.AdvertisementArticle continues below this ad


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