John Murdy has been building haunted houses since he was 10 years old. His first was “Star Wars” themed — it was 1977 — he built all the sets and costumes himself and charged 25 cents for neighborhood kids to get spooked in his dad’s garage. By the time he was 15, he was making haunted houses for charity, and there were hundreds of people lined up around the block, ready for a scare.
Today, Murdy has turned Halloween, and scaring people, into a full-time job. He’s the creative director and executive producer of Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights. The seasonal attractions turn the theme park into a scare zone at night, with seven haunted mazes, special events, and performances.
Murdy spends all year planning the park’s Halloween events. This year, his mazes feature scenes from The Walking Dead, American Horror Story and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, among other shows and movies. And they’re accurate, down to the last detail. The mazes are full of hyper realistic props and hundreds of actors ready to scare visitors. Thousands of people visit the park every night, buying tickets — starting at $69 and topping out at $209 — for a not-so-cheap thrill.
Spending on Halloween is par for the course for most Americans, even if they’re not prepared for the gore that awaits them in one of Murdy’s mazes. In 2016, people in the U.S. are expected to spend $8.4 billion on Halloween, according to the National Retail Federation. Most of that goes to candy, costumes and decor.