‘Walking Dead’ chief gives the undead life at Universal

Greg Nicotero (right) and John Murdy are inside “The Walking Dead: Dead Inside” exhibit at Universal Studios Hollywood.

LOS ANGELES — Watch out for the horse, cautioned Greg Nicotero.

It was a sweltering September morning at Universal Studios and inside a new maze based on “The Walking Dead,” the movie-makeup master and co-executive producer of the AMC series pointed to the floor where a zombified horse cadaver lay on its side, shrouded in plastic sheeting. Trap doors had been left conspicuously open and a few headless bodies had been strategically placed to give visitors the same sort of thrills they might experience in the post-apocalyptic American South of the hit zombie show, a nightmarish realm where flesh-eating ghouls hungrily devour their prey, equine or human.

“The Walking Dead: Dead Inside” maze is this year’s centerpiece for Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights, the annual event that opened Friday and transforms the theme park’s family-sun-and-fun ethos into something far more dark, grisly and adult in the weeks leading up to the spookiest day of the year.

“This is not a carnival attraction, this is not a haunted house that somebody’s having in a high school parking lot,” he said. “This is really about taking the participant and putting them inside the show.”

John Murdy, Halloween Horror Nights’ bespectacled creative director, was keen to include “The Walking Dead” in Universal Studios’ horror lineup. In addition to the maze itself, the theme park has created a “Walking Dead”-themed “terror tram,” which will drop off visitors on the back lot, where they’ll have to make their way through roughly 125 actors dressed as zombies.

Previous Halloween Horror Nights have featured mazes designed around horror movie franchises including “Friday the 13th,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Saw.” This year, Halloween Horror will bolster its brand of bloody mayhem with haunted attractions based on the video game/movie franchise “Silent Hill,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and the studio’s own classic monsters.

“We want to feature properties people know and love,” Murdy said.

The show also will serve as a marquee attraction for Universal’s sister theme park in Orlando, Fla.