On Wednesday, August 6, Knott’s Berry Farm held its second annual Halloween Haunt preview event for Season Pass holders in the Charles M. Schulz Theatre. More than one thousand of the Scary Farm’s most hard core fans made their way in the early hours of the morning to line up outside the park’s Main Entrance for wristband distribution, as the Haunt preview wouldn’t begin until 7 P.M. For die-hard fans, this mass unveiling of what the company has in store for Halloween is serious business.
It’s also very smart business, and Knott’s Berry Farm has seized the opportunity to turn their Haunt preview into an all-day affair. After all, once wristband distribution takes place outside the gates – where do you think most of those Season Pass holders are going to go on a warm, sunny day in the middle of summer? That’s right; into the park, where they spend the day eating, drinking, and hanging out with friends. It’s a smart business move, and very different than Universal’s method of slowly announcing its Halloween Horror Nights attractions one at a time via social media over a period of several weeks.
Just before 7 P.M., the doors to the Schulz Theatre open, and the massive serpentine line of Scary Farm fans that wraps all over the back side of the park slowly moves up the entry ramp and into the Haunt fog-filled venue. It’s an exciting moment; the anticipation is palpable and the sound of cheering fans undeniably cool! Inside the theatre, guests are greeted by roaming Haunt monsters, up to their usual Halloween trickery, much to everyone’s delight. Everywhere you look, Haunt fans are already having a blast laughing at monster shenanigans, and even taking selfies with them. It’s absolutely a gold mine of fan appreciation and smart business that Knott’s has tapped into; we only see this event growing in the years to come into an even bigger spectacle.
Jeff Tucker, the park’s entertainment supervisor, got the show started right away by escorting Elvira, Mistress of the Dark onto the stage, met with roaring approval of the Scary Farm fans. The duo strutted slowly across the stage, owning it, and eating up every moment of the enthusiastic cheering coming from the audience. Once front and center, Elvira greeted the crowd and assured them that “everyone’s favorite ride” was in fact, returning to Halloween Haunt this year in an all-new show titled “Elvira’s Big Top”. After a few dry one-liners, Elvira linked arms again with Jeff and made her way off stage. It was a very brief, but very well-received appearance, and it set the tone for things to follow.
Much did follow – the Scary Farm’s design team took to their own seats on the stage: Lara Hanneman, Gus Krueger, Daniel Miller, and Brooke Walters. Their entrance was met with thunderous applause, and I couldn’t help but think back to a time when practically no one knew who the Haunt designers were; back in the days when Knott’s management at the time opted to shroud everything Halloween-related in a weird veil of secrecy. That’s certainly not the case anymore, and Knott’s knows it. More importantly, the fans know it – and they all have their favorite designers, following some of them on social media as celebrities. And they are celebrities in their own right – in the haunted attraction world, Knott’s is the recognized birthplace of an industry; being one of the park’s current Haunt designers is a huge responsibility and quite a rare honor. In that sense, the Knott’s design team are rock stars of the highest caliber – and they knew it, walking very comfortably out onto the stage. I love that, because I’ve always said that what makes Knott’s Scary Farm so special are the people behind it; I’ve known most of these folks for a long time, and it makes me personally very happy to see them finally get the credit they so deserve!
I won’t give a blow-by-blow description of what went down; if you’re a Haunt fan, you were either there or have watched videos of the show in its entirety on YouTube already. There were surprises and big “wow” moments, including a shotgun-wielding lawman shouting to the crowd, “ARE YOU READY FOR A HANGING?” Of course, it was no surprise to anyone that the Scary Farm’s signature show – The Hanging – will be returning for 2014, titled “Everything is Gruesome!” Love it or hate it (regardless, you know you watch it), it has become a cornerstone of Halloween Haunt, lampooning and casting an unflinching eye on popular culture and its icons each year in Calico Square. It’s outrageous, over-the-top, completely irreverent, and we enjoy it each and every season! We’re pleased to see its return for the 2014 Haunt run!
Returning mazes this year include:
Trick-or-Treat, which returns for its third year at Halloween Haunt. This maze debuted in 2012, and Theme Park Adventure fell head-over-heels in love with its retro design and incredible execution. It’s a Brooke Walters classic maze, and one of the best ever at the Scary Farm, in our opinion!
Black Magic, one of Daniel Miller’s most amazing designs ever will reappear at the Scary Farm this year for its second run, with some new elements, including an all-new Skeleton Key room, and a new “Hall of Illusion” section of the maze!
Forevermore, another stunning Brooke Walters design that chronicles the work of a brutal murderer that fashions his crimes from the stories of Edgar Allan Poe’s writings. A beautifully twisted attraction that debuted in 2013, Brooke promises even more carnage and savagery in this year’s iteration!
The Gunslinger’s Grave, one of our favorite new mazes for the 2013 Scary Farm, this Gus Krueger design returns for 2014 bigger and better than ever, continuing its show-quality interaction with an all-new town hall shootout finale that fans won’t want to miss! It’s great (and only fitting) to have cowboys and the Wild West featured in a maze at Knott’s Berry Farm!
Dominion of the Damned will return this season, with a new take on the dark underworld of vampire lore. This year, guests will come face-to-face with an all-new vampire queen, and be menaced by a long-time character featured in just about every bloodsucker maze at Knott’s since the ’90s: the Wraith!
Pinocchio Unstrung returns for 2014 with new scares, and a brand-new Skeleton Key room! When this maze debuted in 2012, it was an instant hit at the design hands of Daniel Miller. A twisted take on the popular children’s fairy tale, Pinocchio Unstrung is sure to have a most unhappy ending!
The Witch’s Keep comes back again to the newly-renovated Calico Mine Ride. This neat addition to Haunt relies on soundtrack and ambient effects throughout the attraction such as shadow play, as opposed to live talent. With Knott’s spending a lot of money to renovate the Log Ride and Mine Ride, chances are, it’s going to be years until we see Scary Farm talent in those attractions again; TPA is perfectly fine with that, and Witch’s Keep is a shining example of what can be done to spook up an attraction without live talent.
The big news that everyone was waiting for was what the new mazes for 2014 would be. They are:
Trapped: Lock and Key, which is the third iteration of the Scary Farm’s up-charge attraction. It will be in the same location as last year, and this time around, it’s the horrific love child of Jeff Tucker and Gus Krueger, which makes for a very interesting prospect. Jeff has a long history of show writing at Knott’s and definitely has a twisted sense of humor. Gus is really great at taking on new ideas and figuring out how to make them practical for Halloween Haunt (such as creating the outdoor Western town for Gunslinger’s Grave). We’re really interested to see what comes from this partnership. Regardless of how rocky last year’s reception to Trapped was, fans should take into account and understand that 2014 is a new year with two new designers handling it. If we had to place a bet now, Theme Park Adventure would be comfortable saying this year could easily be the best for Trapped at Knott’s so far.
Voodoo is the new Scary Farm entry for 2014 from Brooke Walters. A project she has been wanting to do for years, Voodoo will be a unique design, constructed mostly over a 50′ x 50′ pool of water featuring a shanty bayou village and small bridges. Scary Farm fans reacted very positively to this announcement, and Brooke sweetened the deal by announcing that Voodoo will be the first maze in Haunt history to feature multiple routes that guests choose as they venture through. Voodoo sounds like a winner to us; with Brooke driving its design, we’re sure we’re in for some spooky good fun!
The Tooth Fairy is Daniel Miller’s new maze. Known for gritty, often gory designs, Daniel promises to make fans squirm with nightmarish visuals and horrifying sound in the realm of the Tooth Fairy. According to Miller, Tooth Fairy will be very Slaughterhouse-esque, which translates to buckets and buckets of blood. The maze’s back story is that a child has stayed awake in order to catch a glimpse of the Tooth Fairy, which he does. This enrages the Tooth Fairy, and she takes him away to her world, where dental nightmares lurk at every twist and turn. This concept sounds fun, gross and so perfectly Daniel!
Perhaps the biggest new attraction announcement Knott’s made for the 2014 Scary Farm season is that the huge scare zone formerly known as Necropolis will become one huge attraction called Special Ops: Infected, thanks to the creative efforts of Jon Cooke and the design team. As a first project for Haunt, this could really put Jon on the map with fans and industry creatives alike. Guests will be taken in small groups and led through multiple courses throughout all of Camp Snoopy. Each guest will have his/her own gun to fight off hordes of fast-moving, very aggressive zombies while conducting a series of missions. There will be two separate courses through Infected (Alpha and Bravo), each with multiple missions, making this attraction’s repeat factor huge. There will even be a large leader board at Haunt, so guests can see their standing throughout the night, as the weapons each guest will be given feature a score counter (and hey – they also recoil, which is totally cool). TPA is watching this one with great curiosity. There is no way that essentially eliminating a scare zone that makes up 1/4 of the footprint of Knott’s Scary Farm won’t have an impact on crowds elsewhere in the park, especially on busy nights. Capacity for Infected may be high, but it cannot be anywhere near as much as an open scare zone is at any given time. We like the concept. We love that Knott’s opted not to make this an up-charge attraction. TPA is in, and we’re ready!
Ghost Town, Gypsy Camp, Fiesta de los Muertos, and CarnEVIL return to Halloween Haunt as the events regular scare zones, featuring hundreds of creatures and menacing monsters lurking in the fog. The Scary Farm team did promise more monsters and surprises for Fiesta de los Muertos this year, building on what was a really cool concept from 2013.
Another huge announcement from Knott’s during their preview event, was the long-awaited Knott’s Scary Farm Pass, which will allow fans to visit every single night of Haunt if they choose. The biggest shocker – it’s only $65 for current Knott’s Season Pass holders, and soon, it will go on sale for $75 to the general public! In our opinion, that is really cheap – possibly too cheap. The Scary Farm Pass would have sold like hotcakes for even $150. The amount of passes is going to be limited, although one would think to have a financial impact on Knott’s the number would have to be in the thousands. This is a huge first for Knott’s, and we’re going to know sooner than later whether it was a brilliant move or a risky decision.
After the event, fans departed and media made their way to the private reception, which was very nice – Knott’s always does an amazing job with making us feel at home. Everyone ate, drank, and conducted interviews with the Scary Farm team, from the maze designers to Elvira herself [strange milestone – it was the first time in 20 years covering Haunt that I actually met Elvira; she was very nice and down-to-earth]. I pulled a huge chunk of the team aside one by one and recorded short videos with them regarding Haunt 2014 and their projects. We’re really excited to see how Scary Farm is this year – it sounds like it’s going to be a huge year of change, new ideas and bold moves. Fan reaction was very positive and the event was unquestionably a huge success. Kudos to Knott’s Berry Farm for a top-notch production. Let the fog roll! We’re ready!
Another update that was announced this past weekend at ScareLA (throwing this into the story here because it’s the easiest way to include late-breaking information) is that Knott’s is finally bringing back the Headless Horseman to Scary Farm! This is something I have been writing about for years – a small touch that was always very cool and just so… Haunt, you know? For those unaware, roaming in the darkness of the Scary Farm along the stagecoach trail is a headless figure atop his black horse… no fanfare, no show moment; he just lingers in the shadows and fog. Knott’s did away with this character years ago, and I’ve begged for its return for so long! Well, he’s BACK! And Knott’s is throwing a twist with it – if guests take pictures of the Headless Horseman and use them on social media with pre-determined hashtags, they will be eligible to win prizes at Haunt! Pretty awesome!
Tickets are on sale NOW for Knott’s Scary Farm, as well as the Scary Farm Pass! Be sure to hit up www.Knotts.com now and get yourself set up right away!
– Rick West