In 1973 at Knott’s Scary Farm, a new breed of talent was born – street monsters. Not confined to the rooms and corridors of mazes, or waiting in the peek-ins that line Ghost Town, this new type of scare tactic was unleashed on unsuspecting guests in the 1970s, and became a cornerstone of not just Knott’s Scary Farm, but haunted attractions and events everywhere.
As the popularity of Ghost Town street monsters grew, so did the need for more ghouls roaming the Scary Farm in the fog and shadows. Over the past two decades, the number of free-roaming street monsters at Knott’s has grown from a handful to hundreds, fanning out from Ghost Town to all corners of the Scary Farm. This year, Halloween Haunt featured street monsters in Ghost Town, Gypsy Camp, CarnEVIL, Fiesta de Los Muertos, and Necropolis. Each scare zone had its own theme, and own class of creatures.
This isn’t at all a “review” of talent in any of the scare zones at Knott’s Scary Farm. We have huge respect for the men and women who go out there night after night and give it their best – the energy and physical demand necessary to do what they do is mind bending, so say the very least. Our hats are off to each of them regardless of area or scare/interaction style; each of them lends to the whole of the Halloween Haunt experience, and they are truly upholding the standards and traditions that were set so long ago by those before them. Everyone working streets at Haunt this year did a tremendous job and should be extremely pleased with themselves as they as a group continue to raise the bar each season at ground zero where the art of being a street monster began.
Located backstage near GhostRider, the Knott’s administration buildings and Warehouse P, the Gypsy Camp scare zone is an off-shoot of Ghost Town streets. In all honesty, we didn’t even realize this wasn’t considered Ghost Town Streets, because the same monster types roam between the two. This explains why Gypsy Camp isn’t represented separately in our 2013 Scare Zones video. Perhaps there are more werewolves in Gypsy Camp; or not – we saw just as many in Ghost Town. We get the whole gypsy theme, because of the Fortune Tellers and Red Moon Dance Company being located in this area. However, I think that if they’re truly wanting this to be a separate scare zone, Knott’s needs to figure out how to accomplish that visually. Perhaps more gypsy-based street characters? Gypsies that have fallen prey to Old Country curses and tales such as lycanthropy or vampirism? Perhaps even some zombified gypsies? I’m not sure what the answer is, but if they’re going to have a separate scare zone based on gypsies, then Knott’s needs to address that head-on in an unmistakable way in 2014; either that, or simply consider the backstage area to be a continuation of Ghost Town and be done with it. We’re not impressed by the sheer number of scare zones an event has, but rather the talent and quality of various zones.
This is where it all started, and remains one of our favorite scare zones each season. The environment is second to none; the fog-choked streets of Knott’s Berry Farm’s Ghost Town are the perfect locales for nightmarish encounters with all things terrifying! As the sound of wind howls through the eaves of 100 year-old buildings, the unmistakable scraping of slider boots or gloves followed by screams of guests becomes the hallmark of this Scary Farm classic area. Ghost Town is where the nightly “rope/chain drop” takes place, and is truly synonymous with “Halloween Haunt”. Anyone that has ever visited the Scary Farm in October has walked through Ghost Town, has smelled the thick fog, and has been lunged at by a creature from the shadows. It is in Ghost Town that some of Haunt’s most iconic street monsters still dwell each year, including the original Green Witch, Lucifer the werewolf, and of course, The Bride who still glides and hisses her way through the crowds every October. If Halloween had to be paired with one specific zone at Haunt, it would be Ghost Town. It’s a classic, it remains badass to the core, and it will always be the birthplace of street monsters everywhere!
Necropolis is Camp Snoopy’s alter ego each night during Halloween when the sun sets and the Scary Farm comes back from the grave. Home to some of Knott’s Scary Farm’s most unique and frightening talent, Necropolis is a strange steampunk meets vampires blend that has always come across a bit misguided to us, but has grown on us, regardless. How many guests make the connection that these are steampunk vampires, I’m not sure; probably not many, as there are hardly any visual cues these days to reinforce that theme and idea. The scare zone does have spinning cog projections on the ground that work very nicely to enhance the experience; it also makes for harsh, really good show lighting on any street talent that walks through them. What we would like is some serious steampunk scenery throughout the zone. Most importantly, Knott’s needs to deliver a huge, badass sign for this area, complete with moving cogs, lights and steam/fog. If Knott’s management really wants all traces of Haunt to vanish during the day (we still strongly disagree with this directive for multiple reasons), then a sign needs to be made that can be rolled in and out from backstage, or easily affixed to one of the area’s buildings such as the Sierra Sidewinder station or Lucy’s Lunchbox. Cedar Fair has the cash to do this correctly. If Cedar Point’s Necropolis-like zone can have a massive entry statement (they do and we saw it in September when we visited Ohio) for HalloWeekends, then Knott’s Scary Farm absolutely deserves and should have one that is bigger and better! Camp is a tremendous area for low lighting and terrifying creatures of the night – in 2014, we really would love to see some serious placemaking to go hand in hand with this zone’s fantastic talent.
Fiesta de Los Muertos
All new for 2013 was Fiesta de Los Muertos, which was located throughout Fiesta Village. Theme Park Adventure has been saying for years that Knott’s needs to really go all out in Fiesta Village with a Dia de Los Muertos theme, given how popular the Dia maze was for several years, and how large the park’s Latin customer base is; to us, it’s seemed like a no-brainer. So we were really stoked when we learned this summer that Halloween Haunt was finally getting a Dia de Los Muertos scare zone! What a richly vivid, colorful and character-driven holiday Dia de Los Muertos is; the blueprint was already in place! An awesome DJ stage was set up in Fiesta Village for a night time dance floor – a giant sugar skull backdrop really set the tone, and we expected to see tons of guests dancing as skeletal spooks mingled and chased people to and from the area.
Well, a few people danced and even fewer monsters roamed. I believe the official count was maybe 5 monsters for the entire Fiesta de Los Muertos area at its busiest. That’s really disappointing to us, and we think there should have been at least triple that amount to be truly effective as a new scare zone. Everyone seemed to say, “Well, it’s a new idea and Knott’s is testing the waters…” WRONG. If you launch a new scare zone and market it as such to your guests, you must come out swinging! There is no “testing the waters”, folks! Especially in the haunted attraction arena! That’s like opening a haunted house with only two or three actors to man all of the positions and telling your patrons you’re just testing things out; that doesn’t make any sense. Fiesta de Los Muertos WILL succeed – strolling mariachi skeletons, massive altars, actually selling sweet bread, face painting… come on, Knott’s; this isn’t rocket science! OWN IT!
The talent that was manning the zone was great, and guests loved being chased by the stilt walkers – which are always impressive to watch work. I’d break my neck, but these guys ran around on stilts effortlessly all night, and it was awesome! I felt bad for the talent, as they were so outnumbered by guests. Also of note – the fantastic Dia de Los Muertos figures that were placed throughout the area in the planters; huge props to the artists at Knott’s Berry Farm who created those pieces! They were so well done, that I’d love to see them up year-round in Fiesta Village! Our biggest wish for Haunt 2014 is that Knott’s puts Fiesta de Los Muertos into overdrive and really delivers an experience that guests will flock to and talk about all night, even when they’ve gone home. Fiesta de Los Muertos could be the freshest, most exciting scare zone at Knott’s Scary Farm in a long, long time – however, a handful of monsters coming out to the dance floor at about 10:00 P.M. each night isn’t going to cut it. Either go big, or put your resources elsewhere; this was the biggest missed opportunity we saw at Haunt this season. The fans, talent and supporting scare zones deserve better! Fingers crossed for next year!
For the past many years now, the Boardwalk area of Knott’s Scary Farm has been overrun by crazed clowns, and during Haunt, is known as CarnEVIL. Especially now that the park has a brand-new Boardwalk area, this scare zone really needs some atmospheric entertainment and sideshow oddities going on to really step it up a notch. The talent in this area is great – and the number of clowns has grown from the beginning (it used to be painfully understaffed – something we wrote about for several seasons) to a number proportionate to its physical space and footprint; it’s a huge area – approximately the size of Ghost Town and Necropolis combined. On nights when there are fewer guests in the park, CarnEVIL can still feel a bit empty. We’d love to see small stages set up throughout with folks doing everything from sword swallowing to fire breathing. Simple, lo-fi stuff that would really take CarnEVIL to the next level thematically-speaking. The clowns do put on small productions and are always teaming up to raise hell in this zone, but Knott’s needs to think about what else belongs and lives in a twisted carnival setting and really invest in that for 2014. The whole clown theme anywhere is getting a bit long in the tooth in our opinion; however, the theme is hugely popular, so we doubt it’s going anywhere anytime soon. If that’s the case at Knott’s, then the park needs to compliment its awesome talent with additional sideshows and “freaks”. Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor had small sideshow/attractions this season that were a small upcharge, and they were great. The whole time we were at Dark Harbor, I kept thinking that CarnEVIL needs exactly that type of thing to add more there there. Other than that, CarnEVIL is great and the talent rocks it each night, just as everyone does park-wide in all of the Halloween Haunt scare zones.
I do have to say, it was really rough walking through CarnEVIL and not seeing our fallen friend, Mark “Sumo” Sagato doing his thing. He was an amazing guy that everyone misses the hell out of; it couldn’t have been easy at all especially for his CarnEVIL family this season to carry on without him. Mark’s loss had a deep impact on everyone – and that giant clown was sorely and noticeably missed this year. We love you, Mark. And we miss you. While a personal thing, it should be said that the Knott’s Scary Farm family created a Dia de Los Muertos altar in Mark’s memory this year during the final weekend of Haunt. The altar was set up for fellow Haunt employees to pay their respects to Sumo, who passed away this summer due to heart complications, bringing the haunter community to a standstill. The fact that this was done, and that it was appreciated by so many at Knott’s embodies the final thought in our Streets 2013 story…
While there may be borders and zones at Knott’s Scary Farm, the folks that make up the various street monster teams are one massive family, all with the same standards and goals set each season. They’re a hard-working, tremendous bunch of individuals, some of whom I have had the pleasure of knowing for well over a decade. They are a cornerstone of what makes Knott’s Halloween Haunt great, and it was very nice to see that in 2013, all of Haunt’s street zones brought it hard and carried on the event’s grand tradition of sliding, stalking, scaring and simply being amazing.
Share your stories and thoughts below! We know there are so many awesome things that happen all month long at Halloween Haunt that everyone has fun stories to share! Let’s hear yours!
– Rick West