Tag Archives: Rick West

Jon Cooke Steps Down from Knott’s Berry Farm, Launching Brand-New Horror Attraction

The interwebs are buzzing, and the word is quickly spreading like wildfire through Southern California’s haunt community. After 13 years at Knott’s Berry Farm, Jon Cooke has stepped down from his daily position there as a designer, and has been working quietly on a brand-new horror experience in a nondescript industrial building in Upland, California, which will open its doors to the curious public in the weeks ahead.

Recently, we paid a visit to Jon’s new venture and stepped into his world – a highly-immersive escape experience/haunted attraction he’s named MurderCo: An R-Rated Horror Experience. MurderCo is an ambitious haunt-escape room hybrid that is going to thrill the hell out of SoCal fans looking for the next big deal.

Before we look ahead at what Jon Cooke is about to unleash on the Southland, it’s important to acknowledge his departure from Knott’s, and what it means to events such as Scary Farm; it’s the elephant in the room that everyone is buzzing about, so we would be remiss not to discuss that a bit. The good news is, it’s not a bleak as some are assuming.

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Lunar New Year 2018 Delivers a Kung Fu Panda-Packed Festival at Universal Studios Hollywood

Seasonal events at theme parks everywhere are big business. Lunar New Year 2018 at Universal Studios Hollywood is no exception, and this year’s festival is by far, the finest we’ve ever seen USH produce.

Lunar New Year in general is short – a two-week celebration that is highly-concentrated and pretty much completely contained within the Universal Plaza area on the park’s Upper Lot, although the main entrance of Universal Studios Hollywood also features hanging red lanterns – a hallmark of Lunar New Year festivities around the world.

Visiting Universal’s event this year was extra interesting for me personally, as I spent last week in Beijing, China, where the real Lunar New Year 2018 festival is underway. Normally, you’d assume that theme park versions of these age-old festivals are in a way, cheesy and “plastic” Westernized overlays, geared toward making extra revenue for the parks. I’ve got to say, Universal Studios Hollywood’s Lunar New Year festival is as legit as anything I saw during my travels through Asia; I am really impressed.

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The Cauldron Casts a Spell on Buena Park

Southern California is dense with bars, gastropubs, speakeasies, lounges and taverns. However, no one has quite seen anything like The Cauldron Spirits & Brews, which has officially opened in Buena Park, directly across the street from Knott’s Berry Farm.

A long-time dream of owner Lara Hanneman, The Cauldron is unique in that it’s an upscale bar setting wrapped up in an environment one would expect to find in a haunted house maze at Knott’s Scary Farm. That’s no surprise, as Lara worked at Knott’s for over two decades, ultimately becoming the park’s Creative Director, overseeing all aspects of Halloween Haunt and the property in general throughout the years. For Haunt fans, it is a familiar environment – like stepping inside the event’s now-famous Trick or Treat maze for the evening to enjoy cocktails and food. For guests not familiar with Lara’s past or Knott’s Scary Farm, it’s a walk on the slightly spooky side – without any gore or anyone jumping out of the shadows; it’s a moody, dimly-lit immersive experience that speaks to all ages.

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Backwoods Maze 2017 Home Haunt a Non-Stop Powerhouse of Impressive Sets and Lurking Monsters

Backwoods Maze 2017 home haunt was definitely one of the highlights of the Halloween season. Theme Park Adventure has long-supported this talented family of haunters, and their creation simply gets better and better each year.

This particular home haunt can be found at 1912 North Pepper Street in Burbank, not terribly far from the local airport or world-famous movie and television studios. What helps Backwoods remain so low-profile, is that the majority of the haunt – a densely-propped maze of twisting, turning, tight corridors – takes up the family’s entire backyard, allowing them to tweak and work on the attraction throughout the year. The front yard during Halloween serves only as a showcase for some of the props that Jeff and Taylor Gustafson have added to their amazing collection of horror memorabilia over the years, from tombstones bearing famous monster/slasher names, to a life-sized Freddy Krueger figurine and more. The front yard display merely serves as a distraction while guests wait in line – a line that often stretches down the sidewalk, due to the home haunt’s popularity.

The maze itself is what we refer to as “haunt stew” – a series of themes and ideas all kind of thrown together to create one crazy experience. Typically, we’re not huge fans of this formula – especially now, when storytelling has become such a rich facet of haunting. In the case of Backwoods, we’ve actually fallen in love with its eclectic aesthetics and general “WTF” style. It’s kind of like a junkyard nightmare – massive cyborg warriors, alien creatures, plague doctors, and animal-human hybrids all coexisting in something that resembles a Sanford and Son hell of sorts. And in this case… it works. Guests have absolutely no idea what terrors they’re going to come face-to-face with around each corner; nothing makes sense, nor is anything predictable within the Backwoods Maze.

While the Gustafsons have the luxury of tinkering with their Backwoods Maze all year long, it’s still a tremendous labor of love that takes a lot of time to maintain – and resources. By resources, we mean cash; haunts take a lot of money to create and keep alive, yet this family has done so for years now – giving joy to the community here in Los Angeles each Halloween season. There is no entry fee to Backwoods Maze, but donations are always welcome and accepted – which we highly condone in this case. If you missed Backwoods Maze 2017, there is always the 2018 season to look forward to; it may seem like a long way off, but I assure you, it will come sooner than you know it, and the Backwoods team will be waiting for you with new props, creeping monsters, and more outrageous stuff to terrorize you with!

Huge kudos and love to this family and their extended team for giving the Los Angeles community the gift of a truly unique and outrageous haunt. We’re big fans, and cannot wait to see the continued evolution and success of this amazing home haunt!

  • Rick West

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Universal Studios Hollywood Announces First-Ever EVE Celebration to Ring in the New Year

One of the biggest nights of the year – New Year’s Eve – just got bigger in Los Angeles! Universal Studios Hollywood has just announced its brand-new EVE celebration, the perfect way to count down the last hours of 2017, and ring in the first of 2018 throughout the theme park.

Guests enjoying Universal Studios Hollywood have the entire day and evening to experience its world-class attractions and shows, including Grinchmas as well as Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which features the brand-new Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle show every 20 minutes or so after dark. At 9pm, EVE begins, radiating throughout the park from three unique entertainment hubs as DJs and live entertainment mark the final hours of 2017.

EVE’s three uniquely-themed party zones will be found throughout the theme park – at Universal Plaza, just steps away from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter; Simpsons Plaza, in front of The Simpsons Ride; and an area adjacent to Jurassic Park: The Ride down in the Lower Lot. As the final moments of 2017 slip through the hourglass, and the clock strikes 2018, the festivities culminate with a spectacular fireworks display.

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