Knott's Berry Farm, Buena Park, CA
Do you feel that? A pall descending upon the air, bringing tingles and shivers down your spine? Do you see the veil rising, the fog seeping through, the aura of sinister wickedness spreading?
Well, you probably don't, because we're still in the middle of the summer, but in less than three short weeks, the grandaddy of all haunts, Knott's Scary Farm, will open its gates once again and unleash its hordes of monsters and terror upon the unsuspecting public--and the gleeful Halloween fans. Last night, Knotts held is now-annual announcement event to reveal all for the 46th annual Halloween Haunt.
Although Knott's has released bits and pieces on what to expect this year on social media and at conventions such as Midsummer Scream, it saves the juiciest details for its exclusive announcement event that takes place at the end of each August. It's a fun event, open to season passholders who sign up and media outlets who cover happenings such as this.
This year brings an even deeper focus on bringing immersive, high quality environments throughout the park, from each of the nine mazes to the scare zones to the monsters and atmospheric characters to the entertainment--both scheduled and unscheduled. Knott's has taken lessons learned from innovations such as Trapped, Ghost Town Alive!, and many of its recent mazes to build a cohesive, story-driven world that exists to deliver pure horror, and also a lot of fun. Whether the guest be a one-time visitor or a returning Scary Farm season passholder (Scary Farm passes now available for $95), this year's Haunt redoubles efforts to provide fresh and interactive experiences.
Monsters on the Prowl
As with any Scary Farm event, there were plenty of monsters to liven things up--or perhaps deaden would be more appropriate? Representatives from Ghost Town, Carnevil and The Hollow prowled the Charles M. Schulz theater, startling, thrilling, and terrorizing unsuspecting audience members. As usual, they provided fantastic preshow entertainment before the start of the actual event.
Once 8:00 struck, the lights went out, and an elaborate theatrical sequence began. Rain began fall around the stage as dapper ghouls emerged. These were the doomed souls of Foresaken Lake, the newest scare zone at Knott's Scary Farm, which will encompass the area around Silver Bullet and the old Reflection Lake area. Trowling to a New Orleans jazz-infused version of The Hearse Song (produced in-house with the singer of Jelly of the Month Club), the bayou creatures emerged, swaying and dancing to a syncopated beat.
With somber fanfare, they spread their umbrellas and lanterns and shovels, beckoning another group of fiends carrying a coffin down the center aisle. And after setting the coffin upright and finishing off their song, they sprung forth the doors to reveal... the emcee of the evening's festivities: the one and only Jeff Tucker.
As he has done countless times, Jeff provided a rundown of this year's Knott's Scary Farm event. The park will once again be open 25 frightful nights this year, starting Thursday, September 20 through Wednesday, October 31. Tickets are on sale now, with discounts if purchased in advance only, and both single night and Scary Farm season passes are available. The season pass will again offer access to all 25 nights of the event. It's an incredible deal--paying for itself in basically two visits. Any Haunt fan would be foolish to neglect it, but there are only limited quantities available.
This year also brings its share of new Scary Farm merchandise, which is also now available throughout the park. There's even new artwork available as well, but more on that at the end of this update.
The Ghost Town VR attraction inside the Boardwalk Cafe will receive a Scary Farm overlay in the form of Time Zombies, a haunted VR attraction. This will be a $6 upcharge just like the daytime version, and it features different levels and environments in which players wearing virtual reality headsets and armed with laser guns must survive three minutes against a relentless zombie attack. I had the chance to try it after last night's press event, and it's pretty fun. It's not spectacularly amazing in any way, but it offers its share of thrills and is a nice value for the cost.
Finally, Jeff also gave credit to the unsung heroes of Knott's Scary Farm--the production crew of carpenters, painters, electricians, costumers, prosthetic artists, and general actual creators who bring the designer visions of Scary Farm to life. They've been hard at work all summer long in the heat and humidity constructing sets and putting the mazes together that will thrill you in the fall!
With that bit of business finished, it was onto the content. First up, a recap of the scare zones this year! There will be four in total, including the new Foresaken Lake announced at Midsummer Scream. Interestingly, that means that one veteran scare zone has seen the axe, and that would be Fiesta de los Muertos. It would seem that there might be at least one safe space in Knott's Scary Farm after all, despite the creators' promise that the entire park would be full of terror.
Ghost Town Streets is the original and largest, most terrifying scare zone that started it all. Bands of half-human, half-animal monsters prowl the streets and inhabit the fog, and beware the notoriously startling sliders, who lunge from fog-filled corners of the land.
The original scare zone is back once again, to no one's surprise. As long as there's a Knott's Scary Farm, there will always be a Ghost Town Streets. Back this year are the atmospheric characters like the Conductor and the Undertaker and the Gravedigger. "Mad Eye" Joe will also inappropriately heckle guests nightly behind Goldie's Place.
There may also be some unscheduled show moments in Ghost Town as well, similar to what occurred in The Hollows last year with the vignettes depicting the progression of the Witch Hunter's quest to vanquish the three Witches of the Hollow. But even without those, the classic GTS monsters are sure to provide quite a shriek in the park's largest scare zone.
On the Boardwalk clowns crave your undying attention in the CARNEVIL scare zone.
With HangTime construction complete and the ride open, the Boardwalk is once again fully open and no longer claustrophobically restrictive to talent and guests. The clowns will come out to feast with greater ferocity than before, especially under the lights of HangTime's special Halloween lighting package. As noted at Midsummer Scream, the clowns will also have a new look to them this year. But they'll still have the same psychotic intentions...
The Hollow scare zone will terrorizes guests as the Witches of the Hollow along with their armies of creatures have risen once again to battle with the Witch Hunter.
The Hollow saw a huge improvement last year, as Scary Farm designers injected a more theatrical setting and occurrences in the second year scare zone. This year promises more of the same features that made last year's Camp Snoopy (Camp Spoopy?) zone so much fun. There will continue to be unscheduled show moments that guests can stumble upon--or repeat visitors can follow and interact with!
This year, a new and unearthly scare zone is making its sinister arrival to the park. For the first time the lake underneath Silver Bullet recedes to reveal the horrors and creatures it’s kept hidden, until now. Forsaken Lake will unleash gothic creatures, which have been ravaged by the dark and murky waters, as they wander from their crypts preying on unsuspecting visitors, looking for victims to drag back to their watery graves.
Knott's is throwing a lot of creative power, costume design, and theatrics into this new land. Taking queues from The Hollow, it will also feature unscheduled show moments, include a funeral procession (a nod to the monster-initiated tradition in the old Gauntlet scare zone in Camp Snoopy two decades ago) and other sequences that string a story together. The aesthetic mixes in New Orleans flair with bayou creepiness. The tormented souls of Foresaken Lake trudge in their decayed articles of former splendor--a faint echo of their former, grand, antebellum selves. And it appears that the stylized Gothic aesthetic, texture, and colors will carry over from wardrobe to theming.
It should be interesting to see how this brand new scare zone performs this year!
Fans asked, and Knott's listened! At least that's the official story. But Knott's will have four avenues of entertainment this year after going with only two the past several, due to the large amount of resources committed to Elvira's residency. But bound no longer, this year will bring more shows and more options for guests and returning guests! Here's a look at what's in store.
The Citizens of Calico face their toughest foes yet, the censors, in this live stage show that looks back at the year’s pop culture with some killer comedy. Notorious for its special effects and high-flying stunts, The Hanging is a no holds barred assault on pop culture’s most infamous moments of the past year. A must see parody!
Of course, no Scary Farm is complete with The Hanging, which returns again this year to lampoon pop culture and what's relevant (and irrelevant). This year's Hanging, subtitled Shhh... It Happens, appears to target media hype and overpartisan hyperbole. Last year's Hanging was one of the strongest in recent memory. Lets hope the show continues that upward trend!
A new non-stop dance party has taken over Fiesta Village with AWAKEN THE DEAD, where guests can jam to the most popular songs.
As mentioned earlier, Fiesta de los Muertos seems to have been retired in favor of a returning dance party in the Fiesta Village stage, next to the merry-go-round, arcade, and Jaguar. Last year, the DJ booth was moved to the Calico Stage, across from the Calico Mine Train, but the energy and participation didn't really succeed. This year, it's back in its old spot, and it seems that the park has relinquished the competition between the decidedly-not-scary dancing and the intentions of the scare zone.
Awaken the Dead will feature Fiesta go-go dancers and a live DJ. One imagines it may also be the place where the radio stations will set up their booths during the nights they cross promote with Scary Farm.
The Bird Cage Theatre will once again become the home of comedy and magic in CONJURE – Magic and Mirth in the Bird Cage Theatre. Join award-winning magicians and Fox’s Masters of Illusion regulars as they take the stage to amaze and amuse. Witness magicians Dana Daniels, Taylor Hughes, and Chipper Lowell front and center as they perform on select nights.
It's great to have Scary Farm entertainment in the intimate Bird Cage Theatre once again. This intimate setting is a great way to escape the bustle for a brief respite, and the magic an laughs should provide a nice break from the screams and terror.
In HACKS – Cutting Room Floor, the unique, twisted, improvised comedy antics of “Hacks” returns to Knott’s Scary Farm with a brand new show in the Charles M. Schulz Theatre. This time around, they have taken over a run-down movie theater and with the help of the audience and lots of “B” horror films, they create on the spot, a Halloween show that will have you screaming with laughter.
It's interesting how the role reversal has developed. Years ago, Hacks! was the cult favorite improv comedy show tucked away in the Bird Cage, and headlining the Charles Schulz Theatre was a magician--Ed Alonzo. But now it's the improv show's time to shine in the spotlight, while the magicians have been sent to the Bird Cage!
The return of Hacks! is a wonderful thing. This is one of my all-time favorite shows because of its repeatability and organic entertainment. It will be interesting to see how it fares on a much grander environment. Hopefully, it can retain the same energy. For Scary Farm season passholders, Hacks! will definitely be an attraction worthy of return visits!
Knott's Scary Farm features 9 mazes this year. Of those, 7 are returning from previous years. But that doesn't mean they're old news. Just about every returning maze will have some new element or feature to freshen things up a bit from the prior year. It's quite fantastic how Knott's has invested more and more quality into its mazes over the past several years, to the point where there no longer really is a "weak" maze like there used to be.
Journey through an abandoned carnival ride where cruel carnie folk still linger in the shadows in Dark Ride: Castle of Chaos. Now those shunned performers have created a dark world of terror which they plan to unleash on those who enter. Dark Ride will lead brave visitors through a treacherous path and into the bowels of a long-neglected attraction as sinister shadows and horrifying scenes cast the gloom over the once pleasant ride. It’s everyone’s worst nightmare, being helplessly trapped inside an abandoned carnival ride with no way out.
Last year's big hit is naturally back this year. This Jon Cooke special won't really notable changes, but it doesn't need any. The maze was brand new last year, and it had top notch and highly experienced talent to produce some great guest interactions. And that last room--one of the all-time classic Haunt moments.
The Haunting of Hayden Hill: Paranormal Inc. maze opens its doors to those brave enough to uncover an eerie and supernatural adventure. Guests investigate a haunted hospital where the patients were tortured for decades by deranged doctors and nurses. Demonic spirits of the murdered victims have been detected throughout the mysterious halls, while evil medical staff prowl for new patients to torture. This year, guests will encounter a newly redesigned finale scene that will have everyone screaming out the door in terror.
Year four of another Jon Cooke maze finally brings a bit of refresh in the aforementioned ending scene. Veterans of Scary Farm know how effective the original ending was--the giant demon monster lunging at guests from out of nowhere in a decidedly Horror Nights style scare that was nevertheless very effective, because that was the only instance of that type of ambush startle scare. How will this year's finale compare?
Survive the wrath of the murderous 7-foot tall creature that haunts the old woods surrounding The Hollow in the Pumpkin Eater maze. The notorious creature is on the prowl hidden within the dark confines of the haunted town he once terrorized. To escape the sinister Pumpkin Eater’s wrath, all that enter must go on a quest through the silent town of victims, face a cave of crawling insects and solve the labyrinth of thorns that blocks the way out.
Another second year maze, this Daniel Miller special will feature two new creatures that "have to be seen to be believed." Although it would have been perfectly fine to bring back this quality maze without any changes, Pumpkin Eater is getting minor tweaks anyway. I'm confident they'll be pretty thrilling!
A fulfilling life ensures a soul safe passage into eternity but what happens to the souls of soldiers slain in battle? The Shadow Lands maze invites valiant wanderers to fight off demon samurais whose souls are cursed to rot within the depths of purgatory. Guests will embark on a quest through a sacred shrine, an ancient Japanese temple and into the midst of the shadow lands.
This year's maze received a tweaked entrance last year, with two preshow rooms instead of one, plus a few mid-show tweaks with some of the puppets. There wasn't much teased about this maze, so it may be the same this year. But there's nothing wrong with that!
Enlist to fight the zombie apocalypse in an all-out war against the undead in the interactive experience, Special Ops: Infected. Armed with specially designed laser guns, brave groups of guests embark on a mission of navigating through the city in quest to find the infection cure. The highly sought-after attraction includes more bloodthirsty zombies than ever before, heart-stopping challenging missions along with many action-packed surprises hidden at every corner.
This year will feature a reconfigured ending with a new "zombie boss." I could have sworn that was advertised last year, but perhaps this is another reconfiguration. Infected also promises new surprises and different missions this year. This maze has been a hugely popular one the past several years--product of another Jon Cooke design--but guests should definitely hit it early, since the maze does have a lower capacity due to the nature of the experience and the pulsed grouping. Regardless, I can't wait to see how the experience goes this year. And of course: head shots only!
Take a trip to a blood-soaked barn filled with gore and fear that is home to a murderous farmer in the Red Barn maze. Legend has it the farmer who owns the barn transformed into a monstrous creature that sends his sadistic sons to procure food and new wives for him to ensure his legacy. None dare enter the barn, for those who wander in never escape.
There will be a brand new opening scene in this year's iteration, plus several new scenes within the maze. Its a classic-style "manic murderer" maze, full of blood and guts and gore. Last year's Red Barn did feature a lot of actors yelling at guests to rush through, increasing tension and the sensation of being chased. It might have been a little too much, because it sometimes felt more like being pushed through the maze before it could properly be enjoyed. But the new scenes this year will hopefully provide some new interest for this violently themed maze!
Also, murdery Daniel Miller is murdery-scary.
Scared of the dark? Returning darker and more twisted than ever, step inside the Green Witch’s home by venturing through the blacked out building in Trick or Treat: Lights Out while armed with only a faulty flashlight. Featuring state-of-the-art special effects, unexpected scares and other eerie surprises, Trick-Or-Treat is back to terrorize like never before.
Knott's teased something new in this maze. They just refused to say what...
The two new mazes this year will take the place of Voodoo and Tooth Fairy, in the backstage area of the park by Ghostrider. Both feature unique themes--one a very modern and ambitious take on the old horror in space motif, and the other an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired maritime tale that hasn't really been done much in professional haunts. With these mazes, Knott's is pushing the technical envelope with how advanced they can make these maze experiences.
Teleport beyond earth and into a realm where the darkness is absolute. In the depths of space, a lone station faces terror beyond all imagination. An extraterrestrial mutation has invaded the station, and it’s on the prowl for new hosts. The unearthly inhabitants’ force increases as it feeds on its unwilling victims. Escape the dark entities before its deathly force eliminates all living form aboard the station. There’s nowhere to escape when time is running out!
Designed by Gus Kreuger and Daniel Miller, this maze will rely on a good amount of lighting and video effects over practical sets to craft the chilling and insidious ambiance featured in the story. It is the most daring lighting endeavor to date, with over 1200 controllable light fixtures. For comparison, the previous record holder--last year's Dark Ride--only had about 180. Rather than rely on overhead theatrical lights, the illumination of the sets themselves will create the atmosphere for Dark Entities.
It's been a while since Knott's has done a haunted space theme, but this doesn't sound like the simple monster-alien of yesteryear's mazes like Alien Attack or Alien Annihilation. Knott's is pushing the envelope with a slicker production, varying looks at infected victims in progressing states of deterioration, and a complex body-wide costume and prosthetics for the extraterrestrial creature itself! It should be interesting to see how this plays out. It has a lot of promise, but it won't be easy to pull off the design intentions.
A heavy fog drapes over an abandoned port village where ancient creatures lurk inside the pitch-black underground caves hidden below the seaside shores. The Nightwatch Mining Crew has mysteriously disappeared and village rumors point to the eerie tunnels the town sits upon. Myths of the terrifying horrors that lurk within the cave have often been whispered but never confirmed. Did the crew meet their demise at the hand of vicious creatures that live within the cave? Journey into the dark caverns and follow the crew’s path into The Depths and discover if the superstition revolving around the cave is true or not. But be warned! All who have entered have never resurfaced.
Though he is focusing on Queen Mary's Dark Harbor this year, Jon Cooke still has his fingerprints on his original haunt home, Knott's Scary Farm. The Depths is his contribution to this year's Halloween Haunt. Mix a haunted mine with a monstrous sea creature and a cult that worships and procures sacrifices for it, and you've got quite a unique storyline. This maze will feature a lot of water effects--some visual and some practical--so those who have always disliked Universal's water gags should probably beware. Aside from that, The Depths also features some ambitious endeavors, such as trying to move an entire room as part of a scare--a technological feat that will be very impressive if it functions reliably!
At this point, all you have to know is that it's a Jon Cooke maze. The Pixar of Knott's Scary Farm, he merits excitement as long as he continues to produce so much quality.
In non-maze related news, Knott's also announced that the Timber Mountain Log Ride Halloween Hootenanny would be returning this year. The overlay will be present during the daytime as well, but nighttime at Scary Farm will feature an extra punch of intensity.
In addition, several roller coasters will be run in the dark this season. These include Sierra Sidewinder, Silver Bullet, and Ghostrider. They should be fun rides, and even if Six Flags Fright Fest did the idea years ago, it will still be fun to experience Knott's thrill rides in much dimmer conditions!
After the announcement event concluded, the park held a Q&A with various members of the design and production team. Questions were fielded on topics ranging from set design to wardrobe to story inspiration to talent management and maze fabrication.
Into the Fog Art Exhibit
A final exciting addition to Scary Farm this year is the Into the Fog Scary Farm Tribute. This exhibit features a variety of artwork and art pieces inspired by or created for Knott's Scary Farm. Drawing upon past and present monsters and attractions as inspiration, this gallery and store features curated art from artists of all backgrounds. Some are professional, others are amateur, and some even work for Knott's in other positions. Jeff Tucker has a piece on exhibit, and sharp eyes might even spot some pieces made by Scary Farm monster talent.
Best of all, guests will be able to purchase select art pieces as souvenirs. Several of the works are being printed en masse public consumption, and there are some brilliant items on sale.
That does it for this comprehensive Scary Farm update. Halloween season is nearly upon us, and soon, we'll be starting our coverage of the attractions we visit this year. In the meantime, happy Frightday, and enjoy a great holiday weekend.
See you in the fog...
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.