‘Tis the season for screamin’ and for nearly four decades, World famous Knott’s Berry Farm in Southern California has welcomed these days of lengthening nights with a grand, ghoulish tradition. That’s when the entire place is transformed into one humongous Halloween party on select evenings from September 23 through October 31. Knott’s was the very first to transform their theme-park this time of year and in the process, they almost single-handedly cultivated a new and thriving market in the Amusement Industry. Starting back in 1973, this landmark located in Buena Park, California has become the preeminent force of Halloween-oriented entertainment anywhere. In fact, it’s the largest, best attended affair of its kind in the world–repeatedly rattling the deepest imaginations of thousands of patrons.
Presiding over that inaugural year was ‘Master Of The Macabre‘, “Sinister Seymour”–a TV horror-show host at the time who screened (or should that be ‘screeched’) classic monster movie clips in the park’s then-recently opened “John Wayne Theater” (now “The Charles Schulz Theatre”.) What started out as a simple way to promote a local celebrity’s personal appearance in hopes of boosting the usually tepid post-summer period, has gone on to become one of the greatest annual phenomena around–“The Halloween Haunt“. Every year since then, countless visitors have experienced diabolical delight from all the thrills, chills, screams and bad dreams inspired by their spooky labyrinths and transformed attractions that conjure up specters of insanity, oblivion, mayhem–and loads of fun!
2011’s edition features four ‘scare-zones’–including the aptly named “Ghost Town” that, for these nights, is kept shadowy and drenched in “fog“ out of which–and at any given moment–horrific beings can emerge ready to pounce! For that matter, there’s literally hundreds of masked fiends, goblins, monsters and mutants roaming everywhere–loose, lurking and coming to ’get’ you! Other returning favorites include Necropolis–a post apocalyptic world where flesh, blood and machine combine in an eerie fusion that’s something akin to “Metropolis” meets “Mad Max”–with a little “Night Of The Living Dead” thrown in. Just a simple stroll through the murky byways evidences a new-wave industrial wasteland where the key to survival is understanding: “Blood is power“ (just be sure it’s NOT yours!) Meanwhile, Carn-Evil is a macabre mix of mirth and madness where a menacing menagerie of psychotic circus performers lie in wait, eager to help you laugh yourself–to death. Joining them is the new Gypsy Camp. Situated in the looming shadow of the Ghost Rider rollercoaster, it pays a homespun homage to the former amusement area that existed until the present “Roaring 20s” section replaced it in 1976. Here you can enjoy Gypsy dancers, some sleight-of-hand, or have your fortune told by folks ready to unveil what fate has in store by ‘divining the cards”!
As part of the overall metamorphosis, established rides and attractions are transmogrified to resemble desperate, deranged nightmares. This year, the exciting “Timber Mountain Log Ride” has been changed into a furious excursion through Washington Irving‘s legendary “Sleepy Hollow”, setting riders on a search for (or maybe a perilous run from) the demonic headless horseman. As clever as it is creepy, in addition to the ’spirited’ goings-on that possess this now-haunted hill-top, keen eyes will notice the appearance of several unsettling elvish characters. In what turns out is a sly nod to the Author’s other classic, ”Rip Van Winkle”. They are the little men of the mountain who he cautions, like that ol’ decapitated equestrian himself, we never want to meet. It’s exactly such attention to the subtlest touches that demonstrate the genius of Knott’s ride planners–and ‘requiescat’ assured, such details abound.
While the rides are always cool, it’s those innovative life-size dioramas depicting our darkest demented dreads that have enabled “The Haunt’ to reach the truly iconic status it has. We’re talking of course, about the weird and wild walk-through mazes! This year, they number 13 in all, featuring shiver-inducing themes ranging from a midnight jaunt through Victorian England following the notorious Jack The Ripper in “The Terror Of London”, to a returning favourite that’s been hailed as the perfect depiction of a child’s nightmare–“The Doll Factory“.
If the latter showcases phobia from a kid’s eye-view, new for 2011 is “Delirium”, which dishes out full-on manic terror in adult-size portions! Indeed (–fright fans take note–) this is worth the price of admission alone! It has to be one of –if not THE–most brilliant in the events’ entire history. Right from your disturbing entry through a facade comprised of giant unblinking eyeballs, an entirely new standard for scary exhibits is set (Think “House Of 1000 Corpses“ were it directed by Alfred Hitchcock.) Filled with confusion and heart-stopping half-mutated insect people and giant maggot men, this is the type of waking delirium only glimpsed in a fever-spawned hallucination; if anything, it should be in 3D! Then again, such ‘visions’ (foreboding as they may be) make this Haunt the most memorable yet.
Another new outing, ominously titled “Virus Z”, welcomes hapless travelers to the small town of Pleasanton–Population: Zero (living and sane that is!) It seems some highly infectious pathogen (–make that ‘psycho-pathogen’) has turned the entire town into cannibalistic zombies and you’re on the menu! Here too is where the creators really show their absolute virtuosity in producing imagery guaranteed to disturb our sleep for months to come–often with extremely understated touches. The journey takes us through various points in town that otherwise would seem quite ordinary–a diner, a high school gymnasium and an elementary school classroom. It is in this latter spot that we see a blackboard where a misbehaving student has had to write “Orion will not bite the teacher” over and over again; yet, both the sentence itself and the way it progressively devolves into incoherent and frenzied scribbling gives an awesome suggestion as to how bone chilling the back-story truly is.
As in the past, guests wishing to dine with the costumed creatures while taking advantage of some of Knott‘s renowned cuisine can take advantage of the “Pre-scare Dinner Special” which allows them to ’get in to the spirit” early by enjoying an incredible all you can eat “Boo-fet” feast followed by early entrance into the festivities before they open to the general public. Advance Dinner reservation price is $24.00 (which is over and above admission ticket price.) ‘Walk-up’ seating is also available for $28.00.
Admission for this special ticketed event may be purchased either in person at any of Knott‘s ticket windows, or on-line by logging onto: www.knotts.com; They can also be obtained by calling Knott’s “Haunt” line at: (714) 220-5200 ; Prices range from $34-$51.00 presale, $57.00 if bought at the gate the day of the event, and one ticket is good for all rides, mazes and attractions. The entire “trepidation celebration’ commences at 7:00 PM until 1:00 AM (2:00 AM Fridays and Saturdays,) and runs Wednesdays to Sundays throughout October (Thursday through Sunday only for the weeks 9/29-10/2 and 10/5-10/9) until Halloween Night (October 31) 2011. For more information check out: http://haunt.knotts.com .
Special Thanks To The Staff, Crew & Performers At This Year’s Edition Of Knott’s Annual “Halloween Haunt” For Assistance With The Photos And For Making This Story Possible.