Halloween in So Cal began a bit earlier than perhaps other parts of the country this season—as “Knotts Berry Farm” in Buena Park California, began welcoming eager (and unwary) guests to their “Nightmare” of thrilling, chilling, fun, fright, and festivities, with their annual re-imagining and transformation of the landmark amusement park into “Knott’s Scary Farm”! Returning for its monumental 46th season, once again Knott’s–one of the oldest continuous running theme-parks in the country, brings terror to vibrant, if startling, life in one of the largest immersive Halloween experiences in Southern California (—and not only that: it’s also one of the very first annual events of its kind in the entire country!) In fact, the whole ‘season of scares’ officially began on Thursday, September 20th , 2018 to be exact, when every inch of their various themed ‘sections’ began “breaking out” with heaps of hidden horrors, prowling creatures, spine-chilling scares, and new, terrifying twists! Past or Present though, it’s always important to bear in mind that events of this nature always succeed best when giving us the opportunity to live out our most secret or heart-stopping fears (—no matter how unlikely they are–) and cast them in an exciting, fun and safer light. In this regard “Knott’s Scary Farm–the 2018 edition” excels on all counts!
Initially conceived in 1973 as a personal appearance by local Horror-show host, “Sinister Seymour” in the park’s then-recently opened “John Wayne Theater” (since renamed “The Charles M. Schultz Theater” in what is now known most of the year as “The Roaring Twenties-themed area,) since then, what’s become a long-standing seasonal So-Cal tradition has seen this local landmark dimming the lights and turning up the frights every weekend in October, thrillingly transmogrifying their ‘theme-park’ into a ‘scream park’—not to mention one of the biggest annual Halloween celebrations in the West—if not the world! Along the way, Knott’s “Halloween Haunt” essentially ‘grew up’ over the ensuing years, —and soon began being known far and wide as “Knott’s Scary Farm”, shifting the focus from younger children more to teenagers and young adults. This was also reflected in the featured “Guest Headliners” after “Seymour’s” death in 1975. The next to take over the “Star’ spot was the famed D.J. “Wolf Man Jack”, who was then followed by fellow radio giant, “Dr. Demento”. In the early 1980’s “The Mistress Of The Dark” herself, “Elvira” dazzled audiences— returning every season for over twenty years, before stepping down in 2017.
This year, instead of having a ‘name’ celebrity in the “Charles M. Schultz” theater, the powers that be have opted for a comedy improv show titled “Hacks: The Cutting Room Floor”, that incorporates plenty of campy, “B-Level” horror movies, while also relying on copious amounts of audience participation. Concept-wise, it could even be considered as a kind of salute to “The Haunt’s” earliest days and that bygone 1970’s era Horror Host who helped inspire and launch it all. Also, this year the iconic “Birdcage Theatre” gives the Grand Guignol and live Melodramas a rest to instead play host to a coterie of top-flight Stage-Magicians and Illusionists for a show that literally has to be seen to be believed (and maybe not even then!) Not too far from this, on the far side of the railroad tracks, is a stage solely dedicated to presenting “The Hanging” which has the citizens of “Calico” facing-off against their toughest foes yet: “The Censors”, in this live performance that looks back at the year in pop culture with some truly “Killer” comedy. (If you like ‘dead-on’ parodies, this surely rates as a ‘Must-see’! For those who favor their form of entertainment on the more the more ‘kinetic’ side, “Fiesta Village”—itself fully decked out in honor of “Dia De Los Muertos” (Mexico’s annual “Day Of The Dead”) gives visitors the chance to move and groove with “Awaken The Dead”: A “spirited” non-stop dance party where skull-faced DJ’s blast the dance-floor with the crypt-kicking clamor of some of today’s most popular songs—reminding us that “Life is for the living” (–as well!)
For maximum enjoyment—and minimum wait time, the additional purchase of a “Fast Fright Pass” is most emphatically worth the investment, allowing attendees to “ride and scream” all night long with unlimited priority access to all the mazes plus priority boarding on all “Fast Lane” rides (which are most of them!) Although separate from the admission price and with the cost varying by night, a special “Fright & Fast Lane Combo” package which includes admission, is also available exclusively on-line (and Knott’s Season Pass-holders can save an additional $5.00 on the purchase price.) After all there’s so much to see, do, and be thoroughly astonished (or unhinged) by. This time around attendees will come face-to-face with fear as they hazard through 14 haunted attractions–including mazes, all, divided into a collection of Phantasm-filled areas known as “Scare-Zones, with each one eager to welcome—often with gaping jaws–new and unsuspecting victims…er, ‘Guests’. Chief among them are “Ghost Town Streets” (including “Fog Alley”) in which the various lanes and byways are cast into near-darkness, broken only by a dense fog. Gathering here are the weirdest of the weird and most blood-curdling characters congregate to ‘cross your path’—often literally ‘throwing themselves at your feet’ to do it. This area also serves as the ‘gate way’ to several mazes that lie just beyond the “Ghost Rider” wooden-rollercoaster’s farthest, final exit. Directly across from this, lies “The Hollow” (as in “Sleepy Hollow”—a place to really lose your head over!) One of the new ‘zones’ for 2018, within this murky, desolate realm we’re warned, the fabled “Headless Horseman” and his army of the undead lie in wait–primed to unleash their malevolence on any heedless guest who dares enter.
All the while stacks of ghastly-grinning “Jack O’Lanterns” and “Scarecrows”-ethereal and cadaverous, gaze mutely on. Also returning to Knott’s “Boardwalk” area is “Carn-Evil”—transforming it to a place where “the freak show is the main-event and countless crazed and menacing clowns walk amongst you” (—each craving your ‘undying’ attention!) Not co-incidentally, this is also where some of the most thrilling roller-coasters are, including the recently unveiled “Hangtime’ (which itself is most definitely NOT for the faint of heart!) Just beyond it situated in and around the waters underneath the “Silver Bullet” rollercoaster, new this year too, is “Forsaken Lake”, arguably the most down-right creepiest of all the ‘scare-zones’. Evoking an overtly Victorian-era style of jolts and jitters (over and above the horde of sepulchral monstrosities it’s patently seething with,) this locale is otherworldly and more than just a bit disquieting even to walk through. Unleashing its band of gothic fiends, which have been ravaged by the dark and murky waters, they wander through their flooded-out crypts and half-submerged tombstones–looking for victims to drag back into their disturbed–and very watery graves. Twice nightly (at 8:45 pm and 11:45 pm) an eerie ‘funeral procession’ takes place featuring a group of black crepe and faded lace attired ‘mourners’ looking like a road-company version of “Sweeney Todd”. Solemnly–even reverentially they carry a rough-hewn casket to the base of an equally foreboding marble crypt, as all the while a dirge-like rendition of ‘The Hearse Song” (better known on these shores as “The Worms Crawl In, The Worm’s Crawl Out”,) is played in the background.
Once they arrive, the crypt doors burst open revealing a genuinely macabre twist that’s guaranteed to set the hairs on the back of your neck firmly at attention. Sorry folks, this one is far too priceless to give away here—you just have to be there and absorb it all for yourself (—just don’t say you weren’t warned!) This too, is a throw-back to all the engrossing bits of ‘street theatre” of which “The Hanging” is successor to, dating back to the event’s formative days in the 1970’s, then being called “The Midnight Hanging Of The Witches”, and ‘executed’ at a gallows specifically constructed in the midst of “Calico Square”. Since then, “The Hanging” has grown into a more formally-staged comedic affair—not centering on “witches”, “sorcerers” or any one of a “supernatural” bent and instead, setting their sights on assorted Pop Culture icons who may be good and ready for a figurative skewing.
Of course, as anyone who’s ever attended will tell you, it’s the mazes that authentically shock and a-maze, making this event positively one-of-a-kind. Little wonder too, that–as with many seasonal innovations of this nature, “Knott’s” was also pioneered new ground by creating these little microcosms of mayhem, and this year is certainly no exception–numbering nine in all (two being debuted for 2018.) Situated in what the rest of the year is “The Cloud Nine Ballroom”, in this instance is now an old forgotten fun house or long abandoned attraction, aptly named “Dark Ride”. From the looks of things though, any actually mobile “ride” element however, has long been removed (although the supposed track of an erstwhile “ride” is what entrants into this forlorn and supremely sinister attraction use to ‘lead’ them through it until the end (–just hopefully not theirs!) Moreover, perched in the shadow of the oppressively looming “Ghost Rider” is “Trick Or Treat: Lights Out”. This too, is one of the Best mazes in this or any year, and the expositional narrative behind it could very well make for an engrossing Horror Movie in its own right!
Set in your standard old dark house (supposedly owned by your standard and commensurately aged and withered “Witch”,) those who pay a call on her are –what else? “Trick Or Treaters” visiting her abode in hopes of getting a sweet tidbit to add to their treat bags. What you get instead is a faulty flashlight with which to explore the goings-on beyond the front door-step. (Allow a little extra time for this one as individual parties are admitted separately, determined by how many people are in them.) Standing on the porch, they are then instructed to (again—what else?!) “Ring the doorbell” for admission. Other than your flashlight, the only other illumination to speak of anywhere here is a staircase in the entry-hall you first walk into (as the door closes ominously behind you) that’s loaded with an eye-popping plethora of carved pumpkins (–an all-out patch worth!) Once you exit that room though, you’re on your own! As with any outstanding ‘maze’ it’s the little attention to detail that, while you may not readily notice them originally, upon recalling the experience utterly stick out and ‘inflame your brain”. Take for example how the hallway walls in this ‘suburban’ house are ornamented with the plastic, dime-store masks (of previous young victims?!) “Special Ops: Infected” also requires a little bit of preparation, which might slow down the line, but this is due to it being wholly interactive, so without a doubt it is worth any mild inconvenience. Recalling many elements similar to shows like “Walking Dead”, “World War Z” and “28 Days Later”, you are cast as a special agent called upon to enter a quarantined town that has massively succumbed to a “Zombie” pandemic. Armed with a laser ‘rifle’, your goal is to blast (via light-rays) as many of the brain-hungry living-dead, before they eat yours. A most definite pulse-raiser, “Special Ops” is sure to be one of the most thrilling many (“Yours Truly” included) have experienced (or been subjected to, depending how you look at it,) in a long time. Upon exiting, your “score” is even flashed-up on the wall, enabling you to discern how successful a Zombie Killer you virtually are. (Your humble writer’s ranking? “Trigger Happy Moron” thank you! I even–albeit completely by accident—took a ‘heat-of-the-moment’ pot-shot at my Squad’s C.O.!)
The one time that you might want to forgo the “Fast Pass” and resolutely stay in line, involves “The Red Barn”–because much of the suspenseful ‘build-up’ occurs while in that line. Ironically (or maybe that should be “Portentously”) the queue begins at Ghost Town’s “Boot Hill Diggins” (a.k.a. the town grave yard,) leading you on a winding path of doom to the “Barn” in question, where outside a hideously ‘scarred’ “Preacher” beckons you to “The Church Of The Chainsaw”: “Brothers and Sisters come one, come all—short or tall, we want you all!” He proclaims; “Just be sure you bring an open heart and mind” (–if not, they’ll sure ‘open them’ for you—and while you’re still conscious enough to feel it!) Still another engrossing “back story” (one of the key requirements for a categorically successful Maze concept,) has been given to “Shadow Lands”. Arguably the most exotic of this year’s offerings, “Shadow Lands” invites valiant wanderers to fight off demon Samurai’s whose souls are cursed to rot within the depths of Purgatory. Embarking on a quest whose ingress is a sacred shrine in an ancient Japanese temple, guests then find themselves in the midst of those self-same “Shadow Lands”, where tortured, sword-wielding ghouls lurk in their attempt to lure you away from the only route out. In the same vein, “Pumpkin Eater” takes a markedly darker look at the old “Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater” nursery rhyme.
When regarded from a distance, through the lens of childhood, it all seems innocent enough; but what if one looks at it from the perspective of “Peter’s” unfortunate wife? You know, the one he had and couldn’t ‘keep her’ so he put (READ: Imprisoned) her in a giant pumpkin shell—and that’s merely one facet of this totally mind-blowing escapade! It also ingeniously ‘connects’ this labyrinth’s subject matter to the greater “Hollows” realm wherein it’s situated, by way of the shared harvest-time gourd central to both the rhyme and Washington Irving’s more “Legendary” tale.
Just as unforgettable is “Paranormal Inc.”—a spot-on take off of such “Ghost Hunting” shows like–well, “Ghost Hunters” or “Ghost Adventures”. This one places you as member of a live TV broadcast for which you’ve been called upon to assist the stars and crew of the popular weekly series “Paranormal Inc.” Boasting aspects that call to mind Rob Zombie’s preliminary ‘maze’ concept for what would eventually become his infamous big-screen (or better put “Big Scream”,) hit “House Of 1000 Corpses”, and with facets of time-displacement that are also reminiscent of “The Shining”, instead of a an old house or cursed hotel, everything here unfolds in an abandoned psychiatric hospital called “Hayden Hills Sanitarium”. , the action commences immediately Being welcomed by one of the show’s ‘hosts”, you’re advised of what’s happening and, like any ‘run-of-the-mill’ “investigation” they’ve performed, what you might expect. They’re scarcely done though, when a petrified co-host stationed further into the sanitarium appears on a TV monitor alerting us that this time, the goings-on are for REAL (and it’s too late to turn back!) That’s when you catch the wraithlike projection of a female ‘spectre” who warns you, “You’re ALL going to die”! In an instant she’s there ‘in the flesh’ soaring over your head and across the main hall (–and that’s just for starters!) There’s even a seriously unsettling shift in time toward the end of this one that leads you onto a direct encounter with the hospital’s demented Head-Nurse in her native decade (the 1940’s) back when she was enacting her unspeakable forms of ‘treatment’! Likewise, easily one of the very best mazes in the history of “The Haunt”, expect loads of projections and electrical ‘effects’ in play here too!
New for this year are “Dark Entities” and “The Depths”. Indeed, “The Depths” might even take you a bit by surprise and feeling somewhat confused at the outset; in any case, better brace yourself for an experience absolutely like no other you’ve ever had because this one alone could be considered worth the price of admission! Despite the presence at the attraction’s entrance of an ersatz “Old Salt” (with glowing red eyes) whose pre-recorded words betoken impending disaster, once you do cross the threshold, the general feeling is that you’ve ventured into an old mine (…with all the standard warnings about being careful of cave-ins or deadly carbon gases.) About half way through though, as you sojourn deeper and deeper into these titular “Depths”, things suddenly change into a decidedly more aquatic atmosphere—including more than a few abrupt encounters with wandering mutants possessing “shark” heads or “tentacled” faces (and that’s not even counting the giant menacing shark snapping at you to boot!)
Laser effects staggeringly simulate waist-high ‘water’ as slimy little denizen’s pop-up (and out) to welcome you to their soggy, submerged habitat. If that weren’t enough, as you attempt to take refuge aboard a sunken “Pirate Galleon” you find to your peril that it’s continuing to sink–while you’re on it. Meanwhile, with its entrance merely a stone’s throw away from both “The Depths” and “Trick Or Treat: Lights Out”, “Dark Entities” also transports travelers to a strange and surreal world—this one set on an imperiled space station where a mysterious alien virus has broken out, wreaking havoc upon the crew. Add to it that once you arrive, you, yourself are diagnosed to be kind of ‘Patient Zero’—in effect, ‘carrying’ this dreaded bio-hazard into the station (and those manning it.) the farther you venture in.
Not to be overlooked either are the rides–many even more pulse-pounding this time of year than any other. “The Timber Mountain Log Ride” has been transformed in the brightest, most festive way possible for a “Halloween Hootenanny” (Featuring the bluegrass anthems of “The Calico Coffin-Creepers” band!) Keep your eyes peeled and you may even glimpse a crashed UFO up there on the Mountain too! At the same time, the “Calico Mine Ride”—itself recently upgraded and improved after 50 years, on this particular occasion has remained curiously untouched (meaning not decorated up for the holiday.) Nonetheless, for many as yet unfamiliar with the new, fantastic look and feel (to say nothing of the incredible state-of-the-art “audio animatronic” figures now populating it,) just seeing all these improvements still made it worth visiting. This said though, here’s a note to those at “Cedar Fair”, the Corporate entity that now owns “Knott’s Berry Farm”: Being that “The Calico Mine Ride” is one of the few ‘inside’ attractions the park contains, makes it by default ‘Blue-Chip real-estate’ at an event like this and too good an opportunity to pass by; so PLEASE next year fire up those imaginations—we’d all love to see this one re-included in all the festivities!
“The Nightmare Never Ends” (at least until “All Hallows Eve’n” 😉 until then, the night-time is the ‘fright time’ so stop on by for ‘a spell’ (on top of all the tricks, treats, and trepidation, the old’ park can dish out!) “Stirring” every Thursday through Sunday evening (–and of course, on Wednesday, October 31st, 2018, with an additional Wednesday evening on October 24th–) all the fun and fright kicks-off at 7:00 pm through 1:00 am on select Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, and 7:00 pm to 2:00 am Fridays and Saturdays. (Due to the explicit and intense nature of the event, this is not recommended for children under 13.) For more information on “Knott’s Scary Farm”–including admission, park hours, and other upcoming events, visit http://www.knottsscaryfarm.com –or download the official “Knott’s Berry Farm” app for your tablet or smart phone. Better yet, join the “scary” conversation by using the hashtag #ScaryFarm on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, and while you’re at it, may your favorite plastic-pumpkin candy-bucket be filled with “Season’s Screaming’s”–and a “Happy New Fear” to all!
Photos by: Jeffrey Huggins and Knott’s Berry Farm Media Relations; Special Thanks To Knott’s Berry Farm Media Relations Department And To The Cast And Crew Of the 2018 Edition Of “Knott’s Scary Farm” For Making This Story Possible