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Knott’s Berry Farm is the ultimate old haunt
California park celebrates 50th anniversary of its Halloween event
Virtually every theme park gets into the spirit of the season and scares the bejesus out of willing participants at Halloween events these days. All of them, however, owe a debt of gratitude to Knott’s Berry Farm for inventing the genre in 1973. Before that, most regional parks would call it a season on or soon after Labor Day. But, once they saw the turnstile clicks at the Southern California park and recognized folks’ curious desire to be terrified, many eventually extended the shoulder season and began offering their own fall events.
So, let’s rev up the chainsaws and tip our blood-splattered hats to Knott’s Scary Farm, the original theme park Halloween haunt, as it marks its golden anniversary.
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Since Knott’s is known for its Ghost Town (although the name refers to a deserted Old West village, rather than a place overrun by apparitions), perhaps it should come as no surprise that the park is a haunt pioneer. Its very first ode to the scary season was a modest three-day event held the weekend prior to Halloween. It offered a single maze, a show with “monster movies,” some roving characters, and trick-or-treating. The cost? A mere $4. (Damn you, inflation.)
The, um, bones of the the event were there from the start, but the concept evolved and grew through the years–eventually adopting the clever name, Knott’s Scary Farm–to become the template for parks everywhere. This anniversary year it is running 29 select evenings through October 31 and includes ten mazes, five scare zones, and four shows.
The mazes do not feature any brand-name IPs like the Universal parks (which didn’t get into Halloween horroring until 1986), but they do boast great production value and inspired, original storylines. Also, unlike the bigger, better-funded Universal parks, Knott’s repeats many of its experiences year to year. Of the ten walk-through mazes, three of them are new for 2023.
One of this year’s new offerings is The Chilling Chambers, which pays homage, in ten scenes, to themes and characters from many of Knott’s popular, bygone mazes, including its very first one. The retro Room 13 sends guests to an opulent 1920’s-era hotel where a cocktail in its bar seems to be causing mayhem. The drink’s unfortunate name, The Devil’s Elixir, may have something to do with its curse. In Cinema Slasher, audiences coming to see a retrospective of horror films get more than they bargained for.
Among the scare zones is The Gore-ing 20s, which takes some of the patrons and the havoc from the The Blind Tiger lounge depicted in the Room 13 maze out into the park’s streets. The shows include the rocking Music, Monsters & Mayhem, which celebrates 50 Scary Farm years with a series of songs.
The most intriguing show, however, is The Hanging: Uncanceled. For many years, Knott’s skewered pop culture, politics, and the events of the day with a grand-scale, highly anticipated production that was both funny and pointedly tasteless. It would often take special glee in poking fun at its cross-town rival, Disneyland. The Hanging inspired Universal to develop a similar show, Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure, which starred the clueless slacker dudes from the whacked-out film franchise. Both Universal and Knott’s retired the shows, but the latter resurrected The Hanging for its special haunt anniversary. It is reportedly as lewd and offensive as ever–and still takes delight in ragging on Disney.
One of Knott’s classic attractions, the Timber Mountain Log Ride, gets an overlay in the fall and is known as Halloween Hootenanny. On select days, the park presents Knott’s Spooky Farm, a toned-down event for kids. Held before dusk’s witching hour, it features trick-or-treating stations, shows, cookie decorating and other family-friendly activities.
Have you been to Knott’s Scary Farm? Were you aware that Knott’s is the granddaddy of theme park Halloween events?