By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
As you step into the night fog, there's no turning back. You don't know what lurks ahead. Out of the mist, shadowy beings emerge, their grunts amplifying as they stomp your way. You look around—there's nowhere to run. Your body clenches as they hobble past you, and when they're finally out of sight, you exhale. You're safe. Just then, there's a cold hissssss in your ear. You turn around slowly. Staring at you is a hunchbacked old woman, her fangs dripping with blood.
"Boo," she says.
8039 Beach Blvd.
Buena Park, CA 90620
Category: Attractions and Amusement Parks
Region: Buena Park
Kids, if you're looking for Camp Snoopy, you're a few hours too late. This is the Knott's Scary Farm Halloween Haunt, a dark, twisted place where the world's most gruesome creatures roam. A place where horror junkies from all over the county line up in droves for one glorious thing: to be scared shitless.
Now celebrating its 40th anniversary, Knott's Berry Farm's 24-night event remains the granddaddy of all Halloween parties, filled with mazes, live shows, age-old rituals and more than 1,000 monsters creeping through the Buena Park theme park. (It's reported that during the month of October, the Haunt generates more than half the revenue for the park's fiscal year.)
In these pages, we hear from those who made the Haunt the beast that it is, from the early pioneers to stars such as Elvira to the monster trainers, maze designers and die-hard fans of today.
Enter, if you dare.
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THE HALLOWEEN HAUNT SPELL BOOK (OR, HOW TO CREATE THE WORLD'S LARGEST HALLOWEEN PARTY)
START WITH A TV SHOW
"The master of the macabre, the epitome of evil, the most sinister man to crawl across the face of the Earth, SEEEEEEEYmooooourrrr!" the television announcer howled in his introduction.
In the 1970s, Southern Californians tuned into Fright Night, a late-night horror show that presented low-budget, B-rated slasher films with titles such as The Town That Dreaded Sundown and Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby. The host was Larry Vincent, a.k.a "Sinister Seymour." Clad in a tuxedo, cape and wide-brimmed black hat, he would pop in throughout the movies, making sarcastic quips.
To promote the show, Vincent and the crew took it on the road. They hosted live events at local movie theaters, where fans would line up to watch him in action. In 1972, producers decided to put on a Halloween movie fest at Magic Mountain in Valencia. Vincent did his usual spiel while kids got to play special games throughout the park. The following year, they wanted to do it again in a more controlled environment.
They had heard Knott's Berry Farm had recently opened the indoor, 2,100-seat John Wayne Theater (now called the Charles M. Schulz Theater). "It was absolutely perfect timing," says Ted Dougherty, who, since 2000, has been chronicling the history of the Haunt on his fan site UltimateHaunt.com. "Seymour was looking for an improved venue, and Knott's Berry Farm was looking for an event to increase revenue during the off-season, and the two just came together."
Vincent's manager, Gary Blair, pitched the idea to Bill Hollingshead, Knott's then-director of entertainment. Hollingshead and his team loved it and wanted to give the entire park a spooky theme. A presentation was made to the Knott family, though their approval didn't come instantly. (Hollingshead once told UltimateHaunt.com that one of the Knott grandsons, Daryl Anderson, believed a Halloween event "implies the devil, Satan, hell and evil spirits.") But they eventually got the go-ahead, and the Halloween Haunt was born.
For that first event, the Knott's staff decorated the streets of Ghost Town with cobwebs and smoke, had a maze built inside the Haunted Shack, found monster costumes for the 10 or so street characters who worked at the park, and played some eerie music. The Haunt ran for three nights in October 1973. Tickets were $4 in advance, $4.75 at the door.
"It wasn't nearly as developed as it is today, but what we did develop worked," said Gary Salisbury, a production assistant at the time. "I'd never seen so many people line up at the park in my entire life."
Mike Hansen, who's now known at the Haunt as "Uncle Mike," begged his mom to take him to that first event after seeing an ad in the newspaper. He was 10. He remembers riding the Timber Mountain Log Ride and Calico Mine Train and noticing cardboard witches and skeletons taped to the wall. Monsters would jump out at guests and spray them with Silly String. "It was very low-tech, but it was so new," says Hansen, an algebra teacher in Mission Viejo who has attended just about every Haunt since then and now even works there as a monster called the Toymaker. "It was an experience that I just totally fell in love with. Today, whenever I go back, I think, 'This is what I want it to be like forever.' My blood pressure goes down, and I feel at home."
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ADD IN A CAST OF CHARACTERS
Some voices from the Halloween Haunt's past . . .
John Waite, who was in charge of decorating the log and mine rides, on getting ready for the very first event: "We only had six weeks to get everything done. I would go to Hollywood to rent spooky props, but all the good props were already reserved, so I just had to take what I could find. The only item that was available was an 8-foot-tall gorilla, so we used that, and then I got some old suit jackets at Salvation Army and filled them with newspaper to make them look like hunchbacks and deformed people.