Every year, guests line up in frightened anticipation for the Haunt mazes, chambers in which twisted storylines, elaborate sets, spine-tingling sound effects and creepy monsters collide. Ted Dougherty, creator of fan site UltimateHaunt.com and author of Knott's Halloween Haunt: A Picture History, has been chronicling these caverns of doom since the early days. Here are his most memorable five:
"REVENGE OF THE DEAD," 1988-1992
Like a time machine from hell, this maze swarmed with evil, bloody zombies from different eras in time. Nazi zombies emerged from a World War II battle scene, pirate zombies swashbuckled on a battered ship, and Mafia gangster zombies invaded a burning 1920s city. "The size and scope were unlike anything anyone had ever seen," Dougherty says. "It was filled with sound effects of loud explosions, machine guns and creepy, creaky noises in the pirate ship. The theme was awesome. It would go over well today with the whole Walking Dead thing."
Halloween Haunt at Knott's Berry Farm, 8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 220-5200; www.knotts.com/haunt2012. Every Thurs. Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.-2 a.m.; Oct. 30-31, 7 p.m.-1 a.m. Through Oct. 31. $36-$48.
READ MICHELLE WOO'S LOOK BACK AT 40 YEARS OF THE HAUNT!
"LAIR OF THE VAMPYRE," 1992-1994
Part maze, part live show, "Lair of the Vampyre" was originally conceived as a promotion for Bram Stoker's Dracula, the 1992 Francis Ford Coppola film, but a partnership with Sony Pictures fell through, and the maze ended up evolving into an original Knott's production. Groups of patrons began the journey in a castle. "There'd be a plant in the audience," Dougherty says. "They would take one of the guests in the group and drag her to the king vampire, where she was killed. That was really exciting." Fun fact: During opening weekend, a scene depicting a queen vampire attacking an infant was deemed too disturbing, so directors had to tone it down.
"DOMINION OF THE DEAD," 1995-1999
Feeding off the popularity of "Lair of the Vampyre," Haunt designers created another vampire maze, but this time, they took a whole different approach. "Before, it seemed like a lot of the mazes were geared toward guys because of the gore, but 'Dominion of the Dead' was really beautiful, and the art was really amazing," Dougherty says. "It was all black and white, and it had this romantic, Gothic feel. People would go though it obsessively—over and over and over. They wanted to live in that world." The maze was described as "a dominion of shadows where all forces of the dead dwell" and became one of the most popular of all time.
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"TIMOTHY L. EERIE'S TIME MACHINE," 1990
Set in the 1960s, this maze blasted guests back to a time of peace signs, flower power and protests. In one room, undead war victims roamed through a re-creation of a Vietnam-era bombing, while in another, hippie corpses ran freely as Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" piped in overhead. "It was a perfect example of the black humor the Haunt often used," Dougherty says.
"CARNIVAL OF CARNIVOROUS CLOWNS IN 3D," 2000-2005
The dizzying funhouse-gone-bad was the first maze to incorporate 3D "chromadepth" technology. "That was a huge thrill," Dougherty says. "[Maze designer] Daniel Miller's designs are very twisted. He took the idea of evil demonic clowns and made it even weirder." Guests were bombarded by jacks-in-the-box, doll heads and maniacal clowns honking horns in their faces. If that wasn't bizarre enough, a new incarnation of the maze was born in 2005: "The Carnival of Carnivorous Clowns From Outer Space."