Knott's Halloween Haunt: The All-Time Champ
Hollywood Gothique Says:
SoCal’s longest-running seasonal attraction, the Knott’s Berry Farm Halloween Haunt is essential viewing for dedicated haunt-seeker, thanks to its breadth of imagination and variety of scares.
Knott's Halloween Haunt - Theme Park Attraction
Knott's Berry Farm
8039 Beach Boulevard
Buena Park 90620
Hours: 7pm to 1am on weekdays and Sundays; 7pm to 2am on Fridays and Saturdays
Tickets: Advance prices start at $42 for General Admission and $120 for Fright Lane (front of the line) privileges. A Scary Farm All-Nights Pass goes for $95. All-Inclusive tix (including fast pass, parking, and Boo-fet dinner with early entry) are as low as $149.99.
2018 Mazes: The Depths (new), Dark Entities (new), Trick or Treat: Lights Out, Paranormal Inc, Shadowlands, Dark Ride, Pumpkin Eater, Special Ops: Infected, Blood Barn.
2018 Scare Zones: Forsaken Lake (new), The Hollow, Carnevil, Ghost Town Streets.
2018 Shows & Attractions: Hacks: Cutting Room Floor, The Conjuring, Awaken the Dead (new) a "high-energy party" in the Fiesta Village with DJ music and skull-headed go-go dancers; Time Zombies Virtual Reality Shootout (new).
Check out our Knotts Scary Farm Archive.
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Knott's Halloween Haunt Overview
Dating back to 1973, the Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt is the longest running and largest Halloween event in the South Land, with more mazes, scare zones, and shows than any of the other Los Angeles Halloween Theme Parks. All the usual rides and attractions are open for business, but Knott's Berry Farm redecorates itself for the season in grand ghoulish style: 160 acres with numerous mazes, rides, shows, and scare zones. The Halloween overlay extends throughout most of the theme park, and the scares start as soon as visitors pass through the entrance gate, thanks to 1,000 free-roaming ghouls lurking in the fog.
Depending on how the days of the week line up on the calendar, the event usually runs from the last week of September through Halloween Night and possibly one or two nights more, on weekends and some weeknights.
The Knott's Scary Farm is popular, typically selling out on peak nights. Audiences tend to skew young, but there are also older, long-time fans who attend every year. Consequently, there is a considerable variety of entertainment designed to appeal both to general audiences looking for visceral thrills and also to aficionados seeking more subtle scares.
The event is enjoyable scary. Some of the gorier mazes may be too much for sensitive guests, but many of the attractions emphasize atmosphere, fantasy, and even humor. Nevertheless, Knott's Scary Farm is not recommended for children under 13.
Knott's Halloween Haunt Mazes
The Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt has long been known for the quantity and length of its mazes, which provide greater variety of scare experiences than any of its competitors. Throughout most of its first forty years, the theme park would feature as many as thirteen mazes and rides, many of which were quite extensive. Since about 2010, the length of the mazes has tended to be shorter, concentrating the scares into a smaller space while avoiding the empty corridors sometimes used to extend the mazes.
The Halloween Haunt's mazes tend to fall into loose classifications that provide different styles of horror. Typically, there will be one or true gruesome themes, based around a slaughterhouse or a mad killer. Often there are atmospheric mazes depicting variations of a haunted house. There might be something of a dark fantasy nature, more ethereal than shocking, and often there will be erotically charged themes, usually involving seductive vampires. For a change of pace, there is usually at least one colorful 3D maze, which might be surreal, comical, or both.
Since 2015, there has been a noticeable trend toward whittling the number of mazes down and omitting the Halloween-themed rides altogether, shifting the emphasis from quantity to quality, with a focus creating unique themes with customized props and settings, in order to avoid the sort of repetition that sometimes cropped up in the older mazes, which sometimes recycled similar gags and effects. The result has been a clear improvement in quality.
Knott's Halloween Haunt Scare Zones
The Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt pioneered the concept of scare zones: outdoor areas of the theme park where ghouls roamed freely, scaring visitors even before they entered one of the mazes. In fact, the event began its life as a scare zone: based on the real-life Calico Ghost Town in San Bernadino, California, Knott's Berry Farm transformed its Ghost Town area into a literal ghost town, haunted by dead gunslingers harassing passersby. This particular scare zone has remained a perennial since then, though the exact nature of the spirits varies from year to year.
Several other scare zones have come and gone over the decades. There is always one immediately inside the main entrance, to inflict scares as soon as victims enter the theme park. Except for the Ghost Town, the most long-lived theme has been CarnEVIL, which places crazed clowns in Knott's Berry Farm's Boardwalk - a brightly lit section, filled with games and rides, where other forms of horror would not be suitable.
As with the mazes, there has been a trend over the years toward making the scare zones more elaborate, sometimes theming them with decor and characters to match a maze in the vicinity. Knott's Scary Farm has also enhanced the scare zones by having the characters enact coordinated events which take place only at specific times, adding an extra surprise that guests may experience if they happen to be in the area at the right moment.
Knott's Halloween Haunt Rides
Knott's Berry Farm's year-round rides and roller-coasters are open during the Halloween Haunt, including over the years such favorites as Boomerang, Ghost Rider, Jaguar, Montezooma's Revenge, Silver Bullet, and Xcelerator.
For many decades, the Calico Mine Ride and the Log Ride were transformed for the Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt. The Mine Ride, in particular, with its vast underground caverns, provided an excellent space for some spectacular effects, including giant mechanical monsters and digital mapping to create disembodied spooks. With the move toward focusing on fewer attractions each Halloween, these efforts have often been curtailed since 2015.
Knott's Halloween Haunt Shows
The Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt offers several shows. Most of them are set inside theatres, giving visitors a chance to rest their legs between bouts of standing in line. However, the most famous, The Hanging takes place outdoors at the gallows near the old Ghost Town. The Hanging is typically comical spoof of recent events, skewering celebrities with raucous, crude humor, enhanced with music and usually including a fight scene.
There is usually a humors magic/hypnotism show in a small venue, but the main event takes place inside the larger Charles M Schulz Theatre. This tends to resemble a Las Vegas review with music, dancers, and lascivious jokes. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark has been a frequent top-liner, though her 2018 performance was billed as her final one.
Knott's Halloween Haunt Up-Charge Events
One problem with the Knott's Scary Farm - as with any large-scale Halloween event - has always been the necessity of moving large numbers of people through mazes as quickly as possible, which often created a conga-line effect that minimized the scares. One solution to this problem was to offer a more personal experience for an additional charge.
In 2012, the Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt offered its first up-charge event, titled Trapped. For an extra $60, guests in small groups could enjoy (or endure!) an escape room that required them to eat a bug and climb in a coffin.
The following year, Knott's Scary Farm added Skeleton Keys, which entitled visitors who purchased them to enter special rooms at the beginning of certain mazes, where a short vignette or effect would take place. The problem was that these Skeleton Key Rooms slowed down lines even more, as the scenes could take several minutes. In later years, the Skeleton Key rooms were separated from the mazes entirely, becoming mini-mazes running at regular times intervals.
In 2016, the theme park introduced the excellent but ill-fated virtual-reality motion-simulation attraction, Fear VR, which took visitors in a wild ride through a mental hospital haunted by a possessed patient. Unfortunately, the attraction cancelled shortly after the Halloween season began, because of complaints over its depiction of the mentally ill.
Eventually, Knott's Scary Farm retired its up-charge events as part of its trend toward creating a smaller number of high-quality attractions. (This does not include Time Zombies, a Halloween-themed VR shooter game in the Knott's Berry Farm arcade, introduced in 2018.)
Knott's Halloween Haunt Ticket Information
The event requires a special ticket; a regular Knott's Berry Farm ticket will not grant admission to the evening's Halloween activities.
Advance tickets may be purchased online or by phone (call the Ticketmaster Haunt Lines at 213-365-3535 or 714- 703-2555). Tickets are available at the Knott's Berry Farm Guest Relations box office; many days do not sell out, so it is possible to purchase on the night of the event.
Pre-paid parking for the Knott's Scary Farm is advisable.
Knott's Halloween Haunt Bargains:
Knott's Berry Farm generally makes discount coupons available through various outlets, such as Burger King. Savings vary depending on the date; weekdays, especially earlier in the Halloween season, are usually cheaper. Group discounts for 24 or more are available at 714-220-5163.
Knott's Halloween Haunt Add-On Packages:
Knott's Scary Farm often offers "Add-On" packages that expand your stay, such as their "Pre-Scare Boo-Fet and Earl Admission," which gives visitors a chance to have dinner and enter before Knott's Berry Farm opens the gates for The Halloween Haunt. Prices are in the $30 range at the door. Due to seating limitations, this offer is available only to ticket holders with advance dinner reservations.
Note: Once inside the park, dining selections are mostly limited to fast food and snacks.
Knott's Halloween Haunt Drawbacks:
The crowds. Inevitably, you have to wait in long lines for each attraction at Knott's Scary Farm, unless you arrive as soon as the gates open or attend on an off-night. For some reason, the park's appeal skews young, so expect to find yourself surrounded by teeny-boppers. Also, the level of performance among the monsters sometimes seems to drop off near the end of the season, as if the actors are growing weary of their roles.
Knott's Halloween Haunt Useful Info:
Knott's Berry Farm is big, and it is not laid out in neat cubicles, so it is possible to lose your way. Even if you obtain a map as you enter the theme park, you may still find yourself a bit disoriented, but the uniformed staff (if not necessarily the monsters) are eager to point you in the right direction. Definitely wear comfortable shoes; you will be covering a lot of ground.
No re-entries allowed. No costumes.
Knott's Halloween Haunt Historical Highlights:
The Halloween Haunt got started back on October 31, 1973. Since the theme park is more or less modeled on a real ghost town (Calico in California), it made sense to decorate the ghost town section of the park up for Halloween, along with a few dozen monster lurking in the fog. Knott's Scary Farm's first walk-through maze was added the next year. Since then, the Halloween Haunt has grown into a huge annual event, with hundreds of actors in makeup and numerous mazes featuring everything from 3D lighting and to elaborate mechanical effects.
Below is Hollywood Gothique's year-by-year assessment of of Knott's Scary Farm's annual highlights. This is a work-in-progress, which will be updated as time allows.
Knott's Halloween Haunt 2004
For Halloween 2004, Knott's Scary Farm featured ten walk-through mazes, four scare zones, and two rides customized for the season.
Of these, Lore of the Vampire was the highlight, thanks to its hypnotic atmosphere, which captured the erotic allure of the undead. This was one of Knott's few mazes using more makeup than masks, giving the actors the ability to connect face-to-face with their victims - intimate, unnerving eye contact was the key, rather than shouts and sudden movements. The result was a seductive form of horror, counter-balanced with a spicing of grue. This popular maze continued through 2007, rearranging and adding elements (a vampire lifted on a pneumatic arm to simulate levitation in 2005) but always maintaining its decadent aura.
For those who preferred a more visceral horror experience, The Asylum provided the most intensely scary jolts. The inmates were running the sanitarium, doing best to make visitors jump. Another popular maze, this one would reappear in various forms for years to come, under different titles: The Asylum - Revisited, Mangler Asylum, Lockdown the Asylum. Whatever the name, it was usually enjoyable, but after a few years it started to feel like recycled leftovers, using effects that had been seen too many times before.
Knott's Halloween Haunt 2005
Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt's lineup for Halloween 2005 consisted mostly of holdovers, with only three new additions: 13 Axe Murder Manor, Feary Tales in 3D, and The Cavern of Lost Souls (a Halloween overlay on the Calico Mine Ride).
Of these, most successful was 13 Axe Murder Manor, which replaced Blood Bayou in the Mystery Lodge. Although the title suggested gory mayhem, the walk-through actually provided a traditional haunted house, presumably filled with the tormented spirits of numerous axe-murder victims. An abundance of ghostly apparitions did a good job of materializing around corners, taking victims by surprise. Though wooden flats did not always create convincing sets, many rooms were quite impressive, especially an Exorcist-inspired tableau with a possessed woman (a dummy) floating ten feet in the air and spinning like a top, with lamps and objects orbiting around her. Always worth revisiting, Murder Manor lasted three more years, retiring after 2008.
Also of note: this year, Knott's Halloween Haunt seems to have learned the value of using strategically placed dummies and statues to distract attention from actors. This turned the use of pullover masks (rather than makeup) into an advantage: by standing perfectly still, the cast made themselves indistinguishable from lifeless mannequins - until they suddenly sprang into action, surprising frightened haunt-goers.
Knott's Halloween Haunt 2006
Of the three new mazes at the 2006 Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt, The Grudge 2 remains the most memorable. Two year's previously, director Takashi Shimizu's The Grudge (based on his Japanese franchise, Ju-On) had introduced mainstream American audiences to his unique brand of horror; the maze was timed with the 2006 sequel, The Grudge 2. The J-Horror genre had rejuvenated American horror films, providing a new source of inspiration, and to some extent the same held true for the maze, which captured some of the the Grudge films' surreal approach to the supernatural, which relied on the unexpected and the bizarre for its impact. Though Knott's attraction featured few specific elements from its namesake, it included the series' most famous icons, the child ghost Toshio and his malevolent mother, Kayako, an archetypal long-haired Japanese ghost girl, who emitted a strangled croaking sound while menacing her victims. The characters appeared in many guises, both human and mechanical, including a robotic version of Kayoko, which recreated the character's famous head-first crawl down the stairs.
In retrospect, The Grudge 2 is interesting because it was a clever piece of promotional synergy that benefited both the theme park and the movie producers. However, Universal Studios Hollywood resurrected its long-dormant Halloween event in 2006; within a few years it would dominate the field of movie-themed haunts, and Knott's Scary Farm would restrict itself to original themes.
Knott's Halloween Haunt 2007
Perhaps in response to competition from Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt debuted five new attractions for Halloween 2007. By far the best of these was The Doll Factory, a walk-through a macabre mechanical assembly line manufacturing twisted toys and unnerving automata. One of the later was the highlight of the maze: an actress dressed like a life-sized living doll, moving with spasmodic, mechanical motions. Without being overtly threatening, the effect was deeply unsettling than a typical jump-scare. Like everything else in The Doll Factory, the demented depiction of childhood playthings evoked a disturbing sense of the uncanny that set the hairs on end.
The Doll Factory was so popular that it continued for the next four Halloween Haunts. The aura of childhood innocence gone mad was just as effective during the sophomore season, but little was added in subsequent years, and by 2009, the star attraction missing its star attraction, the spasmodic life-sized doll, was missing in action.
Knott's Halloween Haunt 2008
Surpassing its 2007 presentation, Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt debuted six new mazes for Halloween 2008. All of them were solid, and three were outstanding.
Despite stiff competition, the clear winner was QUARANTINE, based on the 2008 horror movie of the same title. Opening a fireman (actually a dummy) falling to his death, the maze took guests on breathless sprint through a building infested by homicidal zombies. Unlike most of Knott's mazes during this era, Quarantine was short and densely populated, with no empty rooms between major scenes. The result was a panic-inducing headlong race past infected hordes that squeezed more scares into two-and-a-half minutes than most mazes fit into five. Quarantine returned the following year, but in somewhat diminished form: its location no longer had a facade resembling a real building; the falling fireman was gone, and there were fewer zombies inside.
In retrospect, Quarantine established a template for the future. Within four years, Knott's Scary Farm would employ its strategy more often, crafting shorter mazes with fewer lulls. Longer mazes would have to justify their length by including scares in every room, instead of stretching their length with empty hallways.
CORNSTALKERS was equally awesome but completely different - more evocative than intense, with a creepy autumnal atmosphere perfectly suited to the Halloween season. The outdoor Stage Coach Trail was transformed into a corn maze, where cawing crows and rustling cornstalks provided an ominous soundtrack for the malevolent scarecrows lurking within. Though allegedly inspired by The Wizard of Oz, the maze more resembled Children of the Corn or Dark Night of the Scarecrow. The few visual references (a witch, a piece of the Tin Woodsman, a glimpse of Dorothy) were removed when Cornstalkers returned in subsequent years; their absence had little impact on overall quality. A more noticeable change was the clever trick of reversing the direction taken by guests through the cornfield, giving the impression of a revised layout where the old scares seemed new because they were being encountered in reverse order.
THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE took over the space formerly occupied by Redbeard's Revenge, replacing pirates with cannibal crazies. Exploiting its gruesome theme to maximum effect, the walk-through packed its square footage with horror almost from beginning to end, trapping visitors in a seemingly endless human abattoir. The Slaughterhouse continued for the next several years, inspiring such Halloween Home Haunts as The Backwoods Maze and Perdition Home.
Knott's Halloween Haunt 2009
After the glory of the previous year, Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt declined noticeably for Halloween 2009. "New" attractions featured recycled themes and ideas; returning attractions were scaled back, and one announced scare zone never materialized. Fortunately, Knott's Halloween Haunt partially redeemed itself by introducing a pair of great - and very different - mazes.
Dia De Los Muertos: Day of the Dead 3D was Knott's most novel maze that year, introducing supernatural characters and situations from south of the border that we had never before encountered in a haunt: La Llorona (the Crying Woman), la Chupacabra, ancient Aztec rituals, and a Day of the Dead celebration (whose bright colors popped out at viewers when seen through special 3D glasses). Two elements synthesized perfectly: the Latin American theme and the colorful style used to depict it. The tone was festive without being comical, exploiting the 3D for all it was worth while still delivering some good scares. The result was so popular that Knott's Halloween Haunt brought the maze back for the next four years, making a few changes to keep the attraction fresh. Even Universal Studios got into the act, adding a La Llorona scare zone to Halloween Horror Nights in 2010.
Terror of London offered a more traditional Gothic horror experience, steeped in shadows and fog, that sent visitors down the dank streets of Victorian London in pursuit of Jack the Ripper. The sense of immersion in an elusive mystery was well maintained; though some sets were clearly painted flats, there were more elaborate areas, such as a sewer tunnel drenched in mist and a restaurant serving meat pies a la Sweeney Todd.
Terror of London is the only example in our recollection of a maze that effectively used uninhabited areas to build suspense. At the time, cost-cutting haunt owners sometimes theorized that walking through empty corridors gave visitors time to worry about what might be lurking around the corner. In most instances, this was an obvious rationalization for hiring a cast too small to fill the haunt, but Terror of London succeeded where others had failed. First, instead of hallways filled with nothing but burlap, Knott's maze offered actual outdoor sections, creating a believable sense of wandering the back alleys which served as the Ripper's hunting grounds. Although live actors did haunt key scenes (e.g., seductive harlots in a shady pub), the uninhabited streets were just as interesting. Visitors encountered bloody evidence of the ghastly crimes, but the perpetrator seemed always a step ahead - an elusive, unseen presence suggested by a whistled tune echoing in the distance.
Saucy Jack's literal absence made his figurative presence all the more mysterious - though not as mysterious as the maze's ending, a mad scientist's lab that seemed dropped in from another story line. Our guess was that the Ripper's murders were supposed to have been perpetrated to obtain body parts for Frankenstein's Monster, but we wouldn't count on it. This confusing conclusion was eventually dropped from Terror of London's subsequent appearances at Knott's Halloween Haunt - a rare example of a maze improving with age. Only in its final year, 2012, did the attraction lose its luster, when its shortened walk-through diminished the sense of pursuing Jack the Ripper through a labyrinth of cobblestone streets.
Also of note: In August of 2009, Knott's announced its Halloween Haunt would feature a scare zone based on the horror-comedy Zombieland; however, the attraction never materialized. Instead, there was a last-minute substitute, based on 2009's remake of The Stepfather. The single-room attraction was so brief it was over before audiences realized it had begun. Nevertheless, The Stepfather seems historically significant in retrospect: it prefigured the Skeleton Key Rooms that Knott's added a few years later, and the last attraction Knott's titled after a movie tie-in.
Learn more Knott's Halloween Haunt Histor 2009, including video, or read our original Knott's Scary Farm 2009 review if you want to see how much our opinion has changed over the years.