Knott's Halloween Haunt History 2004

Halloween 2004, the first year Hollywood Gothique reviewed the Knott's Halloween Haunt, was not a particularly significant one in the venerable theme park's history; however, it does provide a good spotlight on what the event was like in the early years of its fourth decade. At the time, Knott's Scary Farm was a reliably enjoyable attraction that sometimes seemed to be coasting on its reputation, though it usually managed to deliver good entertainment value on the dollar, thanks to its size and scope.

There was little major competition; most Halloween attractions were independent, single-maze efforts that operated for a few days around October 31. The Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt, conversely, featured ten walk-through mazes, four scare zones, and two rides customized for the season; it ran for five weeks, beating the competition out of the gate by opening at the end of September and then running through Halloween or even a day or two beyond.

Because of its long history and name recognition, Knott's drew large crowds in October, but September tended to be sparsely attended; it was even possible to buy a discount ticket on the night of the event without concerns of a sell-out. That opening week was a sort of loss-leader event, building word of mouth from fans who went early and eagerly told their friends about the experience. This provided a great opportunity to enjoy all the attractions without purchasing a fast pass; clever strategists could even avoid the crowds at the main entrance by parking in the lot across the street on Western Avenue and going through the back entrance.

Within a couple years, as crowds got bigger and early attendance grew more common, Knott's Berry Farm would close this entrance during the Halloween season, forcing visitors to use the main entrance, which was far removed from all the theme park's lots, except the more expensive "preferred parking." In retrospect, 2004 almost seems like an earlier, more innocent era.

The year's mazes were The Asylum, Lore of the Vampire, Red Beard's Revenge, Carnival of Carnivorous Clowns from Outer Space, Curse of the Spider, Hatchet High, Blood Bayou, Malice in Wonderland, Terror Vision in 3D, and Jaguar, Temple of Sacrifice. These were typical for their time in that production values were variable: the mazes usually looked good, but they were not always convincing simulations of their supposed environments. Knott's Scary Farm had a reputation for lengthy, elaborate walk-throughs, but often the good scenes were separated by long corridors with little decoration except hanging strips of burlap, meant to obscure the view of the next room and build anticipation for what might be hiding there. Guests entered continuously instead of in discrete groups, which often prevented the actors from being able to reset between scares; it was often possible to walk into a room just after a monster hand bungee-jumped down from a hiding place. Fortunately, the mazes tended to be so heavily populated that there was usually another monster ready to deliver a scare to compensate for the one that was missed.

Knotts Berry Farm Halloween HauntBesides the mazes, there were two Halloween-theme rides: Army of the Underworld (in the Calico Mine Ride) and Red Moon Massacre (in the Log Ride) added seasonal overlays to the familiar attractions. The former, filled with costumed ghouls, flying ghosts, and a menacing dragon, was apparently inspired by director Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness, with one scene clearly depicting that film's version of the ancient evil book Necronomicon. For a brief period, movie-inspired attractions would become a phenomenon at  Knott's Halloween Haunt, before Universal Studios Hollywood took over that particular corner of the Halloween market.

Scare zones included the long-running Ghost Town, the Swamp, the Gauntlet, and CarnEVIL. The first first of these traced its origins all the way back to the beginning of the annual haunt, back in 1973; the second two would disappear within the next couple years, but CarnEVIL (pictured at top) became a perennial, probably because its clownish theme was well suited to its setting, the brightly illuminated Boardwalk. We're not huge fans of the carnival-circus theme, but it's hard to imagine anything else working better in that location, and we have to admit that the Boardwalk clowns know what they're doing.

During this period of its history, the Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt tended to emphasize quantity; consequently, the quality sometimes suffered. Most of the cast wore simple pullover masks; these worked wll enough in the shadows of a maze, less so in the outdoor scare zones, especially the Boardwalk. Fortunately, even if some of the mazes and other attractions were individually lacking, there were so many that, with a halfway decent batting average, Knott's was always able to deliver at least a few hits and sometimes a grand slam home run. This year's highlights were The Asylum and Lore of the Vampire. The first was intensely frightening; the second was moodier and more atmospheric. Both would return several times over the next few years, their longevity testifying to their effectiveness. The contrast between them sums up the appeal of Knott's Halloween Haunt at the time, which was, in a word, variety. With over a dozen attractions, including shows like The Hanging (a long-running pop culture spoof mixing stunts with tasteless jokes), Knott's was could easily provide much more than a single style of Halloween entertainment.

Read our original Knott's Scary Farm 2004 Review.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.