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Knott’s Halloween Haunt History 2010

2010 was the year that competition heated up between Knott’s Berry Farm Halloween Haunt and Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood. It was no secret that Universal Studios hoped to capture some of Knott’s audience, but up till this point, the two Halloween theme parks had avoided an overt horse race by opening on different nights: Knott’s Halloween Haunt on the last Thursday in September, Halloween Horror Nights on the first Friday in October. In an unprecedented move, Universal Studios threw down the gauntlet by opening on the same evening as Knott’s – Thursday, September 24.  As if to underline the challenge, Universal’s advertising tag line sounded like a deliberate tweak at the competition: Knott’s billboards read, “All You Fear is Here.” Universal’s slogan was “What Fear Fears Most.” (When asked whether this was intentional on Universal’s part, a Knott’s spokesman replied, “You’ll have to ask them!”)

Strangely, the war for Halloween supremacy sparked few fireworks. What should have been a boon for fright fans was more fizzle than sizzle, because there was little new at either location. Halloween Horror Nights resurrected several monsters they had used previously (Freddy, Jigsaw, Jason, Chucky). Ironically, their only totally new attraction was scare zone haunted by La Llorona, the Mexican legend depicted the prior year in Knott’s Dia De Los Muertos Maze, which returned for Halloween 2010.

Knott’s Halloween Haunt offered even less original material. The only debuts were Viruz Z, Fallout Shelter, and Sleepy Hollow Mountain, which rebranded the Log Ride by placing the Headless Horeseman within the mountain.

Knott's Halloween Haunt 2010 Fallout Shelter in 3D
3D mutant in the Fallout Shelter

Fallout Shelter in 3D (set in the facility that had housed Alien Annihilation for two years) presented a post-apocalyptic underground nightmare filled with the nuclear mutants. The concept was well executed, taking a fairly novel approach: instead of just another collection of cannibal zombies, there were myriad victims in various states of mutation, ranging from almost  human to completely monstrous. The progression reached a weird ending with phosphorescent mechanical monsters that resembled retrofitted elements from Alien Annihilation. Although recognizable, these offered the only effective 3D in the maze. Otherwise, the setting – a utilitarian space meant for survival, not luxury – was appropriately confined and drab, lacking the day-glo colors that pop off sets and characters when viewed through 3D glasses. The returning Dia De Los Muertos maze made much superior use of 3D.

Virus Z Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt
Mama’s Diner in Virus Z

More successful was Virus Z, which took over the space in Fiesta Plaza, Quarantine had been housed previous two Halloweens. Virus Z was longer and more ambitious, taking visitors through multiple locations depicting not just a typical haunted house or asylum but a small town overrun by zombies. The maze offered a satirical take on the 1950s era: visitors wandered through “Mama’s Dinner,” the local school, and other landmarks embodying the warm, fuzzy values of small town America – and all of it had gone to hell. The running joke was the town, which at least in its current condition was very far from being pleasant, was named Pleasanton.

Knott's Halloween Haunt Virus Z
A waitress in Mama’s Dinner carves up the daily special.

Virus Z was to some extent rather like a small-scale version of “Containment Zone” from the previous year’s Halloween Horror Nights. Despite the smaller scope, Virus Z benefited from a solid premise (archetypal normality turned upside down), and it was well realized even without spectacular production values that Universal lavished on its attraction. Especially impressive was that, although the satirical intent was clear, Virus Z was not overtly comical in the style of previous Knott’s mazes like Viva Lost Vegas or Killer Klown Kollege.

In fact, there was little comedy this year; all the mazes were scary or demented instead of funny. Besides Dia De Los Muertos, the holdovers were Terror of London, Lockdown The Asylum, Club Blood, The Doll Factory, and Labyrinth. Though still enjoyable, they offered few improvements, instead recycling their tried and true scenes and scares (like a blast from the past, the old electric chair gag even showed up again in Lockdown).

Like a classic rock band performing a concert of golden oldies, this year’s Halloween Haunt hit the right notes, but they were the same notes. The result was entertaining but left fans hungry for new hits.

Read our original Knott’s Scary Farm 2010 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.