Knott's Halloween Haunt History 2012

Knott's Halloween Haunt Trapped logoFor its 40th season of scaring, Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt offered a major addition. Whether it was in response to industry-wide trends or to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott's introduced an up-charge event titled Trapped.

Announced in August with few details, creating an aura of mystery, Trapped turned out to be a combination of a maze and what we would now call an escape room (though the term was not common parlance at the time*). Not accessible to general ticket holders, the attraction required a separate admission. For $60, a group of up to six people could reserve a scheduled entry time and enjoy a 25-minute scare experience that was more personal than Knott's crowded mazes could offer.

Special up-charge events had appeared at Halloween theme parks in other states, such as the Tampa Bay Busch Gardens' Howl-O-Scream in 2010. Also, there was a growing trend among Los Angeles Halloween Haunts toward greater interactivity. Sinister Pointe in Orange County had (at least in Southern California) pioneered the approach, including rooms that required visitors to find their way out. The Theatre 68 Haunted House in Hollywood had been offering a more intimate, theatrical experience for several years, and in 2011, Delusion: A Haunted Play had upped the ante by actively involving the audience in what was a combination of haunted house walk-through and dramatic play. It was now possible for fans to enjoy something substantially different from and superior to traditional mazes, and if Knott's Halloween Haunt was going to keep up with the times, they wee going to charge extra for it.

A Los Angeles Times article explained the business strategy behind Knott's decision:

"We are seeing that it's been a trend that has been going on for about five years," said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services Inc., a Cincinnati-based consultant to the industry. "If something is a little more special, they are going to be looking to wrangle an extra dollar out of it."

This was an example of how capitalism sometimes works against the interest of consumers. For years, Knott's Scary Farm and other theme parks had been overselling tickets to their Halloween events, creating long lines that prevented visitors from enjoying all the attractions unless they upgraded to a fast pass for front-of-the-line access, creating a win-win situation for the haunts, which reaped the profits from selling both too many tickets and more expensive tickets.

With Trapped, the extra expense was modest when divided among six people. Unfortunately, the added value of Trapped shaved off value for other visitors, whose tickets no longer entitled them to visit all the Knott's Halloween attractions. Averaged out among the many mazes, rides, shows, and scare zones, this was a small change, but it was unfortunate that many long-time fans would not be able to enjoy that year's crown jewel.

Knott's Halloween Haunt
Knott's Scary Farm and Halloween Horror Nights opened the same date in 2012.

Halloween 2012 was also notable as the year when both Knott's Berry Farm and Universal Studios opened on the unseasonably early date of Friday, September 21. This was symptomatic not only of competition between the rival haunts but also of the season's growth. Once upon a time, Halloween activity had been reserved for October 31. Professional haunted houses and other attractions had gradually expanded that single night into a weekend, then a week, and eventually a month-long celebration. For several years, many major Los Angeles Halloween events had opened in early October, while Knott's Berry Farm had beaten everyone else out of the gate by launching on the last Thursday of September. That changed in 2010, when Knott's Halloween Haunt and Universal's Halloween Horror Nights simultaneously opened on Friday, September 24. For Halloween 2012, the two major Halloween theme parks were extending their operation ten days into September (17 days, if one counted Disneyland Halloween Time, which started one week before Knott's and Universal). Halloween was no longer a day, a week, or even a month; it was a season lasting upward of five weeks, and its growth would continue over the course of subsequent years, with even more Halloween events opening in late- or even mid-September.

Aside from these points, the 40th incarnation of Knott's Berry Farm's Halloween Haunt was notable for adding four mazes and rides (five, if one counts the Evil Dead log ride) and for resurrecting their mascot, the Green Witch, who appeared in The Hanging show and haunted the new Trick or Treat maze, which became one of the event's most long-live attractions, reappearing (sometimes in revised form) for half a dozen subsequent years.

The most eagerly anticipated descent into darkness was, of course, Trapped. The fear-factor turned out to be minimal; the emphasis was on problem-solving rather than shocks. The attraction consisted of a series of rooms, none with an obviously visible exit, forcing visitors to find their way out, sometimes aided or impeded by creepy characters berating them for their inability to move on. Trapped did include some scary scenes: claustrophobic cages, a rotted restroom, a crazed cook who forced a participant to eat a dead insect before proceeding, and a morgue scene that required visitors to climb onto a slab and be locked inside a confined storage space. Best of all was the supernatural thrill in a roomful of mirrors, where Bloody Mary appeared, whispering eerie encouragement to repeat her name in order to find an exit. Trapped's only failing was that if fell short of its announced 25-minute running time; an adroit group with a little luck could make it out in not much more than ten minutes.

As for the other new attractions...

Knott's Halloween Haunt Trick or Treat
The Green Witch in Trick or Treat

Trick or Treat offered a wonderful haunted house experience in an era when the term "haunted house" was often erroneously applied to simulated psycho asylums, alien invaders, and post-apocalyptic anarchy. Assuming the role of trick-or-treaters, visitors would ring a doorbell on a house decorated in fairy tale colors, which was actually the abode of the Green Witch. Inside were a variety of characters costumed in traditional Halloween garb (black cats, vampires, etc). The maze ended with a spectacular finale, which included a crashing chandelier and the Green Witch floating overhead on her broom while cursing the foolish intruders cowering beneath her.

The scares were mild, and the maze was short, but it was situated at the beginning of a four-maze sequence that included Delirium, Endgame, and Dominion of the Dead, allowing visitors to jump quickly from one type of Halloween horror to another.

Knott's Halloween Haunt 2012 Dominion of the Dead art

Dominion of the Dead resurrected the vampire theme in yet another form. More akin to Lore of the Dead than Club Blood, this maze presented its vampires as aristocratic patrons of the arts, admiring frame canvasses or lithely fingering stringed instruments. The aura of sophistication evoked the fascinating allure of these blood-drinking immortals, and the Gothic ambiance appealed to horror connoisseurs hungering after something more than the usual masked monsters delivering jump-scares - although there were literal jump-scares in the form of a bungee-jumping vampire who descending like a falling angel cast from heaven before quickly springing back up to his hiding place above. The bungee gag was an old one - almost a signature element of Knott's Halloween Haunt - but it was nice to see it strategically employed here.

Knott's Halloween Haunt Pinocchio Unstrung
Pinocchio Unstrung

Pinocchio Unstrung, taking over the space previously occupied by The Doll Factory, offered a certain thematic continuity, once again adding a sinister turn of the screw to objects associated with childhood innocence - this time puppets instead of dolls. Though not the most intense maze, it filled its niche quite nicely.

One positive aspects of 2012 was that the Halloween Haunt was making visible effort to revamp and even improve returning mazes, to insure that they were worth revisiting. In general, the trend was toward more condensed walk-throughs - stuffing the same number of scares into a smaller area by reducing the long stretches of empty corridors between set pieces. In the case of Terror of London, this was a slight loss, vitiating the sense of pursuing Jack the Ripper through a labyrinth of cobblestone streets, but in other cases it was a clear benefit. Moved into a new location, Endgame: Warriors of the Apocalypse packed the same number of violent vignettes (suggesting the World Wrestling Federation gone mad) into a smaller space, thus increasing the density of scares.

Knott's Halloween Haunt 2012 Virus ZAlso revised was Dia De Los Muertos: the cantina's layout was rearranged, and the dancing girls featured clever makeup that changed their appearance as they stepped in and out of the black-lights focused on the stage. Perhaps the least improved was Virus Z, which added a modern twist to its '50s era depiction of a small town in chaos: a prom scene inspired by that year's remake of Carrie. Sadly, this "climax" was a bit underwhelming, featuring the aftermath of destruction rather than the destruction itself, with a blond and rather buxom Carrie wondering aloud who was responsible for the prank that left her bathed in blood. The result felt like a last-minute insertion, awkwardly shoe-horned in. To date, this remains the Knott's Halloween Haunt's last movie tie-in.

In our assessment, although 2012's Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt fell slightly short of the competition from Halloween Horror Nights, it was nonetheless a considerable improvement over prior years. Trapped may have left us wanting more, but it provided a personal, interactive experience unlike anything at Universal: a focused scare experience, undiluted by the presence of herding crowds. That alone was worthy of recognition in Hollywood Gothique's annual Halloween Haunt Awards. In addition, the combination of imaginative new mazes and revitalized old mazes showed that Knott's Berry Farm was making serious and effective efforts to improve their annual Halloween event.

Read our original Knott's Scary Farm 2012 review, or watch the promotional video at top.

Footnote:

  • America's first escape room was "Real Escape Game," brought to San Francisco by Japanese company in 2012. The first American-based escape room company was founded the following year. Trapped featured elements that became common in escape rooms, but it was not an escape room, per se.

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.