Knotts Scary Farm 2018 promises quality over quantity.
This year, Knotts Berry Farm Halloween Haunt boldly aims to invade every inch of the theme parking, offering two new mazes, a new scare zone, more elaborate sets and effects, hidden Easter Eggs, and greater immersion, leaving visitors with no safe haven.
On August 30, the Knotts Scary Farm 2018 preview, hosted by Jeff Tucker, revealed the attractions that will be scaring customers at this year's annual Halloween Haunt. New this year are Forsaken Lake, Dark Entities, and The Depths:
- Forsaken Lake is a scare zone with a funeral theme focused on the dead and the drowned who refuse to remain beneath the surface.
- Dark Entities is a maze with an alien in space theme, which begins on Earth, where volunteers (i.e., Knotts’ customers) are signed up to investigate anomaly in space
- The Depths sets its maze in a port village (deliberately echoing Lovecraft’s “Shadow over Innsmouth”) that is threaded with a labyrinth of underground caverns, occupied my mysterious sea creatures, including the Kraken. The story casts guests as first responders on a rescue mission.
Other new attractions include:
- Hacks – Cutting Room Floor: an improv show in the Charles M. Schulz Theatre, with the Hacks comedians riffing on B-horror movies.
- Into the Fog: an exhibition featuring original art and prints crafted especially for Knotts Scary Farm.
- Time Zombies: a Virtual Reality showdown in the Knott's Berry Farm arcade.
- Awaken the Dead: a dance party in Fiesta Village.
Knotts Scary Farm 2018's returning mazes are Dark Ride, Paranormal Inc, Pumpkin Eater, Red Barn, Shadowlands, Special Ops: Infected, and Trick or Treat: Lights Out. Returning scare zones are Ghost Town Streets, Carnevil, and The Hollow. Also returning is the family-friendly Halloween Hootenanny in the Log Ride. The Bird Cage Theatre will present “Conjure,” a humorous magic show. And this year’s edition of The Hanging will be titled, “Sh…It Happens.”
Knotts Scary Farm 2018 Preview: Quality Over Quantity
As it did the previous year, Knotts Scary Farm 2018 is focusing on quality rather than quantity, with nine mazes, four scare zones, and no Skeleton Key Rooms or other up-charge events. The decision to scale back is part of a broader strategy to emphasize distinctive themes instead of a generic hodge-podge of scares. A decade ago, it was not unusual to see similar - even identical - effects in different mazes, regardless of whether one was an asylum and the other was a haunted house. That is no longer the case.
“We had to look at the quality of those mazes, and what the market would support was no longer what we had originated,” said VP of Entertainment Ted Parks. “There was a definite moment when it was like, ‘If we want to still be relevant in the game that we invented, we had better start changing with the game.’ We looked at what we do here. Many of us are creators who are story-driven. That had not happened before; story was not how the mazes in the past started. It was really, ‘What are these scare gags, and when I get a collection of them, where can I set them - an asylum, a haunted house, or a prison?’ We’re away from that. We start with a story first, then determine who the guest is in the story: why are you walking through this facility, whether it’s a space ship or deep caves?
Scaling back the number of mazes – especially new mazes - allowed the creative team to tweak the returning attractions while focusing most of their efforts on crafting new attractions for Knotts Scary Farm 2018.
“We want to focus on what we’re able to accomplish,” said producer Eric Nix. “The detail has become so prominent in these mazes that we want to make sure that we’re not spreading our production crew too thin. So we wanted to scale back as far as quantity is concerned, but quality is over the top.”
Creative Designer Timothy “Gus” Krueger added, “If we were doing a dozen or thirteen mazes, we would not be able to do things on the level of Paranormal Inc, Dark Ride, Dark Entities, and the Depths. So when you visit the Scary Farm this year, you are going to see two incredible new mazes that we were able to focus on, and our crews did an amazing job to make them feel real and special. That’s the trade-off: it’s world-class, high-caliber venues that we’re able to offer. We do that by focusing.”
The focus on production value includes using more original costumes in The Depths, which also includes a waterfall set for what is promised to be Knotts Scary Farm’s biggest finale ever.
In a similar vein, Dark Entities will use more extensive prosthetics, some full-face, to depict the progressive mutation afflicting the space crew (reserving the traditional “paint-and-powder” makeup for the early stages). The maze will also use set pieces for light sources, to create a unique lighting environment.
“We were able to go into space in a way we haven’t done in a while,” said creative director Krueger. “Over the last several years, there has been an exponential growth in what are scenic teams are able to do, so it really felt like this was a time when space was a viable option in a really scary way. We’re incorporating a lot of video tricks, just because you want to feel like you are on a ship in space. It’s also an opportunity for a couple of interactive elements we’re working into the maze, where guests may have a little bit of control over their own fates.”
One hurdle to crafting elaborate mazes is that they have to be struck after the Halloween season, but that is not the case with The Depths and Dark Entities.
“Both of those new mazes are ‘back stage’ mazes, which means we’re able to build them in a different way that makes them more permanent,” said producer Nix. “They don’t have to be constructed in a way that they have to be torn down every year and reinstalled. So we build them to last, and the detail in Dark Entities and Depths is going to blow everyone away.”
The level of detail serves double duty: not only increasing the immersive feel but also offering numerous sights that might be overlooked the first time through, making repeat visits rewarding.
“We love adding Easter Eggs to everything,” said VP Parks. “I feel you shouldn’t promise everything because by the time I tell you all about it, you’ll be disappointed, but if you discover it, it’s 100 times better as an experience.”
He added, “We’re now leaning into having a season pass-holder base, so we want to make that pass valuable and rewarding. One of the ways to do that, each year, even if the attraction was new last year and comes back, there is always a way to plus it up, so there is something new and exciting to come back for.”
Knotts Scary Farm 2018 Preview: Upgrading the Returning Attractions
Upgrades to Knotts Scary Farm 2018's returning mazes include new effects for Trick or Treat: Lights Out. Paranormal Inc will get a new finale. Pumpkin Eater will house two new creatures. There will be a new beginning for Red Barn, and a new animatronic creature will appear at the end (likened to the “boss” monster at the end of a video game).
As for the scare zones, Carnevil will have a new lighting scheme, and the Ghost Town Streets will feature new “vignettes.” Vignettes are apparently “spontaneous” actions that take place without an announced schedule, making them special surprises for visitors who happen to be present at the time. For instance, the Hollow featured a “Wicker Man”-type sacrificial ritual last year. This year, the new Forsaken Lake will include a procession of the dead, accompanied by a New Orleans-style funeral dirge.
As with the mazes, the goal is to avoid generic scares in favor of distinctive themes: Ghost Town and The Hollow may both feature period-era scares, but the color palettes and creature designs are totally different. This thematic approach offers an opportunity to tie some attractions together: the Dark Ride maze, with its carnival ambiance, dovetails nicely with the nearby Carnevil scare zone. The new Forsaken Lake scare zone may get a similar thematic connection to a maze in the future.
“We love that we’re finally at that place, where we’re connecting mazes to scare zones so they work as cohesive story, as opposed to a clown maze sitting next to an ancient temple maze,” said Parks. “Those days are gone for us.”
The cohesive approach is intended to increase the overall immersive quality that Knotts Scary Farm 2018 aspires to achieve.
“As we look at what’s happening in themed entertainments, there’s a great push to immerse and have the guests be a character in this story and that they feel surrounded 360 degrees in this world,” said Parks. “This is definitely where we’re leaning toward, not just in the mazes but in the park as well. We have this interesting geography and these unique settings, and we want to take advantage of them. As you walk in the gate, there really is no place you can turn where you don’t find something connected to Halloween.”
More in this series:
Knotts Scary Farm 2018 Preview Photo Gallery
All photographs copyright 2018 Warren So.