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Knott’s Halloween Haunt History 2008

The 2008 Knott’s Berry Farm Halloween Haunt exceeded the 2007 iteration, reinvigorating the long-running theme park attraction. As usual, there were thirteen haunted rides and mazes, but six of them were new – an unusually high turnover, providing fresh scares to lure customers away from Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Even more important than quantity was quality. Among the new mazes, there was not a loser in the bunch, and three were outstanding.

QUARANTINE, based on the 2008 horror movie of the same title, was the most intense of the newcomers, starting with a spectacular surprise (a fireman falling to his death – actually a dummy), followed by a breath-taking rush through a building overrun by homicidal zombies. Unlike most of Knott’s mazes during this era, Quarantine was short, with no lulls or long corridors between major scenes. The result was a sense of frantic urgency as guests scurried past infected humans, blasting from one scene to the next. (Four years later, Knott’s Scary Farm would employ this strategy in more of its mazes, offering shorter walk-throughs with the scares packed closer together.)

Knott's Scary Farm 2008 Cornstalkers
A scarecrow in Cornstalkers

CORNSTALKERS was also amazing, though more leisurely paced. Taking over the Stage Coach trail formerly occupied by Dark Realm, the new attraction utilized the outdoor space to much better effect, transforming the setting into a corn maze where cawing crows and rustling cornstalks created an autumnal atmosphere perfectly suited for Halloween. Scares were abundant, but the immersive setting was the true star, with endless twists and turns that prevented victims from seeing the menacing scarecrows around every corner. The recurring gag was that these sullen creatures affected a “crucified” pose, like lifeless dummies, until their victims got within pouncing range – an effective (if slightly overused) tactic reminiscent of The Haunted Vineyard. Knott’s website indicated that Cornstalkers was inspired by The Wizard of Oz even though it more resembled Children of the Corn or Dark Night of the Scarecrow. There was a not very “wicked” witch, a chunk of Tin Woodsman, and maybe a glimpse of Dorothy – all of which were easily overlooked by all but the most sharp-eyed haunt-goers.

Knott's Scary Farm Halloween HauntTHE SLAUGHTERHOUSE took over the space formerly occupied by Redbeard’s Revenge, replacing blood-thirsty pirates with flesh-eating cannibals, who might as well have escaped from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Fortunately, this very extensive maze succeeded on its own gruesome terms. Unlike other long mazes, which sometimes felt extended more than necessary, Slaughterhouse packed its square footage with horror from one end to the next, except for one or two brief breathers midway through. Visitors felt trapped in a never-ending hell, wondering whether they would ever find their way out. Returning for the next several years, The Slaughterhouse became the inspiration for such Halloween Home Haunts as The Backwoods Maze and Perdition Home.

LABYRINTH recaptured some of the style of Lore of the Vampire (even reusing some props), but instead of blood-drinkers, the landscape was filled with mischievous elves and fairies. More eerie that shocking, Labyrinth, like Cornstalkers, transported guests into another world, filled with mystical magic instead of madmen and chainsaws.

Knott's Halloween HauntCLUB BLOOD – a new vampire maze – abandoned the seductive style of  Lore of the Vampire in favor of a nightclub with  fanged chicks gyrating on dance poles to the beat of pulsing music. Though perhaps a little too trendy for its own good, it was an interesting variation on the vampire theme, including an amazing pneumatic effect to simulate a vampire baby springing from its screaming mother’s womb and into the audience’s face. In what would become standard operating procedure for mazes tucked away in that back corner of the park, Club Blood directly followed The Asylum; so the exit from the first maze led directly to the entrance of second.

ALIEN ANNIHILATION replaced Beowulf in the 3D laser tag area. The lengthy maze was filled with monsters and props (including a revamped version of the mechanical giant mechanical seen in Dark Realm the previous year). The cast (as in most of the mazes) was very aggressive about scaring the customers, not merely springing out for a single jump-scare but actively targeting and pursuing those who were easily intimidated.

Viewed as a group, the new mazes presented a pleasing multiplicity of themes, with little if any bleed-over between them, even when they seemed superficially similar. Both Cornstalkers and Labyrinth offered ethereal chills, but they were quite different. Quarantine, Club Blood, and The Slaughterhouse all featured visceral jolts, but it would have been impossible to mistake any one of them for the other two. This was Knott’s Scary Farm at its best, providing quantity, quality, and variety. All of the new mazes would return the following Halloween, along with holdovers The Doll Factory, Pyromaniax, and Black Widow’s Cavern.

The other returning mazes were 13 Axe Murder Manor, The Asylum, Viva Lost Vegas in 3D, and Killer Klown College. The Doll Factory retained its effectiveness, but the laughs in the last two were starting to sound strained, and The Asylum felt a bit like an old television rerun even though it had been rebranded as “Mangler Asylum.”

Knott's Halloween Haunt
Organist serenades Ghost Town.

Knott’s scare zones were also firing on all cylinders. Notably, the Gauntlet did a fine job of filling the kid-friendly Camp Snoopy with denizens of darkness. Best of all was the Ghost Town, which cast a spectral pall over the old Western setting, with the help of a mannequin organist serenading the populace from the balcony atop the saloon.

The cast of free-roaming ghouls seemed to be working harder than ever to surprise their victims, not only lurking in scare zones but also waiting outside mazes, where they could deliver a final unexpected scare to guests emerging from the exits. This point may seem trivial, but throughout the early part of the new millennium, Halloween attractions were exploring new ways to scare jaded audiences. This approach would eventually lead to haunted attractions featuring greater interactivity between monsters and victims.

One development for Halloween 2008 was a hike in the parking fee from $10 to $15 for “Preferred” lot – which was actually farther away from the main entrance; in fact, it was – and remains to this day – closer to the Western Avenue entrance, which is no longer open during Halloween. Again, the point may seem trivial, but it is emblematic of the increasing popularity of Knott’s Halloween Haunt, leading to rising prices and preferential treatment for whose willing to pay more.

Although Knott’s Scary Farm continued to lag behind the production values of Halloween Horror Nights (most Knott’s actors still wore store-bought pullover masks instead of prosthetics), the sheer quantity balanced the technical deficiencies. This helped maintain Knott’s reputation as the premier seasonal attraction in Southern California, earning the designation Best Halloween Theme Park in Hollywood Gothique’s 2008 Halloween Haunt Awards.

Interested in how our opinion has changed over the years? Read our original Knott’s Scary Farm 2008 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.