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Knott’s Halloween Haunt History 2013

Knott’s Berry Farm presented one of its finest Halloween Haunts in 2013, benefiting from several new attractions, some clever innovation, and a level of enthusiasm that energized the event from beginning to end, making it possible to savor every attraction for its own unique delights. The result was an exhilarating horror show that thrilled and chilled from one side of the park to the other.

Expanding on the approach of 2012’s Trapped (which returned in a revised version, Trapped: The New Experiment), the Knott’s Berry Farm Halloween Haunt seemed determined to personalize the scares more than ever. This was most obvious in the new Skeleton Key passes, which provided access to special rooms at the beginning of six mazes. In each Skeleton Key room, a small group would experience a brief scene or effect presented specifically for their benefit, such as the seance in Black Magic.

The Skeleton Key rooms eliminated the cattle-heard approach of the mazes, but almost as much credit belonged to Knott’s actors, who were working overtime to to intimidate, threaten, and harass hapless screamers. Intimate eye contact had become the rule, not an exception, and simple jump-scares were no longer enough – monsters were more likely to relentlessly pursue their victims. Though not matching the level of Delusion: A Haunted Play, the increased interactivity was a far cry from the conga-line approach of other Halloween theme parks.

fright pass skeleton keyThere was just one problem: the up-charge for Skeleton Key Rooms was coupled with fast-pass tickets, which effectively cancelled each other out. Fast-pass ticket holders could not get into the mazes very quickly if half the people in the express line were taking five minutes to enjoy a Skeleton Key Room before proceeding through the rest of the maze. Knott’s Halloween Haunt would address this a couple years later by separating the Skeleton Key Rooms from the mazes, making them stand-alone attractions.

Halloween 2013 debuted five new mazes (six if one counts Trapped: The New Experiment as a “new” maze), and several holdovers were embellished with Skeleton Rooms, adding a new element to them as well. Old or new, the mazes continued the previous year’s trend of condensing a high level of paranormal activity into shorter walk-throughs. The”endless burlap corridors” had been eliminated, leaving little un-haunted space, and every room seemed occupied by two or three ghouls – fleeing from one was likely to send a helpless victim straight into the arms of another.

Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt Black Magic
Black Magic

Black Magic (located near Xcelerator) – set during the 1920s, when Houdini was debunking spiritualists – was the best of the newcomers. With its magic shows and escape routines, the walk-through was perfectly themed for the season: the aura of necromancy rendered an attraction worthy of the often mis-applied term “haunted house.”

The seance in Black Magic‘s Skeleton Key room was certainly appropriate: Houdini died on October 31, and for years afterward his wife tried to contact his spirit every Halloween. Recreating this annual event, groups of four sat round a table, hoping to conjure the escape artist, whose spectral presence was first suggested by rattling a chandelier, before his ghost manifested in a mirror (a digital video). After some lightening flashes, Houdini appeared physically in the room, portrayed by an actor attacking the medium! This neat little dramatic scene launched the maze in epic style. Topping that opening was not easy, but Black Magic included several good visuals, reaching a spectacular climax with a magician flying overheard.

Dominion of the Damned
Dominion of the Damned

Dominion of the Damned (near Ghost Rider) – though designated as “new” – was basically a redo of Dominion of the Dead from Halloween 2012 . Once again, elegantly attired immortals were surrounded by fine art and splendid decor – with a few demonic vampires adding visceral horror to a maze that was otherwise more hypnotically fascinating than gruesome.

The gore was limited to Dominion of the Damned‘s Skeleton Key Room, a sweltering greenhouse featuring not only potted plants but also disembodied heads, growing on the vine and needing human plasma for sustenance. Lucky guests were invited to feed the starving creatures with plasma from severed body parts, which provoked an unfortunate bout of vomiting, dousing guests in regurgitated blood.

Knott's Halloween Haunt Gunslinger's Grave
Gunslinger’s Grave

Gunslinger’s Grave (near Silver Bullet) was designed to capitalize on the fact that Knott’s Berry Farm was fashioned after Calico Ghost Town; as obvious as the idea seems in retrospect, it’s amazing to realize it was not implemented until Halloween 2013. The walk-through utilized several permanent structures (a saloon, a general store) to create a convincing setting. Moving back and forth between indoors and outdoors, it was hard for visitors to know when the maze was over; it seemed as if there was always another ghostly gunslinger gunning for a showdown. Unfortunately, the actual conclusion did not leave a memorable impression (something Knott’s tried to address in subsequent years).

The same could be said of the Skeleton Key Room, which consisted of a bandit’s small cabin hideout. With actors inside and a posse outside depicted with digital video, the room presented a conventional Western scene (fights, shooting) with nary a hint of the supernatural. Presumably, the scene was revealing the back story that led to the haunting experienced in the rest of the maze, but the Skeleton Key room felt like a weak version of an old-west stunt show.

Knott’s final two new mazes did not include Skeleton Key rooms.

Forevermore - The Pit and the PendulumForevermore took over the Mystery Lodge, which had housed Terror of London the previous few years. The new maze emulated a little bit of its predecessor’s narrative thread by placing visitors on the trail of a demented serial killer. Instead of Jack the Ripper, this was a modern maniac obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe. The author’s words could be heard echoing through the corridors much as they no doubt echoed in the killer’s brain, inspiring several grungy, gruesome tableau, such as a murder victim stuffed up the fireplace as in “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” a nightclub masquerade party where garish violet light and throbbing music were interrupted by the arrival of The Red Death, and most memorably a massive scythe-like swinging pendulum ponderously slicing through the air. After Black Magic, Forevermore was probably the best of Knott’s new mazes.

Mirror Mirror (near Necropolis) was a literal maze, with multiple corridors of glass and mirrors circling back or coming to dead ends. Complicating the effort were the demonic inhabitants, mixing taunts with not necessarily helpful suggestions about where to turn next. Supposedly, there were long lines for this one – not because it was very good but because some visitors took so long to find their way out. If not for the taunting demons, this would have been a generic fairground attraction; it really wasn’t enough to stand on its own as Halloween walk-through. Mirror, Mirror never returned as a distinct attraction, though its elements would be incorporated into larger mazes with more memorable themes.

Surprisingly, none of the new mazes became a perennial, not even the good ones. Dominion of the Damned made a single encore appearance the following year. Black Magic and Forevermore returned for the next two seasons. The most enduring was Gunslinger’s Grave, which lasted through 2016.

Also new this Halloween was the overlay for the Calico Mine Ride, titled The Witch’s Keep. This incorporated Knott’s mascot The Green Witch, explaining via narration that she was seeking evil power within the cavern depths. Her presence was welcome, but otherwise this was a generic Halloween makeover. Like Universal Studios’ Back Lot Terror Tram Tour, the Calico Mine Ride changed themes from one Halloween to the next, but the result was often new decorations on the same old cake. Also, Knott’s Scary Farm was limiting the number of live actors in favor of mechanical props, no doubt due to the nature of the ride, which made it difficult for the cast to sneak up on the passengers to deliver jump-scares.

As in 2012, Knott’s Halloween Haunt strove to upgrade its returning attractions, either by revising them or by adding Skeleton Key Rooms. The effort did not always pay off: the Skeleton Key Room for Endgames: Warriors of the Apocalypse consisted of an overused gag in which guests were encouraged to pose for a photo-op and then blasted with air just as the camera shutter clicks. Fortunately, two other holdover mazes featured Skeleton Key Rooms that were more imaginative.

Uncle Willy’s Slaughterhouse got off to a gruesome start with a room in which a slaughterhouse worker pulled back a curtain to reveal a man in a glass shower, melting under an acid bath. The “shower” was actually a  monitor displaying a short video – this was the dawn of a new era, when computer-generated imagery and digital technology could create and display effects that would have been impossible to achieve live. This type of effect would become increasingly common in future Halloween haunts.

Pinocchio Unstrung was overall more effective than in 2012 – though still no match for The Doll Factory. Its Skeleton Key Room was more demented parody than horror, with Pinocchio verbally abusing his guests like a monstrous Don Rickles, then forcing one to wear puppet strings. Pinocchio also performed a puppet show explaining his plan to become a real boy by wrapping his wooden body in human skin taken from unwilling victims – beginning with his creator Geppetto, whose flayed corpse was revealed at the climax. It was an interesting interactive experience, though longer than needed to make its point.

Neither of the two remaining mazes, Delirium and Trick or Treat, featured a Skeleton Key Room – not that Trick or Treat needed one to justify a return visit.

Knott's Halloween Town scare zone
Better makeup on view in the scare zones

Knott’s Berry Farm Halloween Haunt featured four scare zones this year. In addition to the long-running Ghost Town and CarnEvil, there were Necropolis and Fiesta De Los Muertos. The former (situated in Camp Spooky) was inhabited by religious cultists. The latter kept the Latin-themed horror going in the absence of the retired Dia De Los Muertos maze, with La Llorona weeping for her lost children – a stark contrast to the colorful lights and lively music filling Knott’s Fiesta Village. In general, the trend toward replacing generic pullover masks with professional makeup and prosthetics was yielding noticeable improvement in the quality of monsters haunting these areas.

Another notable aspect of the 2013 Knott’s Halloween Haunt was the return of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. After multiple appearances during the 1990s, she had not headlined a show at the “Ghoul Time Theatre” (actually the Charles M. Schulz Theatre) since 2001. Elvira’s Cinema Seance was a return to form, with Elvira (Cassandra Petersen) delivering her Halloween version of a Vegas dance review, mixing songs, dance, film clips spoofing horror movies, and an impressive variety of one-liners all focused on a single punchline (her cleavage). The show’s most amazing asset was Elvira herself, looking almost exactly as she did thirty years previously when hosting horror movies on local Channel 9. This was the beginning of a five-season run for Elvira, which continued until “Elvira’s Last Show” in 2017.

Knott's Halloween Haunt Elvira
Elvira hits the stage for 2013’s Sinema Seance.

The other shows at the 2013 Knott’s Halloween Haunt were The Hanging in Calico Square; Carny Trash in the Bird Cage Theatre; Cursed in the Gypsy Mine Camp; and Blood Drums in the Nectropolis area.

Knott's Halloween Haunt Blood Drums
Blood Drums

The latter, performed by the Street Drum Corps, included not only conventional percussion instruments but also unconventional objects – such as grinders against metal oil drums. The resulting industrial din, accompanied by showers of sparks flying into the night sky, provided an entertaining distraction for those waiting to enter Uncle Willy’s Slaughterhouse.

The 2013 Knott’s Berry Farm Halloween Haunt surpassed Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood, earning Hollywood Gothique’s selection as the Best Halloween Theme Park of the year. Though Universal Studios still featured more lavish production value, Knott’s Halloween Haunt was improving its sets and makeup and using its resources to showcase a wider range of creativity. The new mazes were imaginative; the old mazes had been refreshed; and the Skeleton Key Rooms and Trapped provided a kind of scare experience unavailable at other large-scale Halloween events. Clearly, competition had prodded Knott’s Berry Farm into doing some of their best work.

Read our original Knott’s Scary Farm 2013 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.