The King of Spooky: Knott’s Scary Farm

Photos by Charly SHELTON
Origins Curse of Calico’ is heavily storied with actors providing preshow exposition before the guests even enter the maze.


Each year, the local theme parks go all-out for the spookiest time of the year: Halloween. It used to be a few nights around Oct. 31 that featured some festive decorations -– a little fake blood and some pumpkins – that were displayed on a Halloween stage show or haunted house. Then the number of haunted houses increased. Then the festivities ran all month. Now Halloween officially starts when the first theme park offers Halloween events. Most start in mid-September with Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott’s Berry Farm, Six Flags Magic Mountain, Disneyland, the Queen Mary and even Griffith Park getting into the spirit of the season. Last week, we took an in-depth look at Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights and a nostalgic trip back to the best of the ’80s found in its haunted houses. This week, we go to the granddaddy of haunts, Knott’s Scary Farm, which blends high-tech effects with nostalgia-filled scares and unbridled creativity in its new houses for the year.

A model made of the very beeswax that powers ‘Wax Works’.

Knott’s Scary Farm started the theme park haunt. It created scare zones where “scaractors” terrorized guests in the streets of Ghost Town, not just in a house. It started a lot of traditions that the industry now draws on. These haunts produced year after year have led to creating its own mythology of in-park haunt characters and concepts, among them the Witch, Judge Roy Bean, the denizens of Ghost Town and even The Hanging – a comedy show produced each year where the worst person in pop culture from the past year is hung from the gallows as a sacrifice.

One of its new haunted houses folds all of this into one maze then adds some classic Knott’s attractions from the old days, like the Catawampus, Sad Eye Joe and more to reveal the origins of how the town of Calico became Ghost Town. “Origins: Curse of Calico” is probably the greatest maze Knott’s has ever done, putting it high in the running for greatest maze of all time, anywhere.

In addition to the macabre, there are also classic, sweet Halloween touches throughout the park.

What I like about Knott’s overall, but specifically in this maze, is that the addition of new tech as years go by doesn’t get in the way of the good, old fashioned haunt that it’s putting on. So often we see a haunt that invests lots of money in a new technology and then features it prominently – so much so that the rest of the haunt almost scales back to show off the new tech even more. But that isn’t the case here. There are some great projection effects and some fancy rigs so characters can fly, but these don’t overtake the haunt. The heart of this maze is the clever, original-yet-classic design of sets and characters that pulls from everything that longtime fans of the park have come to know then puts them all in one coherent storyline with some good scares.

The other new maze is called “Wax Works” and it is a peek inside the deranged minds of the haunt designers. Set in a wax museum gone wrong, the designers didn’t just stop at a wax figure come to life or some half-wax, half-flesh victims. They really came up with some unique creatures that defy description. Honestly, it’s hard to impart the horrors that can be found in this maze because there is no frame of reference to liken them to. Maybe something like John Carpenter’s “The Thing?” But even that doesn’t hit the nail on the head. I love a good, unique maze and this one surely is that. Suffice it to say, this is one of the more creative venues Knott’s has ever done in terms of specific monsters and animatronics.

A description-defying monster animatronic from ‘Wax Works’.

These two new mazes join a roster of seven other mazes returning from years past, many that still feel almost as fresh as the year they debuted. Knott’s Scary Farm is definitely not an event to miss. It’s on now, select nights through Nov. 2.

So usually this is the part where I say which one is the best to visit for your time and money: Universal or Knott’s. But, for the first time in years, there is no clear winner. Both events are genuinely spectacular. And I’m not saying that because they brought me out to check them out. I really am impressed by both parks this year. After so many years of attending these haunts – literally over a decade of haunts – I can honestly say that if there was ever a time you had an inkling to go to a haunted theme park event this is the year. Go to both. You won’t regret it, except perhaps for the lingering nightmares.