There’s something surreal about seeing the ghosts, ghouls and gargoyles of Knott’s Scary Farm in the daytime. I shouldn’t be too surprised considering it’s not quite the Halloween season just yet. The big kick off will actually be this Thursday, September 22nd.
But in anticipation of opening night, Knott’s own entertainment design specialist Jonathan Cooke invited me down to get a sneak peek behind-the-scenes as they put the finishing touches on this epic production just in time for the grand opening. This year’s “Scary Farm” is running for 24 horrifying nights beginning September 22nd and concluding on October 31st. There are 13 haunted attractions spread out through out the 160 acres of scare zones. That includes 9 mazes, such as Paranormal INC, The Dead Of Winter: Wendigo’s Revenge, Trick-or-Treat and The Tooth Fairy. This year, there are also 4 stand alone “skeleton rooms,” an interactive portion normally reserved for Fast Pass users on the maze attractions. And Elvira is back yet again for her new show Elvira’s Danse Macabre!
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here. That’s all happening later this week. First, I’m treated to a brief tour backstage by Brad Jashinsky, Knott’s head of digital marketing, where literally thousands of various outfits hang in the wardrobe department and dozens of chairs are set up in prep for actor’s make-up. On any given evening, there are more than 1000 actors roaming the grounds and mazes! The sheer scale of the whole thing in itself is overwhelming and impressive.
Cooke greets me and walks me through one of this years newest attractions, the Shadow Lands maze. Based on Japanese myth, you’ll walk and fend off demon samurais and the rotting corpses of slain soldiers! After nearly a year of planning, Cooke and his crew will finally enjoy the fruits of their labors where terrified patrons first make their way through this twisted labyrinth.
Although Knott’s Berry Farm becomes “Knott’s Scary Farm” from late September through October, it’s still an all year long operation. Potential maze ideas get pitched as early as January, and by April, they begin pre-production, planning and building. For Cooke, the planning stages begin even earlier. “I have a 3-year plan, so I already know what I have in mind for mazes for the following year and the year after that,” he explained. “Reason being, in my head, I have a bunch of themes I’d like to see happen, but the location and the venue has a lot to do with that theme. The Shadow Lands maze takes a pretty large footprint and I didn’t feel right doing it in a smaller venue, so I waited until we had the right space. Paranormal Inc was so intricate that I wanted to make sure we could build it in a spot where we could leave it up all year!”
One of the things I personally love about Knott’s mazes is what I refer to as that “home grown” feel. Sure, some of the competitor parks license well known franchise properties, but with the Knott’s attractions, they get to let their imaginations run wild and offer something unique. Cooke explains that once building begins, there’s at least a dozen people responsible for putting a maze together from scratch. From carpentry, to painting, to lighting, video and audio, while the theme begins with a strong idea, it truly becomes a collaborative process along the way. And while the time constraints, normal strains of labor, and an opening date looming, this crew relishes in the audience reactions to the final product. “When the doors open, and when we get to see the monsters running around and the jack o lanterns all lit up and people running around and screaming, it’s Halloween and it’s all worth it to get to that moment.”
Knott’s Scary Farm kicks off this Thursday evening, September 22nd. You can buy your tickets right here. Below is a gallery of images culled from our daytime visit!