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Blood, Sweat and Fears

Knott's Scary Farm's Halloween Haunt turns 40.

Still one of Knott's Scary Farm's most popular mazes, the Terror of London is back for a fourth year. Beware, Jack the Ripper is still on the loose. Courtesy of Knott's Berry Farm

See Dead People
Watch Coast staffer Jessica Peralta when she
transforms into a Haunt monster on October 13
for the new Pinocchio Unstrung maze, where
Pinocchio returns with an army of murderous
marionettes. If you can’t make it, check out our
Haunt-related video. And visit our Facebook
page for the chance to win free tickets to Haunt.
:: facebook.com/coastmag
:: knotts.com

Enter Buena Park’s Knott’s Berry Farm on most days and you’ll find a picture of Americana sprinkled with the Old West, fried chicken and thrill rides.

Enter the same park on an October night and the picture is significantly darker: think killer clowns, creepy dead things and lots of gore.

A transformation takes place that turns a benign amusement park into a nightmarish scene of intense Halloween mazes, streets filled with prowling monsters and live shows determined to send you running and screaming throughout the park – if all goes well.

Knott’s Scary Farm’s Halloween Haunt has been scaring the bejesus out of guests for 40 years now; more than eight million people have attended the event since its 1973 debut. And the annual transformation takes place so efficiently every year – with better makeup, talent, maze designs, and scares each time around – that it’s hard to imagine a time when Haunt wasn’t Haunt.

But on the first night of Haunt, there were only about 15 live monsters (which increased by 35 for the following two nights), some very-last-minute props and a giant stuffed gorilla to send guests screaming… and somehow it worked. “We decided that there wasn’t enough time to build and decorate (only six weeks), so I went to all the prop houses in L.A. and reserved any spooky items they still had available at this late date,” says John Waite of Buena Park, who helped decorate the Mine and Log Rides that first year, and continued with Haunt for 10 more years. “I brought two truckloads of props back to place around the two rides. One was an eight-foot gorilla that looked pretty scary.” 

Gary Salisbury, of Yorba Linda, supervised the nine street monsters in Haunt that first year and was also a monster. The first Haunt was full of fun, hard work and learning, he says. “I had never seen such a large crowd at the main gate when it was time to open the gates for the first Halloween Haunt,” Salisbury says. “The guests just came running into Ghost Town in huge waves, a virtual sea of people.”

He saw a lot of change in the 17 years he worked Haunt – mostly for the better. “It has become a real science today,” he says. “We were flying by the seat of our pants when we first put this event together. We had no idea if it would work or if we would ever do it again. It was just a very talented group of employees that came together for the first Haunt with an explosion of ideas and concepts that gave birth to a whole new industry. Today you can find this event all over the United States and in many different countries, and just think: It all started at an amusement park in Buena Park, California called Knott’s Berry Farm. What a feather in our cap.”

Halloween Haunt debuts October 26-28. The event draws thousands more guests than expected.
Debut of the first walk-through maze built especially for Haunt. The Chilling Chambers maze is in the Boothill Graveyard area of the Knott’s Old West Ghost Town.
Haunt celebrates its 25th “Shiver” Anniversary with a record 16-night event.
With 25 nights and 12 walk- and ride-through mazes, the event keeps growing. The Grudge 2 becomes Haunt’s first-ever movie-based maze.
After 40 years, and now boasting 1,000 monsters in mazes and streets, Haunt introduces its first reservations-only maze, Trapped.

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