The scares are back in town! This year at Knott’s Berry Farm’s annual Halloween-themed incarnation, Knott’s Scary Farm, many popular mazes, scare zones, and attractions will return. Meanwhile the theme park’s newest productions show that Knott’s is still among the creme of the crop in terms of original cutting edge horror entertainment. Beginning this Thursday, haunt lovers of all ages will have 25 nights to experience the latest batch of thrills that this reporter previewed during a recent tour of the park.
The Depths and Dark Entities are the latest mazes by scenic designers Jon Cooke and Timothy “Gus” Krueger, respectively. These experiences reflect their creators’ passion for exploring the varied territories of horror storytelling, and in the course of my tours, I discovered that each maze was fueled by extensive amalgamation of tropes from two distinct sub-genres from the horror kingdom.
The Depths centers on a Lovecraftian theme — for non-horror geeks, that’s a theme influenced by images and scenarios from the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. In Cooke’s absence, Knott’s scenic designer Daniel Miller (who co-hosted my tour last year for the returning maze Pumpkin Eater) describes the horrors that await guests who dare to brave The Depths. He explains, “You enter into a village; there’s a huge lighthouse; [then] you go into this cave that’s at the base, and there’s these miners that have been excavating this cave. You go in, and it is set in a period like the 1930’s. They’ve been digging deeper and deeper, and they’ve unveiled these horrors in this cavern. You go through their base camp, and then you just go deeper; and you find this ancient temple that is sort of Cthulhu-esque. I don’t want to spoil too much, but it’s almost like going to a nautical graveyard.”
Enormous, beautifully detailed, decayed, aquatic set pieces punctuate the various scenes of the maze, and though this writer has seen the horror that awaits guests at the attraction’s finale, the spectacle was so terrifyingly overwhelming that it is not possible to use words from a human language to adequately describe the maddening sight that awaits. Well, either that or they made me promise not to tell…
Next up on the tour, Krueger took me through Dark Entities. In contrast to the subterranean world of The Depths, Dark Entities features the types of horrors that possibly await human beings once they leave the security of their home planet and venture into space. Krueger’s design features thematic elements from throughout the horror-in-space subgenre. He explains, “It’s really a good opportunity for us to get back into the Sci-Fi genre because we haven’t done it in I don’t know how many years…So it was really an opportunity to go back to Sci-Fi and just embrace the horror aspect of it and be able to do something that really felt like a different, true place, and it’s just a nice homage to that classic trapped on a ship, claustrophobic horror.”
Seasoned horror fans may recognize the inspirations of space-based horror films like Alien, Event Horizon and the horror video game Dead Space. Particularly prominent throughout the pleasingly long and claustrophobic environment of the labyrinthine Dark Entities maze are the aspects of destruction and decay that flavor what may once have been a pristine looking space ship design. As for the journey, Krueger explains, “The journey that you take as a guest through the ship — or through the maze — is that you are entering a secure facility that’s on earth. [Theme park guests play the role of] the people that this corporation is sending through to investigate what’s wrong on their ship because guests are more expendable than their people. So, as a guest, you’ll go through and you’ll be subjected to a security scan and decontamination before you pass through a portal…you’re passing through a wormhole in space…sort of a little stargate…and once you get to the ship, you’re immediately encountered with chaos, bloodshed and carnage.”
The basic premise is that an alien artifact has been brought on board the ship, and, well, mutations ensue. Krueger continues, “As soon as [the artifact] touches that human physiology, a cocoon starts to incubate…there is an alien that emerges from that cocoon, and that is the main enemy on the ship. However, the more prolific enemies are the crew, which has been mutated…So you’re not only dealing with the alien, you’re dealing with the crew…[and the collective alien mutation] is terraforming both the ship and the people so that it’s making the people into something that’s more bringing out the worst in them and their rage and all of this madness because [their] being so destructive works in the best interest of the alien.”
In addition to the ambitious new mazes, Knott’s will feature a new scare zone, designed by Miller, called Forsaken Lake. This scenic area of the theme park is inspired by the gothic imagery of New Orleans cemeteries. It will feature lightning, thunder, and periodic funerary processions by its appropriately styled residents. Other new highlights of this year’s haunted theme park include Hacks — Cutting Room Floor, which is a horror-themed comedy show; and Conjurers — Magic and Mirth in the Bird Cage Theatre; and, of course, a new Hanging show. With a total of 16 various new and old horror-themed attractions, each demonstrating the kind of ambitious and original vision that Knott’s is known for, guests may find it difficult to experience it all in one fell swoop. For this reason, it is an additional bonus that haunt-season passes are available for a mere $99. Halloween fans, young and old, will love this year’s park…as always!
For more information on the attractions and ticketing, visit the Knott’s Scary Farm site.