The Monsters Are Due on Knott's Streets
A year's worth of work prepares Knott's Scary Farm for the granddaddy of all theme park Halloween events, the Halloween Haunt.
Written by Robert Niles
"We start the planning and design phase in January," Knott's Director of Entertainment Charles Bradshaw said. "We do most everything in house, and draw upon the experience of what we've done in the past to decide what changes we want to make each year."
Bradshaw and his team of about 30 writers and directors must make over the park from the family-friendly home of Snoopy and Charlie Brown to a ghoul-invested scare zone with more than 1,000 monsters roaming the streets.
"It's a very adult and dark event. A high-gore, high-scare, intense atmosphere is the goal of the whole event," Bradshaw said. "We want there to be nowhere a guest can get away from some scare."
"The Asylum – revisited" is one the mazes at Knott's 32nd Annual Halloween Haunt, opening September 30, 2004. © Knott's
In January, the team begins discussions about which mazes will return for that year's Haunt and what new themes and designs they want to include at the event. Knott's typically keeps each maze for three to four years, swapping out about two or three mazes a year, said Bradshaw, a 14-year Knott's veteran.
"We could do all mazes the same – darken the lights, put monsters in and call it all good," he said. "But there's a lot of thought and planning in making sure each maze has its own theme and a different style of scare."
While the mazes elicit the screams, shows inject some laughs into Halloween Haunt, led by The Hanging, a Haunt fixture where pop icons gleefully dispose of each other in gruesome fashion.
"If we just stayed with heavy, heavy scares, it could get not only monotonous, but disturbing," Bradshaw explained. "The shows provide a place to lighten the tone of what people are getting out in the streets."
A team of writers start brainstorming ideas for The Hanging in April, he said, devising an outline for the show and revising the script throughout the summer.
The writers look for targets popular with people in the late teens and early 20s. Last year, they found an easy target in Disney's hit movie "Pirates of the Caribbean." This year, without any stand-out blockbuster, they've had to look harder for a theme.
"We're basing it loosely on 'The Village,'" Bradshaw revealed, adding that the show will revolve around a group of villagers fighting off the evil influences of Hollywood. With a high celebrity body count, of course.
So what makes a Haunt event a success? Bradshaw said that he and his team look for immediate feedback.
"We're out there on the street, listening to people. We're in the mazes with people as they go through them. We listen for screams and laughs and whether they say something sucks, which we don't hear that often, thankfully."
Knott's managers also go online to gauge reaction after the event.
"We read that feedback religiously," Bradshaw said. "Someone who is that interested that they'd go to a website and write something -- they're usually fairly knowledgeable observers."
So... Knott's fans, what do you think of this year's Haunt?
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