‘Halloween Haunt’ chronicles a Knott’s Scary Farm legacy
Ted Dougherty is an unassuming Glendale paralegal and classical musician with an overt dark side that reaches its monstrous zenith every October.
Dougherty stumbled upon his twisted passion in 1987 during a visit to Knott’s Scary Farm, which ultimately led to a fan website dedicated to the seasonal theme park event, an annual job as an undead werewolf and now a new book, “Knott’s Halloween Haunt: A Picture History.”
The authorized but unofficial pictorial compendium traces the history of the “Scariest Place on Earth” and its expansion over the past four decades at Knott’s Berry Farm into the “Granddaddy of Halloween Events.”
“To be on the inside and witness, first hand, what brings this massive machine to life is something unique and special,” Dougherty writes in the book’s introduction. “It was there, in the dingy trenches, where I found a renewed love for the event.”
As co-founder of the Ultimate Haunt fan website, Dougherty spent a decade researching the book and conducting 80 interviews with such participants as maze designers, makeup artists and a multitude of monsters past and present.
Some of the photos from the pre-digital 1970s and 1980s look like faded and fuzzy snapshots found in some old shoebox, but it’s just that scrapbook quality that lends the book its charm, devotion and authenticity. It looks and reads like a yearbook put together by a hardcore fan driven by passion and dedication.
The book opens with a foreword by “Doogie Howser, M.D.” and “How I Met Your Mother” star Neil Patrick Harris, an avowed theme park fan and Haunt addict.
“It’s about time that Knott’s Scary Farm’s Halloween Haunt gets the historical recognition that it deserves,” writes Harris. “There have been many, many imitators throughout the years, but in my opinion, no one can hold a candle to Knott’s.”
The first chapter takes a deep dive into the “overnight success” of Haunt in 1973 with subsequent chapters tackling the exponential growth of the event decade by decade.
Dougherty tracks Haunt’s origins to Magic Mountain in 1972, where Sinister Seymour: The Master of Macabre hosted a Spook-tacular horror movie festival in the Valencia amusement park’s outdoor theater. In search of a new location with a darker indoor theater, the local television horror host, portrayed by actor Larry Vincent, turned to Knott’s the following year and the Buena Park theme park ran wild with the idea.
The first Halloween Haunt, billed as a $4 hard ticket special event, featured monsters based on classic horror movie characters, a walk-through maze and a pair of “hauntified” rides.
“It was a smash hit, from night one, year one,” writes Dougherty. “It was as if Southern California was waiting for an event such as this.”
Over the next decade, Knott’s added celebrities like Wolfman Jack (1975), Dr. Demento (1981) and Elvira (1982) to goose interest, and attendance continued to grow.
The book is filled with sidebars on Haunt lore, including a concise history on the evolution of sliders, the Knott’s monsters that slide through the theme park on kneepads with their metal-tipped gloves and steel-toed boots creating a spine-tingling screeching sound.
What makes the book invaluable for Scary Farm fans is the collected ephemera of Haunts passed, ranging from character sketches, concept art and maze blueprints to prop lists, event fliers and park maps.
For people like me, who write about Haunt all the time, the authoritative appendix will prove an invaluable resource with its detailed list of every maze, show and re-themed ride associated with the event.
The exhaustive list of mazes includes several humorous entries I wish I could have seen -- including Ghost Town Dead & Breakfast, Malice in Wunderland and Hatchet High -- plus one I’m glad I missed: Carnival of Carnivorous Clowns from Outer Space 3D.
The list of seasonal haunted rides includes a pair of Scary Farm attractions I’d love to see make a return: Transylvania Express (on Calico Railroad) and Trail of the Headless Horseman (on Butterfield Stagecoach).
And the Monster Speak vocabulary index features a number of lexiconic gems, including dead meat (a monster groupie), flatliner (an unscareable guest) and mookie (a rookie monster).
“Knott’s Halloween Haunt: A Picture History” can be purchased for $24.99 at Ultimate Haunt or at several shops inside Knott’s Berry Farm, including this year’s Haunt Museum.
Get inspired to get away.
Explore California, the West and beyond with the weekly Escapes newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.