Halloween Haunt brings thrills and chills to Knott’s

This month marks Knott’s Scary Farm’s 35th annual Halloween Haunt. With the help of thousands of carpenters, technicians and, of course, monsters, the normally family-friendly amusement park is transformed into your worst nightmare.

The most remarkable transformation, however, occurs backstage. Every night, before Knott’s opens its gates to anticipating guests, hundreds of people are being turned into every breed of monster imaginable. With the help of makeup artists, costume designers and loads of caffeine, everyday people become hideous monsters that thrive on terrifying unsuspecting guests.

But just how much time and energy does it take to become someone’s worst nightmare? During the run of Halloween Haunt, an entire Knott’s backstage warehouse is taken over with masks, prosthetics, wardrobe garments and more black eye makeup than you’ve ever seen.

As I wander through the racks of costumes, I’m told that there are different “breeds” of monster. On one rack, there are nothing but clown costumes and masks. The rack next to it holds the wardrobe for anyone working in “The Doll Factory,” one of Haunt’s new mazes this year. Whether it’s a trench coat or a straitjacket, Knott’s seems to have every type of outfit imaginable to cater to anyone’s greatest fear.

Once I’ve made my way through the hundreds of costumes, I arrive at the makeup section of the warehouse. I have to admit that there is nothing creepier than watching normal-looking people become hideous, disgusting beasts.

Take Gary, for example. A software engineer by day, he spends his October nights haunting the streets of Knott’s Scary Farm. He is tall, with brown hair and a pleasant smile, and he has a three-year-old son named Mars. He is quite friendly and personable – at least until he gets his mask and makeup on.

After about 35 minutes in a makeup chair, he becomes “SNAFU,” an evil jester that terrorizes all who come near (including myself.) With blacked-out eyes and a prosthetic mask and makeup that give him a maniacal smile, he is ready to make all unsuspecting guests run for their lives. He said the best part of Halloween Haunt is “a victim curled in the fetal position on the ground with me lording over them.”

Just next to Gary, Charlene Parker is finishing up a 20-minute period in a makeup chair. Charlene has been with Knott’s for 25 years now. She is an educational tour guide during the rest of the year, but during Haunt she is the “Green Witch.” Her quiet and gentle demeanor disappears the moment she steps into the fog-filled streets of the park. With a silent stalk and an evil glare, she chases guest who shows the slightest hint of fright at the sight of her bewitching character.

The monsters all seem to have a knack for picking out who is going to scream the loudest. It’s almost as if they sense their fear before they even come into contact with the person. Charlene described it as a predator-prey relationship in which the monsters separate the weak from the strong. They are able to tell, just by a glance, who is going to run for their lives.

“We know fear,” Gary said. “We can see it. It’s a hesitation. It’s a glance. It’s a misstep.”

As the evening draws to a close, hundreds of monsters slowly make their way back to the warehouse to pack up their costumes and go home. As they walk, I hear them sharing stories of who got the best scares of the night and how they plan to scare guests the next evening. Their excitement and love for this event is palpable. As they strip off their masks and makeup, they wave goodbye and promise to be back the next night for another round of haunting.

As horrifying as they are to guests, the monsters of Halloween Haunt truly are one great big, happy family. OK, make that a great, big, scary and odd family – but a family nonetheless.

Knott’s Scary Farm’s Halloween Haunt runs until Halloween night, Oct. 31.

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