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Knott's Scary Farm celebrates 50 years of Halloween horror

The event that transformed the world of haunted houses is celebrating 50 years of scaring people out of their wits.
Knott's Scary Farm celebrates 50 years of Halloween horror
Posted at 3:18 PM, Oct 24, 2023

They are the screams, monsters, and nightmares, 50 years in the making. This is the time of year the Western-themed Knott's Berry Farm amusement park in Buena Park, California, becomes Knott's Scary Farm.

The event that transformed the world of haunted houses is celebrating 50 years of scaring people out of their wits.

Jeff Tucker has worked at the amusement park for 30 years.

"We spend all year working on it. And then we get to actually hear the screams of the people running and hiding in terror. That's why we do it. It's fantastic. There's nothing like it in the world," Tucker tells Scripps News.

Back in 1973, Knott's needed a way to attract customers during the slow season between summer and the end of the year. They already had the famous Calico Ghost Town, and with a few weeks of planning and some spooky decorations, the first Halloween haunt was born.

"Three nights only," says Tucker. "About five bucks to get in. And it was a big hit. And you have to remember, in 1973 Halloween was not a big deal."

Over the decades, however, "Scary Farm" became a terrifying institution. Today it runs for 29 days, and nights. The attraction is known for blazing a bloody trail in an industry that has grown to more than 1,200 haunts nationwide that generate half a billion dollars in ticket sales, according to industry group America Haunts.

"This is ground zero. This is where Halloween events began," Tucker says. "For those of us in Southern California, it was a rite of passage. 'Are you old enough to go?' 'Are you going next year?' 'My dad says I can go this year.' That's a big deal."

Behind-the-scenes, Scary Farm is a massive production.

SEE MORE: 11 Haunted Hotels You Can Stay In For A Spooky Night Away

Knott's casting director Billy Murray says hundreds of people are hired every year to creep through the park's scare zones and 10 different mazes.

"There are 700 monsters that fill up our mazes that scare the guests each night," Murray says.

All those monsters start life with a few minutes in the backstage makeup area. Rebecca Avina has been becoming "undead" for five years.

With a costume, icy-blue contacts in her eyes, and a scary voice, her grieving-widow character is ready to stalk her first victims.

"She's grieving for her loved ones that have passed on before her," Avina says of her character. "She is cursed to walk forever."

This year for the first time, guests can buy a "No Boo" necklace for $15 that prevents monsters from creeping up on you out in the open.

"It's very controversial," Tucker says. "Who would go to a Halloween event and not want to get scared?"

The necklace, however, won't protect you if you decide to enter a maze.

"In the street zones, it's kind of a buffer. It's for people who have anxiety, maybe they have a disability and they just want to get to the maze. This is a really nice idea," Tucker says.

Convincing people to come back every year and pay good money to be scared is part of the goal of maze designers like Gus Kreuger.

"I love this sandbox I get to create in," Kreuger says.

The mazes have gotten more high-tech as audiences have gotten more sophisticated.

"It's just about the immersion and just making you feel like this is a really cool impressive place" he says.

Rebecca Avina says there's nowhere else she'd rather be for Halloween.

"I love doing this so much, so it's really fun," she says moments before sending a group of young women screaming and running away.

Tucker says the ghosts and ghouls take their mission seriously.

"We're not playing games here. We tell people, it is terrifying here. It is scary. They tell you at the front gate," he says. "If you're squeamish, or you don't know what you're getting into, don't come here, because, the monsters? They live for this. If you start screaming, it attracts them!"

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