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Knott’s Scary Farm: Making Monsters

What Makes Knott’s Scary Farm so Scary? Why… the Monsters, of course.

Knott’s Berry Farm has been an Orange County feature for almost a hundred years. Once a small collection of roadside stands and a justifiably famous fried chicken restaurant, it grew to the famous theme park it is today.

Knott's Scary Farm: Making Monsters

The modern Knott’s Berry Farm is known for great entertainment, the Boysenberry Festival, the Peanuts Gang, and some of the most iconic roller coasters in America… and yeah, really great fried chicken dinners. At least two generations of Orange County kids have grown up with this family-friendly, affordable theme park in their backyard.

During most of the year, Knott’s Berry Farm keeps that family entertainment vibe, producing great live shows, edutainment, and fun. There are rides and attractions for everyone from the very small to the very tall (and brave), exactly as much adventure as you can handle, and it’s all topped with a generous helping of really good food.

But Knott’s does have a sinister side…

Every year at the end of September, Knott’s Berry Farm turns from Orange County’s favorite family-friendly Western theme park to a 160-acre nightmare factory. Monsters roam the streets, haunt the optional Boo-fet at Spurs, and cheerfully startle the unwary.

When the sun starts to go down at 6PM, the park closes for an hour… and everything changes.

When Knott’s reopens at 7 PM, it’s to an eerie fog rolling through parts of the park… and that fog brings terror with it.

Beware… there’s no escape once you enter. There is no part of the Knott’s Scary Farm experience that’s safe. But that’s what you want… isn’t it?

“Where Nightmares Never End”

Knott’s Scary Farm is a slightly more than a month-long nightly fear fest, where parts of the park are turned into the stuff that nightmares are literally made of. Terrifying haunted houses await the unwary… intricately-designed and immersive mazes tempt passersby to dare their byzantine passageways and take in their incredible special effects, and even the park’s normal attractions are decorated with the strange, the bizarre and the scary.

But as good as the decorations and attractions are (and they are devastatingly good), what really makes Knott’s Scary Farm live… are the monsters.

“The only thing we crave is death and chaos…”

Knott’s Scary Farm has had monster players (called Scare Actors) since 1973 when the very first scare actor, Bud Hurlbut, put on a gorilla suit and scared the living daylights out of unsuspecting passengers on the Mine Ride by jumping out at them.

The Knott’s Scary Farm experience has grown exponentially since it was first introduced, and so has the cadre of dedicated Scare Actors who roam the park to the terrified delight of park guests. And whatever else the Scare Actors are doing, they’re definitely not wearing cheap gorilla suits anymore.

Knott’s Scary Farm costuming department has high-quality costumes for every monster in the park. All of them are carefully crafted to tell the story of the individual characters, from demonic dance hall girls to undead miners. Prosthetics and the kind of ghoulish makeup that really puts the “dead” in “deadly attractive” round out the look.  Depending on their characters, the monsters are given whatever props they need to scare the heck out of guests… like menacing giant razors or even the occasional severed human head.

But there’s more…

More than a few of the actors have built slider rigs which allow them to perform what looks like inhuman feats of agility as they skid across the pavement with sparks flying up from their feet and knees. If you’ve ever had nightmares about things lumbering or slithering out of the mist and attacking you… beware the slider actors on the streets. They are good at their jobs.

Once a Monster, Always a Monster

The atmosphere backstage before the nightly show is part adrenaline, part pre-show jitters, but a lot of fun, with Scare Actors gearing up, putting the final touches on their costumes and sliding rigs… maybe doing a little pre-haunt stretching. Scaring guests is seriously physical work.

Because they work together in such an intense environment, Scare Actors become almost a family during their yearly run. They support each other through the long physically and mentally demanding nights. Most Scare Actors are in it for the long haul, coming back year after year to participate in the Great Orange County Scare-Out that is Knott’s Scary Farm’s annual show. They don’t mind the long hours on their feet, the hours in wardrobe and makeup, and breathing in fog night after night for a month. They love what they do.

They’re funny. They’re witty. And they’re here to terrify you.

“Fresh meat! Fresh meat!”

So You Want to be a Knott’s Scare Actor?

Technically, anyone who’s age 18 or over can become a Scare Actor during the Halloween run at Knott’s Scary Farm. Applicants need to audition in front of a panel of Scary Farm Designers and talent coordinators, and they’ll be evaluated for their acting strengths to see where they’ll best fit.

Scare Actors can be assigned to anything from line control to maze monster, Infected Zombie to street monster.  Although joining up is an audition process, it isn’t like a normal audition where you can fail. Everyone who auditions gets into the monster program, but final placements in individual zones or attractions are up to the audition panel. They’ll review their actors’ talents and put them where they can be best used to scare the heck out of people.

What do Scare Actors get paid? Currently, Knott’s Scary Farm monsters and Scare Actors get paid minimum wage. But let’s be honest – Scare actors spend the month sending their peers into a panic not for the money, but for the thrill and the camaraderie.

What Does it Take to be a Scare Actor?

  • Good feet. Scare Actors spend most of their time on their feet and walking around, occasionally sliding, skidding, running, or launching themselves at unwary guests, so they need to be physically able to do all of that without much trouble.
  • Be Able to Take the Heat. Scare Actors are in masks and makeup during their entire shift, and latex does get hot.
  • Have a sense of humor. Knott’s Scary Farm operates on dark humor rather than unrelenting horror (although that’s certainly present in the maze attractions). It’s not enough to be scary… you have to be humorously terrifying.
  • Be a Night Owl. The monsters pull long shifts every night, whether they’re in one of the four ScareZones or if they’re populating one of the many terrifying mazes. Scare Actor shifts can run as late as 3AM, so if you can’t take late nights, it might be a little rough.
  • Have good lungs. Scare Actors do a lot, and we mean a lot, of screaming, yelling, howling, growling, panting and dementedly funny chattering.

It might be a physically demanding job, but so many Scare Actors return season after season because it’s also a terrifyingly good time.

“The Night’s Only Just Begun…”

Knott’s Scary Farm is the longest running frightfest in Southern California, and it somehow manages to top itself in terms of technical chops and fear factor every year. If you think you can stand the adrenaline rush, you should go…

If you dare….

Survival Guide to Knott’s Scary Farm

Die Die Must Try (attractions)

  • All of Knott’s Scary Farm can be rated as a must-see… but if you can only manage a few mazes before your nerves give out, we suggest doing Origins: The Curse of Calico and Wax Works first.

Added Value Pro-tips

  • To make the most out of your visit, we recommend adding the Boo-fet to your ticket.
    • The Boo-fet is located at Spurs.
    • You get a full buffet meal (all you can eat, provided you can manage to eat with monsters wandering the tables and making disturbing small talk). You also get early entry to some of the most popular and immersive Knotts’ Scary Farm mazes and a souvenir bottle.

Knott’s Scary Farm Pro-tips for Guests with Sensory Issues

  • Knott’s Scary Farm is a very immersive environment with no safe zones and a high level of interaction with the kind of things that go bump in the night. The shows also tend to use a lot of very funny but inappropriate adult humor, so please be aware of that before deciding to bring kids.
  • Giant fog machines cover the ScareZones with a layer of fog that make it hard to see, and there are strobing lights on some of the buildings and attractions.
  • Some of the street monsters wandering the ScareZones may carry noisemakers such as air horns which may be unpleasant or painful to people with sensory processing issues.
  • Monsters generally do make a lot of noises which might register as unpleasant.
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Kelly Smith
Kelly Smith is lives in Southern California with one dog, two cats, two guinea pigs… and the rest of her family. She writes about Orange County, faith, family, special needs and tea, and world-builds science fiction universes on the side.