There would be no icons to grace brochures, billboards, and black t-shirts without another kind of dearly departed character that haunted regional TV - the horror host. For years on KHJ-TV and later KTLA, Sinister Seymour emceed and eviscerated the best in low-budget shlock for Southern California. The “star of TV, stage and screams” was such a hit with monster-crazed youth that actor Larry Vincent decided to take his act on the road. In 1972, Vincent booked a weekend at Magic Mountain, billed as “Seymour’s Halloween Spook-tacular.” It may have been a simple event by modern standards, with the only suspense provided by a giant jellybean contest, but it was another win for the televised fiend. Vincent knew he was onto something, just not in the right place.
Knott’s Berry Farm’s recently constructed John Wayne Theatre offered something Magic Mountain couldn’t - walls. The enclosed space would allow Vincent to get more theatrical with his live show. It was a smart move and, as of October 26th, 1973, a historic one.
In its first year, Knott’s Halloween Haunt laid the groundwork for an entire artform to come. Ghoulish actors roamed a fog-choked Ghost Town - the first-ever scarezone. The park’s Haunted Shack got a sinister makeover - the first-ever maze. Both the Calico Mine Ride and the Timber Mountain Log Ride received additional spooky theming - the first-ever overlays. All advertising centered on the black-hatted Seymour - the first-ever icon.
Across the event’s first seven years, Halloween Haunt only got bigger and better. Hollywood makeup artists were enlisted to mold better monsters. More and more rides received the overlay treatment. The Hanging, Knott’s Berry Farm’s enduring pop culture extravaganza, started out as the significantly more serious Dead Man’s Hanging in 1976.
Though Larry Vincent would tragically pass away in 1975, he forged not only a tradition of famous faces at Knott’s Halloween Haunt, but a legacy of insidious theme park entertainment that survives and thrives to this day.
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