By 1990, Knott’s Scary Farm’s “Monster College” was training over 500 ghouls a year. Sold-out weekends were more rule than exception. The event had bested local imitators before, but now every regional park in the country seemed to have its own take on Halloween Haunt. Without the celebrity guests that exemplified the ‘80s, the decade would be about standing out in an ever-busier industry.
What the competition ultimately couldn’t reverse-engineer out of Knott’s was its sense of humor. The signs were there with Elvira and “Weird Al” Yankovic. The Hanging’s turn to pop culture parody made it official. Halloween Haunt wasn’t just teeth-grinding terror - it was also black comedy only a wink, nudge, and fake corpse away from bad taste. The Timothy L. Eerie Time Machine maze mixed ‘60s psychedelia with zombified casualties of the Vietnam War. One XXXXXL Elvis jumpsuit later, Kingdom of the Dinosaurs became Kingdom of the Lounge Lizards. A murderous Santa Claus moved into the Timber Mountain Log Ride for a few years.
As Universal armed itself with known quantities like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Six Flags Magic Mountain enlisted the dark arts of Alice Cooper, Knott’s beat them both on sheer attitude, let alone craftsmanship. Fan-favorite mazes returned with annual revisions and reimaginings. Not one to be left behind, Knott’s started recruiting famous faces for its mazes, too. Only a year after his last appearance at Halloween Horror Nights, the Cryptkeeper moved down the 101. Construction had already started on a tie-in maze for Bram Stoker’s Dracula when the rights fell through and it hastily became Dominion of the Dead.
By 1999, those 500 ghouls out of the “Monster College” swelled to well over 1,000. Over 25 years after its debut, Knott’s Halloween Haunt showed no signs of slowing down.
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