For most people on the planet, Halloween will end at the
stroke of midnight tonight. Once the
witching hour passes and it's then officially November 1st, the masks come off,
the costumes get packed away and those artfully carved pumpkins quickly get
tossed in the trash as we then turn our attention to all of the other holidays
that loom on the calendar.
Mind you, I said "most." If you're someone like
Brooke Walters, who designs mazes for Haunt at Knott's Berry Farm, Halloween is
really is a year-round thing these days.
Brooke Walters in her backstage office at Knott's Berry Farm. Copyright Cedar Fair Entertainment Company. All rights reserved
So even as other employees are out & about in this Buena Park, CA.
amusement park in early November, pulling all of those artificial cobwebs to
then make room for thousands of Christmas decorations (so that Knott's Scary
Farm can then transformed into Knott's Merry Farm), Brooke will already be back
at her drawing table. Dreaming up site plans for scary new mazes that will be
built for the 2014 edition of Haunt.
"You gotta remember that -- out here in Southern California
-- we have lots of competition when it comes to Halloween-themed events. And
since Haunt is the granddaddy of them all, people always expect our seasonal
event to be the biggest and the best," Walters explained. "And given
how gory & intense horror films are these days ... Well, it takes a lot
more effort to fright people nowadays. Which is why -- in order to serve up the
sorts of innovative, highly detailed thrills & chills people have come to
expect from Knott's -- we have to get started earlier & earlier every
Of course, what's kind of ironic about all this is Brooke never really planned
on being in the scare business. She was just a film studies major who had a
boyfriend who was one of the over-a-thousand performers that Knott's hires each
year to portray monsters at this seasonal event.
Copyright Cedar Fair Entertainment Company. All rights reserved
"And my boyfriend mentioned that Knott's often needed help when it comes
to the painting & the propping of its mazes. So I drove down to Buena
Park and applied for work as a scenic painter on
Haunt. And after two years of doing that, they then wound up promoting me to
scenic lead. And I was having so much fun working on these mazes that I then
decided to tailor my film degree to production design," Walters continued.
"And when my bosses at Knott's heard about that, they then offered me the
opportunity to design a maze for that year's Haunt. I said 'Sure.' And they
must have liked what I designed because I've been designing mazes for Knott's
Mind you, Brooke isn't one of those designers who's chained to her desk. When
it comes to the construction of these often elaborate, extremely themed
walk-thru environments which entertain tens of thousands of people on the 24
nights that Haunt was presented this year, Ms. Walters is very, very hands-on.
"At this point, I've worked virtually every aspect of Haunt. I actually
worked with my boyfriend as a monster in one of these mazes way back when. So I
know what's like to be a performer and then have to work for hours in the dark
inside of one of these things," Brooke said. "So I always try and
take that into account as I'm designing a new maze. Making sure that -- as I
try to come up with a fun new way to frighten our guests -- I also always keep
in mind the safety & comfort of Knott's employees."
But at the same time, because Knott's Berry Farm has been staging Haunt for 41
years now, Southern Californians have come to expect that -- as soon as they
enter this 160-acre amusement park -- these people will then begin experiencing
top quality Halloween-themed fun as they wander through the 10 mazes & 5
scare zones that make up the 2013 edition of Scary Farm.
"And since our guests always want to experience
something new while -- at the same time -- revisit old favorites ... Well,
that's the real challenge from the maze design side of things. Trying to settle
on the exact right mix of elements for each year's Haunt. Which mazes from last
year do we retain? Which ones do we retheme?
What types of stories are we looking to tell this time around?,"
Walters explained. "There's a real science to staging these seasonal
events, getting the balance of things just right. Making sure that you create
compelling-enough reasons for people to spread out, wander around, explore the
entire park each night. Rather than crowd into a few corners."
Thankfully the folks at Cedar Fair Entertainment (i.e., the
Sandusky, OH-based company that actually owns Knott's Berry Farm) get what a
Halloween tradition Haunt has become for many Orange
County residents. Which is why they
get Brooke & her team all of the support they need when it comes to
designing & building new mazes. Even when it comes to truly way-out-there concepts
"Trapped is Knott's first wholly interactive maze. We introduced this show
to our guests back in 2012. And Trapped was the first time -- as a designer --
that I got to do everything I always wanted to do inside of one of our
mazes," Walters stated. "I mean, Trapped isn't a maze that you can
just walk through. You are literally trapped in a room. And the only way that
you can move forward is if you actually interact with the objects in the room
around you. It's up to you to find the secret that then opens the door leading to
the next room, and the room beyond that. And the best part of Trapped is that
-- while you're inside of this maze -- you get one-on-one interaction with our
performers. And this is the one maze in the park where the monsters can
actually touch you. Which can get pretty intense."
It's this dedication to innovation that has made Brooke one
of the respected & beloved figures working in the theme park horror field
today. Which is why -- back in August, when ScareLA (i.e., Southern
California's first Halloween convention was held) held -- Ms.
Walters was invited to be one of the guest speakers / panelists at this
"Getting that sort of recognition from my peers is
great. But to be honest, I just feel incredibly fortunate to have the job that
I have now. To be able to use the techniques that I learned in school to
entertain so many people every Fall," Brooke concluded.
Copyright Cedar Fair Entertainment Company.All rights reserved
So -- for Walters -- the witching hour never comes. Halloween is that holiday
which stretches on & on & on. On the other hand, if you'd like to
experience some of Brooke's handiwork for yourself, the 2013 edition of Haunt comes
to a close on November 2nd. So you're in the mood to explore some pretty
intense mazes, you'd better get on out to Buena Park
before Saturday night.