The Behind-the-Scenes Boogeyman at Knott’s Scary Farm

Every October, design specialist Jon Cooke and his fear team transform Knott’s Berry Farm

Knott’s Scary Farm goes beyond the park’s geographical boundaries and into its guests’ deepest, darkest places. Cooke, who began his Knott’s career as a monster a decade ago, looks for chinks in people’s emotional armor and exploits them with deliciously terrifying results.

Cooke was working in the park’s props department when he pitched and executed his “longshot” idea: the 2014 Knott’s Scary Farm attraction “Special Ops: Infected.” His success with the interactive experience, which used 140 actors and 150 laser-tag devices to imitate a zombie apocalypse, was groundbreaking—an attraction of that magnitude had never been done at a theme park before. It prompted his promotion to design specialist, enabling him to show off his hair-raising visions full-time.

“Although I truly love creating and designing, I have to admit my very favorite part of this job is the few nights when I get to put on a mask, head out into the fog, and scare the daylights out of people. This allows me to witness firsthand how thousands of people are enjoying an event that I helped to create.”

While the job entails fun moments, Cooke and the other visionaries behind Knott’s Scary Farm are painstaking in their attention to details. Props, sets, audio tracks, and costumes are carefully selected for their scream-producing properties. Each component, from the blood splattering the maze walls to the monsters’ masks, is the result of lengthy research and creative collaboration. If the items look properly petrifying during the daytime, Cooke knows they’re ready for their nighttime premiere.

“When I am laying out a room in an attraction, I start with a hiding space for an actor and then add in a distraction like a ringing telephone—anything to make a guest stop looking for the actor and to provide an opportune moment to strike. Think velociraptors; it’s not the one standing in front of you that you need to worry about.”

“There’s one time of year where we let the darker and more taboo side of life take the forefront. It’s quite insane. We dress up our children in costumes and take them to unknown homes asking for candy, or walk them through a homemade maze. We carve faces into vegetables and display skeletons, blood, guts, and other somber decor. I think Halloween stands for a much-needed relief from the norm. Not to mention it’s just plain fun to be scared.”


See Cooke’s fright fest in person!

Knott’s Scary Farm runs select nights from Sept. 24 to Halloween.

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