This past week, Craig had the opportunity to speak with Knott’s Scary Farm design specialist Jon Cooke about his new maze Dark Ride and how it adds a fresh spin to Scary Farm’s carnies.

Nightmarish Conjurings: Thank you for speaking with us Jon. My first question for you is how did you decide to interpret clowns in your own way to make them different from traditional clown haunted houses? 

Jon Cooke: I don’t think this is new to the haunted attraction industry, but I think this interpretation is new to Knott’s. Knott’s has a history of portraying clowns as very bright, very over the top, very wacky, and very funny. For this, we are going for a dark, dirty, and grungy portrayal of clowns. My big line is, “These clowns don’t smile.” I also want to point out that the clown element is a very small portion of this maze; it makes up a very minor portion of the story. This house is more about the creation of this ride and I think that is what will set this clown maze apart.

NC: How did you craft this maze from a beginning, middle, and end story standpoint? 

JC: What’s great is that we set it up like a carnival ride so you’re walking through the front facade of the carnival ride, on to the loading dock, and down the tracks. One thing we really wanted to do to get that story across is we wanted to plant characters towards the beginning of the maze that aren’t scare actors. These are more vagrant type characters that are warning you to stay out of this maze that have been infested with clowns in different Carnival type characters. That’s what really set it up. As far as the middle, I think what we did that was kind of neat is that you take a step off the ride tracks and you walk backstage. During this portion we got very hyperreal with the different set designs, aesthetics, lighting, and audio. Then for the finale you are going to have to wait and see, but I can confidently say that it’s not a finale that has ever been done at Knott’s before.

NC: Does the story of the ride spill out into the CarnEVIL scare zone? 

JC: It’s loosely tied in. The ride that serves as the basis for our Dark Ride haunted house is set in the CarnEVIL scare zone, but that’s about as much of a story tie in as we’ve got.

NC: Are you interested in tying scare zones to haunted houses more often now? 

JC: I think it was a very cool coincidence this year, but when we get backstage it’s a little harder. I think it’s something that we’re happy with this year and we are going to continue to look at, but I don’t think it can be an every case instance.

NC: Are there any scenes in the new Dark Ride or Trick or Treat: Lights Out haunted houses that you are especially excited about? 

JC: I gotta say, man, the finale of Dark Ride, I think, is going to be spectacular. It has the most actors ever put in a single room in Scary Farm history, so I think that’s pretty neat. There is also room in Trick or Treat: Lights Out that I designed, I art directed, and the first time I walked through it, it literally scared me. It has a very, very overgrown gentleman that can’t put down his dolls. You might see him in icon photos, but that room definitely creeped me out pretty good.

Knott’s Scary Farm is set to open September 21st with the brand new haunted house, Dark Ride, and the reinterpreted Trick or Treat: Lights Out joining the lineup.

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