Interview: Jon Cooke and Ted Dougherty for Knott’s Scary Farm

One of the most anticipated starts to the Southern California Haunt Season is the reveal of what’s coming to Knott’s Scary Farm. At this year’s announcements program, we learned that two new mazes were coming to the Southern California haunt. Having been a long-time attendee of Knott’s Scary Farm, when I found out that the creative team was going to be exploring the origins of the Calico Ghost Town as one of the brand new mazes at Knott’s Scary Farm, I started flipping out. How were they going to do this? What exactly were they going to explore? Luckily, I got the answers to my questions and then some.

I got the opportunity to chat with Jon Cooke and Ted Dougherty of Plague Productions, where we discussed everything from their involvement at this year’s Knott’s Scary Farm and how they are bringing the brand new maze, Origins: The Curse of Calico.

Knott’s was the first haunt that I ever sunk my teeth into as an attendee. So, I’m really excited about Calico and what you guys are going to do exploring the origins of Calico. First thing I want to ask, though, is how was the decision made to tackle this particular origin story for the maze? 

Jon Cooke: You know, it’s one of those things. I don’t know. This might be a little weird and deep, but I think for me we know we will only be able to do this for so long. And, for all of us and Ken Parks and the other people involved here at Knott’s Scary Farm, we truly love this event and we wanted to be able to take the event’s history and solidify it and, in our opinion, do the story justice and be able to tell it right.

Ted Dougherty: Yeah. And to really build the foundation for the future because this is the first time Knott’s has ever done anything like this where they are creating a maze, a Knott’s Scary Farm maze, that revolves around its existing properties.

Jon Cooke: And I think it’s the first time telling the backstory.

Ted Dougherty: Yeah. There’s been folklore about it, but this is the first time the backstory of Knott’s Scary Farm’s Ghost Town has been unveiled.

Jon Cooke: Yeah. When we’re old walking around with canes, we’ll be like, “We wrote that story!”

Ted Dougherty: Yeah. Totally. [laughs]

For anyone who’s unfamiliar with the folklore already established, can you give a little bit of history?

Ted Dougherty: Yeah. Well, I mean, when we’re writing all of this, we were really thinking about how do we tap into all of these points of interest and why not tap into the longest-running show in Knott’s history, which is The Hanging. Long before it became the pop culture, comedy stunt show that we’re familiar with now, during the late ’70s throughout the 1980s, it was a very dark and sinister show that revolved around a woman named Sarah Marshall. It was back in 1885. She was accused of all the bizarre and weird things that were happening in Calico. So, she was apprehended, pulled up to the gallows. She was proclaiming her innocence, but she was tried and convicted of witchcraft. And, as the noose began to tighten around her neck, she mysteriously escapes and her true colors are unveiled and she spits out this hideous curse onto the citizens of Calico. And she disappears into a puff of smoke. And that was really the end of those early ‘Hanging’ shows.

So, this maze – Origins: The Curse of Calico – picks up mere moments after that botched hanging tried to take place. So, in a nutshell, that is the folklore of the Ghost Town characters. They were a part of that curse. All of the creatures rising from Boothill every summer’s end and the true evil selves of the citizens will rise to the surface every October.

I’m glad I asked this question because I didn’t know any of that.

Ted Dougherty: Well, now we’re telling you!

Because I’ve only experienced the comedic ‘Hanging’ because my mom wouldn’t let me come in the ’90s when I think they were still doing something kind of scary there.

Ted Doughtery: [laughs]

Jon Cooke: Right.

During the presentation earlier, they mentioned that the scare zone would sort of phase into the maze and then link back to [The Hanging] show. How’s that going to happen? 

Jon Cooke: Well, you know the maze is taking place geographically in Ghost Town.


Jon Cooke: So, we’re using the existing proportions in Ghost Town like the cemetery and stuff, but we’re going to start with the experience, which is in the queue. So, in the queue, you’re going to interact with the character. We have some cool multi-media stuff going on in there to really tell that story and to begin that integration. Then, as you’re going through the maze and you are hearing the stories and stuff, it was important to us as you exit the maze to have a nice, seamless blend back into Ghost Town. So, as if you are plunged back out and the story is continuing and they are going to tie elements from the maze into the Hanging show.

One final question. What has been your favorite part of the maze that you’ve worked on so far?

Jon Cooke: [exhales]

Ted Dougherty: There are certain things that we can’t divulge right now that are definitely my favorites. But, for me, writing this whole thing was really the best part. I mean, we’ve been working on this since November, so being able to sit down and work with Jon and the team at Knott’s Berry Farm and getting all the perimeters and just kind of sitting down and writing this whole thing. It’s just been so exciting to really work out the beats and get him going on things.

Jon Cooke: We were nerding out the entire time.

Ted Dougherty: Yeah.

I can totally believe it.

Ted Dougherty: Yeah. Totally.

Jon Cooke: And for me, what I’m most excited about is the queue. I think it’s amazing that we’re using this historical landmark of Knott’s Berry Farm to begin our attraction.

Knott’s Scary Farm starts September 19th and will run for 26 nights through November 2nd. Tickets and season passes are on sale now here.

Sarah Musnicky
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