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TRIED & TRUE : A Trip Through the Gasp Chamber

October 13, 1994|PATRICK MOTT | Patrick Mott is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition. This column is one in an occasional series of first-person accounts of leisure activities in and around Orange County.

It was hideous, ghastly, horrible, loathsome, grotesque and nauseating.

I liked it.

Even though it thoroughly eclipsed a reputation I'd formed in childhood for assembling really great Halloween "houses of horrors" in the garage, the Knott's Berry Farm "Halloween Haunt" was a delightful little meander through hell.

I used to think I was a pint-sized Stephen King, tossing headless, ketchup-splotched, newspaper-stuffed effigies out of the rafters onto my friends' heads, but after strolling around Knott's for a few hours last Saturday I've decided to fold the tent. Compared to these guys, I'm Casper the Friendly Ghost.

But in my defense, they probably have a better budget, which accounts for their having enough severed limbs to cover a football field knee-deep. This is no low-wattage, benign, parlor spookiness. This is the world's biggest slasher movie in the flesh.

But it's a really great slasher movie. (Translation: Nobody pounces on you and rips off your limbs and flays you open like a split duck with a chain saw before chomping on your vital organs and shredding your gizzard with gore-dripping talons.)

For the most part, the action revolves around the Ghost Town area, and everything pivots on a single, inviolate, overarching principle: If there is a dark corner, a cranny, a shadow or any place of concealment at all, something is going to jump out of it.

And there are a lot of somethings. On the nights of the Haunt (Oct. 14, 15, 21, 22, 23, 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31 from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.), several hundred park employees transform themselves into mutants and monsters of every kind, from the more conventional Frankenstein's monster type to something that looked to me like nothing more than ambulatory green slime.

They appear to love fog. That's how most visitors meet them for the first time. After entering through the main gate, you're directed down the main street of Ghost Town, which is unusually dark for the occasion. And just about the time you notice that the street is fairly choked with fog (very real-looking stuff, puffed out by concealed machines), the cast, nearly every one of whom seems to be armed with a rattling noise-maker, begins pouncing.

They aren't supposed to touch you. It doesn't really matter, though. They seem to have perfected the techniques of materializing out of nowhere. (A couple of them, fitted with metal-plated knee and hand pads, bolted from the shadows and slid noisily and quickly from one side of the street to the other, startling group after group of visitors into screaming fits.)

I decided to warm up with a visit to an old favorite, the Haunted Shack. This venerable bit of visual trickery has been transformed for the haunt into one of several themed "mazes" located throughout the park. In this case, the theme was a modern one: A benighted chemical plant has spilled deadly green ooze, which has either contaminated or wiped out everyone in sight. More fog, flashing lights, blaring warning horns, immense mutated bugs feasting on festering corpses, skeletons decomposing in vats of chartreuse goo, zombies with melted faces lurching around. I was so envious.

Appetite whetted, I took in a couple of other mazes: the House of Maniacs (which is just that, punctuated by a bit of human taxidermy, cannibalism and the standard complement of severed limbs) and the Lair of the Vampyre, a classically Gothic little interlude overseen by a Nosferatu-style vampire and quite a lot of fanged female sorts. One of the more hideous of them seemed intent on staring me down at close range. Noticing her attention, I naturally asked her for a date. (Alas, she ignored me.)

By then it was 8:30 and time for the first performance on the stage in Calico Square of the traditional yearly singing-dancing-slashing set piece, "The Hanging," a rather bloody send-up of several topical figures.

This year the performance was subtitled "Stop the Insanity," but nobody seemed to be able to. One by one, our man Freddy Krueger messily disposed of everyone from Rush Limbaugh to Forrest Gump to Roseanne Whatever-the-heck-her-name-is-this-week.

I went on an old favorite ride, the Calico Mine Ride, which for the Haunt is known as the Cavern of Carnage (by now, you've probably got the idea). And yes, there are actual live (sort of) monsters inside the ride, ready to leap out at you.

That sort of thing is infectious. About halfway through the evening, visitors started trying to scare each other, and I caught a few ambitious ones trying to scare a couple of monsters. It didn't work.

It was a fine, gory evening, with a good, healthy amount of screaming, but I knew when I'd been beaten. I went home, admitted defeat, tore up my plans for this year's Garage of Gore and went to bed. I slept like the dead.

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