I’m going to level with you, I’m what you would call a scaredy-cat. That’s not to say that horror stuff always scares me. Very often I find myself pleasantly surprised that a horror movie is more stupid than it is scary. I also know monsters aren’t real, I’m not high on the list to be abducted aliens, and the ghosts moaning in the downstairs bathroom are actually just my long-dead grandma complaining about her bunions.
I get all that stuff. What I don’t like, is to be startled.
Urban Dictionary defines — yes, I’m using Urban Dictionary in an article, it’s the future baby! — a ‘scaredy-cat’ as “someone who shies away from facing their fears.” Definitely me. My mother has a large scar from being bitten by a dog and my brother has narrowly avoided being chomped at the neck by a pit bull. Figuring I’d be next, young Dane was deathly afraid of dogs for 15 years.
I love dogs now — thanks to a friend with a chihuahua — but the feelings of suspense and being startled? Those aren’t good feelings. The adrenaline from a roller coaster? Perfectly acceptable. The adrenaline from someone popping out of the bushes or some shit? No! Never. DON’T POP OUT OF A BUSH! This is how people get punched in the face.
Now slow down. Am I saying that if you ever pop out of the bushes and scare me I will punch you in the face? Yes. That is what I’m saying. Right square in the kisser. I’m not a violent person (and definitely can’t afford a lawsuit) but at that point, it’s just reflexes. I can’t control what my arms will do when my body senses danger. So when my ever-so-lovely girlfriend asked if I wanted to accompany her and her family to Knott’s Scary Farm my mouth stupidly said “yes” against the better judgment of my brain.
As that simple one-syllable affirmative left my lips, my eyes widened and alarm bells went off in my brain. I’ve been coasting through my twenties confident that I would never have to face a horror night of any kind. I am an adult with adult responsibilities, so either something will “come up” or I can just say “I’m too old for that shit.” (Meanwhile, every Halloween I avoid horror movies by looking up their Rotten Tomatoes score and pretending to be a film-buff.)
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Dear @knottsscaryfarm, I love you. I can’t hold it in anymore. I need the world to know that I love you. From the moment I walk into your gates and breathe in the fog, it feels like Halloween. That feeling of the greatest day of the year lives for over a month long in Buena Park, California. I love your attention to detail. I love your original ideas. I love your dedicated monsters. I love your use of technology. I love that you never let me down when you could just rest on your laurels considering your wonderful reputation. Thank you for never letting me down and making me feel like a kid every year. Sincerely, Jeff DePaoli P.S. The Depths maze this year was next level awesome. P.P.S. Can I please have the Trick or Treat banner currently hanging in the dining room scene whenever you retire that maze? Pretty please???
In the days between my stupid agreement and having to face my fears in front of my girlfriend and her cousins and brothers, my anxiety grew. I asked friends who had been to the famed attraction what I should expect. I looked up rules to see what monsters can and can’t do. I scanned through pictures of what the grounds typically look like. Nothing helped.
Then a ray of hope cut through the darkness: I found out we’d be pre-gaming. At once, my anxieties started to calm. I decided to get good and drunk so that no one could terrify me. I also smoked weed. Soon, my only pertinent fear seemed to be, “What if I stumble into a monster and they fall to an untimely death?” and — minutes later when we got in line — “What if security figures out how faded I am and I can’t go inside at all?”
I took a few deep breaths before entering the park. It was crowded as shit. Surely nothing could be scary with this many people right? Wrong. I have to hand it to the people at Knott’s Scary Farm. They create a creepy vibe like nothing I’ve ever experienced, especially in the ghost town area — where the aesthetics of an old western town really compliment the thick layers of artificial fog and dim lights. Less visibility means more chance for jump scares which, as I’ve mentioned before, leads to violence.
Clutching my girlfriend’s hand I assured myself that I would not get scared. I saw the monsters popping out of shadows, sliding across the floor, fucking galloping and shit — I was not going to get had! I even developed a strategy. I now present to you The Dane Rivera Guide to Startle Prevention.
1. Eye Contact
The Monsters at Knott’s Scary Farm depend on blending into the dense crowd. Visitors generally travel in groups, often lost in conversation or looking at the sights around the park. This is when a monster strikes. Search for the monsters ahead of you, when you find one lock eyes — and I mean get real creepy with it.
The last thing a monster wants is a challenge. They simply don’t get paid enough for that shit.
2. Put Down Your Phone
The bright screen of your smartphone practically puts a monster-marker on you. Monsters love to catch people off guard, if you’re too busy sexting, or reading Uproxx articles, or bidding on vintage 20th-century cookware, they’re gonna get ya!
The increase of light also makes it harder for your eyes to adjust.
3. Rest Against Walls
It should go without saying that standing around with your back exposed is a recipe for disaster. Monsters will creep up behind you and sniff, make loud noises, or a variety of other personal-space-violating behaviors. What you want to do is post up against a high and flat surface, giving you 180 degrees of visibility of the surrounding area.
If you’re against a wall you’re likely near a light source which is also a deterrent for the monster folk. The last thing they want is to be recognized during a smoke break in the back lot.
4. Avoid The Clowns At All Costs
Knott’s Scary Farm’s Monsters lurk the theme park grounds and within the boardwalk section of Knott’s is the domain of the clowns. It’s best to avoid the clowns at all cost. Remember when I said monsters don’t want a challenge? Well, the clowns fucking feed off of a challenge. They’ll get as close to your face as legally allowed, they’ll follow you and crack bad jokes, they are a never-ending fountain of energy. The clowns are always on, long after the rest of the monsters have lunged out of the shadows one too many times.
They’re probably there right now — in the middle of the day — cackling like maniacs, doing cartwheels across the park grounds, and eliciting some genuine screams of terror.
Solid as my techniques were, something strange happened halfway through the night. Maybe it was the drugs or the effectiveness of my strategy, but I started to sympathize with the monsters. Who are the people behind the masks? How does one sleep after a night of terrorizing others? Is there a lasting emotional toll that needs to be shaken off with a nightcap shared with other monsters, a sense of solidarity that us normal folk can never understand? Have any monsters gone on from Knott’s to a successful acting career… or even a successful career of monstering?
I don’t know. But I do know that the ability to wonder about things like this meant I’d officially calmed the hell down. As the night stretched before me, I began to develop a certain confidence. I’d been around. I knew the tricks and tactics of my pursuers. By 1am, I even began to see a certain glint in their eyes that screamed, “I just want to go home and watch the rest of Big Mouth Season 2 on Netflix. AGHHHHHHH!” And if speculating on the inner worlds of the people paid to terrify me doesn’t qualify as “facing my fears,” then I don’t know what does.
Knott’s Scary Farm Runs From Now until October 31st.