Believe it or not, it was very difficult to figure out a way to introduce the following individual to the visitors of Ultimatehaunt.com. As fans of Halloween Haunt, this individual has had such a huge impact on all of us indirectly and directly, that it is near impossible to find the right words to introduce him.
This individual has designed arguably some of the most popular mazes in the event’s history. Try the Asylum or the original year of Carnival of Carnivorous Clowns in 3D (2000) on for size. How about the Grudge 2 maze, Malice in Wunderland or Hatchet High? Daniel Miller was responsible for these mazes and quite a few more.
In this exclusive, first for the Internet/Ultimatehaunt.com, full-length interview with Daniel Miller, we’re going to take you inside the mind of an individual whose job is to create settings that scare the daylights out of thousands of people every October.
many years, Knott’s Berry Farm did not have a “team”
per se that worked on the Halloween Haunt all year around. That is not
the case nowadays. Now, Knott’s Berry Farm employs a very talented
team of a few individuals who design the different sets for the park,
which include the designs of the Halloween Haunt mazes. Daniel Miller
is part of this team and it is with great pleasure and honor that we can
introduce him to you on Ultimatehaunt.com. Although Daniel Miller has
been interviewed in the past through different mediums, they were all
brief compared to what you will now have an opportunity to read here,
in our exclusive Ultimatehaunt.com TWO- PART interview.
are going to learn about what has to be, one of the coolest jobs out there.
Daniel Miller is going to share what it takes to be a designer for Knott’s
Berry Farm. Many of your longtime questions are finally going to be answered
in this interview and you will see first hand Daniel Miller's contribution
to the Legacy of Knott's Scary Farm Halloween Haunt:
get us started with an understanding how you ended up here as a designer for Knott’s
Berry Farm, can you share with us your educational background? |
went to Don Bosco Technical Institute. I was a Material Science major. They had
‘majors’ at my [high] school. You could go for five years and get
an A.A. Degree. or you went four years, you went to college.
was your first experience at the Halloween Haunt and what was your first impression
of the event?|
When I was a kid, I always loved
the advertisements. I was around 11 years old. Two weeks before October,
in the Calendar section of the Times, There was this big scary monster
in the advertisements with his hairy arms surrounding the maze names .
I would open the Calendar section and study the maze names and get all
hyped-up. I was in grammar school and my friends and I would say “We
have to go to this!” I would beg my mom and she wound up taking
us all. She would sit on a bench and knit in Ghost Town
and watch all of the monsters while we would run off to the mazes. I just
loved the feeling of being fully immersed in a horror movie. She loved
horror films and my love of horror films came from her. She would take
me to see "Friday the 13th" and "Nightmare on Elm Street".
She loved to get scared. And the Haunt was just like walking into a movie.
Anyway, that was around 1984. That was when I started to go religiously. I started to figure out the patterns….like they would re-do the mazes every three years. I tended not to miss it because I really loved it.
are some of your influences/inspirations within the horror genre?
I like the more intellectual types of horror….Things that ‘scare’ you instead of the ‘boo’ scare or gore scare. I enjoy a good splatter flick and can appreciate the whole anti-social aspect of gore films, but for me, I am into the films like "Rosemary’s Baby"…..Something more psychological that screws with your mind and frightens you.
The most scared I have ever been because of a film, was "The Amityville Horror". It was because someone had said that this was real.
My dad would never take me to horror films. One year, he heard the hype about "The Amityville Horror" and knew that my mom took me to see horror films, so he asked if I wanted to go see the movie.
I freaked out. The pig….with the glowing red eyeballs in the window.
I think the character's name was Jody. That really, really scared me. I had seen these other horror movies before, but none of them were “real”! It was always Jason with the hockey mask…not real! [laughs] I freaked out because of "The Amityville Horror".
you were at one time a character for the Halloween Haunt. Can you talk a little
bit about that?|
It all kind of started while I was at U.C. Irvine. I was part of this club that made a Halloween maze. It was just a college maze…nothing huge or eloborate. The walls were made out of trash bag liner….. And guests would be walked through with a host. I was the main monster because I really loved Halloween Haunt and I seemed to know what I was doing. I was like “Wow…I can be the monster”. I learned how to do it on the fly and and it was great fun.
From there I wanted to graduate to the big leagues. One year, I decided to do it.
This was when the auditions were going on in the Good Time Theatre. We got ushered onto the stage and they told me to act like there was a big spider chasing me. It was kind of goofy…everyone went nuts. The only ones I saw [Knott’s] not choose were the ones who were not vocal enough. They wanted to make sure you weren’t shy.
So, they told all of us on the stage that “you all are going to be in House of Maniacs. All of you”. House of Maniacs was in Camp Snoopy and was obviously based on films like "The Hills Have Eyes"/"Texas Chainsaw Massacre". I was a big fan of those films and sort of knew what they were going for.
My character was “Uncle Ernie”, which was a play off of the maze that was there before, Uncle Ernie’s Madhouse. The character was supposed to be this molesting-type of creep. The first day I was in the maze the room I was assigned to was so tight. There were two other people in the room. Hardly any room to breathe or say boo….I hated it!
The room was like a forced-perspective of a kitchen. Apparently a monster upstairs was already “removed” [let go]….and so I was moved up there….into this closet area, my own room. I remember loving it and the guests would file past me…..it was really hot up there. That was one of the creepiest mazes at night when all of the lights were turned off. It was pitch black and you would swear that the place was haunted.
remember losing my voice every night. I would try and come up with something new
to say to all of the guests. Since I was this creepy inbred molester, I would
say things like [in character….ala Peter Lorre], “Hi….hi….hello
there…..!” Sort of overly cordial and friendly to everyone but yet
creepy. Sometimes just saying “hello” and forcing a response is scary.
are some of the past mazes that have had some influence on what you do professionally
I liked Uncle Ernie’s Madhouse. When we did Carnival
of Carnivorous Clowns, I wanted to go more to Uncle Ernie’s
Madhouse instead of a carnival theme, which was like Carnival
of Death, which we did just a couple of years prior.
So, we do sometimes go to the past for inspiration. Some of those ideas were wild. I loved Santa Claws Mountain. I wish we could do that again….I don’t know if that’s possible or not…but that was an awesome theme.
I know it’s not going to happen anytime soon, but I would love to see an alien maze again. I think that was an awesome scare. I think we could go much further [with that concept]. It’s a type of maze theme that is missing from the current menu of Haunt.
Storyboard - Alien Attack
do you come up with the themes for the various mazes?|
Sometimes the themes come from management. But most of the time, we just look around our surroundings.
There have been cases where I have gone on the Ultimate Haunt boards and think “maybe that would be a good idea!” I think that kind of happened with pirates…All these monsters directed poor, unsuspecting guests to “The Pirate Maze.”.I remember it stuck out in my mind and thought maybe we should do a pirate theme. Also, Pirates of Emerson up in Northern California is also very popular. And that’s how Red Beard’s Revenge came into fruition.
Like the Grudge 2, that was obviously where someone approached us for a particular theme. I liked "The Grudge". The current slew of Japanese horror films personally terrifies me. I understand that a lot of people are not afraid of those films, but I love them. I think it’s really creepy to have those girls that are contorted and bent out of shape attacking. "The Ring" also kept me on the edge of my seat.
Theme ideas can sometimes actually come out of any movie, in general. Sometimes themes just come out of the blue. For example, I have always just liked asylum-type of movies, like the remake of "House on Haunted Hill".
I ended up finding a movie called "Session 9" and I rented it….and it creeped me out so much! It was set in a real asylum in New Jersey. I just started doing research on abandoned buildings and it’s just the creepiest stuff.
I heard one story about how this lady was trapped in an old abandoned asylum and lived there for weeks on end eating animals This was a real story. The doctors didn’t know she was there. She was discovered a year later and survived as this wild thing, walking around in an abandoned asylum. I thought this was kind of creepy and this was a story I wanted to improve on. This was something we could do. Let the doctors abandon the asylum with only the crazy doctors left but the patients would take over. The nurses would be sadistic and wouldn’t care and just torture these poor patients. A bunch of crazy people in an abandoned hospital.
If you haven’t seen "Session
9", it’s not the greatest of films but set-wise, it’s
real and creepy.