Knott’s Shuts Down Attraction Denounced by Mental Health Advocates

Cedar Fair Entertainment

The original promotional website for the Knott's Scary Farm attraction.

Less than a week after it opened, Knott’s Berry Farm Tuesday shut down a Halloween attraction criticized by mental health advocates for perpetuating the social stigma of mental illness.

“As it is impossible to address both concerns and misconceptions in the Halloween timeframe, at this time we have decided to close the attraction,” Knott’s said in a news release. The attraction opened six days ago at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park and was scheduled to run through Oct. 31.

The virtual reality show also was closed at the two other Cedar Fair Entertainment amusement parks where it was running — Santa Clara’s California’s Great America park and Canada’s Wonderland park near Toronto, according to an email from Knott’s.

Ron Thomas, whose mentally-ill son, Kelly Thomas was beaten to death in 2011 by Fullerton police, applauded the decision to shut down the show.

“I think it’s fantastic,” he said in a telephone interview. “They did the absolute right thing.”

Leaders of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Orange and Los Angeles counties also praised the close down.

“We greatly appreciate you shutting down the FearVR attraction,” said John Leyerle, president of NAMI Orange County, and Robert Liljenwall, vice president of NAMI, Los Angeles County.

“From the outset,” they wrote to Cedar Fair executives, “we felt this was an inappropriate entertainment concept for your family-based attractions as it further stigmatized the millions of Americans suffering from mental illness across America.”

Thomas said the announcement came as activists were planning demonstrations for Thursday outside Knott’s and he learned of the closure while on the telephone with Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, who was preparing a column about the issue for Wednesday’s paper.

Thomas credited the combination of activists’ outrage and articles in Voice of OC and other media outlets for Knott’s decision.

But in its news release, Knott’s said “contrary to some traditional and social media accounts, the attraction’s story and presentation were never intended to portray mental illness.”

However, even before its Sept. 22 opening, the annual “Halloween Knott’s Scary Farm” show drew criticism from the Orange County chapter of NAMI and Ron Thomas.

The attraction was named “Fear VR: 5150.” The section titled “5150” in the California Welfare and Institutions code refers to the authority law enforcement has to hold someone for 72 hours at a psychiatric facility if he or she is considered a danger to themselves or others.

NAMI emailed a strongly-worded letter to Knott’s parent company the day before the attraction opened, objecting to using mental illness as scary entertainment.

The day the attraction opened, Knott’s changed the name of the show to simply FearVR. But Ron Thomas went to see the show that night. He said he couldn’t get in because it was sold out, but interviewed people as they left and based on what they told him “the message is clear. ‘The mentally ill are going to kill you.’ It’s just wrong. Totally wrong.”

According to a Los Angeles Times preview article, the show took place in a mental hospital where a possessed patient “unleashes chaos throughout the hospital.”

The Orange County Register, in its Sept. 6 review, reported “the VR headset puts you in the middle of the action inside the hospital.

“One patient seems agitated and attempts to get up from a bed. Security officers try to subdue him. A nurse gives you a shot (which you will feel), knocking you out. When you wake up in the next scene, all hell has broken loose.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Ron Thomas attended the Knott’s Halloween show last week. Thomas originally indicated to a Voice of OC reporter that he attended the show, but after the article was published he said he only interviewed others who had attended it.

You can contact Tracy Wood at and follow her on Twitter: @TracyVOC.

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  • Jacki Livingston

    How fab. Now our entertainment is to be censored and sanitized. Really, is anyone that stupid that they don’t know the difference between actual mental health issues and a dingdang amusement park Halloween attraction? These people need to get a freaking life! Stop getting your panties twisted over every little perceived slight. Everytime they do this bull, I stop caring about their real problems in the real world.

    • LFOldTimer

      Given the chance these hand wringers are going to ruin the world of entertainment for all of us in this politically correct cocoon of ours.

      The Three Bears will be labeled criminals for breaking and entering.

      Fred Flintstone will be turned into a sexist pig.

      Phantom of the Opera will be banned because it puts too much focus on looks and discriminates against ugly people.

      • Jacki Livingston

        *smirk* It is absolutely ridiculous. Talk about the boy who cried wolf. Every time one of these stupid dramas gets played out, it reduces my GaS for the real issues that these activists work on. They are only hurting their own cause.

  • john

    Ron Thomas, the same guy who left his mentally ill son to run around on the streets for years until he pissed off the wrong cop?

  • Jen Ailey
  • Neo Maxie Zoom Dweebie

    In other news, Hollywood is no longer allowed to make axe murderer !movies because it depicts loggers in a bad light. Slasher movies will also be permanently cancelled because chefs and butchers got their feelings hurt too.

  • LFOldTimer

    I really couldn’t care less one way or the other. I outgrew Knott’s Berry Farm 40 years ago. But the political correctness in America has gone over the top. Who are they going to target next? Disney Corporation for exploiting Grumpy’s depression?

    But nobody seems to care about all the ultra-violent cartoons that infiltrate the vulnerable and impressionable psyches of young pre-school children on Saturday mornings and may help turn some of those kids into violent mental cases. Sane adults can generally separate fantasy from reality. Children can’t. Psychological studies have proven it. Yet the politicians can’t understand why we have one of the most violent society’s on Planet Earth. But considering that the TV production companies pay lots of legal bribes to the politicians for the privilege of putrefying young minds I guess it all makes sense. Can’t interfere with Hollywood’s profits.

    These mental health advocates picking on Knott’s is comical. In general the mentally ill in America have been treated like 3rd class citizens by our elected leaders for years and years. From Congress all the way down to the Board of Supervisors. If you don’t believe me visit Civic Center in Santa Ana some afternoon. Do you ever see these mental health advocates protesting out in front of the Hall of Administration? Once in a blue moon maybe.

    But of course the mental health advocates don’t want their government grants or subsidies discontinued either. Protesting a sugar daddy comes with a risk. Protesting Knott’s is risk free.

  • MrEFQ

    Some of use are able to separate fiction from reality. Some of use are able to realize that this in no way stigmatized the mentally ill.

    Some of us are rational. Some of use don’t ruin he fun for other people because they are offended, we just ignore what offended us and move on with our lives.

  • HaroldAMaio

    I am not sure which is worse, staging an offensive Halloween show, or the constant assertion of “the stigma” of mental illnesses by some in the press.

    • AntiPoliticallyCorrect

      Mental illness is scary and it should be feared. It’s the real reason behind all shootings and violent acts regardless of how much the press and the politicians want to blame it on tools and inanimate objects.

      • HaroldAMaio

        I appreciate your humor.

        • AntiPoliticallyCorrect

          The name of that tune in your head that you can’t get rid of is called denial.

  • Don

    What’s next? Cancel Halloween because it brings to light dead people? Cancel Thanksgiving because some people don’t have anything to be thankful for and turkey’s don’t get a say? Cancel Christmas because little people might be offended by the elf’s in Santa’s village? I’m so tired of this political correctness BS. Grow a pair.

    • frankieryder

      I hope one day you don’t find yourself suddenly devoid of your mental faculties for whatever reasons out of your control, wandering on a road somewhere, feet bare and bloodied, distressed and in need of help, but the only people who could’ve helped you had gone to the FEARVR : 5150 show and didn’t pull over their car and call someone because they thought you might hurt them, so you end up chucking yourself off a bridge and into a ravine to your death.

      • MrEFQ

        You can’t be serious.

      • Neo Maxie Zoom Dweebie

        Lighten up Francis….

      • JackLantern13

        I hope one day you can separate fact from fiction.

      • AntiPoliticallyCorrect

        I would not pull over. I would call the police and report suspicious activity. I would not put myself or my family in danger. It has nothing to do with discrimination. It’s common sense coupled with the survival instinct. AND if you did pull over with your family, I’d call the police on you and report you for child endangerment.

      • Jacki Livingston

        Are you kidding me? Please take some meds and figure out the difference between the real world and an amusement park at Halloween. What are you guys going to cry in your cocoa about, next? Hard rock songs? Horror movies? The world cannot be sanitized for your paranoid protection.

        Get a grip, get a life and get over yourself.

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