A Knott’s Berry Farm Halloween ride known as Fear VR is closed because it is seen as hurtful to people battling mental illness. The ride was open for a week when officials at Knott’s Berry Farm were flooded with complaints from visitors and mental health advocates. What was the reason for the controversy?
Fear VR was called “FearVR: 5150” – in reference to Section 5150 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC). Section 5150 allows authorities or clinician to involuntarily confine individuals, who have a mental disorder that makes them a danger to themselves or others.
Fear VR was being sold as a real-life horror movie by Christian Dieckmann, vice president of strategic growth at Cedar Fair, the parent company of Knott’s. The attraction is built around a young girl named Katie, who appears to be possessed and mysteriously shows up at a medical facility.
With the VR headset on, the visitor goes through a hellish experience where they see nurses inside the hospital trying to subdue scary looking patients. There are also zombies and dead bodies in that hospital trying to attack the visitor.
In 2013, Pastor Rick Warren, of Saddleback Church, and his wife, Kay Warren, lost their son, Matthew, at the age of 27. Matthew, who was enduring a mental illness, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Since losing their child, the couple has become mental health advocates. Mrs. Warren was one of the loudest voices, who called out Knott’s Berry Farm to shut down their Halloween ride.
She said the ride’s original name was painful to her because her late son was “held on a 5150” several times when he posed a danger to himself. Via Twitter, she explained:
“We sent a respectful email to (Knott’s) and received a respectful response.”
On Thursday, Knott’s Scary Farm said that while they had designed the Halloween attraction to be edgy, they understand that it had crossed the line. A statement read:
“Over the past week, we have heard from a number of people expressing concern that one of our temporary, Halloween attractions – Fear VR – is hurtful to those who suffer from mental illnesses. Contrary to some traditional and social media accounts, the attraction’s story and presentation were never intended to portray mental illness.”
The statement went on to say:
“As it is impossible to address both concerns and misconceptions in the Halloween timeframe, at this time we have decided to close the attraction.”
Via social media, Warren responded to the closure announcement by saying:
“I’m so grateful (Knott’s and Cedar Fair) listened to the voices of the mental health community,” she said.
#1: People living w/mental illness have an ILLNESS. if you read all of what I say as a passionate advocate, you will know this is my belief.
#2 words describing thrill ride were the words of those desribing it, not mine. I was protesting that characterization, not advocating it.
Many are applauding Knott’s Berry Farm for reacting so rapidly to the matter, while others are blasting the park giant for being so hyper-sensitive about everything.