– by Steve Rowin Co-Published on www.Screamscape.com
This year marks the 42nd Halloween Haunt at Knott’s Berry Farm or Scary Farm as it’s called. Scary farm is the oldest and longest running Halloween Haunt event in the world making it a time tested Halloween tradition. Here’s my in depth take on this years featured haunts and attractions!
Scare Zones –
By far the scariest area is the Calico Ghost Town. Period. Fog so thick you can’t see your own hand in front of your face thick. This in my opinion was the scariest area in the whole park and the place where the roaming creatures have a 100% success rate of getting you regardless of who you are. I always like this area because absence of knowing your surroundings is scary. The setting of the ghost town speaks for itself and who doesn’t love ghost towns?
Other scare zones were the Boardwalk area at the back of the park and Fiesta De Los Muertos. Both of those areas were absent of fog and the creepers had to be clever in inducing blood curdling screams. It is amazing how well they do that. Even seeing them they manage to get a good amount of people jumping just by using sophisticated, top secret, Knott’s monster school tactics! Let’s just say these are good “people watching” areas. One note about these other scare zones is the Halloween “feel” and decor is dramatically less than near ghost town.
The Shows –
Elvira’s Big Top
I missed the hostess with the mostess, that mistress of the macabre, Elvira. Mainly due to some longer waits for other things going on that I’ll cover later. For fans of Elvira it’s worth noting you can meet her in person at Knott’s Scary Farm in her very own gift shop called “The Elvira Experience”. From 10 pm to 11 pm those who have purchased $50 or more at the gift shop can get those items signed by Elvira herself! I saw lots of cool merchandise.
It didn’t take very long to get what this Hanging was about. Every year a pop culture icon is chosen and hung in the town square. Here’s where we’ll break for a little lesson on a rivalry of sorts in this business of scaring! An hour north of Knott’s, sits Universal Studios who started doing a haunt event back in 1997 and at some point introduced it’s own show called “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. That show, similar in nature, featured a “kill the pop icon” format filled with edgy jokes and politically incorrectness that offended just about everyone in a broadway musical style. In 2013 during their Halloween event the show abruptly got canceled in week two after some groups complained about the shows content. In 2014, there would be no Bill and Ted show in Hollywood but the Florida attraction ran the show. So this years Knott’s “The Hanging” show featured a political correctness “Men in black” character that would call out when he was offended. To the music of Disney’s Frozen, a parody of “Let it go” called “Let it flow” (the blood flow) was sang on an icey town square set. It was proclaimed that hell would freeze over before “The Hanging” would ever give into over sensitive, easily offended people with no sense of humor. We were then treated to Bill and Ted arriving on stage and a long list of celebrity stars getting killed and jokes that went to the extreme to make sure everyone was offended and laughing their, umm yeah. Eventually one is chosen for the noose or was it two this year? You’ll have to go a find out for yourself.
This year Knott’s brings back a variety of ticket options and prices vary by the date selected. You can get a standard ticket, a fast lane front of line add on, a Skeleton Key add on and the “Trapped” maze add on. If you hit this one on opening night the wait times aren’t too bad but later in the season the fast lane is your best bet if you want to see it all.
Skeleton Key option? I did most of the Skeleton key rooms this year. What is it? It’s an extra room at the beginning of each maze that you are sent into. These rooms featured a sort of mini theatrical show with an actor(s) that did a performance related to the maze theme. Were they scary? Some more than others. One thing about these bonus rooms is that they slowed us down since they are limited to a handful of people at a time. So even with the front of line access our wait times ranged 10 to 25 minutes. I’d prefer to see all the shows and mazes and skip the bonus rooms but maybe you enjoy getting locked in a coffin!
New Mazes for 2014 –
VooDoo – New Orleans themed haunt, the outside of this haunt was spectacular in design and looked great. Knott’s did something new with this haunt by adding some choices in the haunt. Once you enter the scene is that of walking through the swamp/bayou (reminded me of being in the Monkey island game). You go through various rooms separated by swamp paths almost like little homes on the swamp. The area is open so you can see others walking around. I imagined the “choose your own path” as separate areas where you would go off in a different direction down some dark path but instead you would come upon someone who offered two choices “Do you want to go to the Ritual of whatever or the Death Spell of whatever?” Sorry I just can’t remember the names they gave them. So you pick one and go off into a room decorated with a bunch of hoodoo ritual stuff, or you go into the other room and see a bunch of different hoodoo ritual stuff. The problem is the differences were not significant enough to really be meaningful for me. If you’re with someone and they choose the other option you can wait and they will come out of their room back to the path and then you both have another choice. So it wasn’t like a maze with different paths but more choice of rooms. The visual look of the haunt was great, I mean really detailed but scary? Not as scary as it could have been. There weren’t too many characters trying to scare you, or a premise of fear such as in the film “Serpent and the Rainbow”, these characters just seemed to be wandering around. Scare factor 0, Visual Design 10.
Special Ops Infected – This one was really cool. I’d say it was the scariest maze of the night. Many of Knott’s haunts are something to see visually but seem to be lacking aggressive actors and classic situations that scare. Opposite of a decade ago when they relied more on those tricks of complete darkness, surprise jump out spots, etc. but lacked visual quality. In upping the visual of the haunts, many of the haunts are more like a theatrical production, telling a walk through story. Not Special Ops, it was simple, interactive and scary. So the infection has started in a town (camp snoopy) and 12 of us are paired up with two military escorts. Our mission is to rescue those not infected from the area. We are all outfitted with M16’s (laser tag guns). When you shoot the gun, they kick back, flash at the tip and make a blast sound. A zombie blasting free for all? Nope. We are on a mission, we need to get into a building and clear it for survivors! As we run towards the building a few zombies come out of no where in the darkness. It feels real! They make grunting sounds, and it takes many shots to stop them. First they fall then drag themselves towards you all while you are blasting them, it’s great! I felt like I was in that movie 28 days later! The area is perfect and the structured mission really adds to the experience. As we carry out military ops, like blowing up the bridge after we cross it, calling into to squad leader for updates on the infected, you can’t help but get immersed into “Infected”. We weren’t rushed and we had several areas to clear. You know how there is always that point in the zombie movies when you yell at the screen saying “no you idiot, they are going to get you” well that happens along the way and all hell breaks loose! Here’s the hitch, with limited capacity everyone who wants to do Infected needs to get a reservation ticket. The park opened at 7pm and all the tickets were gone before 8pm. That means you run to Infected first! It was the first night and a few things like the scoreboard were not working. We waited 20 minutes past our card time but I hope they get all that worked out because it was really fun and scary. Maybe next year they scrap all the haunts, convert the whole park into Infected and include a sleepover in a tent. Hey I can dream!
The Toothfairy – It’s new and it was the best of the traditional Haunts. It had a really gruesome premise, the tooth fairy is evil! And has dental tools! Particularly that drill!!! I liked this one because not only did it look great but it the actors were really playing the part and energy level was good! It also included some things like walls moving in to squish us, a dark maze section, a section of maze that we had to duck through. Full of really bloody people screaming as the tooth fairy ripped teeth out, piles of coins next to the chairs, it was awesome and gave us some of those classic thrills.
Witch’s Keep @ Calico Mine Co. – Missed this one while we did the Skeleton key rooms. Last year this was a ride on the mine ride with a few extras added.
Returning Haunts –
Dominion of the Damned – This one has been a favorite of mine since it first appeared in the late 90’s. Sadly, the vampires seemed thin. It was opening night so maybe they were off feeding elsewhere. I also notice more male vamps compared to more of the classic victorian looking female vamps, which I think are hot. One thing I really like about DoD is the classic gothic horror concept. The soundtrack is great and the visuals are great. I just hope when you go through it the vampires are very hungry because I’m guessing they had been to the sizzler buffet for vampires (asian massage parlor) just before I saw them.
Pinocchio Unstrung – He’s still pissed, he’s still slashing. It’s that alternate reality where gepetto and the blue fairy let Pinocchio down and he never ever gets to become a real life boy. This is one that really leans towards the walk through storytelling attraction. It looks great, the details are phenomenal. Not much for fear factor, maybe Pinocchio will turn his rage towards us next year, attempt to string us up like puppets and make us run for our lives!
Forevermore – Ok, I admit it, last year I was lost with this one. There clearly was a story line but I didn’t get it. Well that was fixed this year with a narration in the first few rooms that explained a psychopathic killer who mimics Edgar Allen Poe’s story “Forevermore” is on the loose. This one was again like theater. If you liked the movie “Saw” and seeing the twisted torturing of a psycho’s victims then you’ll love this one. This creeper straps giant bird wings to his victims. Notable scenes were the hospital looking room with the flickering lights and the nightclub with at least 7 freaks in there!
Gunslingers Grave – True to what Knott’s Berry Farm is known for, this is a trip through the wild west. As you walk through this 1890’s town with a full saloon you come across many menacing cowboys as well as a few ladies of the night. If you’ve done the Knott’s train ride where the cowboys rob the train, then this is an extension of that type of fear. I particularly liked the honky tonk version of REM’s “Mad World” being played on the piano in the saloon.
Black Magic – This is a haunt based on Houdini’s ghost, who is clearly twisted and doing magic that kills. Great detail, scarier than last year with added sections and a really cool skeleton key room where you actually sit down at a large table hand your neighbor’s hand and do a seance calling the spirit of Houdini. A++ experience during the seance!
Trick or Treat – Missed this one. However it was really scary last year with the feel of being in a horror film from the 80s. This is one not to be missed and has some of the creepiest dressed characters of all the mazes.
Extras – Visit the gypsy village next to Ghost Rider coaster for a little fortune telling. If you’ve never done that sort of thing before it was a fun little break from the scary stuff. Oddly enough, the gypsy looked up my birthday in an astrology book and read off four jobs I would be good at. It was freaky because I do all four.
Arm chair quarterbacking – Dare I? I love Knotts, it’s the original haunt! It’s clear that the haunt team is very creative and the artists who pull it off are amazingly talented. I’ll say it like this, I think the volume in some of the haunts is at 8 and it can be turned up to 11 with a few tweaks. It’s not the incredibly detailed sets, lighting or sound.. It’s that the talent in some of the haunts didn’t seem to have specific places to hide and surprise us from. I also felt like many were worn out, lacking energy, and it was only the first night! I think that’s what makes some of the haunts feel like walk through shows, lack of good, aggressive, interaction. The kind of interaction and character performance the walk arounds in ghost town bring. Sensory deprivation, horrific characters, a beast with the will of satan himself to get us and the element of surprise have all been there throughout Knott’s haunt history. I hope to see more of that in the years to come! Maybe I just need to go into “Trapped” (the add on haunt), I’ll probably scream like a 8 year old girl!!!
In summary, there are a lot of scares and entertainment at the ScaryFarm and you’d be a big chicken if you missed it! Don’t forget to get your Infected reservation ticket first thing!