Last week, we got a chance to tour Knott’s Scary Farm’s 39th Annual Halloween Haunt. A mainstay of the Southern California haunted attraction community, this year the park features some new mazes and shows as well as refinements in several older ones. Checkout our full report below on each of the park’s mazes and scare-zones below – not to mention walk-through videos and images from the event! We would like to thank the Knott’s Scary Farm PR team for making our tour possible as well as the Wardrobe & Makeup teams – of course, our thanks to the thousand monsters as well! 🙂
Our first stop of the night was in the wardrobe department of the event. Situated within one of the back-lot warehouses, the various maze and street talented pickup both their costumes and masks, then some retire to the makeup room to get transformed into creatures of the night. Supervisor of Wardrobe Services Bill Meier told us that, each night, the park dresses “in the mazes and street over 800 plus the show talent”. That makes for a lot of laundry loads. The Wardrobe Services department begins working on new Halloween Haunt costumes just after Summer, but they actually work on patching up older costumes throughout the year. Meier’s favorite part of the entire process: The park’s “rehire nights” which he remarks, “…as stressful as they can be are like homecoming every year”.
In the makeup room, we caught up with Makeup Shift Lead Denice Paxton, who hires all of the artists as well as sketches out the park’s various makeup designs each year so that those artists can have guides to follow, where she told us that the park employs “thirty makeup artists every night with a stable of 40 in case people call out”. She also touted some of the new character designs for the year, including the “priestesses” from the Delirium maze which feature “a lot of intricate tattoo-style work” as well as werewolves in the Gypsy Camp Area and the Zombies in Virus-Z.
From the backstage regions, our PR liaison walked us into the park, where the haunted festivities were already in full-swing. Please note that we had a crew of four reporters on-site, each of which took a specific set of mazes and street areas. We are going to put the username of the reporter next to each of their maze/street reviews to clear it all up. Enjoy!
Necropolis is an area infested with “Steampunk Vampires” which replaced the medieval-themed Gauntlet: Festival of Freaks over in Camp Snoopy last year. This year, the area sees both some makeup and wardrobe changes, but remains mostly the same in terms of area decorations, theme, etc. The basic premise of the street zone is that it is a city filled with vampires who’s entire infrastructure runs of converting human blood into power – a take-off on “steampunk” style. The talent in this zone were “on” every time we walked through the area, whether they were scaring guests or entertaining themselves during empty spells. Furthermore, they seemed to actually be having fun and not just doing a job – even in the blustery cold! The best part was that each monster had their own character which translated well through their performances – from burly enforcer-types to more regal, high-class gentlemen and ladies. My biggest complaint about the area is that it is not decorated enough to really bring the steampunk vampire city to life. – GamingShogun
Terror of London
This maze is an absolute favorite! Both beautiful in design and detail, the talent always seems on fire and in character! Walk through the streets of old London as you follow the career of one Jack the Ripper as he stalks and murders the poor defenseless working girls of the night. Always a feast for the eyes, I just love how pretty this maze is! There is also a nice, new surprise at the end that seems much more befitting to the tale of “old Jack” than that of Dr. Frankenstein’s Lab! Memorable and chilling! – ZombieQueen
This maze has never been high on my list but this year the talent made it work for me! The monsters were in your face and full of scares! I have never understood the premise of the maze other than its some sort of abandoned farmhouse with demented pumpkin-headed scarecrows that stalk the cornfields! OH hey! There it is! Anyway, it was fun and high energy with tons of scares! Also, the smell of the putrefying corn only adds to the overall ambiance of this returning maze of maize! (Oh, I am so punny!) – ZombieQueen
A trip into a cannibalistic slaughterhouse is what you find within the walls of this returning maze. Now I enjoy cannibals as much as the next person, but traveling further and further into the slaughterhouse and finding myself greeted with a sushi restaurant just seemed…odd. Not really scary just kind of out of place. Beyond that not to many monsters to be found in fact, it was 27. From the beginning to the end 27..I counted. The talent that was in there was just kind of mulling around not very high energy maybe not enough human in their diet, I suppose. The set design was gory enough but being met by empty rooms and scarce hallways was not what I expected when I traveled into the Slaughterhouse. And then there was that pesky sushi bar… Gory and bloody, but a little too abandoned for my tastes. – ZombieQueen
One of Knott’s brand new installments this year, this highly-anticipated maze depicting one woman’s decent into madness was quite impressive. Mangler’s Asylum Patient Deborah Rose allows you to embark into the inner recesses of her psyche while she represses terrible memories of her own tormented childhood and brief stint into motherhood herself ! Not only is this maze beautifully constructed but the fears are rampant! Claustrophobia, Entomophobia (fear of bugs) and Gerascophobia (Google it, it’s real!) are all present in this maze. On first inspection, the maze seemed convoluted and muddled but after experiencing the maze as a whole you realize you are in the mind of this woman – from birth, childhood, adolescents, adulthood then old age – getting crazier and crazier along the way, blurring the line between reality and nightmare and no crazy person would have it all together upstairs! The scenes are beautifully detailed full of gory, slimy, creepy, crawly goodness down to the sound of writhing maggots all around. The talent was high energy and very excited to bring this maze to life. This is definitely not one to miss this year! – ZombieQueen
EndGames: Warriors Of The Apocalypse
Brand new for 2011, this maze by Designer Brooke Walters takes the post-apocalyptic genre and adds a bit of Steampunk flavor to it. Located in the back of the Necropolis scare zone, EndGames has you enter their world through a crashed Zeppelin that has landed on a hermit’s house. The house is filled with books and other knickknacks but holds a terrible secret which is displayed by the first of many video monitors. The big catch with Endgames is the amount of video monitors placed throughout the maze and outside showing scares as they happen in different parts of the maze. Couple that with the cameras broadcasting live on the internet and you have a great marketing tool for a new maze. The video screens can also serve as a distraction as guests will find themselves watching the screens instead of the monsters around them. The hermits house has a secret entrance in the brutal world of Steampunk gladiator combat. As you make way down a series of hallways you find yourself coming across slave pens, beasts, and finally the arena itself. The maze design is beautiful and while the story gets a little muddled, it is still pleasing to the eyes. The talent in the maze is filled with veterans however there was a lot of sitting around. The main scene in the maze calls for some intense scaring and I felt a little let down as we just walked on through. Also of note is that the music in EndGames is intense, with the band Winds Of Plague headlining the soundtrack. – TheJester
Oh how I love zombies, let me count the ways. Virus Z is back for another year of the town of Pleasenton being taken over by a zombie infection. Another maze designed by Brooke Walters, you start off in front of a cafe while making your way through several other locations. Radio broadcasts fill the air telling the town to seek shelter in the local school which is never a good idea in a zombie flick. Once again, the design of this maze really sets the mood but fails in the majority of the talent. The talent started off really strong but, as you reach the big climax of the maze, it fell off the map a bit. The final scene in Virus Z is meant to engage the guest in complete terror and instead it left me staring at props while monsters stood there. The makeup effects used in this maze are really fitting for the zombie genre and it is a shame that the talent let it go to waste that evening. I hope they can bring it up several notches from here on out. – TheJester
Calico Ghost Town
The Calico Ghost Town is the granddaddy of all street areas at Knott’s Scary Farm. In fact, it is one of the first areas of the park – period. The haunted ghost town facades are beautifully-detailed in Halloween decor and, while the overwhelming amount of fog in the area can obfuscate this decor, it does bring a lot of scare potential to the guests that walk through what is known as “fog alley”. This area features all manner of ghoulish Old West characters. Cowboys, prostitutes, and more await guests in the fog. The street talent here don’t have a lot of room to maneuver in the narrow streets but still manage to garner their share of scares, both on-foot and while sliding about. – GamingShogun
Dia de los Muertos
Set in a world of Latin America myths, Dia De Los Muertos is becoming one of the older mazes at Knott’s Scary Farm’s Halloween Haunt. Originally designed by Designer David Ortiz, Dia is a UV maze that takes you through the many different legends in Latin American culture. From La LLorna to the Chupacabra the maze is a bit of a muddled mess. The story never really becomes clear as you transition from one scene to the next. Where the maze really gets lost is the cemetery and the blame falls strictly on the scare actors. The area is meant to be the setting of La Llorna and, unfortunately, guests will never know that as the scare actors do not play up the part. That scene is by far the most beautiful scene in the maze and it is a shame that it falls so flat. My favorite scene in the maze is the the bar as it makes me feel like I am entering a Robert Rodriguez film. I half-expected that, at any moment, the dancing women would turn into some sort of beast waiting to rip my throat out. I am not a huge fan of UV mazes but the UV and make up effects work really well in this one. – TheJester
Uncle Bobo’s Bigtop Of The Bizarre
One thing you will always find at Knott’s Scary Farm is some sort of clown maze. Coming back for another year, Uncle Bobo’s features some small design tweaks and none of them are good. Another UV maze in the park, Bobo’s changed the game a little bit this year by finally adding the “Uncle Bobo” featured character. Unfortunately, when we went through, the character just stared at us as he stood into a corner. If you are going to be a signature character in a maze you need to be animated and playing that character up. The other design changes to the maze added more of a hallway feel rather than actual scenic rooms. This makes the maze feel rushed and you never get the time to actually take in some of the very cool props in the maze. The talent for the most part was decent however for the love of god people please put on some eye black! There is nothing worse than seeing skin under a rubber mask totally ruining the immersion. I am not sure if it was because of the rain that day, but the stench inside this maze was nausea-inducing. Hopefully it has time to dry out and get rid of the awful smell. Uncle Bobo’s appears to be on its last legs and I think it is about time for the big top to pack up and head to a new adventure. Props to the talent for working with what they were given. – TheJester
Cursed Presented By The Red Moon Dance Company
A brand new installment to the haunt family, The Red Moon Bellydance Company Presents Cursed is an all-new tribal belly dance show featured over in Knott’s new Gypsy Camp scare zone on Friday and Saturday nights only! Gypsy dancers enchant their audience to the sounds of melodic drum beats and ambient rhythms. The show is broken up into group, duet, and solo performances all engaging and captivating! The highlight of the show is the incredible sword balancing duo! The lovely ladies of Cursed will captivate your soul as they pulsate and shimmy across the stage. An excellent show! (Editor’s Note: This take on the show was made from another night’s visit as shows were not going on the night we went in to review the park.) – ZombieQueen
The theme for the Calico Mine Ride is all new this year with Invasion Beneath, where an alien invasion has hit Knott’s Scary Farm from the least likely of places, underneath Calico Mountain. While the theme is a great idea, the execution of the theme just didn’t quite make it. From the time you enter the queue line, the attraction is troubled with a mock news report of an alien invasion at the theme park plays on a loop on screens throughout the line. The mock news report itself isn’t a bad idea as it sets the scene for what you are about to experience, it just looked cheap and thrown together as if they were winging it on the fly. Moving into the mountain, it doesn’t get much better, talent was sparse and, while they were trying the best they could, it just didn’t work as all the talent were dressed in military fatigues. I am still not sure why I was supposed to be afraid of the good guys, but the alien threat certainly didn’t feel real. Despite the abundance of available space in the attraction, there were no major props in the design, mostly everything was hidden behind fog and laser lights apparently attempting to simulate a battle with alien forces. Overall, this attraction just felt thrown together in a hurry and missed the mark completely. (Editor’s Note: This attraction does feature a large, central prop of a drill machine that the aliens used to break through to the surface, it just was not up that evening for reasons unknown). – Doctor0Neg
Back for another year, this 3D maze is set in an abandoned government fallout shelter that has long been forgotten. From the very first room this maze really has the feel like you are in an underground bunker teeming with mutants caused by years of radiation. This maze had the hardest working talent that I saw all night. Every monster was energetic and going hard for their scares, in spite of it being a rainy night and low attendance, big kudos to this crew. I really enjoy this maze; the claustrophobic feeling of being locked underground really comes through. The only place I think they went wrong on this one was making it 3D. While I’m sure the radiation is a perfectly valid reason for creatures glowing neon colors, it just felt forced. Lose the 3D and this maze could reach new heights next year!– Doctor0Neg
The area known as Boardwalk Streets has, in the past, seemed somewhat “thrown together”. The area is brightly-lit, fog-less, and huge. Coupled with the numerous steel beams peppering the area from various attractions and these are not the qualities that come to mind when one thinks of a typical scare zone. However, this year everything has just clicked for this zone. The talent is at the top of their game, making the best use of the area possible and they seem to have added plenty of extra decorations to bring the creepy carnival theme to life. The area is still gigantic and open, but the numerous characters have all hit their stride, using both comic-relief as well as scares in their routines. I have to hand it to them this year, good job all! – GamingShogun
Lockdown: The Asylum
In this penitentiary for the criminally insane, the inmates have taken over and all control has been lost. This maze has a reputation for being intense and aggressive from start to finish and its definitely one that I look forward to every year. Unfortunately, this year was seriously disappointing. I realize that, when it’s a slow night, it can be difficult to get your energy up but the talent in Lockdown didn’t even seem to try. The sets and driving soundtrack in this maze provide for the perfect setting to instill some serious fear in the guests venturing through, but it is all lost when talent are lazy. There is no other word to describe the Lockdown crew on this night, with talent sitting in cells barely moving to even look at us as we passed through, let alone try and scare us. And then there was the lack of eye black. Please do not underestimate the need for eye black! Over half the talent in the maze didn’t bother to put any on. It looks terrible and takes you right out of the moment when you see white circles under a mask. Although my hopes were high, I left feeling let-down – not locked-down. – Doctor0Neg
In its final year at Haunt, the “Marionette Murderer” returns to claim more victims and transform them into living dolls for his private collection. A favorite among fans since this industrial pseudo S&M nightmare was first introduced, Doll Factory has always delivered on the creepy, mixing child-like imagery with torture and murderous scenes. With a slight re-design and an added toy storage room, the sets and props in this maze really do their job and the talent was decent, but could certainly step it up in the energy department. Aside from the purple haired kabuki doll in light box trying her hardest to break through the plexiglass barrier to destroy us, much of the talent seemed a bit sluggish. While this maze has always delivered, it might just be the right time for something new to move into the Wilderness Dance Hall for next year’s 40th Halloween Haunt. – Doctor0Neg
Overall, the 39th annual Knott’s Scary Farm Halloween Haunt was a lot of fun, and should be considered a not-to-be missed event for you Southern California Halloween thrill-seekers. Having been to the park on several nights, I would recommend that you consider Thursdays as they are less-crowded. Checkout the event’s official website for ticket information and more!
*Please note that the following walk-through videos were taken under escort by the Knott’s PR team – guest videography is not permitted in the mazes.