This year marks Knott’s Berry Farm’s 40th seasonal Halloween Haunt event. As this is the big FOUR-ZERO for the park, they tried to pull out all the stops and make this their best year yet. Our first stop of the night was “Warehouse P”, the backstage warehouse where makeup and costuming is done. We checked out some of the various character makeups being created and were delighted by makeup supervisor Denice Paxton’s charm and enthusiasm as she described the various characters to us while her artists were hard at work. After exiting the makeup area and entering the park, we began our journey of terror.

This year sees a new, up-charge maze called “Trapped”, which pits groups of six guests at a time against a series of haunted rooms and challenges. We were not allowed in this maze as they are keeping it as secret as possible but, from some of the guests we spoke with leaving the maze, you should check it out. Reservations are limited so see their website for bookings – again, there is an additional charge for it.

Another new offering this year is “Trick or Treat” – a maze which puts guests in the role of trick or treaters unknowingly entering the Green Witch’s house for a Halloween party. I loved this maze. While not as intense or unabashedly scary as others, it told a story and had some very cool set pieces and theatrical touches. The maze attendants send in groups of about 15 guests at a time, which is perfect. Anymore than that and it would start to feel like a cattle line. The smaller group size ensures that each group gets the same experience.

The main antagonist for this year’s Halloween Haunt is the Green Witch. The Green Witch was hung way back when by the citizens of Ghost Town (the park’s first themed area). Before she met her end, the witch cursed the town as well as vowed her revenge. It looks like she has come back from beyond to collect as the character is everywhere this year. She is not alone, however, as she has a gang of “Tricksters” with her. These tricksters do her bidding as well as cause all manner of mischief around the park. So, don’t be surprised if you see a group of masked individuals make off with a baby or cause some equipment to malfunction during your visit. Those Tricksters are big-time trouble makers. The other haunted Cedar Faire (Knott’s Berry Farm’s parent company) events are still using the Overlord character from year’s past as their antagonists.

The monsters of Ghost Town Streets, Necropolis, and Boardwalk Streets all deserve a lot of credit. In past years, I have thought that one street zone or another will come off with less intensity than others. Maybe it’s because this is the 40th, maybe they all had a pep-talk, or perhaps they are being dosed with “Go Go Juice”. Whatever the reason, all of the street area monsters were very intense and stayed in-character for as long as I saw them. The only drawback to this newfound intensity is that street characters are more camera-shy as to not break character. So, don’t be offended if they are too busy scaring to take a photo with you. If you would like a photo, there are some white masked characters near the front gates which have been designated as photo ops for guests.

Aside from “Trick or Treat”, the next best maze we went through during our trip was “Slaughterhouse”. If you have been to some more recent years of Knott’s Scary Farm, you probably were disappointed in this maze. This year, however, the maze has been completely re-arranged and the difference is astounding. The maze is so good this year that I wish Knott’s had re-branded it as something else and made more of a big deal of it to media outlets. The maze has a very “gettable” main story now and the overall flow of the maze is spot-on. “Slaughterhouse” is not to be missed this year!

The other two big mazes being touted this year are “Pinocchio Unstrung” and “Dominion of the Dead”, a new take on the fan-favorite vampire maze of Knott’s past haunts. “Pinocchio Unstrung” was a lot of fun. The narrative of Pinocchio’s story was definitely present, going from a sleepy hamlet all the way to Pleasure Island, and it had some really cool set pieces. Also, the maze talent was there and doing a great job of staying in character.

Unfortunately, I was not as impressed with “Dominion of the Dead” as I had hoped. “Dominion”, as haunt employees call it, was completely lost on me. There is some really interesting architecture in that maze – large rooms, bizarre walls, spider holes for monsters to hide in. I just didn’t understand what I was doing there in terms of the maze’s story. Not having a clear narrative is not the end of the world when it comes to a haunted house so long as the talent picks up the slack. The problem is that I was never really scared in “Dominion of the Dead”. There are a lot of characters playing instruments as you walk by them instead of jumping out at you but, because I had no idea where the maze was taking place, it just made the whole thing murkier. I left there scratching my head.

Aside from “Slaughterhouse”, another maze re-designed for this year was “Endgames: Warriors of the Apocalypse”. Like the previously-mentioned “Slaughterhouse”, “Endgames” was really impressive this year. The maze’s narrative made a whole lot more sense than it did last year and the set pieces felt much more the part of being in an apocalyptic, gladiatorial showdown.

Four of the park’s maze locations have been relocated this year. “Trick or Treat”, “Endgames”, “Dominion”, and “Delirium” are all located in the park’s backlot area. This is really strange as you get the mazes all in one area but you lose the bit of the journey in getting there. For me, part of experiencing a haunted house is the build up of walking to the place – seeing the decorations, getting scared by street talent, etc. The area which these mazes are placed kind of feels like a big empty parking lot. I don’t think I would have minded so much if they filled the area up more with decor, monsters, etc. The biggest con to this new layout are the lovely ladies of the Red Moon Dance Company in their show, “Cursed”. The stage for this amazing bellydance show is located at a far off edge of this area. A lot of guests might miss that it’s there altogether. If you are going to the event, make sure you ask its location from park attendants so you don’t miss it. The show has a lot going for it and, like last year, is a must-watch for park-goers. If Knott’s is smart and recognizes the talent they have with the ladies of “Cursed”, they will put them up at the Wagon Camp next year so they can get a larger show going.

“The Hanging” is back again with a tongue-in-cheek look at the past year’s news stories and events. The show is entertaining and pokes fun at plenty of pop culture references and celebrities, including Kristen Stewart which was fun, but feels like they are cramming too much in and it feels a bit on the long side. This content-cramming comes at the expense of laughter. I think they should shorten the show up a bit and trim the fat, if you will, focusing on more genuine laughs. Not every joke is a winner – might as well showcase the good ones. If they absolutely need to stretch the show’s runtime out, perhaps some additional way could be found. Some other parks use musical numbers in the shows to stretch for time and, while that may not work with the show’s overall theme of hanging someone from the past year’s news, something has to be an option.

In addition to “The Hanging” the park is bringing it back old school with the witch hanging at midnight. Back when Knott’s Halloween Haunt started, “The Hanging” was just that – a witch hanging (see: Green Witch). Over the years, it transformed into more of a comedy show. For the 40th, the original show is back at midnight. So – BE SURE to check that out at the Calico Square stage.

Dining at Knott’s Berry Farm is excellent, with plenty of food and drink options for guests. There is the Ghost Town Cantina, Johnny Rockets – even a Panda Express. You will not leave Knott’s Scary Farm hungry.

Overall, Knott’s Scary Farm’s 40th Halloween Haunt is a really fun time with plenty of scares to go around. The park is stepping up their game and, based on all the good things I saw this year, I have even higher expectations of the 41st Halloween Haunt in 2013. We would like to thank Jennifer Blazey of Knott’s PR for making our trip to the park possible.

You can get your tickets as well as “Trapped” reservations online at the event’s website.

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Jerry Paxton

A long-time fan and reveler of all things Geek, I am also the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of GamingShogun.com