Knott’s Scary Farm pretty much invented the theme park haunted event back in 1973. Since then, it has grown by leaps and bounds, as well as paved the way for a host of other events to share their scares with guests each Halloween season. That is the problem, of course: By being the first one of anything, you are constantly having to up your own game to keep ahead of all the others that came after. Did Knott’s Berry Farm push ahead of the pack this year?
Paranormal Inc. takes guests through the Hayden Hill asylum where the stars of a hit paranormal investigations TV show are doing a live event. Things go wrong and park guests become the targets for all manner of supernatural entities. This haunted house begins very strong with a terrific, staged opening room to set the ton of the experience. After, the walk-through portions of the haunted house feel smooth and feature a ton of jump scares and some really cool practical stunts. Additionally, I loved the set design in this haunted house – it was definitely a step up for Knott’s Scary Farm and I hope their future haunted houses follow suit.
The Dead of Winter
This haunted house takes place in the Cloud 9 ballroom and features great air conditioning… That was pretty much all I could say for the maze on opening night. I don’t know what was said to the talent but, on the second night I attended, the maze was quite a bit scarier, with talent having settled into their characters more. Also, it seemed like they might have turned the lights down a little bit, which helps a lot in terms of setting the mood for terror. While not my favorite maze of this year’s Knott’s Scary Farm, it definitely is doing a lot better than I first experienced.
My Bloody Clementine
My Bloody Clementine sees the return of live, scare actors inside the venerable Calico Mine Ride attraction in several years. The overall set work in the mine ride is minimal, but the superb lighting design helps to push what’s there to the next level. Unfortunately, while there are a few live scare actors inside the attraction this year, they are fairly spread out and don’t do a lot of scaring, more just creepy pacing. I miss the days where the park’s log ride and mine ride attractions had FULL haunted mazes built in them and each brimmed with horrific monsters, terrorizing the ride cars as they passed by. My Bloody Clementine is, hopefully, the start of that returning!
Still extremely disturbing, the Tooth Fairy haunted house has grotesque imagery, jump scares, and a creepy-as-hell titular character – all key ingredients in a successful haunt maze. The unsettling sound of dental drills makes the maze just that much scarier to experience. I hate to see what new things they will bring to the maze next year – the whole thing creeps me out (which, in this circumstance, is a good thing)!
Voodoo – The Order of the Serpent
Voodoo still has the best facade of any haunted house ever created by the park and, this year, the inside of the maze has been overhauled as well! Last year, we loved the multi-pathed experience. Unfortunately, it seems that it created more problems than not, so Voodoo only has a single route this year. The good part is that the maze still looks beautiful and has plenty of creepy moments to keep you entertained. Also, this maze has a brand-new “skeleton key” room this year, which is a lot more entertaining than the previous key room from last year.
Trick or Treat
With two big changes this year, Trick or Treat is still a terrific haunted house which takes guests through the estate of the park’s green witch character. Her gaggle of trick or treating minions provide most of the jump scares throughout the attraction, but the witch herself makes plenty of appearances as she calls upon the forces of darkness.
Not much seems to have changes in this twisted take on the classic children’s tale. There are twisted marionettes, crazy townsfolk, mutant creatures, and a lot more. I wasn’t a big fan of this maze when it debuted some years ago but it has grown on me since then like a pair of ears and a tail (Ed Note: Yes, that was a lame Pinocchio reference).
Black Magic has some new sights for guests to experience, and is very solid in its scares and creeps. The dark magicians of the maze and their assistants are all very intense and I loved the set design – especially some of the new rooms. However, I missed the special skeleton key room of years past. Now, you just walk around the creepy seance table instead of sitting down and taking part in it.
Forevermore, the brainchild of one of Knott’s Scary Farm’s former designers, has never resonated well with me. I thought it was boring and bland. They have tweaked it around this year and the whole maze is better for it. While still not my favorite maze of the bunch, it wasn’t bad.
The Gunslinger’s Grave: A Blood Moon Rises
I have a love/hate relationship with The Gunslinger’s Grave. As a concept, it never scared me much as “normal” people generally don’t frighten me. This year, the park has included a huge heaping helping of the paranormal in the maze and I loved every cowboy hat-wearing minute of it. Definitely check The Gunslinger’s Grave: A Blood Moon Rises out when you go to the park.
Aside from the mazes, the park has two and a half scare zones to engage with guests as they walk around the park proper: Ghost Town Streets, Carnevil, and Fiesta De Los Muertos. Ghost Town Streets hasn’t changed much in recent years – not that it’s a bad thing. The fog permeates the Old West inspired buildings and the talent has plenty of hiding places along its dark nooks and crannies. Carnevil is still hit-or-miss in terms of its decor and presentation. With as brightly-lit as the Boardwalk area of the park is, it is hard to get scared when you can see the evil clowns coming from a great distance away. Fiesta De Los Muertos should be a lot scarier than it presently is. Unfortunately, the character design is uninspired, with most of the talent simply wearing sugar skull masks. Also, there is a dance/DJ stage area in the middle of this area and the cranking beats just act as distraction from focusing on the talent that are trying to scare patrons.
My critique on the street zones should be looked at in terms of street zone decor and overall presentation – not a review of street talent. Being a monster in a street zone like this is an organic process. Reviewing them at the beginning of the run will yield an entirely different outcome than reviewing them a little ways into the run, after they have all hit their spooky strides. What can be said was that it was opening night, and everyone had a ton of energy.
That being said, I still miss Camp Snoopy as a scare zone!
Special Ops: Infected – Patient Zero
Special Ops: Infected is now in its second year as a Knott’s Scary Farm attraction. Its first first year saw horrible congestion and line control problems, as well as a big issue with cheap infra red guns that had a host of problems from a functional level. Additionally, there were a lot of monsters without IR sensors to illuminate when “shot”. Still available to anyone who can scramble for an appointment time slot prior to rope drop, I was very excited to see how the experience evolved.
The first night I went to the park, I couldn’t even get in with how crowded it was. My 9:30PM appointment time slot meant nothing and, thankfully, the park’s awesome marketing folks, Leidy Arevalo and Jason Soyster, were nice enough to have us back out a week later to try again. This time, we got our time slot and rushed over to the entrance to the experience. The first week seems to have weighed heavily on Special Ops: Infected as everything feels super-rushed, right from the start when you get your guns. We were all issued new laser tag rifles (dubbed the “Battle Rifle Pro” from its manufacturer), which was a lot more well-made than the previous guns used by the attraction. These guns have a reload button on the front hand guard as well as a health meter and ammo counter as well as fire mode indicator. They even have picatinny rails in case you want to add a red dot (although none of the guests had one to bring in). Unfortunately, they don’t have any kind of iron sight system and, being a bullpup design coupled with a short muzzle, it is hard to get a close enough cheek weld to aim down the muzzle. But, I digress…
The “briefing” commenced and our squad leaders barked out commands about how the gun system’s health worked and that we should all stay between the two of them throughout. Then we were rushed into the area that is normally called “Camp Snoopy” during regular operating hours. It all kind of fell apart from there. We were constantly yelled out to keep moving and never given any real objective as to what we were supposed to accomplish. It felt like the squad leaders were ordered to get groups through as quickly as possible with no regard for score or actually accomplishing mission goals. When we reached the extract/finish point, a loudspeaker informed us we failed our mission. Mission? What mission? One of the squad leaders told us we didn’t pick up a vial of “patient zero’s DNA”. I didn’t even see a vial to pick up as they had us moving so fast through the whole thing.
Additionally, there seemed to be a huge flaw in the health/death system of the attractions’s Battle Rifle Pro guns. The system is setup so that when you get within a few feet of a zombie wearing one of these special neck sensor bands that you lose health. The problem was that – even if a zombie is dead, you health keeps getting lowered as if you were being attacked. What this means is that you will just run through most of Special Ops: Infected trying to avoid zombies instead of forming firing lines and shooting zombies (which is what most people are coming to do). Hopefully this is just an easily correctable issue as it definitely detracts from the experience. If they slowed down Special Ops: Infected and fixed the dead zombie damage problem, I would be raving about it right now – it has so much potential.
I think that, next year, Special Ops: Infected should become an up-charge attraction with a set number of groups per night. That way, guests could get more out of their mission as they wouldn’t be so rushed and the park wouldn’t have to deal with the awful line control issues.
This year sees the return of Elvira as well as the park’s venerable stage show, “The Hanging”. “Elvira’s Asylum” is a terrific return to form for the performer, with her having a lot more stage time than last year’s show. Additionally, the overall pacing of Elvira’s show is very solid and attention-grabbing. You should definitely see it when you attend. “The Hanging: Straight Outta Calico” riffed on pop culture fads and phenomena of 2015 with lots of yucks – the majority of which went over well and garnered at the very least a chuckle. The show tries to pack a lot into a short length of time, but moves along at breakneck speeds. I missed seeing a show in the Bird Cage Theater this year – maybe one day they could get “Dr. Cleaver” to come back?
Knott’s Scary Farm brings a very strong showing in 2015, with lots of new experiences for guests to scream at. The event runs on various nights until October 31, 2015. Tickets are available both at the park and online, at their official website.