Last week, we got the opportunity to attend the opening night of the 2016 Knott’s Scary Farm event in Buena Park, CA. For those of you who don’t know, Knott’s Scary Farm is the annual Halloween time event that takes place at Knott’s Berry Farm. The park is transformed into a haunted attraction with several haunted houses, shows, and a lot more. Here is a rundown of our thoughts on this year’s event:
“Ghost Town Streets”, the original of the park’s “scare zones” was great and, despite the park being under capacity, a fun place to sit and watch monsters get their scares over on wandering guests. One thing I should note is that a lot of the two-dimensional (non-prosthetic) makeup on the street zone talent was not up to par with what the park as put out in past years. Opening night or not, it looked like many makeups were just rushed and left un-powdered (which allows the makeup to smear as actors sweat). As someone who used to do makeup at the event a long time ago, I can say that Knott’s Scary Farm has a lot of talented makeup artists working for them – they should have the time needed to make their magic happen. But I digress… Back on topic: Ghost Town Streets characters know their zone and how to exploit it for maximum effect.
“The Hollow” is a “new” scare zone in that, for the last two years the Camp Snoopy area of the haunt has been relegated to an outdoor laser tag attraction, Special Ops: Infected. However, prior to that attraction, the area was home to an amazing scare zone that even had a couple of haunted houses to keep guests moving through it regularly. Various sources have told us that since the park changed management several years ago, one of the key things they stressed was that day operations should not be affected by the Scary Farm. Hence, several mazes were moved backstage into warehouses and any signage or facades needed to be removable. This meant that guests didn’t have as much of a reason to visit the area. That’s kind of where we are at with The Hollow right now. The talent is very eager and have some great costumes and characters, but they don’t have enough going on back there to bring the guests to them. There is one Skeleton Key room (more on those later) deep in the scare zone but not a lot of themed decorations or even fog! They should have at least had a show of some kind present on the Camp Snoopy stage. Having a scare zone back there again is great, but the talent has to have the environment to enhance the experience for guests – and give them a reason to come and visit it in the first place.
“Carnevil” is the demented circus clown scare zone located in the Boardwalk area of the park. Unfortunately, while the monsters are all great at their shticks at this point, event creators still have yet to properly decorate this area for them. I would LOVE to see a train of circus wagons and big top tents setup for people to meander around – maybe even some mutant animal cages or something. Heck – even a demented clown college where a couple of the monsters can teach guests the art of the scare. The Boardwalk is a big area of the park and it needs some attention!
“Fiesta de los Muertos” is back near the Fiesta Plaza area of Knott’s Berry Farm and features a DJ/dance/drinking area for guests to enjoy. Monsters roam in Dia de los Muertos inspired garb and masks to scare guests and the stilt walkers are great at upping the tension.
Of course, guests don’t just come to Knott’s Scary Farm for the scare zones – they are also looking for good haunted houses (the park calls them “mazes”). This year, the overall number is down a couple at nine mazes. How do the mazes stack up with fewer than in previous years? I started off with “Shadow Lands”, a new maze for 2016 and the brainchild of maze designer (and Winds of Plague front-man) Jon Cooke. Shadow Lands leads guests through a monster-transformed vision of feudal Japan with all kinds of creatures lying in wait. The maze has some of the best set design and construction that Knott’s Scary Farm has ever seen (along with their “Voodoo” maze) and it is a terrific time. The talent was eager (although those monsters using strictly yelling for their scares are going to have some rough voices in the morning) and costumes wonderful. You can tell there was a lot of attention to detail put into this maze.
The Dead of Winter maze caught a lot of flack last year and, thankfully, has been heavily-redesigned for 2016. “The Dead of Winter: Wendigo’s Revenge” features some great props, sets, and monsters. The set design, props, gore-factor – basically, everything has been improved from last year and it ended up being one of my favorite walk-through mazes of the evening. Way to make a comeback, gang!
“Special Ops: Infected” has returned as well but, this time, it is an incredibly fun and amazing experience. The last couple of years saw Special Ops: Infected as a sort of grand experiment to put a laser tag zombie shooting experience into the haunted theme park. Unfortunately, it was plagued with both technical as well as logistical and line control issues. Instead of running through Camp Snoopy again, Special Ops: Infected is now a MOUT (Military Operation in Urban Terrain) experience where you get up close and personal with laser tag sensor-wearing zombies. This new Special Ops incarnation features amazing set design and construction as well as some fun Easter Eggs tossed in to boot. Your laser carbine has a health indicator on it as well as giving guests unlimited ammo so you can basically go on in and start “paintball triggering” it. The one thing I would have liked to see return from previous years is the scoreboard to display how well each player did in dispatching zombies. Also, I have to give a huge bit of kudos to the zombies in this maze. Unlike straight monster characters that have to plot only their scares, these monsters have to also “act dead” when shot – they did a great job.
“Red Barn” is another new maze for 2016, and has guests enter the barn of a crazed farming family. This was a mixed bag for me as the maze had some really cool set decoration and gory props but it felt almost devoid of talent. I am looking forward to going back on a different night to see if the monster count has increased.
“Voodoo – Order of the Serpent” , “Tooth Fairy”, “Trick Or Treat”, and “Paranormal Inc” have all returned for 2016. Each are great and have some seriously good things going for them. Voodoo, as I mentioned, has some stunning set design and construction as well as water gimmicks. Tooth Fairy is just gross… Gross gross gross. If you like the “music” that is the sound of dental drills, that maze is for you! Trick Or Treat is back and the witch’s house is just as awesome as ever. There are a couple new surprises in there for guests and plenty of the old gags in there too. Paranormal Inc, my favorite maze from last year, has returned and is just as good as I remember. Check out our YouTube page for night vision walk-through videos of some of these mazes.
The Skeleton Key rooms of past years are now separate, stand-alone attractions. There are four of them: “Visions”, “ZoZo”, “Prey”, and “Slasher”. Each of these experiences takes anywhere from five and ten minutes to get through and each have their own themes and scares. For example, ZoZo will see your group attempting to contact spirits beyond while Prey will have your group attempt to escape from a small corn maze inspired walk-through. The Skeleton Key room experiences are only available to those guests who pay for the upgraded ticket. When the park opens, go to the guest relations building off to the left side – near the Ghost Town entrance, to upgrade your ticket. This upgrade is also available online! I enjoyed the Skeleton Key rooms and refuse to spoil any of the plotpoints in this review. Despite this, guests should know that the lines can be kind of long depending on the time of night and room in question.
Earlier this week, I got the chance to experience the park’s new FearVR virtual reality horror experience. Using Samsung’s Gear VR, the Fear VR “ride” begins with guests being admitted to a research institute. After a quick video introduction, guests are escorted to their chairs and strapped into the VR visor. FearVR is something that another amusement park in Southern California would call a “4D” attraction because stuff happens to guests in real life as well as on the VR video screen. There is a slight up charge for FearVR and it also requires an appointment. In my run-through of it, FearVR had a couple technical glitches native to VR (aligning head direction, etc) but was a fun time. Hopefully Knott’s will continue refining this technology for the next Scary Farm season as there is a lot of potential with it – especially given that the Gear VR headsets are cable-free….
The park’s venerable “The Hanging” show is back with “Finding Gory”. Unfortunately, The Hanging: Finding Gory doesn’t have the same laugh factor as past years and its story gets fairly muddled. Coupled with a lackluster ending and The Hanging is something that I wouldn’t have minded skipping this year.
Elvira is back with “Elvira’s Danse Macabre” in the Charles M. Schulz theater and is a rousing show worthy of checking out. Elvira has been performing for a while now and it is awesome to see that she can still “bring it” and entertain the crowds. Part comedy show, part dance show, part insult comic act – ALL fun! Be sure to line up early as the line gets pretty long to get into the theater.
Overall, Knott’s Scary Farm 2016 is a fun and scary Halloween time experience that features plenty of jumps and startles to go around. While some areas of the event are still needing attention, others are extremely well-done and awesome to experience first-hand.