There’s lots to look forward to in California each October – but that one night each year when I get to return to the fog and step back into the iconic tradition that is the world’s longest running Halloween event is unquestionably always the most special.
Knott’s Scary Farm, sometimes also referred to as “Halloween Haunt” is the granddaddy of all theme park Halloween events. Currently operating for its 44th consecutive year, the Haunt is to Halloween what Disneyland is to theme parks. Knott’s literally invented the genre of grand scale Halloween events. Are you a fan of Halloween Horror Nights? Howl-O-Scream? Fright Fest? (Just kidding – we know no one is a fan of Fright Fest!) Well then, perhaps its time you plan a trip to California to pay your respects to the event that started them all – and an event that still holds a regional strong-hold as one of the best in existence 44 years later.
Knott’s Scary Farm is a separately ticketed event that runs twenty-four select nights between September 22, 2016 and October 31, 2016, every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday as well as Halloween night itself. In its 44th year, Knott’s Scary Farm features nine different haunted houses, four scare zones – including the original – the massive Ghost Town Streets, two shows as well as all of your favorite Knott’s Berry Farm attractions, including the newly rebuilt (and absolutely incredible) GhostRider wooden coaster, Xcelerator and classics like Timber Mountain Log Ride and Calico Mine Ride.
Trick or Treat
Trick or treat, which will it be? Step forward and ring the witch’s doorbell. Oh, she is home, but where? You are not quite sure. Don’t be afraid, her minions will guide you. You can come away with a treat, but is it worth it?
Perhaps the most traditional “vintage Halloween” approach Knott’s has ever taken also results in one of its most satisfying story-driven Haunts. Trick or Treat is just that – an adventure straight from our childhood that finds us going house to house collecting candy on All Hallow’s Eve. That is, of course, until we ring the wrong doorbell; the doorbell of that spooky old house at the end of the street that the other kids claim is home to an evil witch, trapping us in a world of delightfully devilish playful evil.
Several years into its run, Trick or Treat remains one of the best examples of superb quality scenic at Knott’s Scary Farm. Starting at the large exterior house facade, guests literally enter the world of the Green Witch by stepping up onto the porch, physically ringing her doorbell and actually trick or treating once the door opens. From there, they’re whisked inside the sprawling manor, and run from room to lavishly detailed room in hopes of finding a way out.
Numerous physical effects from floating objects, flying creatures, wind, and fog just to name a few further enhance the environment to create the sense of a truly enchanted yet ominous supernatural world.
The scareactor cast of Trick or Treat takes an already stellar top tier Haunt and pushes it even further to the next level. The old manor is bursting at the seams with the Tricksters – the menacing hoard of evil children doing the bidding of the iconic Green Witch. They create a perfect balance with the Green Witch herself, matching her bone-chilling evil with a devious childlike whimsy.
It’s a refreshing change of pace from the countless serial killers trying to kill me where I stand in so many other haunts – and sets the standard for just what the “trick” in trick or treat really is.
Voodoo – Order of the Serpent
Beware the cursed swamps of New Orleans, where mindless zombies trudge through the murky bogs in search of bloody sacrifices and demons use Voodoo curses to possess innocent souls. Choose your path carefully children, for one wrong turn and you will be hexed forever.
It’s no secret that I have great appreciation for unique concepts – and Voodoo – Order of the Serpent definitely does fit that description. It’s worth noting, however, that the uniqueness of this haunt has gotten a bit diminished over the years. In its debut, and as alluded to in the story, one of the core features of the Voodoo maze was your ability to choose your own path. Several moments throughout the haunt presented a “choose your own adventure” flavored maze, wherein groups would decide if they’d travel into the house on the right or down the path to the left – creating multiple different possible experiences for each person brave enough to enter this bloodstained bayou. What resulted was an instant sense of “we’ve got to do that again!” just to see what you missed on the other path.
Sadly, that unique sense of excitement is no longer apart of this haunt, which has reverted to a more traditional, linear experience where all guests follow the same path. Voodoo – Order of the Serpent is still a detailed, unique environment that makes for a great haunt; it’s just a bit less adventurous than it once was.
Voodoo – Order of the Serpent unquestionably shines brightest in the scenic department. A grand New Orleans-style facade, dripping with an elegant yet ominous mix of lost Mardi Gras beads and Spanish moss is your entry point to the darker world that lies just past Bourbon Street. Detailed sets create the sinister mood of numerous shack houses precariously perched on the docks above a murky swamp. During your journey through the bayou, you’ll pass in and out of those houses, returning “outside” between each to truly give credibility to the sense of world-building this maze succeeds in creating.
Once you escape the swamps – full of actual murky water beneath your feet – it’s not out of the woods yet; to the contrary, it’s literally into them. An entire forest scene awaits with towering trees covered in hanging moss, lit only by moonlight reflecting off the swamp that surrounds you.
Voodoo, as a haunt, is far more environmental than actor driven. Actors are, of course plentiful throughout the experience, but do more to create a heightened sense of atmosphere than individual scares.
Many of the scareactors you do encounter are fully in character, performing voodoo rituals and dark spiritual sacrifices – and while entirely story appropriate, the overall experience comes across just a bit more passive than active – the difference between watching a movie versus being a vital character in that story as it unfolds around you. Still, though less interactive than I tend to be drawn to, the uniqueness of the story and quality of the scenic leaves Voodoo – Order of the Serpent as a great haunt on the Scary Farm lineup.
Paranormal INC. : Case #13 – The Haunting of Hayden Hill
Paranormal Inc. features high flying aerial stunts and scares as guests help investigate a haunted hospital where the patients were tortured for decades by deranged doctors and nurses. Demonic spirits of the murdered victims have been detected throughout the mysterious halls, while evil medical staff prowl for new patients to torture.
Paranormal Inc. is such a weird maze – and sadly not really in a good way. The first half is among the best quality Knott’s has ever done – starting with a large scale facade of the Hayden Hills Sanitarium, leading guests to a large lobby for an epic show moment, and then through hallways and rooms of the asylum, chock full of physical effects and convincing projection apparitions.
Distinct, unique split paths out of the lobby create two completely different experiences and promote a true repeatability of this maze – at least its first half.
Unfortunately, the second half of this maze is where everything just abruptly falls apart. Intended to be entering the world of the demons – an idea that sounds cool on paper – the execution honestly feels as though the design team ran out of budget and left a past maze in place as the finale. It’s disjointed, completely lacks transition and just doesn’t flow with the top notch Paranormal Inc. story created in the first half.
Much like the story and scenic, scares in Paranormal Inc. feel like two distinctive different mazes. Starting with perhaps the most ambitious scare Knott’s has yet achieved in a haunt – a flying rig that sees an evil spirit soar screaming just inches above your head – a very high bar is set for this experience. Image mapping projection transforms the opening lobby space, releasing evil spirits while creating previously unseen access points deeper into Hayden Hill.
The hallways are full of a solid mix of live actors and projection effects paired with physical effects to create a high tech scare. If Paranormal Inc. maintained this level from start to finish, it would perhaps be the greatest haunt Knott’s could ever create.
Unfortunately again, that halfway point kills all the steamrolling momentum built up to this point, with the rest of the experience being simple “boo” scares and some really awkward and out of place imagery.
As mentioned, in the end Paranormal Inc. comes across as two different mazes glued together at the mid-point – and sadly the quality of those two mazes varies wildly. The first half would unquestionably receive a solid 5 Key rating, but the second half – and complete lack of ending on top of that would be lucky to score 2 Keys. We decided to meet in the middle for Paranormal Inc.’s ultimate 3 Key rating – with the caveat that the beginning is so good, it almost justifies the lackluster act two.
This twisted tooth fairy steals more than just baby teeth as he drags his victims out their bedroom window and into a world of deranged dentistry. Unbelievable special effects include a blackout room through which guests must feel their way out, a disorienting x-ray strobe light room, and a final encounter with the massive tooth fairy, himself. Say aahhh.
A strange entry statement of a warehouse front lined with (video) windows and draped in chains sets the scene for an equally disjointed jaunt through the world of The Toothfairy, who moonlights as an evil demon while not working his day job: evil dentist.
Scenically, The Toothfairy really does start out strong – transitioning from the bedrooms of one terrified kid to the next, witnessing them cowering in fear and actually being abducted by this demonic take on a classic character from our childhood. Each space becomes more warped and distorted, with crooked walls and even slanted floors, until we ultimately enter the world of the Toothfairy himself.
Once in his lair, varied height ceilings and half-sized tunnel cages force us to squat in order to pass through – something that is rather successful at taking you our of your comfort zone. The quality of scenic does stay rather strong from start to finish, albeit muddled in a story sense with the bizarre realization that this unique concept has turned into a weird nightmare dentist’s office.
The Toothfairy has a better than average mix of scares, from the panicked children to the Toothfairy himself as well as some animatronic props which, for better or worse, Knott’s has always been quite fond of. This haunt succeeds at using scenic itself as a means of enhancing its scares, twisting your perceived reality with lower-than-comfortable ceilings and unnaturally slanting floors.
At the end of the day, The Toothfairy has as many pros going for it as it does cons, but the simple truth is it is exceedingly difficult to become immersed, suspend disbelief and accept a storyworld if the near entirety of it is spent asking myself “WTF IS GOING ON?”
I love the concept of this demented twist in a beloved character from our childhood – I really, truly love it. I wish we could keep it there and not give it a forced “scary dentist” spin a third of the way through. Not every haunt needs to be full of blood and gore to be a compelling, frightening experience.
Black Ops: infected
Survive the Zombie Apocalypse in an All-Out War!
Armed with cutting edge laser guns, brave guests will face off against hordes of zombies in the groundbreaking all-new Special Ops: Infected interactive maze. Small units of guests will battle the zombie apocalypse through blood soaked city streets and an underground sewer system crawling with nearly one hundred ravenous zombies.
Groups must work together to fend off zombies and complete terrifying missions before time runs out. If zombies drag their bodies too close, the un-infected’s guns temporarily deactivate, compromising the safety of the entire team. Soldiers with the deadliest aim will be celebrated with a tally of the number of zombies killed on display board for other survivors to see each night in base camp.
Each year, the interactive Infected haunt strives to make guests active participants in the story on a level other Knott’s Scary Farm attractions cannot, by arming them with laser weaponry and leaving them to fend for themselves in the middle of a full-blown zombie apocalypse. And this year, it achieves that goal on an even grander scale.
For the first time in its three year history, Infected exists in its own dedicated haunt location. Full of detailed city-scape sets, this transition proved a night and day difference in experience quality. Black Ops: Infected creates a far more immersive setting than its predecessors of past years.
Some of Knott’s Scary Farm’s most detailed sets fill out this popular new Haunt, making it easy for us to suspend disbelief and accept we really are fighting for our lives amid a real zombie apocalypse.
It goes without saying, but actors can make or break the quality of scares found within a haunt. Jump scares, or “boo scares” can startle, for sure, but they are not nearly as impactful as story-driven interactions.
By their very nature, zombies are slugish, slow-moving creatures – yet most haunts depict them as running, screaming and chasing you, making it nearly impossible to accept them as the genuine thing. This, in and of itself, is one of my biggest points of contention with finding a zombie themed attraction on my itinerary.
The cast of Black Ops: Infected, without a doubt, inhabited the zombie character to a much higher level of success and believability than any I’ve seen elsewhere. They slowly, effectively lurch around, clearly giving the impression that they are not in full control of their physical function. They react accordingly when shot, recoiling back and stumbling to regain composure. A lot of things make Black Ops the best version of the Infected brand to date, but the actors definitely top that list.
Overall, the group sizes still feel a bit too large in an haunt that would make for a truly magical intimate-sized experience. With the continued absence of Trapped, I found myself honestly wishing Knott’s would go the upcharge route in the future with Infected in an effort to make a great experience even more special.
The Red Barn
Take a trip to a blood-soaked barn filled with carnivorous animals seeking to prey on human flesh in the Red Barn gore maze. Legend has it the farmer who owns the barn was transformed into a heinous creature that sends his sadistic sons to ensure his legacy. None dare enter the barn, for those who enter never escape.
Red Barn is a modern taken on a classic Halloween hay maze, meets cannibalistic rednecks. And as odd as that may sound, it actually works really well in the context.
At its core, the interior scenic of The Red Barn is what you may well expect – wooden textures flanked with blood-soaked hay bales, accentuated by copious amounts of dismembered animal corpses. (If you have a soft spot for chickens or pigs, or are a card-carrying member of PETA, this maze may not be for you!)
What makes the scenic work so well in The Red Barn is in fact its simplicity. By staying more minimal in its approach, it feels more gritty, more real, more authentic. What results is a very traditional classic Halloween flavor which is oftentimes lost as mazes try harder and hard to be more high tech.
Perhaps The Red Barn’s coolest gimmick is its willingness to play with spacial heights. Ceilings ramp down as floors slope up seamlessly, creating an unnerving sense of disorientation that is sure to take you out of your comfort zone.
The story of The Red Barn centers around a deranged family of rednecks with a taste for blood – and the scareactors inhabiting this make-shift slaughterhouse play their roles well.
An energetic cast, they truly brings this demented family to life, and creates a sense of urgency for your escape that instantly transports you into the storyworld. In its first year, The Red Barn is sure to become a solid fixture of Knott’s Scary Farm.
The Dead of Winter: Wendigo’s Revenge
Deep in the frozen tundra, the realm of a treacherous snow queen has been usurped by her evil minion, the horrific Wendigo. She may be dead, but her evil spell hasn’t been lifted: The dead cannibals have risen from their snowy graves as hungry creatures feast on the surrounding villages. During the chaos, the queen’s prized possession, the horrific Wendigo, has seized control of her throne, ready to prey upon any unsuspecting visitors who enter the borders of its icy domain.
A compelling story set in a frozen world definitely paints a unique picture for a haunt – but sadly those strokes of a keyboard do nothing to translate into the physical space. The Dead of Winter – which debuted at Knott’s Scary Farm in 2015 was among their worst mazes. Promises of a complete retooling for 2016, and presented as a sequel story with Wendigo’s Revenge left us hopeful that this year’s take-two under new management, so to speak, could right the many wrongs of the original design team.
Sadly, they only found a way to make it worse, leaving The Dead of Winter: Wendigo’s Revenge as one of the worst haunts of Knott’s Scary Farm’s modern era.
The frozen-over walls of an ice cavern are not exactly the easiest texture to replicate – and unfortunately has proven to be far beyond the means of the Knott’s Scary Farm scenic team. The sets are not at all believable in appearance. They don’t look like ice. They don’t even look like fake ice.
The space is almost too brightly lit to be frightening. It’s difficult to create a sense of tension when you can see nearly every inch of the room, including what lies ahead waiting for you in nearly plain sight.
Questionable design choices further hinder this already doomed haunt, like, for example – a moment where you walk over frozen corpses in the “ice” under your feet – comprised of several bad store mannequins and one blatant flat screen TV meant to imply one of the bodies is still alive. To say it’s a jarring juxtaposition would be an understatement.
Our adventure in the cursed land of the ancient Wendigo begin by being threatened by a centuries old druid, pointing at us accusingly with a hand capped at the wrist with a brand new Apple watch. Because you know, ancient civilization.
This may sound trivial, but little things like that can make a huge impact on an overall experience – and while The Dead of Winter would still be one of Knott’s Scary Farm’s worst mazes ever regardless, sloppy bumps in the road like this certainly did nothing to help its case.
The sequel premise of this year’s relaunch was essentially highlighted by the swapping of the queen actor with a large animatronic monster. The problem is the new, dead queen was another low-quality mannequin, which for some reason was turned into a fountain (?) and the animatronic monster was broken.
I suppose that makes for a fitting finale to the worst haunt of the evening.
A fulfilling life ensures a soul safe passage into eternity, but what happens to the souls of soldiers slain in battle? Enter the hair-raising Shadow Lands maze and fight off demon samurais whose souls are cursed to rot within the depths of purgatory. Guests will embark on a quest through a sacred shrine, an ancient Japanese temple and into the midst of the shadow lands.
Unquestionably one of the most unique backstories Knott’s has attempted for a haunt – Shadow Lands is, at first glance definitely a weird choice of theme, and gives the impression of a strange haunt you might find within a traditional Japanese theme park. Thankfully the old adage, “never judge a book by its cover” couldn’t ring more true here. Shadow Lands is a truly fantastic new addition to the Knott’s Scary Farm lineup.
Your journey begins in what is perhaps the most out of place and awkward preshow moment ever, where a warrior mannequin comes to life and chops the head off another mannequin with one swing of his sword – triggering a prerecorded audio track that proclaims “I HAVE LIVED MY LIFE BY THE SWORD, NOW I MUST DIE BY THE SWORD. ENTER, THE SHADOW LANDS.”
I recognize they were striving for a dramatic set up to what honestly is a pretty cool new haunt, but the execution created about as much excitement as reading the back cover of the VHS tape for an 80’s B-movie. Cutting this quote “show moment” and going directly into the maze in future years will greatly improve the overall flow if this haunt by a large margin.
Awkward opening not withstanding, what follows are some of Knott’s best sets to date, including a large scale outdoor finale that is a definite wow-moment of not just Shadow Lands, but all of 2016’s Knott’s Scary Farm.
Many scares within the world of Shadow Lands are highly character driven – from battling samurai warriors, lost souls and even a geisha girl performing on stage. Knott’s proves with this haunt that they definitely have learned how to create an immersive storyworld-driven experience that makes it easy for a guest to suspend disbelief and become apart of.
Some great tech is used quite well in this haunt, including physical effects, flying rigs and self-resetting props. The latter is something I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with in Shadow Lands.
One effect that clearly had the design team exited are self-resetting mannequins that an actor can decapitate with his sword, only to return moments later and do it all over again. It’s definitely a neat effect – but the art of theater is you don’t just give your best stuff away for free. Just because you can figure out how to reset the body’s head after it has been decapitated doesn’t mean that you should repeat that same gag over and over again throughout this maze – especially when its most solidly executed version is the first time guests see it – leaving all the others to feel like cheaper imitations. Regardless of execution, a big “wow” moment done over and over in front of the same audience does nothing but water down what makes it so “wow” inducing in the first place. Little polishes in future years can only stand to make Shadow Lands better, but even without that polish in its debut year, Shadow Lands is among one of Knott’s best haunts.
The Gunsligner’s Grave: A Blood Moon Rises
“A Blood Moon Rises” continues the story of The Gunslinger. The Red hand gang has disturbed a burial ground that contained a SkinWalker relic, that has transformed them into Werewolves under the Blood Moon Curse. Return to the Old West and walk in the bloody footsteps of a betrayed and left for dead gunslinger on his path to retribution. This journey back in time takes guests on a trail of terror through abandoned gold mines, a treacherous corral, a seedy saloon and a final showdown at town hall.
Sigh. The Gunslinger’s Grave. I remember several years ago when this maze was first announced. I remember the excitement I had for it, because at it’s core, an old west haunt really, truly was Knott’s returning to its roots. Ghost Town is what made Knott’s famous, and remains to this day its what makes Knott’s recognizable the world over.
The Gunslinger’s Grave should be the premier maze of Knott’s Scary Farm – as it carries the very identity of the Knott’s brand on its back. Unfortunately, each year this one remains among its very worst.
Beginning in a gold rush-era mine shaft, there are a few decent scenic moments to be found – as there also are with your first impression of the facades you first see once entering this haunts mini-ghost town recreation.
As long as you don’t look up.
One of several fundamental problems with The Gunslinger’s Grave is that exists almost entirely outdoors – which, given the right circumstance could actually be pretty cool. In fact one of the only “wrong” circumstances for something like this would be when the entirety of an almost entirely outdoors haunt exists almost entirely underneath giant roller coasters – and let me tell you, looking up and seeing not just track, but lit track of Silver Bullet, Jaguar and Montezooma’s Revenge not only looming above you, but with trainloads of screaming passengers speeding past majorly kills the immersion of this maze, making it nearly impossible to allow yourself to get lost in the storyworld.
The design intentions are all in the right place, with a path that goes in and out of shops and hotels in this little western town – but the execution just doesn’t work.
It’s not that the actor’s in The Gunslinger’s Grave are bad; in fact to the contrary, most I’ve seen put great effort into embodying their character and bringing it to life. The problem is this story has become so disjointed that I’m not even sure what’s happening anymore.
When The Gunslinger’s Grave first debuted in 2013, it was a story of cowboys and outlaws – and those bandits were the clear antagonists in the storyworld. A few years later, Werewolves were added to the mix, for some reason. Today, it becomes difficult to tell just who the good guys are – the cowboys or the werewolves? A walk through this maze will leave you feeling both are angry with your presence, which, honestly leaves me to feel as though I have nothing to do with this story – and worse than that, I’m perhaps just in the way of it.
A good haunt makes you an active participant in the story. It’s the difference between sitting in a chair watching a movie, and actually being a character in it for real, with consequences tied to your actions. The Gunslingers Grave has become so muddled that an already lackluster maze has actually worsened into a a completely passive experience. We’re not characters in that story world – not even a little bit.
I hope that The Gunslingers Grave is retired in the near future – but I also hope that lackluster response does not scare Knott’s away from tackling a new wild west haunt in a better location. It truly has the potential, if done correctly for once, to be their marquee attraction.
Four official scare zones, plus additional roaming characters make up the street entertainment for the 44th annual Knott’s Scary Farm event. Normally, Scare Zones are just a nice added flourish to the haunts that make a Halloween event worth visiting, but not at Knott’s. Here, some of the most motivated and energetic scareactors you’ll ever see turn the Scare Zones into as much a must see event as any maze or ride in the park.
Ghost Town Streets
If Knott’s Scary Farm is the granddaddy of all Halloween events, the Ghost Town Streets Scare Zone is the great granddaddy. The earliest predecessor for the Halloween Haunt as an event, the success of the Ghost Town Streets grew into the juggernaut that is Knott’s Scary Farm, and vis a vis every other theme park Halloween event the world over that would follow.
Perhaps the greatest Scare Zone ever created within an amusement park – the reason why it works so well is the authenticity of its environment. Aside from some camo netting, cheese cloth, theatrical lighting and a whole hell of a lot of fog, there’s not much physically different about this section of the park than what you’d find during the daytime hours. However, combining all factors together, and adding in the most energetic, enthusiastic monsters you’ll ever find makes for the perfect storm of the very definition of everything that makes a theme park Scare Zone work.
Prowling the darkest corners of Scary Farm’s midways and scare zones, the Green Witch and her Deadly 7 are a sadistic crew guilty of more terror than meets the eye. Each of the monsters represent one of the seven deadly sins and make terrifying surprise appearances throughout the park each night.
Based on the Seven Deadly Sins, the Deadly 7 is the roaming hoard of icon characters which replaced the Tricksters as The Green Witch’s newest band of loyal followers in 2015. The problem is, we learned this year, that as it turns out they are apparently not as loyal as she might have hoped. In a full evening at Knott’s Scary Farm, we never once encountered the Deadly 7 – despite making several full loops around the park over the course of the evening.
Knott’s Boardwalk is taken over by “CarnEVIL,” where the freak show is the main event and countless clowns crave your undying attention.implistic and almost non-exist from a scenic perspective, some banners, a few strings of colorful lights and a handful of hanging monkeys is transformed into another world thanks in full to a talented batch of very devious clowns that have taken residence on the Boardwalk.
Different from other Scare Zones in the park thanks to bright lighting and the hustle and bustle of large rides surround it, CarnEVIL becomes almost entirely dependent on the quality of its cast to sell the story.
Crawling with more clowns than you can count, each one has his or her own unique persona and character, making this an organic, living world – and each one goes out of their way to draw any brave – or foolish – enough to step foot on the Boardwalk right back into that world with them.
Fiesta De Los Muertos
Fiesta de los Muertos fuses dance music, colorful costumes, and larger than life stilt walkers in a dance party scare zone with even more characters than last year to create the ultimate late night celebration of Dia de los Muertos.
Clearly meant as “just barely enough to say we did something” fan service to Southern California’s rich Hispanic heritage, Fiesta de los Muertos has always carried the least amount of notable effort when it comes to Knott’s Scary Farm’s several Scare Zones. This year, what is purported to be a swinging party to celebrate the Day of the Dead, was, in itself dead. The only thing less than the amount of decor or amount of engaged actors in this section of the park were park guests themselves.
From within the fog, the legendary Headless Horseman and his army of the undead are ready to unleash a reign of terror in the newest scare zone, The Hollow. Guests entering the frightful 6-acre area will be terrorized by the souls of fallen soldiers and local farmers that have escaped their shallow graves.
Perhaps the most celebrated announcement to come out of early hype for Knott’s Scary Farm’s 44th year was the return of a Scare Zone to the Camp Snoopy section of the park. Always one of the most iconic and most well-executed Scare Zones of past years, this section has gone missing in 2014 and 2015 thanks to the laser tag-driven Special Ops: Infected haunt – which took over every square inch of Camp Snoopy for two years. This year, thanks to being given its own dedicated location elsewhere in the park, Camp Snoop’s return to Scare Zones, with the all new section The Hollow was perhaps the single most celebrated piece of news among the Halloween Haunt’s most die-heard fans – myself included.
Sadly, this Scare Zone, intended to be based on the Legend of Sleepy Hollow – was, in itself, hollow. And to be clear, I mean empty.
Nearly devoid of scares and even less scenic (save the one well lit and well fogged section around the old barrel bridges,) The Hollow, sadly and after much excitement and anticipation, turned out to be the worst Scare Zone to inhabit Camp Snoopy in recent memory, and among the worst for Knott’s Scary Farm as a whole.
The only place to see Elvira, the legendary Mistress of the Dark this Halloween season is at Knott’s Scary Farm in her spectacular all-new nightly show, Elivira’s Danse Macabre. The show transports guests to a masquerade ball, hosted by Elvira, full of music, dance and comedy.
I opted not to watch this one as it’s not my style of entertainment. As much as I’d truly enjoy a show full of Elvira being the sassy, comedic character that made her so iconic, her Knott’s shows tend to be much less Elvira and much more random theme park dancers for the majority of their duration.
The HAnging – Finding Gory
A live stage show in Calico Square that irreverently looks back at the year’s pop culture with some killer comedy. Notorious for its special effects and high-flying stunts, The Hanging® is a no-holds-barred assault on pop culture’s most infamous moments of the past year. A must see parody!
The Hanging, to me, has become one of the defining highlights of the Halloween season. Being the originator, and the definitive pop culture spoof show (sorry, Bill & Ted – but you wouldn’t even be here today if it weren’t for The Hanging) it is, in a sense it’s the “main event” that the entire year builds to for me.
2016’s The Hanging was really, really bad. And on its own, that’s an upsetting statement to make, especially from someone who is as big of a fan as I personally am – but what makes it even more disappointing is the fact that the past 365 days have been the biggest softball pop culture could have ever lobbed at the writing team. I mean come on – a new Star Wars film, some great television, the international to-do over a gorilla and, oh yeah, that whole election battle between one of the country’s most despised super villains and a cartoon caricature of Hitler, but a little more racist and a lot more orange.
2016 wrote itself. It was a freebie. How do you mess that up in a pop-culture satire show? This year, The Hanging answers that question with a resounding “what was the question? I wasn’t really paying attention.”
One of the key moment’s of each years show is the actual hanging itself – wherein the past year’s biggest pop culture oftener is taken to the gallows. I won’t spoil the identity, but simply say that while this year’s victim was certainly a big offender, Knott’s came across a bit late to the party after the fad had already nearly completely subsided.
Nothing will ever be perfect – and even with a few ups and downs mixed in, Knott’s Scary Farm will always hold a very special place in my heart as my favorite Halloween event. It certainly doesn’t have the highest budget, or the grandest sets, or even the greatest stories – but what it lacks in production it all the more makes up for in heart. This event is a local tradition – an institution – and frankly one of the shortlist reasons why traveling to California each and every October is an annual tradition of my own.
Knott’s is the undisputed trailblazer of the Halloween park genre – and has pioneered some of the concepts that we today accept as standard fare everywhere we go in the month of October. I just wish Knott’s would take a few more risks and do what it does well – further innovating this genre to keep it growing as they have in the past. Knott’s created the concept of marrying an intimate boutique upcharge Haunt experience with an escape room flavor in Trapped in 2012, 2013 and 2014, yet sadly beginning last year, that franchise seems to be dead – a true disappointment because its first and third years were actually a ton of fun.
Another thing Knott’s had been known for is the conversion of existing classic park rides – turning them into Haunts in their own right for Knott’s Scary Farm. A highlight in my memory dating all the way back to 2003, the very first time I personally experienced the Halloween Haunt – was the seasonal overlays on the park’s iconic Timber Mountain Log Ride and Calico Mine Ride. Not only were they among the most memorable aspects of the event – but they were unquestionably also among the most popular, garnering huge lines on even the quietest of event nights. Sadly, after the stellar refurbishment of the Log Ride in 2013, its haunted version would never return. Fears that the Mine Ride would follow suit after its own incredible redo proved unfounded, with two different haunt versions in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Sadly, and without any acknowledgement, Calico Mine Ride is also not included in Knott’s Scary Farm’s 2016 event. I truly hope this to be a temporary measure, and that in the near future we will see these classics added back into the Haunt mix where they belong.
Even in a slightly off year with the above mentioned omissions, Knott’s Scary Farm has a penchant for making me happy in a way that theme park Halloween events rarely can. It’s a classic. It’s a tradition. It’s an innovator. It’s an institution.
Venue: Knott’s Berry Farm
Location: Buena Park, CA
Dates: Select Nights September 22nd – October 31st
Hours: 7PM – 1AM or 2AM depending on the night.
Cost: $40 Online or $72 at the gate. Annual Passholder discounts are available.