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In-Depth Escape Room Reviews

Review: Knott’s Scary Farm 2017

There’s lots to look forward to in California each October – but that one night each year when we 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.

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Knott’s Scary Farm, sometimes also referred to as “Halloween Haunt” is the granddaddy of all theme park Halloween events. Currently operating for its 45th 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 45 years later.

Knott’s Scary Farm, located at Knott’s Berry Farm, is a separately ticketed event that runs twenty-five select nights between September 21, 2017 and October 31, 2017, every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday as well Monday, October 30 and Halloween night itself. In its 45th year, Knott’s Scary Farm features nine different haunted houses, one ride seasonal overlay, 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 and classics like Calico Mine Ride.

*Haunts which return unchanged from the previous year will be duplicated from our 2016 review.

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TRICK OR TREAT: Lights Out

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Are you afraid of the dark? You will be. 

Armed with only a faulty flashlight, explore the creepy house at the end of the street, in the upgraded Trick-or-Treat: Lights Out maze. Face the terrors  of the house in complete darkness as your interactive flashlight reveals the horrors hiding in the shadows.  Featuring new state-of-the-art effects, unexpected scares and other eerie surprises, Trick-or-Treat: Lights Out will terrorize you like never before. 

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: Lights Out 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 dark, 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.

Trick or Treat: Lights Out returns far more ominous than ever, truly dropping us into a twisted, dark world of shadows inhabited by the Green Witch and her Tricksters. It’s never been so easy to become lost within the Trick or Treat storyworld – whether you want to or not.

Several years into its run, Trick or Treat remains one of the best examples of superb quality scenic at Knott’s Scary Farm. A brand new, much more ominous large exterior house facade greets guests as they literally enter the dark world of the legendary 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 now also its “exterior” grounds – 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.

New this year, the entire experience occurs in pitch black darkness, adding a truly wicked spin to what was already our favorite haunt at the event.

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The scareactor cast of Trick or Treat: Lights Out 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.

Knott’s Scary Farm has added a whole new “trick” to our favorite haunt this year, and boy are you in for a treat. Each guest entering the old, dark, abandoned manor is handed their own flashlight. They are, however, far from standard issue. These flashlights are the ultimate theatrical lighting tool – Gantom Torch Escape – a specially made, programmable IR-controlled flashlight that can dim, flicker, turn off completely, physically shake in your hand and even magically transition from flashlight to blacklight – all on its own.

This perfect blending of fresh new tech takes Trick or Treat: Lights Out from an iconic classic maze and turns it into a truly creepy one on a whole new level. Scares are significantly more impactful, and come much more unexpectedly. What results is a far more immersive feeling wherein guests are truly dropped into a scary movie, with very real urgency and seemingly real-world consequences.

 

VOODOO – ORDER OF THE SERPENT

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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.

“New” this year, Voodoo – Order of the Serpent sends guests through its path in reverse, meaning simply that the intended exit is now the entrance, and the spot designed to be the entrance is now the exit. While this haunt still unquestionably shines brightest in the scenic department, its overall quality is greatly diminished by this change.

The path becomes muddled and from a story sense, confusing. We find ourselves instantly inside rooms of various buildings without seemingly ever entering them, because their grand entry facades are now behind us when we leave. The flow simply no longer works.

The aspects we loved in prior years are certainly still there – a grand New Orleans-style facade, dripping with an elegant yet ominous mix of lost Mardi Gras beads and Spanish moss is, detailed sets create the sinister mood of numerous shack houses precariously perched on the docks above a murky swamp. Unfortunately traveling in reverse, these magical reveals are much less magical and much more non-existent.

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Voodoo, as a haunt, is far more environmental than actor driven – and with its alterations to direction of travel, it loses a lot of that gusto in the process. 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.

It feels as though the entire reversal of direction was nothing more than to build up to the Voodoo’s one new addition: a large snake animatronic in what was formerly its opening Skeleton Key room. While it was a cool looking figure, we just don’t think it merited completely throwing away the flow of this once great haunt. (It should be noted that last year, Voodoo received a 4 Key rating, compared to this years 2 Keys.)

Voodoo – Order of the Serpent had a great run, but it’s now proving to be past its time. We predict this may be its final bow on the Scary Farm stage.

 

PARANORMAL INC. : CASE #13 – THE HAUNTING OF HAYDEN HILL

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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.

A modern take on the haunted house genre, Parnormal Inc. makes us the live studio audience on location for the filming of a popular ghost hunting investigation tv show, set in the notoriously haunted Hayden Hill Sanitarium. What should be a passive experience for us, the audience, quickly turns active “live on TV” as a glitch in the containment equipment releases a vengeful demon and opens a portal to another dimension – with our only hope to escape being through it.

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.

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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.

 

THE TOOTHFAIRY

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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.

The Toothfairy starts by creating a unique “everything you know is wrong” twist- teaching children that in actuality, losing a tooth is really a trap that will put you in danger of being captured by a demented monster. From that compelling jumping off point, we hit the bottom of the empty swimming pool that is the remainder of an odd… dentist haunt?

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.

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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.

The actors throughout this year’s haunt were truly top notch, embracing their roles and playing to each guest as an individual, dragging them into the storyworld in a very real and very immersive way. We had perhaps some of our best one-on-one interactions of the entire night thanks to The Toothfairy’s engaged cast of characters.

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.

With virtually nothing at all alerted from its past years, we predict this may be the last year to see The Toothfairy at Knott’s Scary Farm.

 

 

BLACK OPS: INFECTED

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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.
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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

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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.

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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.

 

Dark Ride

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Journey through an abandoned carnival ride where cruel carny folk still linger in the shadows in Dark Ride: Castle of Chaos, Knott’s Scary Farm’s newest maze. The shunned performers have created an ominous world of terror which they plan to unleash on those who enter. Dark Ride will lead brave visitors through a treacherous path and into the bowels of a long neglected attraction, as sinister shadows and horrifying scenes cast gloom over the once pleasant ride. It’s everyone’s worst nightmare, being helplessly surrounded by clowns without a way out.

Dark Ride may be one of Knott’s Scary Farm’s most original maze concepts in quite some time, if not ever – and it also marks the first time we can remember that the park embraced a true comedy haunt. The story starts before guests even exit the queue, as the attendant stands not next to stanchions and ropes, but behind a carnival ticket booth podium. From there you step onto the loading platform of the Castle of Chaos ride, onto the tracks and deep into its warped and run-down world.

Dark Ride is so easy to become instantly immersed in that it feels far more like real life urban exploring in an abandoned carnival than it does walking through a haunt at a Halloween event. Without question, this is one of our new solid favorite attractions at Knott’s Scary Farm, and we will gladly welcome it back with open arms for years to come.

The way Dark Ride’s scenic unfolds is true storytelling art. Beginning, as we mentioned, in the queue itself, where guests reach the carnival ticket booth prior to entering the haunt-proper. From there we step onto the loading platform and onto the ride’s tracks itself. A security guard who no doubt would have stopped us has clearly met an ominous demise prior to our arrival, but surely it’s safe for us to continue on!

The scenic stylings are – by design – perfectly low-quality, instantly evoking the spirit of a really bad carnival ghost train. The actual ride track’s bus bar snakes through the center of our path making it clear that we are somewhere we shouldn’t be. Appropriately, the track is scattered with broken down ride vehicles, some of which still trap unfortunate victims under their lap bars.

Our exploration takes us into back of house “behind the scenes” hallways – an attention to detail that will certainly amuse anyone who has ever worked at a theme park (or just been broken down on their favorite attraction.) We even find our way into the Castle of Chaos’ maintenance bay – an area clearly not suited for guests littered with tools and disjointed pieces of the ride awaiting repair.

Dark Ride is full of large scale open sets that produce more “wow” moments than we could count – and they’re truly brought to life by large props full of kinetic motion, further enhanced by short-circuiting ride show lighting and a skipping, glitching background music track.
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This haunt is the perfect blending of story, scenic and scares – achieving solid 5 Key scores in every single category. The highly engaged actors throughout Dark Ride do as much to immerse guests into the storyworld as its epic scenic.

Within Dark Ride, you’ll essentially find two different types of characters: demented animatronics come to life, covered in wires and flickering lights, and the homeless people who now live in this abandoned attraction.

You read that right. Dark Ride is full of scruffy, dirty homeless people screaming at you to “get out of my house!” – and it’s the most amazing bit of comic relief we could have ever imagined!

Beyond the scareactors portraying animatronics, you’ll also find several actual (intentionally cheesy) animatronic figures adding to the creepy fun – complete with appropriately exposed, sparking wires.

Simply put, Dark Ride is the total package haunt, and sets a new standard for what to expect from Knott’s Scary Farm!

 

 

SHADOW LANDS

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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.

Spectacular, authentic-feeling sets create the world of fallen Japanese warriors – bringing it hauntingly to life with scenic that is easy to become immersed in.

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 Knott’s Scary Farm. Scenic enhancements and additions this year take a haunt that was already among our favorites and make it even better.

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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.

Last year, we raved about Shadow Lands scares but wished for just a little polish. This year, we’re thrilled to say they absolutely received it. Shadow Lands flows much more solidly than ever before, creating a truly top-tier haunt.

 

 

 

Pumpkin Eater

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Survive the wrath of the murderous 7-foot tall creature that haunts the old woods surrounding The Hollow in the new maze, Pumpkin Eater. The notorious creature is on the prowl hidden within the dark confines of the haunted town he once terrorized. To escape the sinister Pumpkin Eater’s wrath all that enter must go on a quest through the silent town of victims, face a cave of crawling insects and solve the labyrinth of thorns that blocks the way out.

Pumpkin Eater drags guests into a warped fairytale world that exists largely within an evil pumpkin. If that sounds wacky, it’s because it is. However, that doesn’t mean it “works” any less.

This bizarre place is home to a world that was easy to become immersed within, resulting in another stellar addition to the Knott’s Scary Farm line-up that we look forward to seeing return for future years.

An epic fairtale village entry facade greets guests as they begin their journey into the world of Pumpkin Eater. Houses deteriorate quickly, leading us to a very large, very evil pumpkin we literally must venture into.

Inside that pumpkin hang vines dripping with over-sized pumpkin seeds. The further we proceed, the more the vines become thorny and much more sinister. We were clearly never meant to go this far.

A well placed projection effect drips blood down the carved interior of the pumpkin itself, offering a sense of foreboding warning that we clearly choose to disregard.

Once out of the pumpkin we find ourselves on a farm, with an bizarrely tilting barn house and of course, a moonlit cornfield as our only means of escape.

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Pumpkin Eater is full of great scares – from terrified village folk to demented scarecrows and, naturally the legendary Pumpkin Eater himself.

Well placed hiding spots make for some unexpected scares, further brought to life by this haunt’s great scenic and a few impressively large scale puppet characters. Pumpkin Eater left us feeling stalked at every turn, creating a truly immersive warped world.

 

 

 

Timber Mountain Log Ride – Halloween Hootenanny

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This season the Timber Mountain Log Ride becomes the Halloween Hootenanny. This is a family friendly Halloween overlay to our classic Timber Mountain Log Ride. This attraction will be open every day during the Halloween season, offering spooky fun during the day and actor-driven scares after dark. Halloween Hootenanny features a brand new original song sung by Knott’s own guest-favorite performers Krazy Kirk and the Hillbillies

Timber Mountain Log Ride has long been one of the most beloved attractions at Knott’s Berry Farm. For many years, it was included as an attraction for the Halloween Haunt, complete with new decor and a few well-placed live actors. In 2013, the attraction received an impressive refurbishment full of improved scenic and lighting and a whole host of new animatronic characters from industry leader Garner Holt Productions. Unfortunately with it came the end of annual Halloween overlays for the attraction.

Until now.

Timber Mountain Log Ride – Halloween Hootennany is a return to form for classic tradition that was solidly missed in recent years at Knott’s Scary Farm. This year, the overlay takes a different approach, aiming far less for “scary” and much more for “spooky” to keep it appealing to younger audiences who may wish to ride during the day (or even during the week when Knott’s Scary Farm isn’t offered.)

For starters, on its own Timber Mountain Log Ride is unquestionably among one of the world’s best log flume attractions, second only to Disney’s Splash Mountain. The permanent scenic that one can always find instantly makes this worthy of a visit even outside of the Halloween season.

But speaking in terms of what’s new for the event – well, think of a cheesy Halloween cliché, from bats and spiders to aliens or werewolves or vampires – I promise you’ll find it here. And while on paper that may not seem like a compliment, it’s exactly the classic old-school Halloween mood they were aiming for.

And it kind of works.

Timber Mountain Log Ride – Halloween Hootenanny is full of new props and decor, including some fun new animatronic figures along the way (as well as the iconic Green Witch herself!) All new lighting and effects and a custom soundtrack help transform the classic Timber Mountain Log Ride into an entirely new attraction for the Halloween season.

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Knott’s found the perfect balance of fun by day and fright by night, thanks to some truly ominous lighting after dark as well as the addition of live scareactors hiding along the Log Ride’s river during Scary Farm event nights. It really gives this attraction two different distinct personalities, allowing it to appeal to an even wider audience.

And while Timber Mountain Log Ride – Halloween Hootenanny may not quite measure up against some of the past Knott’s Scary Farm overlays the ride has received, it’s still a lot of fun and offers a great family-friendly attraction. It may not be our favorite year for the Log Ride, but boy are we happy to have it haunted once again at long last!

 

 

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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


Bands of half-human, half-animal monsters prowl the streets and inhabit the fog. Beware the notoriously startling Sliders who lunge from every fog-filled corner of the land.

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.

 

 

 

CARNEVIL

Knott’s Boardwalk is taken over by “CarnEVIL,” where the freak show is the main event and countless clowns crave your undying attention.

Simplistic and almost non-exist from a scenic perspective, some banners, a few strings of colorful lights and and a disheveled performance stage transform The Boardwalk into another world thanks in full to a talented batch of very devious clowns that have taken residence in its shadows.

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 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, Fiesta De Los Muertos aimed to return to its roots as a more traditional Scare Zone rather than the swing-and-a-miss dance party from the year prior. Unfortunately its small area and minimal decor still result in the weakest Scare Zone on the Knott’s Scary Farm slate.

 

 

THE HOLLOW

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.

There is inherently something special-feeling about any Scare Zone inside Camp Snoopy, and it’s always one of the most iconic and most well-executed Scare Zones of the event. There’s just something devilishly delightful about taking a children’s land and turning it evil

Although we will always miss the old caves and inclusion of the barrel bridges, the actors in this year’s incarnation of The Hollow truly give it their gusto to create a memorable and ominous environment.

 

Elvira, the legendary Mistress of the Dark, graces the Knott’s Scary Farm stage for the final time this year! Elvira goes out with a bang in a spectacular all-new show! The one of a kind performance will transport guests to a spooky world full of music, dance and humor. Don’t miss your last chance to pay your respects to the Queen of Halloween at Knott’s Scary Farm!

We opted not to watch this one as it’s not our 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 – Fake Noose!

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!

Let’s start with the elephant in the room — or, perhaps in this case, the donkey. It’s no secret that California is a heavily blue state, so it should come as no surprise where their party affiliations fall. As such, it should come as no surprise that, simply put, you cannot have a pop culture spoof show without touching on the single biggest joke of this past year: the President of the United States.

The Hanging – Halloween’s original pop culture spoof show ends with the traditional hanging by the neck of each year’s worst pop culture offender. The Hanging – Fake Noose makes their intentions clear early on, stating in what at first glance seems like a throw-away line that they “could never hang a politician without having Secret Service all over them for it.” It’s quite obvious from this moment on, and throughout the duration of the show – not to mention to anyone who has turned on their television even once since January 20th that the single biggest pop culture offender was, obviously, Donald J. Trump. And while this year’s show solidly builds from start to finish along that direction, the random, uneventful finale hanging of a completely unrelated party drives the gag home that this year it was simply their hands – not the neck of the country’s biggest joke – that were tied.

The Hanging – Fake Noose begins well before the start of the actual show, where preshow footage is made entirely of “live tweets” from an appropriately imbecilic Trump who just happens to be visiting Knott’s Scary Farm in person tonight. He mentions how many supporters he has in The Red Barn (a haunt full of redneck cannibal hillbillies) and several times proves just how out of touch he is by using the hashtag #HalloweenHorrorNights as well as making mention of the Bill & Ted show that is about to begin.

Always the annual center of some great tragedy, this year the town of Calico is threatened by – not a smart bomb – but rather a dumb bomb planted by Valdimir Putin and Kim Jung Un. Trump himself is paraded out as the ultimate proof that the dumb bomb’s first test was a great success. Without giving away spoilers, a romantic dance number full of innuendos between Trump and Putin had us laughing so hard that we were simultaneously trying to wipe away tears while also holding our stomachs because of much they hurt from just how funny the moment was.

What follows saw Trump constantly screwing up Putin’s plan in the ultimate display of life imitating art imitating life. And in several moments almost too real, everything was, of course, blamed on Obama.

The Hanging didn’t solely target our current political catastrophes; this year’s show featured one of their best tongue-in-cheek jabs at the nearby Disneyland Resort, with a subtle yet incredibly effective swing at the recent transformation of the iconic Twilight Zone Tower of Terror into the new Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout attraction. As a long time Disney fan, this one had me near rolling on the ground with laughter.

Perhaps the best news for longtime fans of The Hanging is that this year, Knott’s Scary Farm also returned to form, removing the female Hangman who never truly worked with the Lawman’s chemistry, and replacing her with the classic, tried and true overweight dimwitted male role.

We’ve always been fans of The Hanging, and truthfully it consistently delivers a much more solid show than Universal Studios ever has with Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure. That being said, even as long-time fans, we need to stress that this year, The Hanging – Fake Noose might just be one of their overall strongest shows in recent memory.

While Knott’s Scary Farm certainly doesn’t have the highest budget, or the grandest sets, or even the greatest stories, it always firmly holds its place as our single favorite theme park Halloween event in the United States. 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.

2017 is perhaps the most solid year Knott’s Scary Farm has had in a long time. We always expect to have a great time on our visit into the fog – and frankly we always do – but this year felt as though it went to great lengths to surprise even our group of long-time returning visitors. The infusion of new technologies and new approaches to their haunt style truly breathes new life into an event that was already so full of life on its own.

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.

Knott’s Scary Farm *is* Halloween.

Venue: Knott’s Berry Farm

Location: Buena Park, CA

Dates: Select Nights September 21st – October 31st

Hours: 7PM – 1AM or 2AM depending on the night.

Cost: $75 at the gate, or save as much as $35 per person if purchased in advance online. Annual Passholder discounts are available.

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