Knott's Berry Farm, Buena Park, CA
Happy Friday, folks! As of yesterday, fall is officially here, and last night, Westcoaster was on hand for Knott's Scary Farm's media night festivities and opening night. It promises to be another great season, and we were pretty pleased with how most things went last night.
For this event, we were fortunate enough to receive a press invite that included Fright Lane with Skeleton Key, which definitely made the night a lot more easy going and relaxed from a "see everything" perspective (unlike our experience as regular guests at Universal last week). But even with that disclaimer said, the overall crowds were nowhere near as bad as at Universal, and though lines for the most popular mazes did reach an hour and a half (or possibly a little past that), there were plenty of mazes with more reasonable waits well under an hour or even at near walk-on status, depending on the time of night!
Beyond that, I wanted to throw down some spoiler-free first thoughts of the event that are definitely rough in nature. We'll have more comprehensive coverage next week, and these opinions are based solely on the first night of operations, so by no means do they reflect how well the event will operate as Haunt gets its bearings going. But at the same time, there are some trends that have already clearly revealed themselves.
The new mazes were all fantastic.
Special Ops: Infected was richly detailed and very fun, and we think it will be the most popular maze of the season from a queue length perspective. Although guests should still expect long waits of 1-2 hours in standby once Scary Farm really gets going, the park has made some noticeable improvements to the flow and speed of the maze. The sequence is linear now and focused, and the talent working as the special ops push guests through to maximize capacity. Normally, I don't like being rushed through a maze, but in this case, it works, because the story commands a sense of urgency, and you should be hustling through a zombie wasteland!
Shadowlands was another favorite and the other very long line of the night, with waits stretching to an hour and possibly more. Coming off the incredible Paranormal Inc. last year, Jon Cooke has done it again with a beautifully designed, uniquely themed, and scare filled maze. In addition to utilizing a theme we haven't really seen at haunts, #SeppukuMaze itself features a lot of designed scare elements that clearly show Cooke's enthusiasm as a both a designer and a fan of haunts. There was a nice variety of different types of scares--camouflage, distraction, props, boo boxes, pop-out corners--and a nice sense of theatricality here.
The Red Barn was also pretty fun. It took a while to get going, as the first half of the maze was somewhat dead the first time we went through, but by the end of the night, the talent seemed to have filled in better and found its groove. There was great energy, especially in the middle third of the maze, and the Gus Krueger/Daniel Miller collaboration was full of great guts and gore--a solid throwback to the old fashion style of Knott's mazes.
Dead of Winter was a very welcome upgrade from last year’s disappointing rookie offering. Augmented by Daniel Miller, this maze introduced the wendigo to the lore and featured more blood, darker lighting, and more focused flow and pacing. The talent also seemed to be heavier than a lot of last year’s run, with a lot of energy even early on in the night. Although a notch below the top tier of mazes, Dead of Winter definitely delivers a great showing in the middle of an overall strong pack of mazes.
Gunslinger’s Grave also provided a great experience on our trip through. This maze can be hit or miss, but during our lone trip in during the middle of the evening, there was plenty of talent, high energy, and targeted scares. I still love the repetitive and intense sounding soundtrack, and of course, meeting Master Splinter at the end was a plus (inside joke from last year, but those who go through will get this).
Beyond the above, Paranormal Inc was fantastic as usual and unchanged from last year. Trick or Treat was also the same but full of that fun, spooky, startle-scare laden energy that it’s had in past years. Plus, I may or may not have squee’d when I saw #MFSheetGhost inside, adorably yelling “BOO” at guests.
The highly anticipated return of Camp Snoopy as a scare zone in the form of The Hollow fell a little flat opening night. This wasn’t the fault of the talent, though, who seemed to be throwing a lot of great energy while testing out their new surroundings. Unfortunately, they weren’t given much to work with, as the theming was very sparse and relatively disappointing. Granted, there is a general edict to keep Camp Snoopy “Halloween-free” so that younger guests can enjoy it during the daytime without being intimidated by possibly more graphic Halloween theming, but I thought that the park could have brought in some spooky and general family-friendly Halloween theming that could be lit dramatically at night to create a better ambiance. More pumpkins, maybe some gnarled trees, and focused show lighting filtering in through the plant life could have been a nice effect while not adversely impacting day operations. I also missed the old hanging jack-o-lanterns props from past years. The entrance itself could have used more pizzazz. Instead, it felt as though the theming was thrown together here at the last minute, which might have been the case, but still was a little underwhelming and a disservice to the passionate talent roaming the area.
Also immediately apparent from the first night is the trickiness that the Skeleton Key Rooms will provide. Although limited away from the general public, the mini-haunts themselves are low capacity and have a propensity to build up lines. We were only able to do one last night—Prey—and though it was fun, there wasn’t anything so spectacular as to make us clamor to revisit them. Guests who attend should be aware that the Skeleton Key Rooms will build up a wait and schedule their plans accordingly. Unfortunately, with the low capacity, they are what they will be.
I hate to say this, but The Hanging this year was severely disappointing. After the past several years of strong and improved showings, this year’s iteration of the traditional pop culture lampooning event was laden with a meandering plot with no real logic or focus. The dialogue seemed sophomoric, and the jokes ran themselves dry almost immediately with repetition. With the exception of a couple of moments, the edginess seemed much toned down from previous years, and the entire show just seemed to be rambling. And while humor is completely subjective, show writing is less so.
This year’s Hanging exacerbated the weakest moments of past years—when moments drag on and overstay their novelty—and stretches a story that could have been told in five minutes into thirty (whereas typically, it’s more like a 20 minute show that takes 30). The production left us confused and bewildered more than annoyed. Sadly, The Hanging is not worth the time to wait for the show or even watch it. I’m not sure what can be done to salvage this, short of re-writing the show, but what we saw last night just really doesn’t work from a storytelling perspective. And that is truly unfortunate.
So that’s our quick reaction that, well, really wasn’t that quick. Sorry—I am not good at being succinct, especially in a blog format. We did not have a chance to see Elvira's show (which I'm sure will be similar to her previous years' shows) or the Fear VR upcharge experience.
This provides a recap of our initial impressions and will be a nice bookmark to compare to as the run progresses. Like anything else, Knott’s Scary Farm always has kinks to work out during opening weekend, and they always do, so the event has nowhere to go but up from here. And aside from the negative aspects summarized above, this year overall is pretty darn good. We left last night feeling quite satisfied and definitely enjoyed a more quality experience than at Universal (again, with the caveat of having a VIP status).
Come back next week, and we’ll have more in-depth critiques and plenty of pretty pictures for all you boils and ghouls. In the mean time, have a great weekend, and treat each other well. And remember that all haunt talents (everywhere) put in a lot of effort and dedication. So treat them well too, and show your appreciation!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.