Knott's Berry Farm, Buena Park, CA
We wrap up this year's Knott's Scary Farm coverage (barring any bonus updates later this month) by looking, once again, at the two shows featured this year. The Hanging made its annual showing and actually featured a very well written and excellently executed show that I thought was the strongest in recent memory. Meanwhile, at the Charles M. Schulz Theater, Elvira kicked off her swan song with a nostalgic and fun tribute to her history and presence at Knott's Scary Farm.
The Hanging: Fake Noose
Last year, I wrote a rather critical piece on The Hanging that actually garnered some unfavorable responses, perhaps driven by how mercilessly blunt I was. I stand by those statements, however. The Hanging I witnessed last year was meandering, drawn out, poorly written, and uninteresting. It tried to do too many things and failed at all of them, and even under the standards of a pop culture lampoon show, it was not a great production at all.
Fortunately, for all the negative aspects of last year's show, this year's Hanging scores very highly in all the categories related to the show. There's a central, guiding plot that keeps the show focused and tightly driven, multiple instances of smart and hilarious satire, and a surprising number of bold and risque jokes!
It helps that this year, the politically-dominated headlines provide prime fodder for the writers. But the general plot is pretty clever! The Lawman and the Hangman (now male again, reverting the previous trend of Hangwoman "Shannon" from 2015 and 2016) assemble the citizens of Calico to hang this year's worst-offending pop culture icon, but they can't find a worthy celebrity to hang! After a group of PC police modifies the conditions of the hanging, the Calico citizens grow restless from the lack of a suitable star for the gallows. The distress is interrupted, though, by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who along with his puppet, Donald Trump, vows to unleash a superweapon that will turn Calico into mindless idiots, the same way the Russians have hacked the rest of America.
The strong political direction marks a significant departure from the relatively conservative handling of sensitive political identities in recent years. The show doesn't hold back, starting even during the preshow with a series of faux Donald Trump tweets laden with inside jokes. The lampooning continues into the disclaimer segment and throughout the show with the caricatures of Trump and his relationship with the Russian leader.
The flow of the show is highly efficient. The whole Hanging clocks in right at the half an hour mark, which has been the ideal maximum length over the years. Brilliant satire pulling from Beauty and the Beast and Knott's annual Disney dig represent the best of the show, while the typical immature jokes are delivered with a self-awareness of the absurdity. There are call-backs to previous editions of The Hanging too--a nice nod to veteran Haunt guests. And even when the show does start to drag a bit with the prerequisite celebrity fight scenes, the sequences themselves are shorter than past years and sometimes even self-knowingly cut off after the joke has been appropriately delivered. Finally, they chose a most appropriate celebrity to hang (keep in mind that as a general tradition of decorum, The Hanging never executes a politician, since that is too risky a move for public relations). I'm confident that most everyone in every audience would approve.
I'm not sure if the writers of last year's show learned some major lessons, or if new leadership took over this year's show, but I and many of my friends were impressed by the quality this year. It's definitely a must-see in my book, and while I'm sure there are plenty of people who may not enjoy this sort of thing as much as I do, I maintain that for anyone who enjoys the subject matter, this year's Hanging is a premiere piece of entertainment!
The pre-show fake Donald Trump tweets runs in a cycle that lasts nearly five minutes.
And for extra and complete spoilers (or if you can't make it to Scary Farm this year but want to see the show), here's a complete recording of this year's Hanging from opening weekend!
Elvira: Mistress of the Dark
It's kind of hard to believe that Elvira has been running the headline show at Knott's Scary Farm for five years now since her return for Scary Farm's 40th anniversary in 2012. We at Westcoaster have traditionally never been the biggest Elvira fans, so her shows have never been a priority for us to attend. But we know that she commands a huge amount of love. So to that end, for all the Elvira fans out there, this year's show presents a fitting tribute to a lady of the night who has played a legendary role in Haunt history.
The show follows a similar variety act format as previous years, but this season, there's a noticeable touch of nostalgia and appreciation. Knowing that this would be Elvira's last gig ever, the show takes a look back at her career and throws in the an assortment of high energy dancing and singing segments. Unlike most prior years, no performer is featured in any particular scene. It's Elvira leading her group of performers.
The theater certainly bore witness to the legions of Elvira fans who cheered her on, knowing this could be the last time they'd ever see Elvira perform. There were cheers and screams of joy throughout the show, and the whole production was pretty cute and deserving. Whether you care for her or not, Elvira helped put Knott's Scary Farm on the map by lending her celebrity to the event. She gets to go out with her head held high!
And we are done with Scary Farm! This year's Haunt is supremely good, and so far, there is no question that Knott's Scary Farm is the best Halloween attraction of the season. The mazes are almost all top notch, the scare zones solid to their usual selves, and the entertainment all quite strong. I encourage all haunted attraction fans to visit Knott's this year. They've really brought it all to the table!
As we enter October, though, I'd recommend going on a Thursday or Sunday to avoid crowds, unless you purchase a Fright Lane add-on that enables unlimited front-of-the-line access to all the mazes and most of the major rides in the park. There is a stark difference between school nights and the weekend.
This upcoming week will see more of our Halloween season coverage! On the docket are The 17th Door, Dark Harbor at the Queen Mary, and Six Flags Magic Mountain's Fright Fest. And need more ideas to get the spooks? Check out our Southern California 2017 Haunted Attraction Guide! It lists off some of the numerous haunts available to us in SoCal!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.