Knott's Berry Farm, Buena Park, CA
You got a hashtag-centric update earlier this week; now prepare for another! Yes, this is the first ever edition of #FlashbackFrightday, a nostalgic look at Halloween events of years past as we count down to this year's spooky season (and also effectively recover content from past Westcoaster Halloween updates).
Today's gallery covers the mazes of last year's Knott's Scary Farm. Knott's offered 11 such attractions last year--counting the Calico Mine Ride overlay and the Infected "zombie laser tag" experience in that number. New for 2015 was Paranormal Inc. (widely acknowledged as the best of the event and an instant Halloween Haunt classic), Dead of Winter (aka Frozen: The Maze), and My Bloody Clementine (the return of the Calico Mine Ride with Halloween theming. Returning were Trick or Treat, Voodoo, The Tooth Fairy, Forevermore, Black Magic, Pinnocchio Unstrung, Gunslinger's Grave, and Infected. Lets take a look at the offerings!
Trick or Treat
I had expected Trick or Treat to be replaced last year, since it was one of the longest active running mazes in the Scary Farm line-up. Instead, the designers revamped the maze. changing the back third and compacting the layout to add four extra rooms and make the typically short maze feel full length for the first time. And boy was it a treat! The quality of the additions was top notch, and there were some nice extra scares in the retooled ending. The result was a refreshed maze much like Slaughterhouse underwent near the end of its run a few years ago, and I wouldn't mind Trick or Treat returning yet again this year.
2014's beautiful hit removed the "choose your own adventure" component last year, and the maze seemed to suffer from a bit of understaffing on the back half most nights, but it remained one of the most truly beautiful mazes Knott's has ever done. I noticed that the designers seemed to amp up more of the distraction-to-startle scares, emulating a common Halloween Horror Nights formula. Whether this was intentional or by chance is just a guess, but I found it interesting. On the other hand, since this device isn't commonly used at Knott's, it actually seemed to be somewhat effective. Voodoo also featured a new and different Skeleton Key room than the previous year, which was a pleasant surprise.
To describe this maze in one word? Amazing. The Jon Cooke-designed Paranormal Inc. represents the next generation of Knott's Halloween mazes. Utilizing a cohesive, reality show-esque storyline, intricate 3D projection mapping, innovative scares from multiple directions, aggressive animatronics and puppetry, and a host of crawling shadow demon monsters, this was the clear hit of the event. Guests were ushered into a preshow setting up the premise of participating in a "ghost hunters" style reality show, but when the spirits manifest, they are anything but friendly. A split layout for the first half and climactic ending made this the most popular maze of Haunt, with lines routinely nearing or passing the one hour mark.
The Tooth Fairy
Daniel Miller's dental nightmare of a maze was back for another year, and while it was largely unchanged, Tooth Fairy was still one of the creepiest maze of the event. One new item for 2015 was the reveal of the actual Tooth Fairy herself, a nightmarish, sludgy abomination of fairy and demon in the final room of the maze. Also probably the goriest maze of Knott's Scary Farm, this was not for the faint of heart.
The Edgar Allen Poe-inspired murder mystery was back with a Skeleton Key room last year but otherwise not much new. The literary scenes were fun as usual, though I noticed that they wrote the titles of each Poe work before each room, I guess to make things obvious. I didn't see them the previous year, though maybe I just wasn't paying attention. The maze had enough steam to carry it another year, though I wouldn't be surprised to see it replaced this year either. We'll see, I suppose...
The maniacal and murderous puppet who wanted to be a real boy was back for another season last year, but unfortunately, it was starting to show its age. Routinely sparse, with minimal scares during the times I went, Pinocchio Unstrung probably saw its final year. Although the theme has always been excellent, and the Skeleton Key room (a repeat of 2014) was devilishly fun, I think it's time for a new maze in this space.
My Bloody Clementine
When this was announced at Scare L.A. last year, there was a great cheer, as the Mine Ride would be getting a Halloween overlay once again after a couple of years off following the attraction's refurbishment. Although the storyline of poor little Clementine being brutally murdered by being burned alive and then coming back to exact revenge was quite sadistic, in execution, the attraction suffered the same thing that plagues all Calico Mine Ride overlays: isolation of scares and monsters and lack of suspense for anyone not in the actual car being scared. That's no fault of any designers. It's just tough to produce a consistently scary experience on this ride.
The Dead of Winter
New for 2015 and jokingly compared to a twisted version of Frozen, The Dead of Winter boasted itself as being the first "high contrast" maze Knott's Scary Farm had ever designed. Unfortunately, even that wasn't much pizzazz, and the ambiance felt uninspired and thrown together abruptly. Whereas Paranormal Inc. represented a new advanced era in maze design, "Frozen: The Maze" felt like a regression to the mazes of 10 or 15 years past. At least it was well air conditioned for those hot early fall Southern California nights, though!
The dark arts themed maze was back in its Xcelerator location for another year. I've always felt a little different about this maze than most people, who absolutely love it. Though the theming and story is pretty fantastic, I've always felt that Black Magic suffered from a lack of energy and actual scares. Rarely would even witness a startle attempt, but I think my experiences were unique and purely subjective. It was still a good maze, just not among my personal favorites.
Gunslinger's Grave: Blood Moon Rising
Now featuring werewolves!! Having run through the story of the vindictive lone gunslinger killing the Red Hand Gang to exact revenge for their murder of his family, last year's version of the maze featured the Red Hand Gang come back to life in the form of furry, supernatural creatures of the night. This added a fun twist gave the maze some pretty nice energy. The soundtrack is still my favorite current maze music, and the maze even featured a thrilling finale meet-and-greet with Splinter of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame! Okay, not really, but you can see the resemblance...
Special Ops: Infected - Patient Zero
The interactive zombie shoot 'em up attraction was back for a second year with a longer layout combining 2014's two halves and new hardware and scoring system. The experience was definitely quite fun and more immersive than its rookie showing, but the attraction did suffer from lengthy lines, especially for anyone arriving after the first hour. Although I'm usually opposed to upcharging, I think Infected could have benefitted from this to keep lines down, since the inherent back-up of the experience often led to lines well over an hour.
That does it for this fearsome Flashback Friday offshoot. The idea is for this to be a thing each week as we cruise through the summer and get closer to Halloween season. It's my way of making sure my Halloween photography last year doesn't go to waste, so yes, there are definitely selfish motivations. But hey, you get Halloween reminiscing, so it's win-win, right?
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.