Knott's Scary Farm 2016: The Shows

Knott's Berry Farm, Buena Park, CA

Our final update from Knott's Scary Farm comes in the form of the shows.  Once again, this year, Haunt features only two shows--the annual Hanging pop culture parody and another dance and variety show from Elvira.  Lets dive right in with these shows before we wrap up with some thoughts on Scary Farm's entertainment options and some musing on the event overall. 

The Hanging

I mentioned this in my Scary Farm opening night thoughts post, but The Hanging is unequivocably, undeniably, disappointingly bad this year.  There may be adjustments as the show progresses, but it's hard to see them salvaging a show that left me bewildered with its complete lack of flow, sense, and quality.

Lets put aside any commentary on humor and daring (although the non-impactful jokes did play some role in my reception of the show).  Although the show is a pop culture lampoon, the comedy is always relative to the viewer.  To some, the jokes made at a typical Hanging show are very tame.  To others, they might be risque.  And since Knott's Scary Farm is open to a wide target demographic that spans a lot of diversity in terms of age, ethnicity, and culture, they generally need to stick to a broad sweet spot of comedy that precludes anything too controversial.  That's understandable, even if someone like myself would prefer that the park take some chances and risk offense (that is the beauty of comedy--you either think it's funny or not; you like it or dislike it--but being offended is not a valid reaction, because comedy is entirely subjective).

It should also be acknowledged that The Hanging seemed to intentionally go for a different style and approach this year.  Starting off with a dance number, lessening the traditional pointless multiple-cameo fight scenes, and developing the relationship of the Lawman (played by a new actor this year) and new Hangman (Shannon, introduced last year) are steps that run counter to the traditional formula.  It's commendable that the writers (who I understand are also new to the show for this year) wanted to change things up.  Unfortunately, what ended up being presented just didn't work.

The issue with The Hanging is that it has a slow-progressing plot that veers off way too many tangents, beats its jokes to death pretty much immediately, features poor, unimaginative dialogue that sounds like a high schooler wrote it, and lacks a smooth flow and logical order of events.  The overall story itself is something that could take five minutes to tell, yet somehow stretches to half an hour.  By every metric of analyzing the show from a critical and show-writing perspective, this year's Hanging fails.  And it also has by far the least inciteful collection of jokes out of any Hanging I've ever seen.  There were maybe three moments that made me genuinely laugh--two of them innocuous but silly, and one potentially controversial (to over-sensitive people, but still).  And that's it. 

The result is a show that just seems uninspired and runs like a semi-robotic school play.  In fact, it reminds me a lot of Bill and Ted at Universal Studios Hollywood in the couple of years before its closure--rambling, non-sensical, bloated, and trying to be funny but just awkwardly not being so.  And I've honestly enjoyed the Hangings of the past few years and thought they'd been making improvements from their late aughts trend of having too many veering moments.  This year seemed to bring back those inefficiencies all over again in a flood.

Elvira's Danse Macabre

I can't believe I'm writing this, but Elvira easily owns the most entertaining show of Knott's Scary Farm this year.  I am not an Elvira fan, and though I have no bad opinions about the Mistress of the Night, I mostly just don't really care about her act.  However, in comparison to The Hanging, Elvira offered a fun, silly, entertaining show with impressive dance and acrobatics, her usual cheesy jokes (that were edgier than The Hanging's jokes), and a good half hour of spectacle. 

Those who don't care about Elvira can probably skip the show, as there's nothing incredibly amazing or must-see for those who weren't going to anyway.  Elvira fans will absolutely love it.  And those looking for an entertainment break will probably appreciate things as well.  Lets take a look.

This is the third year that Knott's is going with only two shows at the Halloween Haunt, far down from their previous years featuring half a dozen entertainment options or more.  As I've mentioned with Universal, it would definitely be nice to have some more show options in some of the other venues such as the Wild West Stunt Show Theater and the Birdcage.  The smaller and more intimate shows offered a different vibe and variety for those who revisit Knott's or just don't want to only do mazes.  Be they comedy improv, magic, freak show, or other, hopefully, Knott's can get the diversity back up to past par, now that they've been able to bring a large number of mazes up to the high quality standard needed to compete with the likes of Universal Studios.

And overall, Knott's Scary Farm is putting up a quality offering this season.  The scare zones are full of energetic and enthusiastic and entertaining talent--even in Fiesta Village and The Hollow, where two weekends of work has the talent really rounding into form and terrorizing guests on busy and slow nights.  And there are no bad mazes this year.  Even the lower end offerings like Dead of Winter, Voodoo, and Gunslinger's Grave are middle of the road compared to many previous years' mazes.  Of course, mazes are always subjective and often subject to luck of the draw.  But over may several visits so far, they've averaged out anywhere from solid to spectacular.  And with haunted mazes like Shadowlands, Special Ops: Infected, and Paranormal Inc leading the way toward a new era of quality, things are looking really good for the Granddaddy that started it all!

Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.