Knott's Berry Farm, Buena Park, CA
Welcome back to day two of our Knott's Scary Farm coverage for this year! If you missed our report yesterday on the new offerings this year, you should totally check it out. If you did read it yesterday, good for you! Gold star for you! Or maybe a bloody head or something, to fit the theme of the season.
Today, we look at the six returning mazes. Most received some sort of minor change one way or another, providing something unique that wasn't present last year. In general, most ranged from very solid to absolutely spectacular as well. In fact, overall, Knott's maze line-up this year may be its best ever, as only one maze seemed to be mediocre, based on our visits through opening weekend. This is a great boon for the park that started haunted events, period, as it continues to re-establish itself as the leader in themed park Halloween festivities. Lets dive right in, shall we?
Voodoo: Order of the Serpent
We'll get the mediocre maze out of the way first. This year, Voodoo was advertised as being completely reversed, with a new ending scene occurring where the beginning of the maze took place in prior years. Although the publicity was intended to drive interest, I had a feeling that the maze would be largely the same, just backwards. These modest expectations were basically met, as Voodoo feels exactly like it did in previous years, only in the opposite direction. The finale is certainly unique from previous years, but it too felt half recycled, since it reused an animatronic previously featured elsewhere in the maze.
Voodoo has always been a beautiful maze, and it remains one of the more photogenic ones at Scary Farm this year. However, the scares tend to be relatively non-thrilling (for a Haunt veteran like myself), with most of them using the Horror Nights style "boo box" method to trigger sudden sound effects, strobes, and a hidden monster springing out. I've laid out my nonchalance with Universal's maze philosophy multiple times before, but when this redundancy combines with missing monsters (due to breaks or just chance of timing), it makes for an even more generally static maze.
Voodoo has been around since 2013, and many were surprised to see it returning this year. But it does seem like the maze has run its course, and I'd definitely expect something new in this location next year.
Paranormal, Inc.: The Haunting of Hayden Hill
In contrast to Voodoo--a maze that started strong in its first year but has dwindled in appeal as its aged--Paranormal, Inc. seems to be getting better and better with each year. Like a fine wine, it really hasn't missed a step since its breakout debut two years ago. Even though the layout and design is exactly the same as both previous years, the energy, scares, and creepiness inside the maze are as good as they've ever been. The dramatic climax of the pre-show still thrills audiences, and the multitude of designed scares--from a blinding laser vortex tunnel to shadows demons lurking above to ambushing animatronics, and more--all terrify guests over and over throughout.
The talent here deserves special kudos for their fantastic timing. Multiple times this past weekend, I went through the maze and observed monsters hitting their startle scares at the perfect moments on other unlucky souls--and I even received a few effective startles myself! Given that I have to make an effort to make myself vulnerable in order to receive that sensation of fright that I enjoy so much, this is large praise. Asylum themed mazes have always performed strongly in this site, and Paranormal, Inc. undoubtedly has a long shelf life still ahead of it!
The Tooth Fairy
Along with Voodoo, The Tooth Fairy is one of Scary Farm's elder statesman mazes. Tied for the second longest running maze behind Trick or Treat, Tooth Fairy continues to showcase the gory and twisted and depraved mind of Daniel Miller. This year, a new finale gives guests a live actor playing the Tooth Fairy creature, rather than the animatronic of the past couple of years. The rest of the layout is largely the same, but the energy and effectiveness of the maze still seems to be at a pretty high level. Although the maze fell in the middle of the pack in my opening weekend rankings, the quality is anything but middling. It speaks more to the high performance of Scary Farm's mazes as a whole.
I expect this maze to also fade away into the fog come next year, but unlike Voodoo, the performance and execution of Tooth Fairy still seem to be very effective. The maze even garnered longer lines than Paranormal, Inc. at times over the weekend (though that may have more to do with the latter's throughput design). Although it's a repeat, it's definitely worth going through. The "scary dentist" maze still has the capability to scar.
Special Ops: Infected
In my mind, this remains the maze that guests without Fright Lane should visit first (assuming they arrive at the park before Scary Farm opening). Because of the capacity limitations with maintaining a groups together to shoot zombies with laser guns en masse, the lines typically build up very quickly and remain long throughout the night--even near closing. Unlike Trick or Treat: Lights Out, the experience of Infected is not impacted by the slight glow of twilight.
This year's layout largely repeats last year's, though the outbreak source has been reconfigured a little bit to better promote a final "boss battle" before the very end of the maze. The guns seem to function pretty well, and targets littered throughout the maze provide weapons upgrades, enhancing the video game feel of the maze. As in last year, the adrenaline rush of Special Ops: Infected can be quite addictive and immersive. Guests really feel like they are in a battle against the undead, and because coming within 5' of zombies does eat away at health points, there is a very visceral urgency to avoid the zombies springing out of nowhere.
I probably ended up liking this maze even more than Shadowlands last year, even though the Japanese-themed maze received more of the acclaim for its originality and execution. This year, my sentiments remain the same. Infected is a fantastic experience that cannot be missed at Knott's Scary Farm!
The Red Barn
The Red Barn performed very solidly last year, providing a typical gorefest that Halloween haunted houses are known for. Although it wasn't particularly innovative, it ran its themed, executed it well, and provided a great experience. This year, the maze has been tweaked by fleshing out its storyline more and sending guests in groups that are "pulsed through" the maze. This really just means organizing guests in smaller groups and sending them in more separated from the groups before and after than in a typical maze. In addition, the entire experience is meant to simulate being chased by the serial killers of The Red Barn. To that effect, there are a plethora of actors constantly urging guest to hurry and to avoid the killer who is coming after them.
This proves to be hit and miss among guests. I personally enjoyed the revised version of this maze, but I know friends who felt the acting to be a little over-dramatic, to the point of annoyance at the loud screens and rush. The actors' instructions may have intended to create the sensation of urgency, but for some, it came off as just an ambiance of unwelcomeness. So that's certainly an unintended but potentially unfortunate consequence.
Visually, it is filled with some terrifically bloody scenes. And the theatrical quality is pretty impressive here, as multiple scareactors display some great acting chops to support the murderous farmer storyline and elaborate upon the underlying cult inspiring such a murdering spree. This cult was present last year, but it has been better illustrated through the maze in its revised version, and I definitely enjoyed my trips through. Plus, guests may actually encounter a real chainsaw-wielding fiend at the end. That's something I've always thought Knott's lacked--not that they need as many as Universal employs, but a few would certainly intensify scares!
Looking for a video experience? Check out the footage below:
Shadowlands: Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword
Finally, we come to the maze by Xcelerator. Because the ride is currently under maintenance, the entrance into the maze is actually through the Xcelerator entrance. There doesn't seem to be much clear signage for the maze this year. Oddly enough on opening weekend, this resulted in lines that were significantly below other mazes, even though Shadowlands was beloved and highly praised last year. In fact, during my Saturday visit, the maze was a literal walk-on--I never stopped moving throughout the entire queue and maze layout itself!
This year, capacity has been improved by having two identical pre-show rooms, so that guests can load into the maze twice as quickly. By Friday and Saturday, however, the pre-shows appeared to have been abandoned, as I was able to walk straight on through a few times. The initial forest scene has now been revised to a single path, as opposed to last year's diverging halves that met at the end of the scene. A few other spaces within the maze have been opened up or reoriented slightly to better enhance certain monster and puppeteering scares, and the result is much of the same quality as last year, with subtle improvements.
Shadowlands doesn't quite crack my very top echelon, because it remains more beautiful than scary in my experience (although, as I mentioned last year, it has a great variety of designed scare opportunities). But it's still a fantastic maze, and like I've said about most of the others here, "middle of the pack" doesn't mean uninteresting or average. The vast majority of mazes are so good that in ranking things, something has to range to the middle. And Shadowlands is one of them. But on busy days, this may be the secret maze to hit to escape the crowds--at least if opening weekend was anything to judge off of!
There was disappointment from some fans last month to see Knott's "only" offer nine mazes without any Skeleton Key rooms this year. But the park's response was that it was incorporating the technology and innovations from prior year's Skeleton Key rooms into the mazes and providing attractions that all guests could enjoy without having to pay upcharge--an admirable gesture of equity for sure! I have no problem with this, because compared to even five years ago, the overall quality has soared.
It used to be that Knott's would have two or maybe three truly great mazes, a couple of good mazes, and a few terrible ones. This was especially true during the years Knott's expanded its maze offerings to the double digit number. These days, Scary Farm has chosen quality over quantity, and I'm more than happy to take that tradeoff. As the crowded Southern Californian haunt scene continues to push all purveyors, Knott's must work harder and harder to maintain its status as a leader. But if this year's event is any indication, it looks like the title is still safe for some time to come!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.