Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park, CA
Autumn has officially come, and in a change from most recent Septembers, the weather has actually kind of sort of felt like it (at least in the evenings)! There’s been a nice bit of snap in the air, which is perfect as we start hitting more and more haunted attractions.
Of course, when it comes to haunts, there’s nothing like the original Halloween Haunt. Last Thursday, Knott’s Scary Farm opened its 2018 season with three nights of spooky goodness. With two new mazes, all-new shows, a new scare zone, and a focus on more immersion than every before, the “Grandaddy of Them All” was setting its own bar pretty high. And while there were definitely some noticeable first weekend issues and even a few areas of disappointment, overall, Knott’s provided a tremendous opening salvo, with impressive scenic designs, production value, and across-the-board creative energy that demonstrates why it remains at the top of the haunted theme park attraction game.
This year, Knott’s once again offered nine mazes with diverse inspirations for terror. Newcomers The Depths and Dark Entities offered, respectively, A) an H.P. Lovecraftian descent into seaside mines leading to the discovery of a mythical and horrifying monster and B) a doomed spacecraft encountering a hostile and unknown alien creature that consumes and transforms its victims into infected hosts. Returning mazes offered themes ranging from more typical fare—such as a haunted house, cultish backwoods hideaway, or cursed pychiatric hospital—to innovative ideas—like bushido specters in feudal Japan, a twisted take on an old nursery rhyme, or laser tag with zombies. And while we definitely had our favorites and not-favorites (neither new maze actually topped our rankings based on our opening weekend visits), the overall line-up featured excellent quality, with only one real weak spot (compared to past years, when we could typically point to two or three mazes as being decidedly poor).
This points to Scary Farm’s continuing improvement in the production values, innovative and original stories, and technology implementation in the haunted attractions that make up its bread and butter. Having been challenged more and more by its competitors over the past decade, Knott’s has responded by really raising the complexity and quality of its offerings, reducing quantity to densify merit. Compare the level of detail and immersion in a Knott’s maze now to even five years ago, and the difference is pretty staggering. Knott’s has accumulated a line-up where our criticisms are on a different plane from what we used to critique years ago. Our lower ranking mazes this year would almost all be top mazes in Haunts past, and even our least favorite maze clocks would have been a middle-of-the-road attraction half a decade ago.
On the scare zones too, Knott’s excelled. Ghost Town and Carnevil were excellent as always. Carnevil in particular seemed to be particularly explosive, as though the Boardwalk Streets monsters had harbored pent up energy from last year—when the zone was impaired by the construction of HangTime and unable to fully provide a cohesive and spacious environment for the clowns—and had waited all year to release it. In Ghost Town, a mix of old and new faces provided a lot of energy in Scary Farm’s original scare zone.
The Hollow, too, provided some scenic beauty and a plethora of energetic monsters preying on passers-by. Last year saw a huge injection in quality to help lift up a lackluster debut year in 2016 for the return of Camp Snoopy Streets, and this season saw a continuation of that—with an unadvertised storyline involving the Witch Hunter and the Witches of the Hollow continuing this year from last.
And of course, there was the big newcomer to the scare zone roster this year: Forsaken Lake. Taking the place of a de-spookified Fiesta de los Muertos, this new scare zone located under the basic footprint of Silver Bullet (and in the area of the old Reflection Lake of Knott’s Berry Farm past) had quite the hype leading up to Scary Farm’s opening. The result was… a bit of a mixed bag. Theming was concentrated primarily on the pathway directly from the Silver Bullet station to Fiesta Village. Though the ghouls of Forsaken Lake covered ground that stretched all the way to cobra roll of Silver Bullet, near the park entrance, there was no scenic atmosphere to reflect quite that extent—save an Instagram-friendly wings backdrop painting for guests to use as a social media photo op.
The street monsters also seemed to take the weekend to warm up (ironic choice of words, I suppose) to their surroundings and find optimal scare techniques, but by Saturday, they seemed to be much more active and aggressive than on opening night. But without a doubt, the highlight of Forsaken Lake came in the form of an unscheduled show occurring at 11:45 each night, when a “funeral procession” of sorts emerged from Fiesta Village and culminated in the large crypt facade at the south end of the pathway. With morbid music and dance and led by the grim Grave Digger, they sang their cursed fate, then claimed a new soul to join them for eternity.
Although these unscheduled shows provided some nice surprises and activities for returning Scary Farm season passholders to partake in, the entertainment line-up overall proved to be Haunt’s major weakness this year. Although Knott’s doubled the show attractions from the previous years’ two up to four this year, the execution on average left some to be desired.
The Hanging regressed from last year’s stellar, edgy, and focused performance, instead displaying the same attributes that have hounded it on its weaker years—a plodding plot, relative temerity in jokes, drawn-out fight scenes that felt extraneous, and lack of direction until the actual hanging.
Hacks! Cutting Room Floor provided some fun improvisational comedy for the audiences, but it was overpowered by the vastness of the space it occupied, lacking the organic and concentrated energy that sparks improv to its best. A noticeably empty Charles Schulz Theater didn’t help matters, although the actors certainly worked through the lack of energy in the crowd and still gave great effort.
Conjurers ended up being the best show of the event, mixing wonderful illusions and slapstick and misdirectional humor to keep audiences rollicking throughout the show. Its location in the Bird Cage Theatre helped as well, giving the show the intimacy that close-up magic thrives upon. And its popularity carried. Shows often filled up as early as 30-45 minutes before actual showtime!
Finally, Awaken the Dead provided a general dance party in Fiesta Village. For the most part, we’re not really interested in dance parties at theme parks—certainly not at haunts. They appeal to the general populace, but for haunt enthusiasts here to experience actual haunted attractions, the dance parties don’t provide much.
Hiccup aside on the entertainment side, Knott’s Scary Farm overall provided a fantastic opening weekend. We did have some remarks on some of the mazes—which we’ll get into as we go in-depth in our reviews this week with various Scary Farm offerings—but at the end of the night, Haunt still delivered that mix of fright and (very importantly) fun that is so addictive for lovers of haunted attractions. The quality of the sum is tops on the market, and Scary Farm 2018 is shaping up to be another spirited and successful run!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.