Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park, CA
Oh, hey, folks! After a brief, one-day break, we’re back to continue our Knott’s Scary Farm coverage for the 2018 season. We provided a general overview of our thoughts on Monday and deep dived into the mazes on Tuesday. Today, we’re looking at the entertainment line-up, which was greatly expanded (in quantity at least) this year after being stuck at two shows for the past five. Did greater variety result in a better show experience? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out—unless you already read the overview, which in case you sort of know the answer.
The Hanging: Shhh…It Happens
This year’s annual pop culture lampoon show at the Calico Stage tackled the notion of censorship and having to be too politically correct. Apparently, after too many inappropriate Hangings, the town of Calico has fallen under the oppressive watch of the United Reaction Against Needless Unfunny Satire (of course, it spells an appropriately inappropriate acronym), which threatens complete destruction to the town if it commits 10 Decency Violations. Such rule breakers could be anything from senseless violence, gratuitous sexual innuendo, immature jokes, or anything else judged an affront to decency. And as a result, the Calico citizens now live a life of boredom and a life of fear.
This, in theory, should have led to some great comedic moments of irony. Knott’s itself is no stranger to having been targeted by the P.C. Police, and while we all agree that a progressive society needs to be sensitive to the marginalized, there definitely such a thing as being overly politically correct. Plus, the nature of a satire show is meant to push buttons and engage edgy, potentially controversial humor.
Unfortunately, this year’s Hanging failed to meet the excellent standards of last year’s show, instead feeling much more like 2016’s lackluster, plodding, and directionless disappointment that I harshly critiqued (much to the dismay of some readers, apparently). I didn’t feel this year’s Hanging was quite as bad as that of two years ago, but it did feature a lot of the characteristics of the poorer Hangings in recent history: unfocused storyline, overuse of action scenes that served no purpose even within the apparent progression of the show, temerity in joke writing, segments that seemed to fill time, and overly predictable tropes.
Last year’s Hanging had a strong guide in its political satire, with a clearly established villain and goal of the story. This year, the target was much more nebulous—apparently figure out some way of making U.R.A.N.U.S. not destroy Calico by finding the one person to hang that even they would agree with—all without committing enough Decency Violations to be destroyed prior to said hanging. Even writing that out felt convoluted.
The show wasn’t all bad. I enjoyed the traditional Disney swipe in the HangTime vs Incredicoasters battle segment, and the swerves at the end kept audiences guessing at who would actually be hung. But the fight scenes—which always drag the show down when they run too long—didn’t even have any clear set-up, while many of the pop culture references, dance and music parodies, and celebrity introductions seemed to come at random. It was also sometimes unclear which movie characters were supposed to be on the side of the Lawman and Hangman, versus who were “bad guys.” Ultimately, this year’s Hanging felt less like a cohesive show with a beginning, middle, and end, and more like a series of events that eventually concluded with someone being hung.
At least the overall running time was relatively short compared to most Hangings of the past decade. The show lasted 25 minutes by my count, which unfortunately meant relief, not a demand for more.
Hacks! Cutting Room Floor
The other big show of the year was the return of the Scary Farm cult favorite, Hacks! The last time we saw this, well over half a decade ago, this improv show was entertaining audiences inside the Bird Cage Theatre. This year, however, it is playing in the much more massive Charles Schulz Theater, which provided the largest inhibitor to the show right off the bat.
Put plainly, the space is much to large for Hacks!, which like any other improv show, is built upon the energy and interaction of the audience. In a smaller space, the improv is more intimate and more connected. But in the large (and mostly empty—at least on opening weekend) Charles Schulz Theater, that connection was thin at best.
The actors—to their credit—still gave it their all, running through the various games with enthusiasm and energy. The show itself was effectively an episode of Whose Line Is It Anway?—right down to the improv games played—only not quite as funny or polished. Part of this is understandable, as the comedians on Whose Line are world class comedic artists of the caliber that warrants primetime television, versus performers at a theme park. This is not a knock on the Knotts cast—they were funny—just comparatively not as funny as Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie, Wayne Brady, and company, even though they were doing their exact same games. The other part, honestly, relates to the room. It was just tough to muster the same compressed, brimming energy that Hacks! enjoyed at the Bird Cage.
It’s tough to be too harsh, though, because Knott’s clearly believed that the Bird Cage would not offer sufficient capacity to accommodate the crowd that would want to see Hacks! (this is true; though the Charles Schulz Theater was largely empty, there were still more filled seats in the audience than would fit in the Bird Cage. However, other than the Wagon Camp, there really isn’t another theater space of proper size to accommodate Hacks!. And given the show’s reliance on a visual screen in the background, the Wagon Camp likely would have been too bright and too uncontrolled for the show to work.
Still, it’s a bit disappointing to have a Schulz Theater show with so little impact. Hopefully, things will improve as the crowds increase with the season progressing. The show’s production values are pretty good—much more elaborate than the plain stage format it had during its first run years ago. But at least on opening weekend, Hacks! also fell flat.
On the other hand, the best show of Scary Farm was the one that did take place at the Bird Cage. Conjurers is a magic and comedy show featuring world-famous magicians performing intimate stage magic, and it was a hit all opening weekend, with early-filling seats and consistently full crowds.
Dana Daniels entertained people on opening weekend with a silly, entertaining mix of close-up magic and prestidigitation, bringing audience members up to participate but lampooning them if they were slow on the uptake. He exuded a likable charm, starting out with “lame” tricks that feigned incompetence, before engaging in more and more complex illusions and tricks that soon revealed to the audience that they had been duped by a very talented magician (and his pet bird). All the while, he let the audience know that he did not take things (or himself) seriously through a plethora of groan-worthy puns or quirky jokes. In short, Dana was fantastic.
Taylor Hughs performs this upcoming weekend, tonight through Sunday. Then, for the entire month of October, Chipper Lowell takes over with his act.
Much like Hacks! Bird Cage run was well served by its intimate space and constricted energy waiting for a funny moment to release, Conjurers excelled with the same sense of audience familiarity and cozy feel of the show. With everyone afforded a great view, the show felt exclusive and special. And the proximity of the audience made the tricks even more impactful.
Without a doubt, if Scary Farm guests need to see one show during a visit, I would recommend Conjurers above the previous two.
Awaken the Dead
Fiesta Village is not home to a scare zone this year. Alas, Fiesta de los Muertos has passed. Its only remnant is an electronic dance party that took a break last year (by relocating to Calico Stage) but returns this year for those interested in a high energy clubbing atmosphere.
Truthfully, this sort of setting doesn’t really interest us at a haunt, since we visit to be thrilled and frightened. The closest that comes to that at Awaken the Dead might be the go-go dancers, who interestingly call Scary Farm a home this year but not Halloween Horror Nights (usually, the opposite is the case, of course). But if this interests you, the music runs 7:30pm - 1:00pm on Friday and Saturday nights, and 7:30pm - 12:30am all other operating nights.
In addition to the promoted entertainment on the map covered above, this year saw an expansion of unscheduled shows meant to be discovered by the guest as he or she braved the scare zones. This was begun last year in The Hollow, which featured several short acts detailing the struggle between the three witches of The Hollow and their pursuit by the mysterious Witch Hunter. This year, unannounced show moments also proliferated to Ghost Town and Forsaken Lake, and they provided some additional interest and variety to these areas.
With the exception of some minor tweaks to details of the episodes, The Hollow brings the same general story and sequence of events as last year. Early in the evening, guests who happen upon the scene are introduced to the Witch Hunter and his associate, as well as to the three witches of The Hollow: the Maiden, the Mother, and the Hag. The Witch Hunter and his associate hunt the three talisman that give power to the witches, and over the course of the night, scheme and ally to bring the witches within their control. Everything culminates at the midnight hour, when the Wicker Man burns.
Shows run at 8:00, 8:45, 9:45, 10:45, 11:45, and 12:00 midnight. They last about five minutes and generally occur at the cage near the Balloon Races ride, with the exception of the Wicker Man burning, which occurs at the rocks by the Grizzly Creek Lodge. For guests who want to be invested in the running storyline, this plays out sort of like a more gothic version of Ghost Town Alive!, with characters interacting with guests and recruiting them as part of their team throughout the night, should guests choose to join.
Ghost Town Streets
Over at the Calico Saloon, there’s a dance show that happens around midnight. Described to me as a “burlesque show,” (though that’s not really an accurate description of what happens), it features four dancers who appear on the exterior balcony of the building at the appointed time and do a dance number for a song.
This unscheduled show does not appear to be related to any storyline or lore of Ghost Town Streets. Instead, it seems to be more like a little surprise—ambient entertainment for anyone who happens to be present. It may occur more than once a night—I wasn’t able to confirm showtimes (which is probably the point), so if anyone does know the regular schedule for this show, feel free to contribute a reply. I found it to be interesting but not particularly compelling. It was just a nice little bonus.
When Knott’s announced Forsaken Lake, it promised that this new scare zone would feature interactive and immersive moments and environments similar to what Scary Farm had done with The Hollow last year. One of them included the revival of a tradition of sorts:the funeral procession, first introduced and made legendary by The Gauntlet in Ghost Town Streets many, many years ago, now resurrected in a new and more theatrical style.
Well, although it only shares the concept of monsters marching into a scene in common with the old CS tradition, the “Funeral at Forsaken Lake” is still a spectacle of a mini-show that takes place at 11:45pm each night.
It starts with the low, syncopated beat of a distant drum. Beyond the fog, silhouettes emerge, parading in a display of creepy, supernatural assembly. Parasols held high, they form a dramatic sight. And led by the Grave Digger, they march to the crypt at the focal point of the scare zone, singing along to the customized version of The Hearse Song developed just for them.
The Grave Digger narrates the cursed fate of all who inhabit Forsaken Lake and proclaims the claim of a new victim on this night. And then, the crypt doors burst open, revealing a solitary female figure, confused, dazed, unsure of what she has stumbled onto. All too quickly, though, she is taken by the souls of Forsaken Lake and carried off to become one of their own. It’s a macabre and moving scene—one that the Grave Digger supervises and looks on with glee.
The scripted movements of this little show do contradict the organic, monster-generated energy of the famed CS march, so don’t think of this as an actual successor to that. It’s entertainment, and it’s theater, and it’s meant to be stumbled upon as well. A surprise for guests who are in the right place at the right time. And it’s sublime.
As you can see, there are a lot of entertainment offerings at Knott’s Scary Farm this year—some on the docket, and some waiting to be found. Though not everything was as successful as hoped, the unannounced items do provide nice treats for those who witness them, and the regular shows still accommodate relief from the maze lines that will prove to be invaluable during the busy Friday and Saturday nights of peak October. That’s something that a competitor like Universal cannot boast—Horror Night’s only show relief from the lines is a lone Jabberwockeez show.
So that does it for this round of Knott’s Scary Farm. We’ll close things out tomorrow with a look at the scare zones themselves. And then, it’ll be onto the next haunt. As far as the Haunt with a capital H, Scary Farm resumes operation tonight and runs Thursdays through Sundays through October, with Wednesday, Halloween night open as well. Tickets and additional information are readily available at the Scary Farm web site. Go descend into the fog!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.