Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park, CA
Ladies and gentlemen, we end our week with what will, in all likelihood, be our largest haunted attraction update of the Halloween season. We’ve got nearly 250 photos of the 9 mazes gracing this year’s Knott’s Scary Farm spectacular line-up, and they only begin to do justice to the overall quality of the park’s haunted attractions.
Once upon a time, despite being the title holder for the number one SoCal Haunt, Knott’s Scary Farm could still be counted to have at least a few mazes that were relative duds. Back then, they actually had more mazes than they had now, and the bar had not yet been raised. So naturally, though they had some excellent mazes each year and a solid mid-tier cast, the bottom dwellers were admittedly and unfortunately subpar.
Well, not anymore. With the renewed focus on quality that pushes the envelope of haunted attraction design, Knott’s has reached a point where it does not have any weak mazes. On any given night, any maze a guest goes through will be scenically beautiful, feature sophisticated technology (be it audio/visual or animatronics), and some good scares thrown in too. It means this year’s Halloween Haunt is an absolute can’t-miss, and every maze is its own highlight too. So are you ready for some hautned maze eye candy? Well, venture deeper into the fog…
(And obviously, visual spoilers abound; I have light spoilers in the text, so if you want to avoid the major surprises, just scroll past the photos.)
Origins: The Curse of Calico
Everyone has been raving about Origins, the Knott’s and Plague Productions-designed love letter to the park and the event’s roots in Ghost Town Streets. Origins: The Curse of Calico, tells the story of Sarah Marshall and her rise as the Green Witch. Along the way, she has cursed the townspeople of Calico to transform into hideous, terrifying, blood-thirsty fiends who prey on any and all passers-by during the autumn season.
Origins is a pinnacle of maze design, combining every aspect and innovation that has come from recent boundary-pushing standouts like Paranormal Inc, Dark Ride, Infected, Shadowlands, Dark Entities, and The Depths. From the snazzy, like use of video imaging, Pepper’s Ghost effects, dramatic lighting, synchronized audio soundscape, and aerial rigging action scenes to the traditional, like drop portraits, pop-out scares, statue scares, and immersive scenery production, Origins has it all.
The maze also features references and callbacks galore. There are ties to Ghost Town Alive and the history and lore established within, plus connections to Ghost Town Streets monsters. Ghost Town of times past is also featured, from an amazing Catawampus iteration to a Haunted Shack reference to recreations of the town.
The ambiance is spectacular, navigating through various properties in Calico to tell the increasingly dark and maniacal story of how Sarah Marshall takes grips of the town. This is constantly reinforced by the clear and dramatic progression of the storyline. Throughout the maze, various picture frames show Sarah Marshall in various states of evolution into the Green Witch, always vengeful, turning more and more bitter, hideous, and sadistic. It’s slightly odd to see the screens so clear—some would argue that an aged or vintage filter to make the videos look more like old time photographs might have been more appropriate—but this was clearly a design decision than an execution issue. Sarah Marshall haunts each painting and appears to guests “live” as they take the path through this dark and treacherous part of Calico’s history.
The intensity of the maze starts from Sarah’s dramatic trial conviction and descends into steadily increasing vigor. The tense sense of fear and doom builds and builds, and flows into several climactic scenes that build upon each other. Elements of past Plague Production mazes can clearly be found here, and cascading these momentous moments keeps the surprises relentless and spectacular. The result is a fitting love letter that is an instant classic and immediately takes its place among Knott’s Scary Farm’s best mazes of all time. If there is one maze you do not miss, it’s Origins: The Curse of Calico!
Maybe two mazes, actually. Because while the hype and attention from the fans has been focused on Origins, there has been a lot of deserving fanfare toward Scary Farm’s other new maze: Wax Works. This Daniel Miller masterpiece features his usual gory and disgusting imagery, projecting savagery and base evil into the product of a psychotic killer. But Wax Works also demonstrates Miller’s truly artistically creative side through the sinister and disturbing creations of Dr. Augustus Scratch.
The basis of the maze story involves the disfigured Dr. Scratch and his beautifully hideous creations. Driven mad by the accident that left him forever scarred, the doctor has retreated to an abandoned wax museum and turned it into his nightmare studio for his art. The genius of the crux is that Augustus Scratch truly believes that he is creating historic, genre-defining art that will be embraced in the future history of culture—a detail that resounds through his museum exhibit-like recordings that boast of his work as through it was something belonging to a fine art gallery.
The truth is that Wax Works really retains a certain elegance and refinement on a monstrous level that has never quite been seen in a Daniel Miller maze. There’s a sophistication and passion that has come out of Miller’s own designs for the doctor’s creations. Beyond just crafting a horrid story about mayhem and disfigurement—traditional motifs in his mazes—Daniel Miller has created a cohesive and cutting ambiance that fluidly flows cascades throughout the maze.
And it’s a long maze, too! Wax Works’ former occupant, Trick ‘R Treat, was on the shorter side for the seven years it ran. But somehow, despite being housed in the same building, Wax Works seems to go on and on and on—in a good way! This maze progresses in newer and more terrifying angles, and as guests work through the museum lobby and exhibits and into its intentionally more morbid displays and finally into the backstage area and heart of the doctor’s inventive lab of physical arts, the creations become more and more deranged and inhuman. All the while, the doctor dotes upon his handiwork, like a proud sculptor dazzled by his own creations.
The complexity in design and environment is very evident in Wax Works, and the maze itself is very technically sophisticated from a moving parts standpoint. This was evident opening weekend when the maze was down several times. But it is, in my opinion, the best thing Daniel Miller has ever done, and, together with Origins, Wax Works forms an incredible 1-2 punch. Do not skip it!
The returning mazes at Knott’s Scary Farm are no slouches either. Starting with the other three backstage mazes adjacent to Wax Works, we have Jon Cooke’s The Depths returning for a second year. 2019 brings a new elevator preshow scene that was actually an unfinished part of last year’s maze. It’s less of a preshow than a pacing mechanism, though it’s cleverly done. It would have been nice if the whole cab was on a rig that actually induced a bit of movement or light jostling to make the effect more convincing, but the trap door use into the remainder of the maze doesn’t present a great effect of having descended into a ghastly mine.
From there, the remainder of the maze is the same as last year—but with all effects working! The maze is more visuals than scares, with a building pace that ramps up the tension and moves toward the climactic scene of the amazing Kraken and the tilting pirate ship that gives The Depths a bit of a Pirates of the Caribbean flare. But it remains a spectacle.
Paranormal Inc.: The Haunting of Hayden Hill
Now one of the older mazes on the block, Paranormal Inc. remains one of Knott’s best. This year’s maze is unchanged from last year, which gave the maze a new and improved ending that really tied the storyline back to the premise. But it is absolutely jaw-dropping nonetheless. The cast of this maze runs like a well-oiled machine, using their hiding spots to perfect advantage, and their timing and energy is terrific.
Now that the maze is no longer quite as fresh, lines seem to be a little lower than they used to, but that is by no means a judgement on maze quality. It just serves as a gift to guests who can wait less for the same great maze as before!
Gus Krueger’s Dark Entities maze was a great hit last year, and it has continued its momentum and energy into its sophomore year. This year, though the progression of scenes and events remains exactly the same, this interstellar terror trip has received addition but subtle lighting and theatrical enhancements. There is no specific scene where this will appear obvious, but combined together, they create synergy and add that extra, appreciated oomph to the maze.
The talent in Dark Entities should also be applauded, as they display constant energy and pour dripping, [fake] bloody passion into their roles. The diversity is much appreciated—victims, monsters, transformed crew, panicked scientists… every scareactor plays his or her part exceedingly convincingly. As a result, the experience is enveloping and well connected. Consider this the modern sequel to Knott’s old Alien Attack and Alien Annihilation mazes. Those guys were always just a bit hokey. But Dark Entities? This is world class stuff here.
Special Ops: Infected
The zombie laser tag experience that started its life as a takeover of Camp Snoopy and moved onto its own maze runs its last year this year, and it is still as fun as ever. I might be in a minority, but I’ve always enjoyed the mission element and shooting zombies (even though I feel a little bad for the monsters who basically have to react to getting hit and stop their forward aggression).
Although it’s the last year for Infected, Knott’s has added two new scenes to the maze—a convenience store parcel that looks absolutely fantastic and a meat packing house scene. Both turned out excellently and further enhanced the atmosphere of this exciting action adventure maze. Celebratory whoops were commonplace at the exit of the maze on opening weekend, as guests came out on an adrenaline high.
Make sure to hit this maze early, though. Because of its lower capacity, it continues to be the longest wait in the park. Even guests with Fright Lane may have a noticeable wait, even with their front-of-line privileges.
Another Jon Cooke / Plague Productions favorite, Dark Ride is back again, also with two new rooms. Both occur near or at the end of the maze. The first is a control room “for the ride” that has showcases views of the other parts of the maze and carries a couple of subtle references. The second is a gift shop just before guests leave—complete with a [sadly fake] souvenir shirt promotion that is profane and hilarious. This is part of a shift that we’ve noticed from this year’s Scary Farm back to a more adult-oriented event that pays less attention to families. There are more casual instances of cursing in examples like Dark Ride and the Hanging, and given that Scary Farm is a 13+ event, good on Knott’s for not cowing to overly sensitive audiences who shouldn’t be visiting the attraction anyway.
Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this modified this weekend because someone complained…
In any case, Dark Ride remains stellar as usual. The tribute to the traditional carnival dark ride is gorgeous and full of great designed scares, and its subtle layering and quality is a fine art that is definitely appreciated. The schizophrenic soundtrack is addictive and lends so much to the mood of the maze. We definitely expect Dark Ride to stick around for a little while.
The other departing maze after this year is Shadowlands. This samurai and Japanese lore inspired maze is just as beautiful as always, but unfortunately, it seems a little lacking in the scares department compared to the other mazes. This may have just been luck of the draw, as different people can go through the same maze and have wildly divergent experiences. But for us, Shadowlands feels like it’s run it’s course.
And it’s been a solid course! The maze is by no means poor. And place in any Scary Farm line-up five years ago or earlier, and it would be a top contender. Heck, it would still be an amazing maze at any other haunted attraction. But at Scary Farm this year, this one trended toward the bottom of our rankings. That’s not a knock. It’s a testament just how outstanding all the other mazes were.
Finally, we have Pumpkin Eater, the other Daniel Miller maze, back for its third year. This Camp Snoopy maze is fun and spooky and retains the same scenic elements and story as before. Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater is just a twisted and possibly supernatural demon that enjoys murder and cannibalistic incorporation into fall dishes. The maze was a little light when we went through, probably due to the break schedule. But it’s still an excellent maze—one that guests can take advantage of because its line is often shorter than the other mazes!
With that, you have our deep dive into the Knott’s Scary Farm mazes for 2019. We’ll be back with a look at the Scary Farm scare zones and entertainment as well. In addition, it’s another weekend, so we have more visits to more haunts—including the 17th Door, L.A. Haunted Hayride, and Haus of Creep.
The season is really starting to open up, and there are so many attractions that we’re blessed to have in Southern California. Check them out in our 2019 SoCal Haunt Guide, and then go out and get spoopy! A trip to Scary Farm is a given. And then check out some of the rest!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.