Last week, the original halloween haunt, Knott’s Scary Farm, opened its gates for the 2015 season. This year, there are 11 haunted attractions, 3 scare zones, and over 1,000 monsters waiting for you in the fog.  Yes, you will be scared . . . but you’ll also be delighted.

For 2015, we have an impressive and varied line-up of experiences to dive into. Returning mazes include Pinocchio Unstrung, Forevermore, Black Magic, Gunslinger’s Grave, Trick or Treat, Voodoo, and The Tooth Fairy. Two entirely brand new mazes join the ensemble of terror this year; The Dead of Winter and Paranormal Inc.  This year also marks the return of scares in the Calico Mine Ride with the all-new, My Bloody Clementine. In this review, we will focus primarily on the mazes, haunted experiences, and Shows.

Returning Mazes and Attractions

Black Magic

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Through the magic of digital mapping, the exterior of this maze is dynamic and fun. Lots of special effects are projected including the animation of the puppet, lighting, fire, etc.

Black Magic has returned for a third year and we could not be more excited about this.  In what should be considered Daniel Miller’s masterpiece, we see what happens when Houdini breaks through from the netherworld and brings hell back with him.

This year, they have incorporated the seance room into the normal flow of the maze.  Once only seen by those who purchased the access to Skeleton Key Rooms, the seance scene is a nice way to begin the maze, setting up that Houdini is back from the dead and he is pissed.  After this scene we venture into the normal flow of the maze.

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As with all of the returning mazes, Black Magic has been tinkered with, improved in subtle ways, that allow for more scares and a better use of the effects. A hallway of bloodied playing cards leads to a startling effect that we won’t give away here, but you will love it.

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Overall we really enjoyed this version of an already favorite maze.  It is safe to say that this one has a few more tricks up its sleeve that are still worth seeing.

Forevermore

The Forevermore killer has returned for a fourth year, murdering in the fashion of Edgar Allen Poe’s most fiendish stories.  I’ve never really been a fan of this troubled maze. We entered the line with trepidation and the hope that, somehow, a Skeleton Key Room and the crafty hand of maze designer, Gus Krueger, would find new scares for this old maze.

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You can imagine our surprise when we were startled by the new skeleton key scene.  Going further, we are also pleased to report that the maze has finally found, not only a clear narrative, but scares as well.  That’s right folks, Forevermore is scary and makes a little more sense.

Subtle changes along the maze route reinforce the dangers surrounding you, as you navigate the lair of the Poe Killer.  The passageways seem tighter, the corners are somehow more blind.  The narrative that a serial killer on the loose, that we are in his hideout, and that we should be afraid, is really sold here through the judicious use of voiceover and video.  Entering the killer’s home, the T.V. is blaring a live newscast about the Poe Killer.  Between major set pieces, voice overs are reminding you of the threat of this madman instead of focusing so heavily on the literary aspects of the kills.

There are also some clever uses of space.  More sharp corners allows for more actors to hide in more places.  There is a genuine sense of danger that exists in the maze now that has been lacking ever since the maze debuted. Yes, the maze still ends exactly the same in the oddball club.  You know the one, it’s the scene that takes far too long to set up and, if you time it poorly, you could simply miss the entire thing.

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No, the maze is still not perfect.  But it is far more entertaining now than in the past. We’d gladly give this maze up for something new next year.

Gunslinger’s Grave: A Blood Moon Rises

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Gunslinger’s Grave: A Blood Moon Rises

Gus Krueger’s brutal tale of vengeance in the old west is back. This time, a new threat is out for blood.  Werewolves have invaded the town and a silver bullet is the only way to survive this dangerous, dusty, wasteland of murder.

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The idea of keeping the old west fresh with a new paranormal patina is a novel way to approach this problem.  While a fun walkthrough, the maze has never been “scary” per se.  It was certainly startling at times, disturbing too, but not something that got under your skin.  Now, with werewolves running amok, there is an even more heightened sense of danger.  You don’t just have to survive the old west, you have to survive werewolves too.

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The lycanthrope overlay works for the most part.  With the simple switch of a mask or make up job, we have effectively altered the tone of the maze considerably. Ditching the old finale of vengeance, this new doggy-centric version of Gunslinger’s leads us to the den of the werewolves.  Meh.  While it makes for a better story arc, it is no more scary and actually a little goofy.  This could have been a really nasty hive of violence and depravity.  Instead, we see king werewolf on a throne, then we are outta there.

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Overall, the new theme works, the ending doesn’t.

Pinocchio Unstrung

This ghoulish re-telling of the story of Pinocchio returns for another year of puppetry and pandemonium.  Here, we have the same Skeleton Key room again.  This key room depends solely on the actor helming it.  With the intimate setting and the need to convey a full set up, one needs to be a good actor to pull this room off.  We learn that Pinocchio REALLY wants to be a real boy.  Geppetto failed him and the Blue Fairy tricked him.  The little wooden headed boy murders the both of them and goes on a killing spree, skinning his victims in order to wear their hides in an attempt to become “real”

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After having the premise of the maze set up for us in the extra room, we venture forth.  This attraction is certainly showing its age.  We may have hit this maze on an off night, or even an off hour.  It just didn’t seem to have the same energy as it did in previous years.

The Tooth Fairy

From an original design by Daniel Miller, this nasty little experience features an all new Skeleton Key Room that sets things up nicely. A word of caution though, the Skeleton Key Room is a little easy to miss.  SO, if you have the key rooms, venture into the hallway just to the right of the main entrance to this maze.  It is a good addition to setting up the threat of the Tooth Fairy and one that works nicely.

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Of course, things are incredibly disgusting and violent in this maze.  The shrill sounds of screaming and the high-pitch whir of a dental drill ribbon the soundscape in this attraction just enough to make you feel queasy.

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The new X-Ray room and the re-configuring of the grand finale for this walkthrough are nice changes to an already good maze. Nicely done!

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Trick or Treat

WOW.  Our one complaint about this maze in years past was that, while beautiful, it was rarely scary.  They fixed this maze quite nicely with a brand new ending that gets you up close and personal with the beloved Green Witch character as she spews spells and incantations at the guests in her home.

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The maze starts out exactly the same as in the past.  We enter the beautifully atmospheric foyer of the Green Witch’s home.  The entry, library, and hallway are all great.  Sadly, we still wander though the Witch’s bedroom and bathroom, neither of which offer any really chance at scares.

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It’s when we reach the dining room that things get interesting.  A grotesque spread on the table is waiting for us and the diners are floating in their chairs around the room.  From there, the maze changes further as we climb to the attic.  The Green Witch is there waiting while tending to her bubbling cauldrons.  Going further, we wander into the topmost pinnacle of her home in a stunning, cobweb infested passageway that really ends the attraction correctly.

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Another wonderful redo of an already good maze.

Voodoo: Order of the Serpent

Voodoo is back, but not as you remember it. The venture begins with a new and improved Skeleton Key room that is worth the wait.  We then wander into a palatial plantation home before making it out to the bayou and the black magic that lurks there.

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They have essentially taken what worked from last year and improved upon it.  No longer do visitors get to choose their paths.  Instead there is one full walkway that takes visitors through every inch of the maze.  It is certainly an improvement from the previous year.

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We also meet new inhabitants of the bayou, including an alligator skinner, a new voodoo priest, and more. Another improvement to the maze is the finale.  Instead of being simply dumped into the backstage area of Knott’s Berry Farm, this year we enter a secluded mausoleum in the swamps.  Here we come face to face with a venomous monster that is intent of making us his prey.

We love this maze as much, if not more, than we did last year.  What didn’t work so much last year has been improved upon here to great effect.

Special Ops: Infected – Patient Zero with new missions and more zombies

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Special Ops Infected: Patient Zero is a vast improvement over last year’s incarnation, featuring more zombies, a crystal clear plot, and guns that are far more, well, guns that work.  The storyline here is simple.  In fact, you really don’t even need to know it because, zombies. Get to the original patient and thus get DNA that could possibly cure the outbreak. Of course, once prepped and out in the field, things go horribly wrong and we have to fight for our survival.

This year, Special Ops has only one pathway that snakes through the forested terrain in the far front corner of the park.  This makes Infected a longer, more immersive adventure. The pre-show very quickly sets up the basic idea that you will be shooting zombies and why you are doing what you are doing. The guns are a vast improvement over last year too.  Now you are clearly able to see how many bullets you have, and you also have the ability to reload.  We also have the opportunity to regain abilities lost along the way through zombie attacks.

The one major problem again here is the wait time.  Despite arriving on time for our pre-scheduled attraction time, we were still asked to wait another 45 minutes to get in.  We do hope that the kinks are worked out of this grand experiment sooner rather than later.

 

The Dead of Winter

We wanted to like this maze.  A high-concept retelling of the Snow Queen story seemed like an interesting idea.  Sadly, this walkthrough left us cold.  The story begins as the Snow Queen has risen an army of the undead to get revenge on the villagers that killed her family. A promising idea and a nice jab at Disney’s Frozen!

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The maze begins as we are entering the Snow Queen’s icy lair and we are seeing her path of destruction and death along the way.  Wandering the icy halls of the Queen’s domain, we find ourselves in an excellent mirror maze.  Once out of there, we see that we are ever closer to the castle.  Monsters jump out and stalk at every turn.  That should be a good thing right?  Well, not really.

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With a maze so bright, there are few places for monsters to really hide and startle guests.  Yes, the air conditioning is going to make this a particularly popular place to visit over these hot October nights, but just don’t go in expecting to shiver from fright.

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It’s certainly a valiant effort, and quite pretty, but not the level of scare that most will expect.

My Bloody Clementine

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A beautiful return to form for the Calico Mine Ride, My Bloody Clementine transforms the sleepy family ride into a terror train. Daniel Miller’s first time designing for the Calico Mine Ride, it is clear that he knows how to handle the proceedings.  Drawing from the My Darlin’ Clementine song, the ride tells the disturbing tale of death in the caves of Calico.

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Using the fully upgraded sound system in the attraction and all new digital mapping projection, a lot is accomplished.  It is also nice to see live talent in the ride once more.  There are, however, a few missed opportunities. In particular, the Heaven Room, at the top of the lift hill in the attraction, wastes a good chance to involve a few more actors here and there.  It’s not a deal breaker but if you are going to do it, do it whole hog.

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We are really happy to have heard screams from our fellow passengers on the Calico Mine Ride during haunt again.

PARANORMAL, INC.: Case #1 – The Haunting of Hayden Hill

This is THE must see maze of the season.  Paranormal Inc, the brainchild of Jon Cooke (Special Ops: Infected), invites guests into a haunted insane asylum during a live taping of the popular Paranormal Inc. reality series.  Welcomed into the main lobby of the abandoned asylum, we are told that a large amount of electric energy, when released, will blur the line between the real world and the ethereal realms.

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Of course, something goes terribly wrong and faster than you can say “shadow people”, we are whisked away to one of two separate paths.  One side tells the story of the evil nurse that tortured her patients.  The other, of the nefarious doctor. To tell you more about it would be to totally ruin the element of surprise for this attraction, so we will leave it at that.

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The detail is good, but that isn’t necessarily what makes a good maze, much less a compelling experience.  What does make a strong walk-through is a premise or storyline that can be applied to all the levels of attention spans. Here we have that in spades. The idea seems to click with everyone.

This is the best maze that Knott’s has done in a long time.  It is probably going to be the best maze of the entire year at any haunt.

One of the signature elements of Knott’s Scary Farm are the live stage shows that give guests a break from the scares.  Ever since the first haunt, when Seymour stood in the John Wayne Theatre, making fun of old horror films, visitors have been entertained, made to laugh, scream and escape.  This year we have two stage shows, both very similar in tone; irreverent, pop-culture showcases that aim right for the funny bone.

This article focuses on what there is to watch at haunt when you aren’t screaming in one of the mazes, riding through the all-new, My Bloody Clementine Mine Ride attraction, or running for your life through one of the 4 scare zones.

The Hanging®: Straight Outta Calico

The Hanging has been a mainstay at Knott’s Scary Farm since the beginning.  Although its tone was far more serious back in the day it is now a humor-filled stunt show, referencing what scares us all in pop culture today. This year’s The Hanging: Straight Outta Calico is a solid effort with more hits than misses in the joke department.

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The show begins with a group of hackers giving control to the audience.  In a first for The Hanging, guests are given the chance to get their own jokes into the show by texting them to a special number provided.  The show jumps right into the action with a big, bawdy musical number to the tune of Uptown Funk.

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With this much going on it is impossible to bat 1,000 on the joke-o-meter.  Thankfully, as we stated, everything is moving at light speed.  If one joke doesn’t do it for you, there’s another one right on its heels to tickle your funny bone.

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Magic Miguel is one of our favorite new characters. We love his costume. 😉

We loved seeing a new foil to the hangman in the form of a strong woman.  This character was tough and as witty as the lead characters in the past, going toe-to-toe with the bad guys throughout the show and kicking ass along the way.

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All of this is done in good fun.  In the end, it is about laughing at the past year, having thankfully survived it. The show downplays the titular hanging by ending on a big high note musical number.

Far better than last year’s show, this one ranks as better than average in the history of hangings at Knott’s Scary Farm.  There were more jokes that worked than usual.  The inclusion of the audience, texting jokes for use in the show was a brilliant idea and one that we hope sticks around.  The concept gave the show a more unpredictable feel, improvisational and fresh.

Check out the Hanging this year.  It’s worth the time in exchange for the laughs.  Magic Miguel isn’t hard on the eyes either.

Elvira’s Asylum

We enter the cavernous Ghoul-Time Theatre to a lager than life set.  A gigantic, insane asylum, comically eerie, with a large video screen “Window” center stage.  As the lights dim for show time a video plays depicting videos of patient therapy sessions.  Each are comedically disturbing, culminating in patients breaking loose and busting into the theatre itself.

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The inmates are running amok, the dance music starts, and the hi-jinks begin.  This year Knott’s chose to pull from the Hollywood talent pool for the dancers in this show. While not portrayed as one force, as Academy of Villains were, these dancers bring a fresh individuality to the numbers.  They are good, very good.

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Elvira’s Asylum is a much more solid show than last year’s Big Top show.  The buxom hostess is thrust center stage where she belongs, keeping the wonderful supporting players to the side lines, ready to perform when needed.  Among the players is a stunningly talented aerialist.  Flying, spinning and gliding above the stage she takes flight in a hard edged, yet graceful performance.  Certainly a highlight.

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The set design is well executed, with plenty of ins and outs for the performers to snake through.  The choreography and staging are also very good, never feeling repetitive, always offering something fresh and interesting to see.  Also of note is the precision lighting design.  It is some of the more spectacular we have seen from Knott’s.

This is probably the most balanced of Elvira’s shows since her return to Scary Farm. Lacking the lulls  that last year’s show had with the sword swallower and the contortionist, the pacing is right on.  The writing is also solid, for the most part, offering only a few jokes that could easily be cut. They took a very smart path this year, giving audiences what they came to see, which is the Mistress of the Dark.  She is on stage for nearly three quarters of the show and she carries it as she should.  Nice work to the Knott’s team and to all involved in producing a solid piece here.

With 11 haunted attractions and more than 1,000 monsters roaming the park and lurking in the fog, Knott’s Scary Farm really delivers on fun this year. You can order your tickets online at KnottsScaryFarm.com. Be sure to tag #ScaryFarm on your social posts.

Knott’s Scary Farm is a separately ticketed event on 24 nights – September 24 through October 31. Due to the explicit and frightening nature of the event, it is not recommended for children under 13, or those who can’t handle a moderate level of scares.