40 years ago, the first Halloween Haunting of a theme park occurred at Knott’s Berry Farm. That event was rather simple by today’s standards when they took their two signature attractions, The Timber Mountain Log Ride and Calico Mine Train and redecorated them with a few spooky props to liven things up. Meanwhile, a few masked employees ran amok in the streets of Ghost Town startling guests. Rising from its humble, even rudimentary beginnings, the Halloween Haunt at Knott’s
Berry Scary Farm has become the standard for Haunt events worldwide.
But the appetite for fear amongst an increasingly horror friendly public has become ravenous. More and more parks are jumping into the game of Halloween fun with everything from family friendly activities to aggressively terrifying adult oriented scares. Guests have become far more sophisticated than they were in the 1970’s, when it comes to scares. A few strobe lights and a guy wearing a mask just doesn’t cut it anymore.
As Knott’s approached its major milestone of creating a 40th year of Halloween Haunt, the expectations were high. Competitors like Universal Studios, Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor and even Six Flags Magic Mountain were nipping at the Halloween titan’s heels. Thankfully, Knott’s took this challenge very seriously. Haunt designers actually began working on the plans while last years haunt was still being executed. Over a year of planning went into producing an event worthy of a 40th anniversary. For the most part, it works.
In this review, we will be discussing the 12 mazes and the Log Ride overlay. We will also be reporting on the MiceChat Halloween Haunt Spooktacular meet that occurred on opening weekend (Saturday, September 22nd) to a sold out out crowd of over 200 guests. We will focus on the Haunt Entertainment offerings and the overall 40th Haunt experience in upcoming articles.
Keep reading all the way to the end, and you might just win a pair of tickets to see Elvira: Mistress of the Dark make her return to Haunt on Thursday, October 4th!
THE MICECHAT HALLOWEEN HAUNT EVENT
Every year we like to kick off the Halloween season off with a visit to the original Halloween haunt, Knott’s Scary Farm. The MiceChat meet is almost always held the first Saturday night of Haunt, and this year the Haunt meet landed on September 22nd. Anticipation was high. The 40th year of Haunt brings with it a certain amount of expectation.
Knott’s certainly rolled out the blood red carpet for us by offering a truly remarkable event. The evening began at 3pm at the Knott’s Chicken Dinner buffet restaurant. Each guest received a special, commemorative Trick or treat bag that we could use to go trick or treating near the maze of the same name later on that evening. They were selling this out in the park for $10 but for us, it was part of the deal. Knott’s is awesome.
Check in began and all the guests were guided into an wire conditioned holding area (Thank heavens) and divided into two separate tour groups.
Lead Entertainment Designer, Todd Faux, and the brilliantly twisted maze designer, Daniel Miller, lead groups of MiceChatters backstage for a lights-on tour of not one, but two mazes; Trick or Treat and Dominion of the Dead. WOW.
Faux lets us know what to expect inside the Trick or Treat maze.
The Trick or Treat maze tour was a real eye opener. There is intricate detail everywhere inside this house of the Witch.
Next up was a tour of Dominion of the Dead.
Upon returning to the Chicken Dinner Restaurant, we were led into a delicious buffet presented by food and beverage manager Russ Knibbs. They really pulled out all the stops here for us including an ice sculpture, carved pumpkins and decorations along with the famous chicken dinner, carved turkey and roast beef. As people grazed on the Knott’s BOO-fet, Ted Doughrety (of UltimateHaunt.com) gave a presentation about the history of Knott’s Halloween Haunt. Thanks Ted!
Dusty and Fishbulb introduce Ted.
A sold out crowd enjoys the show.
Dusty got everyone to sing happy birthday to Fishbulb as it was his actual 39th the day of the event.
Jennifer Blazey, of Knott’s Marketing, invited a special guest along just to torture Fishbulb for his birthday.
We were then let loose into the streets of Ghost Town to begin Haunt. The night was to start at the log ride. But due to an issue with the Fright Lane pass distribution issues, the group got momentarily scattered.
Many ended up going to the store near GhostRider.
WOOHOO GHOST TOWN!
The Ghost Town Streets are great this year. The fog seems denser, the lighting darker and the monsters plentiful. We are so glad that, for the most part, they did little to change this classic scare zone that sets the tone for the entire event.
Here now are the mazes that we did as a group in the order that they were done and what we thought about each of them.
We begin with the “Evil Dead” themed Log Ride. Here is the official write up from Knott’s about the attraction.
Based on the upcoming film, which is set for theatrical release April 2013, you and your friends ride through the woods to an isolated cabin where you discover the secrets of The Book of the Dead. A demonic force is unleashed possessing each until only one is left to fight for survival. Meet five friends to escape the terror that has possessed them and now threatens you to join the “Evil Dead.”
The Book of the Dead at the loading dock.
It is hard to review an overlay based on a film that you haven’t seen yet. So we can only look at this overlay as an original attraction. On those merits it is a tight little ride through the scary woods where the undead attack you along your journey.
Little was added to the Knott’s Timber Mountain Log Ride for this new haunted attraction. This could be seen as tasteful or minimalist depending on your view of the execution. For us, it works and comes off as elegant. The setting of The Evil Dead is a cabin in the woods. Only a few animated props here and there coupled with some nice lighting effects were needed to create key scenes from the upcoming film, including one at the end that was the spitting image of Bruce Campbell from the original film. During our ride through, there were only 5 actors used to scare passing logs, but again, it worked.
Knott’s originally wasn’t going to theme the Log Ride or Mine Train at all this year. But we are thankful that at least the Log Ride kept up the tradition this year, even if it was a minimal effort.
UNCLE WILLY’S SLAUGHTERHOUSE
Folks near and far come a-runnin’ for Farmer Willy’s world famous BBQ! Guests are welcome to venture through the Slaughterhouse where Uncle Willy will feed them full of BBQ, slather them with special sauce, tenderize them with his chainsaw and grind them into a tasty treat. Bone appetite! Anniversary present: Guests can take a full tour of Uncle Willy’s kitchen, dining room and learn the secret ingredients in his BBQ sauce!
This maze went from being one of our least favorite walk-throughs last year to begin one of our favorites this year. Listed as a returning maze, the new Uncle WIlly’s Slaughterhouse is nothing like it was before. They have refashioned the attraction with a real, linear storyline. Guests enter a roadside diner where they wander back into the kitchen and realize what the secret ingredients are in the famous barbecue. All of the set pieces from the original maze are here, but are given a reason to exist and a purpose for use. Gone are the long, winding corridors that served no purpose. Instead, we have scene after scene of disturbing violence and imagery with no seeming escape.
Nice work indeed. If you hated this maze in the past, give it another shot. You might be glad you did.
Fallout Shelter in 3D
Locked in a cement grave for decades, deep in the bowels of the lake, an abandoned government fallout shelter is crawling with human/animal genetic hybrids, toxic mutants and nuclear freaks hungry for human carnage. Grab your Geiger Counters and put on your radiation suits, the residents are ravenous! Anniversary present: More toxic sludge than ever before!
Fallout Shelter is a fun maze, but one that is very hit or miss. The setting, a bunker filled to the rim with nuclear paranoia and monsters, is a good one for scares. The design has been kept the same, for the most part from last year with a bit of tightening up (as they have with many returning mazes this year).
One complaint we do have is that the marquee which used to face the path and lure guests into the maze is now gone. If it weren’t for the innocuous little orange sign being supported carelessly by an employee telling us there was a maze there, we would have missed it entirely. We really think they should bring the sign back so that people know that Fallout Shelter is hidden back on the path.
Welcome to Pleasanton- Population: Zero. Virus Z has turned the entire town into hunger-crazed zombies and visitors are the preferred meal. Hordes of bloodthirsty corpses roam the small town in search of fresh meat. Anniversary present: A bloody “Carrie” finale based on the upcoming film, which is set for theatrical release March 2013.
Virus Z was a fiercely strong maze when it debuted several years ago. The original storyline was brilliant; There is a zombie outbreak in a small town and you must get to the high school gymnasium for safety. Each year the attraction suffered a little here and there from familiarity. The energy has always remained through the roof with the talent, but scares come mostly from surprise, and after three years, it had gotten a little old.
Enter Carrie. In another partnership with Sony Pictures, Knott’s “enhanced” Virus Z with a scene from the upcoming remake of the movie, Carrie. The climactic scene from the new film takes place in a school gymnasium just as it does in the original. So, it appears to have made sense that Carrie should be murdering people with her mind in the final scene of Virus Z since Virus Z had a gym at the end too. Unfortunately, It doesn’t work. At least not in our opinion.
While nicely executed, the there is no menace in seeing a girl in a prom dress covered in blood standing on a stage. Up until the final scene, guests recognize the threat as zombies. When they happen upon an upset prom queen at the end, it is just confusing and doesn’t make sense in the context of the maze. The scene is nicely done, but horribly out of place.
UNCLE BOBO’S BIG TOP OF THE BIZARRE
Step right up, don’t be shy Inside you will find a villainous variety of vaudevillian visages to vex even the most valiant voyeurs! It’s the greatest slaughter on earth with clown carnage galore! Anniversary present: 1/3 more red clown noses.
Little has changed from last year, and really, why should it. Clowns are freaking terrifying. They are the embodiment of EVIL. For those that aren’t Coulrophobics, there is plenty to keep you entertained, including The Thingy! The talent in this maze gets it, once again, and can be funny and menacing all at the same time.
DIA DE LOS MUERTOS
Venture into the forbidden jungle of El Chupacabra, where sacrificial blood rains down from the sky. The screams of La Llorona, the Weeping Woman, echo around you and the creatures of the night crawl from their crypts – “Dia de los Muertos,” the “Day of the Dead” has arrived! Anniversary present: Watch your step through The Chamber of Snakes.
This year, Dia De Los Muertos, the original Latin inspired maze, has returned. There have been trims made here and there that have tightened up the flow of the action without sacrificing the content. If you were a fan of the extended cemetery scene from last year, you may be disappointed as the entire maze has been limited to the existing structure of the Wheeler Dealer building. But the uninitiated will hardly notice the difference. The actors in the maze seem to be much better rehearsed and trained in their roles than last year and full of the loose energy required for this attraction. Nice casting here.
Years have passed since the blue fairy denied him his final wish, but Pinocchio has returned with an army of murderous marionettes intent on killing his former masters. The purpose of his killing spree – human flesh to cover his twisted wooden body. Revenge comes with no strings attached.
What if little wooden head never got his final wish to be a real boy? This maze takes the answer down a very dark path that would have made Carlo Collodi proud. It turns out that after not becoming human, Pinocchio become a murderous marionette intent on dawning the skin of his victims. NASTY.
Maze designer, Daniel Miller, builds a rich backstory that creates a sense of dread that he is known for. There is curious danger at every turn with puppetry being used for many scares. Inventive and mysterious the maze gets increasingly disturbing as you go deeper into the lore of the Blue Fairy and the puppet come to life.
The design work is pretty impressive in this maze, especially considering the time constraints they were under. The maze literally went up in 30 days, from bare space to fully fleshed out experience. The talent has a good sense of movement and character. With a little more coaching and a bigger understanding of the maze, the scare-actors story could convey more of the story to the guests and really make this a stellar walk through. This maze is not to be missed and a fantastic new addition to the Haunt.
TERROR OF LONDON
Step back in time and into the fog-filled streets of London. The villains of the night are terrorizing the townsfolk! Step lively or you’ll fall victim to Jack the Ripper’s blade! Anniversary present: Death scenes more historically accurate!
As with the other returning mazes, Fallout, Dia and Bobo’s Terror of London returns just as good as it was in the past. The meandering alleyways have been removed in favor of a more direct pathway and it works fine. The talent in the maze seems to have the required energy and mood to keep this classic maze vibrant and scary.
TRICK OR TREAT
Trick or treat, which will it be? Step forward and ring the witch’s doorbell. Oh, she is home, but where? You are not quite sure. Don’t be afraid, her minions will guide you. I am sure that the tales of the many Hallows Eve victims are just that. You can come away with a treat, but is it worth it?
Entering the cartoonish, ramshackle facade one might expect a goofy feel to the maze. However, once inside, a highly detailed set and exquisite lighting and mood set a beautifully creepy tone. lit pumpkins line a stairway to the left. Loose drapes billow in the wind in a further room. The rhythmic ticking of a grandfather clock sets the rhythm. The Green Witch and her tricksters lure you into her home, and you must find your way through to safety. This maze isn’t cartoonish at all. It is a moody, atmospheric homage to the classic Halloween of your youth. Details abound in this stunning maze by Brooke Walters, and that is to be expected. Walters is in top form when creating an atmosphere (as she famously executed in the classic maze, Terror of London).
There are some beautiful set pieces that include an eerie hallway adorned with backlit masks, a bathroom more than just hot water running in the bathtub, and a dinning room to die for. But soon enough we have our final run in with the Green Witch and suddenly the maze is done. The maze would have benefitted from perhaps one final onslaught from The Green Witch and her tricksters as you race for the door.
Still, this is one maze that you should not miss if you love Halloween. Nice work, that left us wanting more.
TIP: You should also pick up the Trick or Treat bags for $10 and do the Trick or Treating near the queue of the maze. You can get some pretty impressive treats for such a small price including a Haunt shot glass, a 40th Haunt deck of playing cards and a Haunt logo keychain.
ENDGAMES: Warriors of the Apocalypse
The world as we know it has ended. The survivors in this barren desert have scavenged to rebuild society. The rich and the powerful have turned all others into slaves for sport. Enter the post apocalyptic arena where gladiators are forced to battle to their deaths for entertainment. Are you game? Anniversary present: Expanded Arena.
Oh Endgames. Will you ever find your groove? Originally located in the Necropolis area of the park, the maze has been reworked completely – including being moved to a new location backstage. Refined and distilled down to its essence, Endgames cuts to the chase with its set up and execution. The future setting in which life is cheap and sport killing is nightly entertainment is certainly a disturbing thought. But again, where are the scares? There doesn’t seem to be a threat here. Guests pass through some brutal imagery, but the thread never seems to feel directed at you. This could be a great maze if this danger could be redirected and properly conveyed.
DOMINION OF THE DEAD
Welcome to the return of Dominion where creatures create art and music so beautiful the human mind cannot fully comprehend. Orroro Bella, the beautiful horror, is what you will find within the walls of this gallery. Lured by the undead, you descend deeper within the gallery as the chance to escape slips away. You shall be their next masterpiece.
Dominion of the Dead is an experiment in art direction as a tool for the scare. Nearly the entire maze is done in shades of grey. Elegant and moody at the start. Aggressive and Terrifying towards the end. Dominion is a solid maze with wonderfully inventive scares as well as old fashioned ones. But it lacks the more claustrophobic moments towards the end that would really break the safety barrier that is initially set up in the beginning. Despite that very minor note, the talent in the maze is completely in it to win it. Frightening, sexy, and startling, Dominion succeeds overall and is a great homage to mazes past at the Scary Farm.
In the deep recesses of the mind, on the clouded brink of insanity, lies the hellish wasteland of delirium; a place so gruesome that your imagination fails to comprehend the horrors. Illusion and paranoia are your only anchors to reality. Welcome to your worst nightmare! Anniversary present: The Pillar of Souls.
Delirium was our favorite maze from last year and it returns with the same sickening, fever-dream of horrifying scenes. New this year the the spinning Pillar of Souls, an improved piece of scenery. Still strong, still deeply disturbing, this is a maze that make you feel unsettled after you exit. Good Fun!
It was at this time that we had finished the traditional MiceChat Death March of mazes. We started the evening with nearly 200. At the end of the night we decided to pose for a group picture of the survivors of our adventure.
But that wasn’t the end of the evening for everyone. For those that had reservations, we then headed over to the brand new upcharge maze, Trapped
This reservation only, interactive maze leads guests into an abyss of their deepest fears and phobias. You are part of the horror and an active participant in your own demise. Do you have the courage to enter a nightmare designed exclusively for you and face the challenge of finding an escape? Remember there are no doors in this nightmare. *Additional fee applies.
Our review? Get a reservation now. Trapped is essentially a private fear experience. You and up to 5 of your friends can face your fears on an intimate level. Groups are sent in and must find their way out of a series of rooms by completing tasks or solving puzzles. These tasks test your fears and personal boundaries in maniacal and demented ways. To tell you more would be to give away the fear of the unknown. We won’t spoil the surprise for you. But if you are a haunt lover, do yourself a favor and make your reservation for Trapped!
This is the best thing that Knott’s has done in years and may be our favorite maze of all time. It’s just that amazing!
We would like to sincerely thank all those involved in making the MiceChat Haunt meet such a huge success. Thank you Jennifer Blazey, Todd Faux, Daniel Miller, Brooke Walters, Lara Hanneman, Russ Knibbs, and of course Raffi Kaprelyan for a wonderful evening of fun. You have created a wonderful tribute to 40 years of haunted magic. Knott’s Halloween Haunt is better than ever, the not-to-be-missed SoCal event of the season.
WIN A PAIR OF TICKETS TO KNOTT’S HALLOWEEN HAUNT AND SEE ELVIRA – THURSDAY OCT. 4th
You are the winner of the two tickets to Knott’s Scary Farm on Thursday, October 4th.
To claim your prize you will need to email MiceChat your full name and address to [email protected].
If we do not receive your information by noon on Thursday October 4th you will forfeit and the tickets will go to another entrant.
Hope to hear from you soon!