Knotts Scary Farm Entertainment Hits and Misses

Written by Norman Gidney. Posted in In the Parks, Knott's Berry Farm, Knott's Scary Farm

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Published on October 22, 2012 at 2:45 am with 8 Comments

Knotts Scary Farm is in the middle of celebrating its 40th year of Haunt. They have certainly attempted to scare as well as entertain this season. With 13 mazes, 4 scare zones and 9 shows, there’s much more to do at this year’s haunt than there will be time for in a single evening. We recently reviewed the mazes and scare zones for you and today we turn our eye toward the shows.

One could simply spend an entire evening watching the Halloween Haunt shows. And while the number of entertainment offerings is impressive, we are sad to report that the quality doesn’t match the quantity in every case. We’ll let you know which shows are not to be missed and which shows you would do well to avoid this year.

Here’s our listing of shows presented at Knott’s 40th Halloween Haunt in the order we prefer – from best to worst:

THE HANGING

It’s no surprise that The Hanging is the strongest offering of entertainment at this years Halloween Haunt.  It is generally a very silly, often offensive, and occasionally clever offering.  This year they are calling it The Hanging Games, and the loose plot is centered around Lawman and his search for someone to take his place on the gallows at the Hanging as tribute.

The show starts off with quite a bit of promise.  John Travolta introduces the show from a massage table and warns the crowd that things might be offensive to some.  Nice.  We are then treated to a broad opening musical number celebrating Knott’s 40th.  The show excels when it is using self referential humor.

Hangman (Left) and Lawman (Right)

Lawman, however, takes the stage with his partner in death, Hangman, and announces that the Hanging has gotten too far away from what it used to be.  The Lawman and Hangman are a joy to watch as they really have their comic chemistry down.  The banter between the two of them is lightning fast, terribly off-color, and quite funny.

The Hunger Games parody takes over at this point and Lawman is chosen as tribute to be hung.  This sets the plot in motion as Lawman scours the past year’s pop-culture icons in search of a more deserving offender. We are then attacked with a parade of pop culture references including Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise, Justin Bieber, Whitney Houston, Honey Boo Boo Child, Honey Badger, Draw Something, Siri, the Bath Salts guy, The Hunger Games (again), Barack Obama, Joe Biden, the Book of Mormon Musical, Mitt Romney, The Avengers, Spiderman: Turn off the Dark, The Dark Knight Rises, The Expendables, Dark Shadows, Snooki, The Muppets, Men in Black 3, Progressive Insurance, Ted, the Mayan Calendar, Gangnam Style, Katie Perry, Kristen Stuart and The Three Stooges.

The first half of the show works well and moves at a clip.  The jokes, while a little forced, are amusing.  A particular highlight is the argument that takes place between Bane and Batman from the Dark Knight Rises and Sylvester Stallone from Expendables Two.  The mumblefest is one of the better jokes in the show.

But, then the second half of the show rolls along and The Hanging looses steam.  A clever shadow theatre gag overstays its welcome and becomes a little tiresome.

It also seems that they played it a little too safe this year.  The jokes used to be far edgier, raunchier and used to make people gasp.  The most tasteless joke this year was a quick quip about Whitney Houston. Towards the end of the show the references became muddy and often lost their impact. What’s more, they missed chances to rake over the coals things that are rife with comedy like the Hot Problems girls, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Lady Gaga, Cars Land, Disney California Adventure,  Netflix/Flixster, American Horror Story, The Kardashians, Taylor Swift, The Olympics, Any of the awful talent shows on T.V. right now, the Walking Dead, David Blaine, Frankenweenie, the list goes on, all with varying degrees of comic opportunity.

All in all though if you were to watch one show at Haunt, The Hanging is still the quintessential Haunt stage presentation.  It is consistently entertaining even though it hits a few rough spots along the way.

UNEARTHED

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION Journey into Halloween Haunt’s dark past. The phantoms of yesterday rise up and join the current terror of Knott’s Scary Farm for a spirited show that reveals long buried secrets of Haunt.

Located inside the Mystery Lodge Theatre this tongue-in-cheek show invites Haunt guests to the supposed epicenter and source of evil that powers the event.  Center stage, behind a thick, protective shield of glass lies a huge black cauldron that requires a fresh blood sacrifice to get it going.  Of course, during a routine demonstration things go horribly wrong and evil is unleashed.

Unearthed really works at using the existing technology to create a brand new show.  Written and Directed by The Hanging vet, Jeff Tucker, it has his trademark, smart-alec humor that borrows, lovingly from movies like Cabin in the Woods and Scary Movie. The faults are minimal but easily fixed. At times, the jokes get a little broad, and the chaos a little to paced.  If we are meant to believe that the lid has come off of evil, let’s see some real frenzied danger.  If they picked up the pace towards the finale, it would really give a conclusion to things.

One other problem, the presentation needs to be given more respect.  Guests introduction to the show is merely waiting in the concrete exit tunnel for the Mystery Lodge while other guests use the same, cramped area to exit the Terror of London Maze.  Granted, there is no real way to let folks enter from the front of the theatre as that queue is used up for Terror of London.  But, instead of letting guests wait outside in a noisy hallway, why not open the doors to the theatre 15 minutes before the show and allow guests to get comfortable and trickle in from the adjacent maze as well?

Go check out this show if you can.

BLOOD DRUMS

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION The pulsating power of Street Drums Corps Blood Drums returns to the Necropolis stage with their percussive, necropolis of rhythm and music.

In the intimate outdoor amphitheater at in the center of the Necropolis scare zone in Camp Snoopy lies one of the more consistently entertaining shows.  Blood Drums is an unhinged, percussive assault on the eyes and ears that cannot be faulted for a lack of energy.  Using an impressive collection of pipes, metals, and power tools, the Street Drums Corps creates some outstanding music.
Think Blast or Stomp but after about 30 Red Bulls.  What we find interesting about the performance is that we have yet to see a bad show. The Drum Corps seems to have a boundless amount of energy to do this 4 times a night. Think of it as a mix of Blast and Stomp with a smaller cast and stage.

THE WITCHING HOUR

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION Calico Square will not only be the location of the popular “Hanging” but also a special Midnight Witching Hour, a homage to the classic hangings of Halloween Haunt past.

In an homage to the tradition that spawned countless Halloween Haunt shows, Knott’s resurrected the original hanging show in the form of The Witching Hour.

For those unaware, The original hanging show was not a parade of humorous references and jokes about things from the past year.  No, when the hanging first made its appearance at Haunt, it was used to enforce the atmosphere of horror.  It was not funny, it was a solemn, morbid event of mob mentality run a mock.  The original hanging depicted a young woman, desperate to assert her innocence, being accused of witchcraft by a torch-bearing mob.  This was frightening stuff back in the day.

The nightly parade begins again as the folks of Ghost Town drag a new woman to the gallows for death.  The actors gamely embrace the lore and tradition of the spooky performance.  The mood is perfectly set as the foreboding music and the distant sound of a crazed group of people tear through the crowd and take the stage.

The sad thing is that times have outgrown the level of fear delivered. Today’s audience does not seem to get it.  The crowd I viewed the Witching Hour with seemed to anticipate humor from the performance, as if trained by so many years of parody-laden shows. Timid laughter could be heard at certain times throughout the show, indicating that many were not sure of the tone.

This respectful presentation of a Haunt tradition is wonderful, but needs to be amped up for today’s more jaded Haunt-goer.  What should create an atmosphere of paranoia and fear, feels more like a civil war reenactment.  Today’s audience needs more to scare them.  This would have been a mind bending production in the mid 70′s, but it doesn’t achieve the same effect that the originals did with far less.  A wonderful effort, but not as effective as it should be.

CURSED

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION The Gypsy Camp area will present the magical and hypnotic powers of the beautiful Tribal fusion Bellydancers dancers.

The Red Moon Dance Company takes the stage inside the minimally themed Gypsy Camp area and performs Cursed, a particularly impressive Fusion and American Tribal Style Belly dance performance.  The four dancers gamely command the stage in a 30 minute performance that includes solo and group performances.  Sultry and spooky, there is a tremendous amount of talent exerted during the show.

There are problems though.  The show is simply too long.  There is only so much high art a Haunt crowd can take before getting a little restless.  I would say that they could trim the show to 5 separate dance pieces and have a far greater impact.  Another issue is the performance space.  As it is now, the audience must find a spot on bales of hay or stand behind seated guests.  Further, the location would seem to be prime, in a vast courtyard between two mazes, but it isn’t.   Amidst a loud cacophony of conflicting music from either haunted attraction, the dancers have to fight to keep the attention of their audience.

Cursed is a very good show that features wonderful performances by a quartet of truly talented dancers.  It is too bad that it suffers from a poor location and begins to collapse under the weight of its run time towards the end of the show.

ZAMORA’S SIDESHOW OF TORTURE

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION Zamora’s Sideshow of Torture with DOC ODD, the Doctor of Shock, is not for the faint of heart. His mind-blowing, invasive, self-inflicted torture will make your skin crawl.

Located inside the Birdcage Theatre in Ghost Town, Zamora’s is right at home in this intimate setting. Over the course of his 20 minute show, Zamora performs and endless string of excruciating tortures on himself.  He walks on broken glass, lays on a bed of swords, chews a lightbulb and pierces his forearm with a  metal rod. Why?  To gross the audience out.  It is a staring contest between performer and audience to see who will turn away first.

This is not a good show, but it never sets out to be one in the first place.  In fact, it is more entertaining to watch the audience reaction to the extremes portrayed on the stage.

The acts of insanity are for a purely visceral reaction.

This show is NOT for everyone. It is a silly, strenuous exercise in endurance.

ED ALONZO’S FUN HOUSE

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION This self-proclaimed Misfit of Magic brings slight-of-hand, slight-of-mouth and slight of mind to this insane, psycho-sensory production.

Oh Ed.  How do I break this to you.  The show stinks this year.  What happened?

This year the annual magic, music, comedy show is called Ed Alonzo’s Funhouse.  Once again it is located in the Charles Schulz Theatre.  Being given the largest theatre space in the park, a certain level of entertainment and polished showmanship is expected. There are the usual illusions and dance numbers, but it just all seemed so phoned in.

Show opens with a pre-filmed segment that features Ed borrowing a car from Neil Patrick Harris in order to get to Knott’s. The bit is good for a few chuckles, but wears out its welcome quick and seems to run longer than it needs to in order to establish the set up.

Let’s start with the good.  The lighting design this year is spot on.  The effective use of brightly colored spots and lighting queues hits with perfect precision and elevates the show nicely.  The lovely, Ed Alonzo Dancers are wonderfully talented and don’t miss a mark.  Another high point is when Ed gets involved with the audience.  The off-color banter that spills from his mouth so effortlessly could put a blush on a sinner.    He excels when playing with the crowd.

But there are tremendous problems.  Compared to the moving train set piece from last years show, this years set feels minimal and uninspired.  The funhouse proscenium framing the stage is beautifully done.  A particularly nice touch are the lights glaring from the Alonzo caricature at the center, high above the stage.  But then, the main set piece, a Hollywood Squares-style box structure, serves no other purpose than what is seen at the outset.  No surprises, just boxes.  In a funhouse one would think that far more would be happening.

Another major issue is the music.  In previous incarnations the music always lent itself perfectly to the sexy choreography of the dancers and created a palpable, infectious energy.  This years musical choices seem bland and uninspired.  They both felt pretty much interchangeable.  In other years we were impressed with the varying music, and occasional serenades by Ed himself.  This year the music was flat, uninspired and forgettable.

Again, Ed, we are fans.  REALLY.  But acts that were chosen to perform were pretty underwhelming. The sword basket trick was far from jaw-dropping, although the blow-up doll was hysterical.  But why reuse the tired balloon gag?  It’s funny, very funny in fact.  But it’s been done so often before.  The endless parade of women coming from the empty box is, again, a trick that was pulled off to greater effect in previous productions.  Each choice simply felt phoned in, too easy.

 If you need to take a rest, and have seen all of the mazes, then the Ed Alonzo’s Funhouse show may still be a good option for you. However, if you’ve got other things to see and do, this is one you can skp this year.

MR MEPHISTO’S MECHANICAL MAYHEM

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION Venture upon a crazy inventor who has discovered ways to keep the insanity of the Vampire blood suckers alive. Watch as he pedals and demonstrates his wares to unsuspecting mortals.

Mr. Mephisto’s Mechanical Mayhem is a very unique, even daring, idea with tragic execution.  Guests are invited to take a seat on a bale of hay in a remote corner of Necropolis to witness a mechanical demonstration by the renowned Mr. Mephisto.  During the performance something goes horribly wrong and…  Well, we won’t spoil it for you.  What we will attempt to do is explain WHY it doesn’t work at all and what might save this show in the final week.

The presentation is primarily an improv piece where the actors know a basic situation but have to make it up as they go along.   Keep in mind that, for improv to really work, the actors either have to be unbelievably trained in the art of improvisation, or they need to have the basic plot points if there is to be a set direction.  Even if they have all of this, there is a tremendous amount that can often go wrong.  Here, it does.

It appears that the actors were given no real direction.  The show begins with little setup, a conflict occurs and the actors only know what the conclusion should be. What results is a show that sputters with actors stepping on each others lines and disregarding one another dialogue.  The audience has no way of knowing what is taking place because the actors seem to be pulling the show in several different directions with no real course.  Then suddenly, the show is done.

Again, we are trying to be vague.  But, in order for the payoff of the show to work, the show needed far more set up.  Perhaps even using the main entrance of the event as an area to set up the rules of the different characters involved.  As it stands right now the show allows event-goers no real reason to even understand what happened.  I simple punchline spouted in a snarky fashion is insulting and unfunny.

We will not blow the surprise to this show, but our advice is to avoid it. Your time is better spent over at Blood Drums.

TONGA TIKI TERROR

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION The spirit of the evil, terrifying Tongan Creature unleashes its horrible terror as it fills the theatre and stalks an unsuspecting human.

What starts off with some promise as guests enter the Boardwalk Ballroom to see this show ends as soon as the lights go down and the show begins.  Tonga Tiki Terror is a wonderful idea that is executed so poorly, it is tragic.

The story involves a buxom blonde who awakens a vicious Tiki God by getting a cursed tattoo.  Okay, follow us here.  She gets this tattoo, then the tiki god enters her apartment via internet connection in order to exact his revenge.  The plot is superfluous really as it is merely a tool used to showcase Scott Land and his impressive puppetry work.

Scott is the one good thing in this show.  The rest is simply god awful.

Let’s start with the lead.  This beautiful woman is lovely to look at but cannot act.  Really.  In order to carry a show, and to act against a puppet, one must at least convey a slight bit if believability. No such luck here.

Then we have the set.  A sort of goth style Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, it serves no other purpose than to facilitate a variety of site gags.  There is the kitchen, next to the bed, next to the computer next to the couch, next to the…  you get the idea.  

Next up, the writing of the show felt as if there were plenty of re-writes.  The actors seemed obligated to fill the time with little to do at times.  This lent to lingering, pregnant pauses and stretches of silent action.  This is not Chekov, this is a show at Haunt.  The pace needs to move briskly and entertain constantly.

This leads us to the star of the show, Scott Land.  The work he does in the show is not bad.  But saddled with this material, he is limited to cheap jokes and a few bits of character action.  We aren’t ever given a chance to really enjoy this mischievous tiki god.  He only ends up serving as the foil to the careless tattoo bearing blonde.  She’s not the interesting one, yet she is the protagonist? Why shouldn’t we be rooting for this mean, funny little monster again?

Scott Land all in black, operating the Tiki God.

There was also no attempt to help the audience suspend disbelief and see the tiki god as alive.  There are moments where Scott is forced to play out scenes dressed head to to in black, but in full light.  Why weren’t black lights employed to obscure, if at least slightly, the human talent operating the puppet.  This isn’t The Lion King or Avenue Q where seasoned theatre audiences are given 2 hours to accept the illusion. This is a 20 minute show at Haunt where audiences are on sensory overload and want to be wowed.

We can tell that there was a good show in there somewhere.  But what is performed is an awkward, oftentimes groan-inducing show that just doesn’t work.  This is the worst show in recent memory.

Those are the shows at this years Haunt. It is a shame that the entertainment was not stronger overall, there are some real stinkers this year, but there are also some very good shows that should not be missed.  If you had to pick just a few shows, stick to the ones that are further towards the top of this list and avoid the ones towards the bottom.

About Norman Gidney

Norman Gidney, also known as Fishbulb, produces and edits many of the articles on MiceChat. Tune in every Tuesday for the Orlando Parkhopper and every Friday for In The Parks. But you'll also find his photos in the Weekly Round Up, SAMLAND, and numerous other columns on the site.

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  • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

    I’m a huge fan of Knott’s Halloween Haunt. It always impresses me how many mazes and shows they are able to put on year after year. Though, rarely are they able to pull out all hit shows in one season.

    Im sorry to hear that Ed Alonzo is weak this year, as he is always one of my favorites. Whether audiences get it or not, the Witch hanging is awesome! The belly dancers would work better as area entertainment rather than as a dedicated show.

    For the money, Knotts is offering far more than any other Haunt I’ve ever seen. Universal may have better sets and props, Busch Gardens more clever ideas, and dozens of haunts in truly unique locations such as at the Queen Mary, but Knott’s is still the original and defending their title as biggest and best value.

    And their new maze, “Trapped,” is my favorite maze of the season and perhaps ever. It was exceptional. A uniquely individual and scary attraction.

  • jcruise86

    Thanks for the round-up, Norm!

    I’m with you on Ed Alonzo this year. I took my wife and a friend because I’ve liked the show in the past, but this year I was embarrassed I took them.

    Next year I’ll check out “Unearthed” instead, if it’s there.

    I also liked the Hanging as always, thought I thought killing this year pop stars was boring and perfunctory. Norm I would have liked one Disneyland parody since the World of Color and the malfunctioning Fantasmic dragon were two of my favorite moments in past years, and this year I would have liked drive by murder on Luigi’s tires or Cars breaking down, but other than Disney, I didn’t think your list was better than their targets. You wrote

    “. . . they missed chances to rake over the coals things that are rife with comedy like the Hot Problems girls, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Lady Gaga, Cars Land, Disney California Adventure, Netflix/Flixster, American Horror Story, The Kardashians, Taylor Swift, The Olympics, Any of the awful talent shows on T.V. right now, the Walking Dead, David Blaine, Frankenweenie, the list goes on, all with varying degrees of comic opportunity.”

    But other than that, Norm, by attending five of your Halloween outings over the last 37 months you have made Halloween my new favorite holiday. (Sorry Christmas, you’re still wonderful.) So there aren’t many people who have improved my life as you have–giving my events to look forward to all year. So THANK YOU, Norm/Fishbulb! Thanks, Dusty, too!

    • jcruise86

      Corrrection:
      “thought I thought killing this year pop stars”
      should have been:
      “though I thought killing this year’s pop stars.”

  • GhostHostJeff

    I enjoyed the Midnight hanging and I hope they do it every year from here on out. I think the crowd I had enjoyed it as well. It really gives you a reason as to why Knotts is the way it is this time of year. Good stuff!

  • madmonkeygirl

    I hated absolutely hated the Hanging this year. It was NOT as well done as pervious years. I figured they would really mock Disney given the opening of Cars Land but NO. Plus the curtain really made me loose interest in the show from that point until the end.

    However the Witches Hanging was by far superior. It is what Haunt needs and had in the past. I really hope they keep this feature.

    I loved Unearthed but then agin won’t spoil it for others (surprise to me especially where we were sitting at the end).

    Ed Alonzo I did like but wondered where Neil Patrick Harris’ car vanished to and hopefully was ok.

    Knott’s has many choices for shows, mazes and just plain fun compared to Universal Studios and others. This year Knott’s is definitely superior to Universal.

    If you loved Trapped you need to experience Delusion. It beats Trapped hands down and is by far my top favorite Halloween experience anywhere.

  • GoneAway562

    What a great review. Personally I really enjoyed the midnight witch hanging and would love to see it come back in the future. However I do agree that the crowd was almost in more of a shock to what was happening, and expected to have humor in it. The sad thing is that I noticed is that after it was over, only a few people applauded whereas most just walked off with a funny look as if wondering what just happened. I really enjoyed the midnight witch hanging and hope it returns next year.

  • ntz4bbl

    Great review, Fishbulb! We only saw a few of the shows this year; The Hanging Games, Witch Hanging, and Blood Drums. Sounds like we saw the best of the bunch! I will agree with the comment about KSF having the most to offer. Someone asked me this year if one could only go to one event which would provide the most bang for the buck. My answer was KSF just from the amount of mazes and variety of entertainment.

  • Zeathos51

    I liked Unearthed but it did drag at times so the final scare lost some luster. However, I liked seeing the peppers ghost effect beeing used for another show. Unfortunately, I know exactly how it works but never the less, it still has a great impact every time I see it. Jack the Ripper was good to considering we were right next to terror of London. And I have to add that incorporating the green witch in several attractions including this one is great theming.

    I didn’t get to see the hanging games but I understand the mood your talking about. The witch gives off more of an eery mood that she has complete complete control over rather you’ll live or die. Add to that the darkness of an angry mob wanting to hang the innocent version of her. Todays crowds are more scared of the big sharp mutilator. The gore gets to the kids today but for me, the feeling you get walking away from a witches curse is much more eery. There is no clear gory image. Instead its the unkown power she has over you.

    Anyways, thanks again. I missed Ed Alonzo but I don’t regret missing Trapped. That was a great maze.