When most folks think of Knott’s Scary Farm, haunted mazes immediately come to mind. Foggy alleyways with sinister monsters around every corner are the quintesential image from the world’s biggest, longest running, theme park Halloween celebration.
We previously reviewed all of the mazes in this article here. But, mazes aside, there is also a surprising collection of stage shows and live entertainment to be found as well. Everybody is familiar with The Hanging. But did you know there are five other shows at the Halloween Haunt in 2013? What’s more, this year holds probably the best line-up of haunt entertainment in years. No Tiki dolls attacking lazy blondes, no flame spinning buffoons, just fun, entertaining, even frightening shows can be found at Knott’s Scary Farm Halloween Haunt this year.
The Hanging: It Stinks
Originally titled, The Hanging: a Gothic Fairy Tale, this annual schlockfest returns. But this time, in a very John Waters-esque move, writer director Ken Parks has decided to add smell-o-vision to the show. For $1 you can buy a scratch and sniff card which allows you to SMELL what is happening onstage with the aid of numbered scratch and sniff stickers (free if you can prove you have followed Knott’s on social media). A funny gag indeed, we won’t give away the craptastic surprise smells.
As the story opens, movie studio executives unleash an evil horror while trying to dig up a plot for the next summer blockbuster. What happens next is an endless, non-sensical onslaught of pop-culture jokes and references.
We honestly can’t remember the last time we laugh so consistently and with such severity at The Hanging. Parks and his merry band of actors scathingly send up everything from Once Upon a Time to Star Wars. Of course, they take their best, most cutting stabs at Disney and their unstoppable army of intellectual property purchases.
This year Knott’s The Hanging leaves Universal’s Bill and Ted Show far behind. Yes, Bill and Ted’s is flashier, there are better production values, but the tongue in cheek verve and the playful tone, sets The Hanging apart. A wonderful job by the cast and crew.
Elvira’s Sinema Séance
The Queen of Halloween is back ladies and gentlemen. In a triumphant return to the Ghoul Times Theatre stage Elvira reestablishes her place as the sexy, sassy and scary face of Haunt.
There really isn’t much of a plot here. It’s Elvira for goodness sakes. She can sing, she can dance, and she has enormous… talent. The army of spry young dancers expertly cavort, contort and spin around every inch of the massive set. Then, with more build up than the the bride at her wedding, The buxom, black-haired bombshell enters center stage to the wild cheers of the audience.
Elvira hasn’t lost one ounce of her showmanship and comic timing. Funny, bitingly sarcastic and with razor sharp wit, she engaged the crowd of 2,000 people per show with a sort of nonchalant effort.
In the middle of the show, Elvira attempts to hold a seance onstage. This angers the ghosts of Hollywood, who exact their revenge on the performer. Elvira is sucked into the large video screen at the rear of the stage and finds herself in the middle of a hilarious collection of spoofs from famous horror films. Everything from modern to classic horror is lampooned here until Elvira escapes, returning to the real world to complete her show. It’s comic gold.
Seriously, this is a huge hit for Knott’s Halloween Haunt and reason enough to visit the event. You simply can’t go wrong with Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (even for those younger folks in the audience who have never heard of her). Try not to miss this show, it’s a great time in the Ghoul Time Theatre.
Last year, show producer, Jeff Tucker came up with the novel idea to utilize the technology inside the park’s special effects Mystery Lodge show to create a fun, spooky stage performance called Unearthed. It was received very well, but still clung to the “goofy/scary” tactic that seems to be the unspoken rule for haunt stage shows.
This year, Tucker has produced a new show in the same location entitled Possessed. But this year, there are no laughs. This is a straight-up horror play whose sole purpose is to scare. The setting is a hospital observation room. before the lights rise on the set, the back story about a young girl named Maggie is told. As the development of the farmland around Knott’s Berry Farm progressed, Maggie was always nearby when horrible fates befell those around her.
The story revolves around a young woman being held under observation for her fascination with this evil child. Soon things go horribly wrong, of course, and the ghost of Maggie begins to run amuck. We don’t want to spoil the scares so we will stop there. Suffice it to say that the suspense builds and the pacing is nearly perfect as it leads to a surprising conclusion. This is one show that you really should not miss. The venue still suffers from a horrible entrance location and lack of notice. They really need to put a banner up that properly advertises this wicked little horror show. Go see this show, get scared, it’s Haunt for goodness sake.
Over in the far right front corner of the park, in a small unassuming outdoor theatre near the Slaughterhouse maze, is a show called Blood Drums. Using found objects and traditional percussive interments, Blood Drums is a musical show along the lines of STOMP but with far more adrenaline.
The show starts and the crazy electronica and dubstep music pulsates. Steampunk-clad wanderers take to the stage from the aisles. They attack their drums with a savage speed and vigor. In doing so they begin to create a rhythmic melody that is hypnotizing.
The show, truth be told, is a little long in the tooth. Blood Drums has been playing for years at haunt and could really use a freshening. It’s not a bad show, it’s just that we have seen this before. The performance has not seemed to evolve and grow like other offerings. They did attempt to freshen things up with a video screen behind the band. But we’d like to seem them really shake things up next year.
The main objective of rhythmic beats is to share, to get in tune with one another. To form a group consciousness. Blood Drums does accomplish this for those open to the experience. They still have as much energy as ever.
If you haven’t seen this show before or love percussion music, it’s well worth the time. But if you have seen it it the past few years, you have already seen it this year.
The Red Moon Dance Company returns this year to Haunt. Their recurring dance performance, Cursed is A Spooky Spin on Tribal Bellydance. Crammed into the dead end area between the Dominion of the Damned and Endgames mazes, the show offers a rather high-end performance despite the setting.
Audience members take their seats on benches. . . fog fills the stage, catching heavily saturated lighting in hues of maroon and azure. . . music rises and we are treated to a beautiful series of belly dance performances. The team of four performers twirl and undulate gracefully in group, duets, and a few solo numbers.
What we appreciated from the performance is that they have heard the complaints from audiences past and have made structural changes to the show. Gone are the long, drawn-out solo numbers. Instead we have a leaner piece of dance that lasts just about 20 minutes and doesn’t outlast the attention span of the audience. This show has been dialed in and really seems to work now.
Of course, we still have problems with the location. This show deserves more respect than it gets. Sandwiched in a lightly themed cul-de-sac between two mazes doesn’t help matters at all. The music from these two haunted attractions all but drown out the music from the stage. Further, the expanded queue from Dominion only serves to invade the audience seating and overflow for the show.
Thanks to Knott’s and Red Moon Dance Co for letting the show change and evolve into something that works better for Haunt audiences. Spooky and atmospheric, you need to stop by and see Cursed. These girls are not only talented, but beautiful as well.
Situated in the historic Birdcage Theatre in Ghost Town, Carny Trash is an unexpected little gem of a show. Filtering into the intimate performing space, guests are confronted with a collection of side-show props from the early days of carnival barkers and shelters of the midway.
The show starts as an old man in a red pinstriped jacket and carny hat takes the stage. His stories unfold with recollections of the seedy underbelly of the carnival world. He relays 70 years worth of stories and slights of hand as he plays nasty little tricks on audience members. It’s all in good fun and pretty interesting too. He explains how and why these tricks were done as they were.
For instance: in the early days of the traveling carnival, the ticket booths were raised higher than ground level. As guests approached the booth the carny working the booth could easily peer down into the customer’s wallet. If there was a large wad of cash to be seen, the carny would mark their backside with white chalk. Then, later on as that same marked customer was watching a geek show or sitting on the bleachers, other carny’s knew whose pockets to pick by the mark on their back.
The loud bass-filled music emitting from the Forevermore maze just next to the Birdcage Theatre does tend to almost overpower AJ as he lectures and entertains the audience with stories from the past. But thankfully, his abundantly charming, vaudevillian cadence is adept at pulling the audience in over any distraction. This show is terribly interesting if not always entertaining. Regardless, it is worth the time to walk in and take a trip into the past.
Overall, this year’s lineup of shows is a slam dunk for Knott’s. As the event grows more and more crowded as we approach Halloween, use these shows to help fill up your time. If you haven’t purchased the front of line passes to the mazes, arrive early, pick the 3 or 4 key mazes you’d like to experience, then ride some attractions and see the shows. It’s a great evening of entertainment from the largest Haunt around.
Have you visited any of the shows at Knott’s Scary Farm this year? We’d love to hear your thoughts and reviews as well.