Haunt has been a yearly tradition for me and my friends for quite some time now. Started with me going with my dad, who until moving a couple years back had been to every single Haunt save for the very first. I believe my first year was the year The Asylum and Hatchet High premiered or the year right before that, it was the last year The Inquisition was there. After a couple years with my dad, my buddies started going with us. I mean we had Haunt down to a science. Pre-haunt buffet, hit the log and mine ride, wait for the Hanging (only show we'd ever catch), then work our way through the mazes in a semi-specific order (usually hitting the dance hall and mystery lodge mazes first). We wouldn't do any rides unless they were done up special for the event, since we payed to experience Haunt, not go on rides that are there all year long. There were years we'd actually end up having different groups of people tag along with us because we just knew what we were doing, it was great. Now that my dad is out of state it's fallen on me to continue the tradition. Unfortunately I've not been able to keep with the pre-haunt dinner every year, I just can't afford it, but my friends all know that I know what I'm doing when it comes to Haunt and are more than willing to let me take charge every year. There's very few things I look forward to every year as I do Halloween Haunt, it's like freakin' Christmas to me. Haunt was my father's legacy to me, so to speak, it's something that has become incredibly important to me, and once Haunt season starts rolling around every year..oh do I get excited...
So background details out of the way, what did I think of this year's event?
Honestly I have to say it's probably one of the best Haunts I've been to. I know I missed some of the glory years of old, but I was there for gems like the first year of The Asylum, which still stands as my all-time favorite maze and memory of the event..just that long build-up and slow walk into the front gates of the maze, the theme from Kubrick's The Shining blaring, it was ominous and genuinely terrifying. While no maze can ever really recapture that for me, this year had some real standouts, and the 40th anniversary theming and centralizing around the return of the Green Witch was done fantastically and really added to the event this year. Right from the get-go with the pre-haunt show at the main gates with the Witch's first appearance, ordering her Tricksters to open the gates it felt like something special this year. It definitely felt odd being on the main gate side of things prior to the rope drop, the only other year we didn't do the buffet we actually were a bit late getting in so being closer to the middle of the crowd was just not something we were used to. The park was relatively empty though, lines never got all that bad to the point where it seemed that missing the buffet and early entry mattered.
Evil Dead: As always our first stop was the newly themed Timber Mountain Log Ride, this time sporting an Evil Dead motif (the upcoming remake, not the classic original). Easily one of the best themes they've used for the ride, despite the sets being a bit minimal and the talent just not being there all that much. Don't expect this one back next year, but were it to return it could be one of the best overlays they've done for the attraction if they gave it more of a budget. The set pieces that were there were all pretty solid, the talent was about what you would expect from the attraction, and Ash at the end was great, really enjoyed the blood spray effect while going up the final lift.
Calico Mine Ride: We almost skipped out on this one this year actually. But we had a decent bit of time to kill before the first showing of The Hanging, so we decided to stick to tradition and hit up the mine ride after all before heading over to the stage area. Actually really glad we did. I heard from various reports and reviews that nothing was really done with the mine ride this year, just some green lights and the conductor saying semi-spooky things such as "I hope nothing here jumps out at us"..only for nothing to do so, ever. While it is true there was no actual talent through the attraction, they themed it much more than I was originally informed. I dunno if they added stuff this weekend that wasn't there last weekend or not, but there were quite a few props, some animatronics, a pretty decent story about the Green Witch's descent into the mine, and they even had something going on in the glory hole. Far as I know the centerpiece was just a repeat from a few years ago, prior to the attraction's tenure as Black Widow's Cavern, with some ghosts floating around and whatnot. There was also a projection on the wall of the Green Witch doing her thing and speaking. They also kept one of my favorite effects in when going up the lift hill, the spiderwebs brushing across your face. It's such a simple, cheap scare, but I always love it for its simplicity. So yeah, the mine ride may not be billed as a Haunt attraction this year, but I actually do recommend making sure to catch it. It was a helluva lot better than Invasion from Beneath was last year, and that is SAD.
Pinocchio Unstrung: So we still had quite a bit of time to kill before The Hanging so we broke tradition to go ahead and hit a maze or two before the show. The Wilderness Dance Hall and Mystery Lodge mazes are always the first ones we hit when The Hanging lets out anyways, so made sense to hit them now. Aside from Trapped, which I will get to, Pinocchio was probably the maze I was most looking forward to this year. And damn did it deliver. The front facade was fantastic, the sign was really cool, loved the overall look of it. I also really dug Pinocchio's narration prior to entering the maze, was a nice way to give a bit of back story to the maze, gave some actual reasoning behind why Pinocchio was denied his wish, why he wanted revenge, and it worked. And right as you walk in the attention to detail is just outstanding, from them using real wood in the very first room to just all the little things to look at everywhere. The first time we went through was probably a bit weaker than our return trip at the end of the night, the talent was more on spot later in the evening, and they were actually making use of the animatronics and props (such as the smaller puppets on the ground), and there was actually someone where Stromboli (I believe that was his name) was being killed off. Pleasure Island was done really well, the design of the donkeys was really awesome, I loved the cage effect. Monstro was probably what I was most looking forward to seeing in the maze to be honest. Just wanted to see what the designers would come up with for him. The evil angler fish look was badass, and I loved the overall effect of going inside of him, with the ribs and dead mermaid and just the way everything looked. I also really enjoyed seeing the fairy's demise. The giant Pinocchio at the end was...well it looked cool and all, it just seemed strange for him to be so large. Knott's just seems to have this..thing for giant animatronics at the end of certain mazes, and I can get behind that as they tend to be at least visually interesting, but there really was no explanation for how a little wooden puppet grew into..well, that. Still probably the best of the standard mazes this year, absolutely loved it. Was also the only maze we hit twice.
Terror of London: So it only took as about 5 minutes or so to finish up at Pinocchio so we ended up jumping over to Terror of London a bit early too. Terror has been one of my favorite mazes every year since its introduction. The overall atmosphere is fantastic, I've never seen the talent break character, it has some wonderful set design, just overall a really really good maze. I'm ready to see it go though. It's been there a long time, in what is, IMO, one of the best locations for a maze, just about every single maze that has been housed in the area has been fantastic. Blood Bayou, Axe Murder Manor, and of course Terror. The maze definitely suffered a bit this year from cuts being made to its layout, shortening it up, removing some of the murder scenes, it just didn't hold up as well this time around. I loved London, but it needs to go.
The Hanging Games: Ah The Hanging. Every year I look forward to hearing the Law Man cry out "Are you ready for a hanging!?!?" only to be met with thunderous roars of approval. The only show we ever make sure to hit every single year, the Hanging almost always delivers on the laughs. It has been a bit weaker the last couple years, and this year was no exception. There were still some awesome jokes, but certain things such as the behind the curtain kills were really weak. Was relatively happy with the choice of victim this year though.
Trick or Treat: First something I have to address. I was completely pissed off that they raised the price for the trick or treat goodie bags this week. At $10 they seemed like a great deal, the cost of the items you receive alone are probably worth about as much, maybe a touch more. Raising it to $15, saying that the $10 price was a first weekend only deal was just bull ****. And the fact that the price for the bags is not listed on the map at all tells me that it is likely they will continue to raise it as the month goes on, I wouldn't be surprised if it was $20 next weekend. I made sure to save out money specifically so I could pick up a bag, even if I had the extra 5 bucks I wouldn't have done it. I could buy all the items for less than that if I really wanted to. That out of the way let's talk about the maze itself. We were told it would be about a 45 minute wait. An estimate that was completely inaccurate, it was less than even half that time. Probably 5-10 minutes tops before we got to the front of the line. Again I have to compliment the design of the facade on a maze (and it won't be the last time I do either). It looked great, loved the whole concept of having to ring the door bell (sadly my group was second in line to the group that got to ring the bell, was kinda bummed at that). The level of detail in the maze was something else. The talent in the maze was fantastic to boot. You had monsters crawling out from under the bed, moving across and under tables, they were just into it completely. The finale was pretty cool as well. Main problem was...that was it. The maze was so incredibly short, the only thing that made it take a while was stopping for the show and that they had a rather nice way of holding groups back from entering the maze while other groups went through. I don't expect this one to return next year, at least not in its current form. I hate to think all the work on it would go to waste, but it just felt like something special for the anniversary. Make sure to hit this one. Don't recommend going for the goodie bag though, not worth the price and I rather not support them having raised it either.
Endgames: Much better than last year. Still dig the banging soundtrack. Love that there was an actual arena. A lot of the hallways and filler were cut out, more detail added. I loved the wall with all the different weapons on it. I also caught a glimpse of the poster for Dominatrish, the fan that won a contest put on by the Haunt facebook account, looked great. Seeing the golem from Labyrinth was awesome and it..kinda fit the setting I suppose. The talent really was lacking here though. Also love that they started streaming the maze online, would be great if they did something similar for other mazes in the future, preferably in color, with sound.
Dominion of the Dead: Wow, is all I can say. Maze absolutely delivered on all fronts. Just walking into it and hearing Host of Seraphim playing was one of my favorite moments at the event this year. I loved the transition from very straight, rigid architecture and geometry, to the jagged, angular, more abstract look of the latter sections of the maze, which went from white to black in stark contrast as the music gradually changed to match the shift in design. Was just a beautiful maze, I can't say enough good about it. Really hope they keep this one for another couple years, doesn't even really need much changed or added. The minimalist design worked.
Delirium: My favorite maze from last year returns, again being fed into from the maze preceding it, all the more fitting with the (say it with me) awesomely designed front facade. There's just something awesome about this one, it deals with a very different kind of horror. Everything just feels fleshy and organic, especially towards the beginning of the maze. Just give the walls a bit of a feel, the use of foam adds so much to it. The descent into insanity and the rather disturbing imagery of the maze standout above most others. From the monster under the bed to the room full of "bed bugs" and the creeping maggots, the roaches eating people, the weird and twisted designs, just an awesome maze. Talent were really on point this year too. Hope to see it again next year.
Uncle Willy's Slaughterhouse: Was a bit surprised at the name change, especially since I don't think we'll be seeing this maze again next year. That's both a blessing and a curse, as the maze was at its best this year, improving greatly over last year's lackluster run. Like most other mazes this time around, a lot of filler and empty halls were cut out. The story was actually added to this time as well. While I don't personally think the concept was that hard to understand originally, it all flows much better now. They also upped the gore factor a bit, cementing this as the bloodiest maze in Haunt history, at least to my knowledge. Still, the maze is well passed its prime, having been here at least a year or two longer than it needed to be. Let's get something new in its place next year.
Fallout Shelter: Surprisingly improved this year. The opening tunnels were much much darker than they were the last couple of years, which lead to some of the absolute best scares all night. Just did not see any of the monsters until they were right there in my face. Loved it. The maze overall did suffer from being shortened, but just a tad. Definitely its best year overall though. The designs are still great, always love the homage to The Thing, its a solid theme, I love having that radioactive horror concept at Scary Farm. Again though, its overdue for something new in its place.
Virus Z featuring Carrie: From being one of my most anticipated mazes in its premier season to being one of the mazes I most want to see gone next year. What the hell happened? Admittedly the talent this year, prior to the finale, were a bit better and actually acted like zombies for once. But this maze just does not do it for me. The overall set design is alright. The school bus always just seemed off to me. The finale was terrible and just did not fit the maze at all. I'm looking forward to the remake of Carrie, honestly I am, but you can tell Knott's received some sort of offer to feature it, and they simply shoe-horned it into the only maze it could kinda maybe sorta fit into. Weak. Put a bullet in its head, give it the double tap, this one is done.
Uncle Bobo's Big Top of the Bizarre: Another maze that is passed its prime that needs to put out to pasture. I've always loved the clown mazes. There's always so much energy and fun and excitement from the talent, the designs are colorful and creative. Bobo's has had a great run, I'm just tired of seeing the same thing every year from it with little-no real changes, save for making the Amazing Thingy more and more irrelevant. Sure the signs are nice and visible directing you towards it, but when you finally get to it..it's incredibly easy to miss, its not ever put front and center, and odds are you'll have to hold the line up if you want a chance to actually see it revealed. There were also very few monsters working the maze this year. A few got a couple good scares, but there just wasn't much to see here. I'm not saying to not have a clown maze next year, but if a year break is what it takes to get something fresh and new going, do it.
Ed Alonzo's Funhouse: Another break in tradition. After Uncle Bobo's we decided to go and hit Dia de los Muertos since it was right next to Trapped and our reservation was coming up relatively soon. I have no idea what the hell the deal was, but the line at Dia was insane, easily the biggest we'd seen at any maze all night. Dia is and was the worst maze at the even for the last several years, managing to be only marginally better than Lost Vegas, which also stank up the same location that the fantastic Malice in Wunderland used to be located. So opting to possibly hit Dia at a latter time, we checked in at Trapped, noting that it was still about 45 minutes or so until our reservation at 11, Ed Alonzo had a show going on at 10:30, we asked if we'd have time after the show to get back over to where Trapped was located to meet our reservation. They said it would be fine, we could be 5-10 minutes late, don't worry about it. So we went ahead and hit up the Ghoul Time Theater to catch a magic show. Not to discredit the performance, Ed was great, but the absolute best thing about the show was how nice it was inside the air conditioned building. As I said the show itself was wonderful, lots of laughs, and the tricks were fun to watch. Not a highlight of the evening, nor do I think we'll see another show again next year unless things work out in such a way, but it was fun.
Trapped: And now we get to the maze that has received the most hype and attention this year, both from me and my friends to people online. The touted VIP interactive maze that requires a $60 upcharge for a group of up to 6 people, with the signing of a waiver required before entering. I'm gonna try and not spoil too much because I feel that not knowing what is coming next really adds to the experience, and Knott's certainly seems to think so as this is the only maze that outright prohibits any and all video recording or photography. Upon signing the, rather humorously written, waiver you are led into a room and said to approach the podium. Here you are greeted by a cast member that explains what is going to happen, the safe word, that if any one member of the party uses it, the entire group will be asked to leave (which is really kinda ****ty, hopefully if they do this again next year they change that), and she went over the rest of the rules (more or less the usual for any Haunt maze). After that you are led into the first of several rooms where you are tasked with finding a way out. Usually through doing a task or solving a puzzle of some sorts. The maze will definitely play with some common fears, and it does get a bit..Fear Factor-y at one point. This was by far the highlight of the night for our group. Most of the reviews I've seen seem to think so as well, the only negatives ones I have read tended to be from people that have done other, similar mazes such as Sinister Pointe, that have been at it a bit longer and are more experienced in the interactive maze department. I'd love to see Knott's included similar elements into their other mazes. Do want to see this return next year, but they're going to have to completely redo the layout, no repeats of this year's rooms. Otherwise there is just not quite as much incentive to pay the extra for it. So yeah, worth the extra charge, but only if you can knock it down to about 10 per person or so. Any less than 4-6 people in your group I don't feel it would be worth the price.
Dia de los Muertos: Please Knott's, please for the love of God tear this thing out and never bring it back. I get it, Day of the Dead is an incredibly important holiday to those of hispanic heritage, you had to be careful with this maze to show respect. But it just did not make for a good maze. The theme is almost as weak as Lost Vegas was. There's some great bits of Mexican folklore that make for some awesome scares. But this maze completely misuses them. La Llorona is barely recognizable unless you know it is supposed to be her, and she's just kinda..there. The chupacabra is a poorly made, laughable pseudo-animatronic, it's a complete joke. The jungle section goes on too long and doesn't do it near as well as the swamp of Blood Bayou did. I am so beyond sick of this maze being here, give us something better next year, we kinda deserve it after so many years of this crap fest.
The Witching Hour: Short, sweet, and to the point. A pseudo-revival of the hangings of Haunts passed, the Witching Hour goes further into explaining the back story of the Green Witch and how she is, essentially, responsible for the fall of Calico and the emerging of nightmares and undead every autumn. Try and catch this if you can, odds are this was a one year show.
Haunt Unearthed: So we were getting towards the end of our night, our photo from Trapped (and thank you so much for making this free, though only one copy to share amongst a group of up to 6 people was a bit of a dick move) wasn't in the system just yet, so with time to kill we decided to hit this year's other likely one year only show. Billed as a showing of the history of the haunt..I would be doing you a disservice by going into more detail. Definitely worth checking it. Was really surprised to see something actually done within the Mystery Lodge, I kinda thought that was off-limits due to the entire history of the building.
After Unearthed we went ahead and ran through Pinocchio a second time before calling it a night. As I said, probably the best Haunt my group has had, likely ever.
Maze of the Year: Bit of a tossup between Trapped and Pinocchio. Its somewhat unfair to include Trapped since it is a VIP maze that requires an additional fee to run through, and it was something special. So of the standard mazes I have to give the nod to Pinocchio Unstrung.
Runner Up: Dominion of the Dead, just loved the atmosphere and design of this maze, the music really added to the experience.
Worst Maze of the Year: Dia de los Muertos. Seriously, get rid of it.