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  1. #1

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    Knott's Trip Report

    I went to Knott's on Sunday for the Halloween Haunt. This was my first visit to Knott's overall in about four years and it's been six years since I've been to the Haunt, so I was excited. I flew out from Tucson to LAX on Saturday and saw my sister and her kids, including my new niece. I had a Haunt package at the Knott's Resort Hotel booked for Sunday (the middle priced one).

    I drove to Knott's early Sunday morning and two of my friends who live in Southern California met me there. The room wasn't ready yet, but we got our package things and had the breakfast buffet that morning, since they weren't going to stay down there. The breakfast was OK, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, french toast, cereal, and danishes. The presentation was nothing to write home about, but it was good enough. The package included the room, 2 tickets to the haunt, 2 breakfast buffets, 2 pre-scare dinners, 2 t-shirts, parking and 2 souvenir card keys that glow in the dark.

    My old tradition is to go to the park during the day and ride all the regular rides that aren't decorated for the haunt so we don't waste time on them at night. So we bought our tickets and got into the park around 10:15 (the park opened at 10). We did Ghostrider with a pretty short wait, maybe 10 minutes. It was a bit rougher than I remembered, but fun. Then we did the mine train and log ride. We went to XCelerator, then Boomerang, Supreme Scream, Montezooma's Revenge, Jaguar, Sierra Sidewinder, Bigfoot Rapids and Silver Bullet. I had never been on XCelerator or Silver Bullet before, so I was excited and I really liked both rides.

    We had a great time, although there two disappointments. There appeared to be a contest running between the coasters to see who could load and release a train the slowest. It took them over five minutes to load and launch the Boomerang train, and we were on the next one and it didn't go much faster. They were all slow, but Sierra Sidewinder took the cake. What should have taken us 5 minutes to get through took us 20. Part of it was the guests but a lot of it was the employees, too. I don't know why the whole concept of getting into, buckling a seat belt and pulling down a lap bar should be that different in a round car than a standard roller coaster car, but apparently it was confusing to a lot of people. Regardless, we still had a fun time. The second issue was that there are many spinning attractions and coasters at Knott's, but very few rides to give the stomach a break. We rode Jaguar for a break because it's so tame.

    We were done around 2:30 and got a boysenberry punch for the road and went to the hotel and got our room. They have a business center there and I went up and printed out my Southwest boarding pass (Boarding Group A!) for the next day and we watched football highlights and took a break. Our pre-scare dinner reservations were for 5:30 at the hotel. We decided to go down early and that was a good decision. When we got there, the room was nearly empty, as most people from the 3:30 seating were gone. They let us go on in, and we ate and were done around 5:30. As we were leaving, there was a long line into the lobby of the hotel, so we beat the crowd there. The dinner itself was OK, still not much on presentation (Disney has nothing to worry about there), but the food was good: Mrs. Knott's chicken, spaghetti, hamburgers, hot dogs, mashed potatoes, beans, creamed corn, salads and desserts, including boysenberry pie.

    At that point, we headed over to Knott's to wait to be let in early. Now we were told that it would probably be about 15 minutes early, which would have been 6:45. They let us in at 6:15 and we entered right by the entrance to the Feary Tales and Asylum mazes. The employee there said they'd be open in about 15 minutes. We checked to see if the rest of the park was open yet and it was still blocked off also by Ghostrider, so we went back and waited. So the mazes did open at 6:30 and we got right in. We did both mazes, then went to the Doll Factory in Ghost Town, 13 Axe Manor at Mystery Lodge, the Mine Train, Lost Vegas at the bumper cars, Killer Clown College by XCelerator, the Grudge 2 in Fiesta Village, Lore of the Vampire in Camp Snoopy, Beowulf, and Red Beard's Revenge at the front of the park. Other than about a 20 minute wait for the mine train, we had very little wait and were done with that by 9 PM. We went to watch the Hanging at 9:30 and by then the crowds were a bit thick, and my friends had work the next day so we got one last boysenberry punch and left.

    I've read some critical reviews from various sites and on here and I'll give my thoughts, but it has been six years, so I'm not nearly so critical about the talent and the monsters. I thought they did a great job and for the most part, the mazes were great. I thought Asylum was the best maze from beginning to end, the sets and monsters were great, and it was absolutely disgusting...which is exactly what I expect from a Halloween Haunt maze! The Doll Factory was excellent as well, although it sort of had a disappointing ending. 13 Axe Manor was outstanding. Part of why the Doll Factory and Axe Manor were so good was that right behind us were two younger women who kept screaming and getting scared. We're three middle aged guys so we rarely draw too much attention from the monsters, so it's fun to be at least close to people who get the monsters coming. My next favorite was the Grudge 2. I wish they would break up the number of people coming in at one time, but overall it was good, scary and the effects were outstanding. Lore of the Vampire was pretty good. Having good looking female vampires following you around might get old to some people, but I'm not one of them! The other mazes were OK. The only maze I didn't like much was Beowulf. Just not too many scares and the sets were just OK.

    We didn't ride the log ride at night. The line was too long and I didn't really see anything to grab my interest when we rode during the day, nothing that made us think we HAD to see it at night. I found the mine train disappointing as well. The first half of it was great...and then it just fizzled. They passed up great opportunities to have live monsters in there and didn't. And there just wasn't any scare factor after the first half of it. They had some great scares in the past on that ride, so that was a bit disappointing for me.

    The Hanging was OK. I enjoyed who got hanged, but for me it got old after about 5-10 minutes. It just got too repetitive to march one pop culture icon after another out there and then have them fake killed.

    Overall, I had a great time and my wife is the greatest person on the planet for letting me go (she hates scary things, so she had no interest in coming back). I've never stayed at the hotel before and it was nice, can't beat the location. The other great thing is that when I was checking hotels, the cheapest hotel I could find in Buena Park was a cheap looking motel for around $48 per night. But with the package, once you factor in the prices for parking, t-shirts, meals and Haunt tickets, the cost for the room was about $42 including tax.

  2. #2

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    Re: Knott's Trip Report

    This past weekend I visited both Halloween Haunt at Knotts and Halloween Horror Nights at USH. What follows is my review of each and how they stack up against each other...

    first off, Knott's!
    The evolving layout of the park since the change in ownership has definitely effected the impact of the classic scare zones and it seemed this year that the monsters (with the exception of a few of the old school ghost towners) lacked focus. There were a few scares to be had throughout, but gone is the feeling of dread that once acompanied a stroll through the darkened streets of ghost town or the gauntlet. The talent seems to be spread quite thin and at least a handful of the ghouls on duty were nearly devoid of energy, simply milling about the crowd, attempting feeble scares with shaker cans. I also couldn't help but notice that the selection of unique monsters populating the park seemed significantly decreased. I didn't see many of the familiar spooks I have come to know and love over the years. This brings into question the fact that perhaps with so many dates it's hard for Knott's to maintain a high level of talent throughout the entire event, which is a shame as this was clearly the cornerstone of the operation for so many years.
    Moving on to the mazes, after the surprise success of the Grudge 2 last year (I had low expectations for the maze and was blown away by what they put together) I was expecting similar improvements and inovations this year. For the most part, I was sadly let down. On one hand, the awfull trend of neon 3D mazes seems to finally be winding down (better late than never) but the overall maze design this year was uninspired, rehashing many themes from years gone by and not particularly well. It is also evident that many of the effects and mechanized gags from past years are showing their age and need to be repaired/replaced.
    Clearly the DIY, low budget nature of the Haunt has always been part of it's appeal and this fact has been offset by the sheer quantity of mazes and monsters in years past, but with the talent level weigning, less monsters in the park and continually dissapointing maze design, the cheap factor and lack of pollish are starting to stand out, and not in a good way.
    Let's take a closer look...

    Red Beard's Revenge
    When this maze made it's debut a few years back it turned out to be a gem. The sets and theming were absolutely great and the talent was top notch! In years since, the once grand sets and props have started to show their age and it seems like the park is less and less interested in improving this house and stocking it with the amount of scares it deserves. I would love to see Knott's do a slight redesign on this maze and fix up those sets. It's still a good maze but it has seen much better days.

    Beowulf
    So evidently Knott's couldn't find a horror movie to do a maze tie-in with this year and instead decided to go with this. Beowulf is obviously a hot property due to the upcoming film, but making a haunted house attraction based on a movie that is in turn based on an ancient epic poem about a viking warrior seems like a bit of a stretch - and guess what? it is. The set design is very nice and the Grendel puppets are impressive and frightening, but that's about it for this maze. The sound design is redundent and obnoxious, the lair of Grendel's mother is just full of hot chicks and not scary at all and the dragon effect at the end is really just kind of cheesey. Add to this the fact that there hasn't even been a serious advertising push for the film yet and you have a maze that lacks direction and theme aside from being tied in to a movie. The layout was good but I just couldn't help but think I was walking through an extremely budget version of the old Mummy maze at Universal.

    The Grudge 2
    I am actually not sure if they did scale this maze down at all from last year. The eye room did seem smaller and I remember more hair featured last year, but I also thought there were a couple of things that they added this time around. This maze is still a really good creepy haunted house experience. My only real gripe was that they didn't have the exceptional level of talent that this maze had last year, and that showed. Also, some of the animatronic gags have already started to show signs of extreme wear and tear, but that long-necked hairy head monster thing in the bedroom is still the scariest effect at the whole Haunt!

    Lore of the Vampire
    I have to agree with the folks over at Ultimate Haunt when they say that it is high time for Lore to take a hike. I can get behind the dedication that the vampire actors have to their roles and their maze, but seriously - vamps have been done to death and this maze offers precious little in the way of originality. It seems like this maze also shrinks every year as the props and set pieces are presumably canibalized for use on newer mazes, but as this has happened, Lore has all but lost it's thematic focus (which started out, years ago, as a sort of "vampires through the ages" idea) and is now just a hodgepodge of mismatched vamp sub-genres running into eachother and actors that seem more interested in portraying Anne Rice-inspired drama than scaring guests. Also, the sound design in this maze was simply god awful, which is inexcusable. I'm always game for a good vampire maze - just do something new with it for crying out loud!

    Feary Tales
    The heir apparent to the beloved Malice in Wunderland continues to miss the mark. The biggest crime here is that there are a handfull of great ideas in this maze that almost work but ultimately don't. The first problem is the severe lack of focus evident in maze design and execution. Knott's clearly can't decide if this is a "funny" maze or a "scary" maze. I'm not saying that funny mazes are not scary, they are still hanted houses set up to scare the guests, but there are clearly two types of mazes at Knott's in terms of thematic approach - the "funny" mazes (i.e. Killer Klowns, Hatchet High, Terrorvision, Lost Vegas) are designed to distract and entertain using morbidly comedic gags and/or visual ironies that advance the plot. The "scary" mazes (i.e. Asylum, Malice, Axe Murder Manor, Doll Factory) focus on disturbing imagery and more traditional gore and shocks to set the tone and advance the story line. This is not to say that the two themes do not cross over (they do more often than not) but the approaches are usually clear and provide clear thematic focus to the mazes. That said, Fearytales falls somewhere in between and never really finds it's voice. Most of the sound design is on the creepy side and some of the visuals are clearly meant to disturb, but the overall tone of the maze and the inclusion of many bad puns and a few instances of comedic sound clips and visual gags puts a lot of the rooms squarely in the realm of comedy. This dual nature, as well as room design and props that look like reused cast-offs from Malice adds up to Fearytales falling short of the mark once again. This maze also suffers from the same problem that plagued the (thankfully) extinct Terrorvision - there are some pretty clever horror spins on beloved classics (here fairy tales, as opposed to tv shows) but the rooms are not set up properly and the humor as well as the potential for a great scare is too often lost, leaving us with a series of empty scares and bad puns. I'd love to see this maze come back as a NON-3D house with more focus and better continuity.

    The Asylum
    This house has been a standout since it first showed up a few years back, maintaining a high level of quality despite only minor overhauls. This year, the sets are still solid but the maze seems far more anemic and slap-dash than it ever has. This is likely due to the departure of several effects and gags to other mazes (most obvioulsy the Doll Factory) and a scaled-down layout that fits in a seemingly new storage facility behind Ghost Rider. The layout has been changed slightly and the maze seems to have lost some of it's intensity because of this - particularly the formerly menacing foyer, which has now been split into several smaller rooms and thus lost much of it's disturbing grandeur. I did like some of the new insane scrawlings written on the walls and the sound design was much improved over last year (if a little too busy and loud), but the general feel of the maze and all it's rooms seemed scaled down from previous years and the talent was not up to their usual insanity levels.

    13 Axe Murder Manor
    Clearly still the most solid maze overall in the whole Haunt, the Manor includes almost everything that makes a Knott's maze great. It doesn't seem to have changed in terms of layout at all since it's first appearance (except perhaps the ending rooms - after you exit the actual manor) and this is a good thing. By now we have all but forgotten that many of the rooms are just transplanted from the old Blood Bayou maze, and they seem perfectly at home in the manor (particulary the old classic where the woman is in bed and her guts are strung up all over the room) and the climactic dining room scene remains one of the coolest set pieces ever in a maze. The exterior of the house is also easily the best Knott's has to offer and the inclusion of a great new animated gag where the weak ghost effect used to be is a great touch (and probably the coolest animated prop Knott's has unleashed outside of the Grudge maze). The talent, while rather sparse, was top notch and seemed properly motivated. My only real gripe with the manor (besides the fact that the ending is kind of a let down after the killer dining room scene) is that while the sound design is often quite inspired, it seems a little uneven, and almost non-existant in some rooms. The manor is still kicking and Knott's should really look to this maze as a template for new houses in the future.

    The Doll Factory
    Of all the new mazes this year, this was clearly the best. When you realize that the competition was Killer Klown College and Beowulf, this is not such an impressive claim. That said, the Doll Factory did show some promise in terms of design and such. First of all, this maze featured easily the best sound design of any maze in the Haunt, if not in recent Haunt history. The detail and placement of the music and sounds perfectly set the extremely creepy tone and move the story along nicely, showing amazing restraint and proving that when it comes to maze sound design, less is more (take a note, Asylum!) As far as gags go, the maze has basically just recycled bits from the Asylum and has also seemingly highjacked some of it's characters, but this isn't really a bad thing as the new setting is welcome for surgery gags, metal fencing and those strobe-lit plexiglass cages (that are usually good for a solid scare) and the costumes were themed better and more specifically than at most of the houses. The actors in this maze were strangely varied - as many people mentioned, the living doll at the entrance to the walk-through doll house was exceptional (and I'm pretty sure an actor stolen from the Grudge 2) and a few of the creepy factory workers had their bits down, but a lot of others seemed confused as to weather they should go for hardcore scares or just sort of act menacing and creepy. Personally, I would have liked to see more of the former, as the maze was certainly not lacking in creepiness but did leave something to be desired in the intensity department. Also, there was clearly a good sense of story and development through the house, but without any sort of set-up or backstory the best we can do is come up with our own ideas about the creepy factory and whoever is in charge of the madness. With just a little work this maze could kick some serious *** - I would actually like to see Knott's get rid of the tired Asylum and go ahead and dedicate the resources and talent to this up-and-comer.

    Killer Klown College
    I'm gonna come right out and say it - this maze is a huge stinker. I was expecting a lot out of this idea - an obvious ploy to combine gags and elements from the beloved (and recently absent) killer klown mazes and the deviously entertaining Hatchet High, but somehow they managed to only include the worst of both and create a maze that isn't even really worth the time it takes to go through it. The actors seem to realize that these themes are tired out and not well put together, and their apparent lack of enthusiasm hinders the maze further. The biggest problems with this house are the poor sound design, lazy set design and dressing, lack of any sort of originality and a complete void where humor should be. Unlike Fearytales, Klown College is intent on being a "funny" maze (and having been born of Hatchet High - my personal favorite funny maze ever - it should have been a slam dunk) but really includes no obvious humor. On top of that, there are no great scares throughout and the whole maze just seems limp and uninspired. Gotta say that this is the most dissapointing maze this year, with a lot of potential wasted. Knott's needs to go back to the drawing board when it comes to the clowns. I know people love them, but much like the vampires, they are a tired theme that needs a complete overhaul.

    Lost Vegas
    Why on earth they decided to bring this atrocity back to the Haunt is beyond me. I really can't believe that other posters were actually okay with this poor excuse for a maze either, as it was worthless when it debuted last year and it may have gotten worse this tikme around. Much like the new Killer Klown College, this is a maze that goes for "funny" and fails to hit the mark in every way possible. Even the bad puns that adorne the que are ignored inside the maze in favor of half-assed theming, bad paint jobs, a handfull of bored monsters and a variation on the polka dot room that looks like a 4th grade class put it together. This is also a sad case due to the fact that making a horror-themed Vegas seems so obvious and entertaining, but the result is nothing short of mind-numbingly dull. The whole idea of the 3D mazes is outdated and clearly on it's way out, and Vegas is the perfect example of why. My biggest complaint with this maze though is the horrendous sound design. Only Lore of the Vampire had worse sound this year! What I want to know is why they don't use the Dead Kennedys version of Viva Las Vegas - which is way creepier than the version that they use. Bad maze. Time to let it go, Knott's. The bumper car area deserves better.

    Black Widow Cavern
    I have never been all that impressed with the mine ride during the Haunt. I have always found the regular day time version way more unsettling, while the halloween version always seems cheesey and underthemed - kind of like they gave a bunch of elementary school kids access to some spooky skeletons and said "go crazy in the mine ride, kids!". It was formerly a really weak rip-off of Army of Darkness but without any of the scares or humor from the film. Now it is a poorly themed rehash of those old inexplicably awfull Curse of the Spider mazes they did for a while. Eitehr way it's the same lame stuff and there aren't nearly enough scares. Those boxes with the pop doors are pretty good but only one of them had a monster lurking within so they were basically a wasted effect. The spitting widow gag and the giant spider in the abyss were also pretty cool, as were some of the gore gags, but the ride is so chock full of bad rubber and stuffed spiders and non-themed dummies that it makes the good stuff seem less impactful. If there is no line, go ahead and hop on just to see a couple cool effects. If the line is long whatsoever, don't waste your time.

    Pyromaniax
    A lot of people are complaining about the log ride and it's new re-theming. Personally, I don't really see what the big deal is. Sure, the theming is more sparse than it was for Red Moon, and a little more storytelling might be nice (and maybe a little less techno music) but the real reason you ride the log ride during Haunt is the non-stop barrage of inescapable scares! I will say that for the first half of the ride the scares come often and are better than in years past (the actors were lunging convincingly close to the log, in better positions and didn't just stick to a simple rattle of the shaker can) but the second half of the voyage is nearly devoid of scares altogether - which is simply lame. This is where the lack of theming really shows, as the Red Moon years at least gave you something cool to look at during the latter parts of the journey (i.e. the big wolf mouth and such). I would have liked to see more actuall fire effects, as the name of the ride wasn't particularly fitting to red hazard lights, and aside from that it was pretty much just by-the-book hillbillies. Not particularly horrible, but the log ride has been better.

    So that's pretty much it for Haunt. I thought that while there were some definite high points, the steps backward far outnumbered the steps forward, and the positive momentum created by last year's additions was halted a bit. Hopefully Knott's will learn from some of their miscues this year and come back next season with a stronger maze line-up and better ride themeing.
    Tomorrow I will be back with my full maze review of USH Halloween Horror Nights. I really think Knott's could learn a lot from that event this year and maybe attack next year's haunt with a similar quality over quantity approach.

  3. #3

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    Re: Knott's Trip Report

    all this reading with out pictures?? ok, I will read but how about some photo's ??

  4. #4

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    Re: Knott's Trip Report

    Seriously detailed TR

  5. #5

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    Re: Knott's Trip Report

    Quote Originally Posted by Hakuna Makarla View Post
    all this reading with out pictures?? ok, I will read but how about some photo's ??
    Sorry, forgot to bring the camera.

  6. #6

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    Re: Knott's Trip Report

    Thank you Neon and Horror for those GREAT reports. Very useful and detailed.
    Please consider the environment before printing useless emails

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