KNOTT’S BERRY FARM
Buena Park, California
Cedar Fair Entertainment
Review by: Steve Rowin
Knott’s Scary Farm 2013
Knott’s Scary Farm is in full swing! With Halloween is just four weeks away and the haunt staying open until Nov. 2nd there is still plenty of time to experience all the fun! This year the Knott’s team has produced 6 new Mazes and with 6 returning mazes plus the return of the Elvira show and The Hanging there is a lot to see. I myself haven’t been to the Scary Farm since the late 1990’s. It’s been so long for me that the “new” Dominion of the Damned maze was familiar as the last time I went it was Dominion of the Dead! Overall, Knott’s has grown up a lot since my last visit. At that time Universal had just restarted doing their Horror nights and the quality of their production set a new standard never seen before. They sort of left Knott’s mazes looking a lot like a yard haunt with lots of black painted plywood and cheap masks. For everyone who hasn’t been to Knott’s in the past few years, they have massively stepped up their production quality. Let start off with the scare zones!
I love the Scary Farm scare zones because they pump so much fog into those areas that you literally cannot see past your own face. That sort of sensory deprivement alone makes almost everyone uncomfortable. Of course you’re not alone in the scare zones! The monsters roam the entire park but they get an unprecedented amount of blood curdling screams deep in the darkness of the fog. The monster team appears to be highly trained to me. They are highly motivated and all seem to have a unique personality. Some make bird chirping sounds, other snarl. They also have perfected the ability to scare you even when you see them coming using a variety of techniques which I was very impressed with. I marveled at how they would blend into a group of people walking, crouch down low and pop out at someone coming from the other direction. They were so good that I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a manual outlining all the methods to get a scream. The quality of their make has also improved immensely over the years so that just being in the presence of them is intimidating compared to the old days when they had to solely rely on the element of surprise and loud clank of a shaker can!
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the Hanging or any of the smaller entertainment going on at various stages throughout the park. I really feel like you could spend two full nights at the Farm and have plenty to do, especially if you get on rides as well.
Mirror Mirrror - I wanted to save the best for last to write about but even days after experiencing it I’m still blown away by Mirror Mirror. By the way this maze was NOT on the media tour and had a huge line so most of the media missed first hand experience with this one. The story goes that the “Green Witch” has cursed a mirror and anyone who looks into it gets trapped inside forever! That story is important to connect the dots after you experience Mirror Mirror for yourself. Without given the secret away, I’ll simply describe my experience, if you listen close you may be able to draw some conclusions on it’s secret. The door opens and I see a long reflection of mirrors, same as you would see if you put your head between two mirrors and got that infinite reflection. I walk in turn left, turn right and realize I’m lost. Ok, let’s check this place out I think to myself. Mirror Mirror is much like a Funhouse mirror maze but done right! It’s dimly lit and there are no hints by looking at the floor where mirrors are or are not. To make your experience even more terrifying there is an ominous soundtrack playing that quickly becomes repetitive only adding to the fear you will soon develop. So as I’m walking I come across strange looking creatures just roaming around. I move past them and keep searching for my way out. I soon see the person who entered behind me walking towards me. When we meet I find that there is a piece of clear glass between us. Ahh fun! Ok moving on nobody else around me. Walk left, walk right, it all looks the same. Ok, I’m ready to get out of here! Keep walking and walking and walking. Anxiety levels are rising! I’m ready to get out, where's the exit. Then, the lights go out and strobe lights flash everywhere! If there was any chance of seeing a path out there isn’t anymore. Thankfully the strobe lights were short lived, like being able to see was of any help anyway. Now my survival skills set in and I began looking up at the ceiling for clues out since that was the only part not disguised to disorientate you. Shortly after that moment one of the roaming creatures pointed a direction and led me out of Mirror Mirror. Awesome, I challenge anyone to find their way out in less than 2 minutes!! How do you scare someone without a jump scare? Have the Green Witch trap them in a mirror! Needless to say I think this maze is worth the wait and I recommend getting to this one first since they limit each group going in. (Someone has a Youtube of this maze if you can’t get to the farm)
Dominion of the Damned - As I mention, this maze was clearly based on the same concept as Dominion of the Dead. I really like both the old and newer versions of this theme. If you’ve missed this one in years past, it’s based on straight up gothic vampires out for blood. The sets are dark with lots of gray stone work and loaded with vampiresses. Yes, mostly female vampires using their age old sex appeal to lure in victims. I’m not going to lie, I was inspired to become a vampire! As for the production, it was good with lots of detail in each of the scenes. I think this is one of the only mazes that doesn’t use the jump scare tactics. It’s much more about the fear of these vampires biting you. Because of this there seems to be a lot of detail and effort put into the makeup and costumes of the characters. I’ve always like this maze for the reason that it’s more of a theatrical show than a pure jump scare maze. Some think it’s boring but it’s classic horror in my opinion.
Forevermore - Based on an Edgar Allen Poe storyline, I walked in knowing nothing of the theme or related story. Hmm strange bird people. Dead people. We’ve clearly come across a psychotic episode of sorts! As you walk through Forevermore there is narration of a story that I didn’t pay word for word attention to but described a man going mad or creating something that caused the mayhem. One thing noted was that the quality of this maze was top notch! I’d guess it had a large budget compared to some of the others. A few scenes that stood out were a room with a large pendulum swinging back and forth over a table with someone about to get sliced, the hospital morgue like room with strobe lights and walls that push in on you and the ending scene of a nightclub full of freaky bird people that suddenly goes from quiet to loud dance club then back to quiet. Great maze.
Gunslinger’s Grave - In this one we are treated to an adventure through the wild west! They didn’t leave anything out of this ghost town! Don’t worry there is a saloon and it’s open but the bartender is dead. That doesn’t stop him from serving drinks though! As we wandered around indoor and outdoor areas we plenty of cowboys made it clear we were not welcome in their town! Somehow I ended up in the brothel and a couple of lady’s were looking for work only for a cowboy to remind me not to mess with them. I think the strong point on this maze was that characters played their roles very well and had lots of interaction with us. For me fear factor on this maze was low, production and staff quality high.
Black Magic - Sounds cool! I had high hopes for this one being that I’m a big fan of Magic. The entrance to this maze won best use of new technology in my opinion as it featured 3D graphic video mapping. Google it if you don’t know what it is. So we enter the twisted world of Houdini who is performing Magic. It doesn’t appear he is doing magic as the girl in the box actually got cut in half and her intestines were hanging out! Lots of detailed rooms and bizarre, creepy magic themed elements from room to room. We see classic tricks like the straight jacket escape underwater which were very cool. In the grand scene we see Houdini in wrecked old theater stage where he levitates over us across the theater (on a cable). In the final scene we come across a person strapped to a spinning wheel with knives being through at her from an invisible Houdini. As you are forced to walk between her and the ghost throwing knives you feel and hear the knives flying passed. Two thumbs up to the designer of this maze for use of technology to maximize impact. As with many of the newer Mazes I couldn’t help but feel that the Scary Farm team was reaching for that high production standard and achieving it. On the downside, by always trying to tell us a story they seem to be missing out on opportunities to use physical scare techniques used in the past perfected when the story was far more simple or non existent. Sort of the exact opposite of the scare zone monsters which have evolved to get more scares, Black Magic is an impressive sight to see but failed to suck me in, chew me up and spit me out.
Trapped - Last of the new mazes, I didn’t get to see this one but it is an upsell maze where you and a few of your friends enter and have to solve puzzles and do scary things to get out. I’m told if anyone in your group asks to get out early the whole group has to quit! You can do this one for $60 per group and you get scheduled with a start time to arrive at the maze.
Trick or Treat - I really liked this one, it reminded me of all the horror movies that take place on Halloween where the creatures hide in plain sight. In Trick or Treat we enter a classic cartoon looking haunted house. The Scary farm team did a fantastic job on the opening room with a grand staircase filled with pumpkins. As we go through the house we are met by many different costumed children but they are clearly something much scarier under their costumes. Room by room creepy things happen and the Green witch clearly lives here. My favorite scene was a room where the witch dashes towards us and she is 7 feet tall. Very very scary! This one wraps up with us being held in the final room where the witch appears high above the room casting spells and flys across our heads on her broom. The room flutters with special effects and it’s sort of a grand finale to the maze. A+
Endgames: Warriors of the Apocalypse - I wish Tina Turner would have popped out and sang return to Thunderdome but it didn’t happen. This haunt was centered around an industrial setting and featured a massive 25 foot tall robotic creature. I noticed a theme on these returning mazes in that they all use animatronics or sequenced show elements it clear they took a very theatrical approach to designing this era of mazes. Great costumes lots of chain link fence set to metal music. Not one of my favorites but plenty of scares in this one!
Delirium - If any haunt at the Scary Farm reminded me of a typical haunt this one was it. It had some theme or convoluted story but it boiled down to scenes like bugs eating a body and the like. Based on the entrance I thought it would be about aliens and maybe it was but nothing “jumped” out at me! Sorry this one didn’t do much for me but it has a little bit of everything in there.
Pinocchio Unstrung - There is a cool story behind this haunt but just walking in you’d never get it. Big angry Pinocchio goes crazy and is slashing up little boys and girls! It’s like Neverland has become a Psycholand! Again we see a giant animatronic Pinocchio, not so scary, but more something to marvel at just by the sheer size of it. Why is Pinocchio so mad? He didn’t get his final wish from the Blue Fairy.
Uncle Willy's Slaughterhouse - You know the story! There’s a big BBQ planned and we need more meat! Entering the Slaughterhouse was unreal. Kaos has struck this slaughter house and the psycho paths are hungry. Let’s just say they were motivated to catch you cage you then cut you up and BBQ you. Intensity was off the scale in this haunt and with a simple premise I didn’t feel like I was a guest at a theatrical performance but more a target of cannibals. This was in #2 in my top four with Forevermore being third and Trick or Treat being fourth.
All in all Knott’s Scary Farm has a lot of bang for your buck with 12 Mazes, the upgraded Maze and of course seeing Elvira’s show. As always if you can spend the extra on a VIP package it’s a nice touch to make a event of the evening. I could easily spend three nights to see and do it all.
For Screamscape.com - Steve C. Rowin