KNOTT’S BERRY FARM
Buena Park, California
Cedar Fair Entertainment
Knott’s Scary Farm (2023)
By Rob Milo for Screamscape
Knott's Scary Farm heads into its 50th year with a full head of steam, adding more frights, shows, and atmosphere than ever before. This year adds a number of nods to the past while continuing to build on its foundation for years of scares to come. There are more new additions than in quite a few years, so with one week remaining, here are capsule reviews of this year's latest and best experiences.
Cinema Slasher begins innocuously enough, in a movie theater lobby, with the buttery scent of popcorn wafting through the air, instantly lulling visitors into a state of comfort and anticipation of entertainment to come. Complacency gives way to abject terror as visitors are quickly thrust into scenes from classic 1980s slasher flicks, each one entered through its own silver screen.
In the first segment, domestic bliss is crudely interrupted by a masked knife-wielding slasher as he makes his way from room to room. Next, we enter a decrepit fishing dock. A maniac fishmonger is on the rampage, lurking around each corner of the pier. Visitors then segue into a summer camp gone horribly wrong. Finally, guests enter an abattoir with, shall we say, very lax health codes. This segment naturally culminates with a madman wielding the perhaps the largest chainsaw you've ever seen, in very close quarters. The exit leads guests through the trashed remains of the theater, populated by a large, living skull seemingly made up of old film reels.
Small nods to the classic genre are scattered throughout the maze, rewarding those willing to linger a bit longer. Occasionally, one may meet face to face with the ultimate villain of this maze: the projector-headed ghoul who lurks throughout. With nods to classic slasher flicks of the 80s, Cinema Slasher may be the most crowd pleasing maze this season. Make ours a double feature.
Knott's has finally introduced a maze within their Gore-ing '20s section, and it was worth the wait. Guests enter the Argive Hotel in the midst of a mysterious phenomenon with ties to the Devil's Elixir cocktail. An upright bass drone contributes a hypnotic David Lynchian tune as the continuous soundtrack of the hotel, sucking visitors into a state of constant dread as they explore the endless hallways and intimate chambers of the hotel strangled by strange occurrences.
The entire staff and guests of the hotel have seemingly gone murderously mad after ingesting a glowing green elixir. Only by venturing deeper into the bowels of the building are guests able to discover the root of the madness that has pervaded this space. Scenes get bloodier and messier as guests progress to the basement, revealing the hideous source of the insanity at hand.
The maze fits well with the existing Prohibition-era theme, one of the most disorienting of all on offer at Knott's. At one point, guests are guided "outside" of the hotel, seemingly many floors up from the lobby. From the lobby, lounge, kitchen, individual rooms, and finally into the leaky basement, all aspects of this hotel are revealed in sinister fashion. There's simply no escaping the delightfully tense mood of The Argive. As they say, you can check in...
Knott's has created an ode to haunts and mazes of its past, compiled into an epically long and ambitious experience. The Keeper lures you into his cathedral of terror, a living homage to Scary Farm's very first maze in 1977. A path through Mangler Asylum forces guests to bear witness to examples of the facility's unconventional practices.
Next up is a short trip on the Metro, disembarking straight into Club Chupacabra, an industrial nightclub where the creatures of the night go to get loose. From there we enter a circus of terror, with clowns, plushies, and day-glo rounding out the aesthetic. A trip through elephant stalls rounds out this section, with appropriate odors. Don't say we didn't warn you. The path leads up into the cathedral's clerestory where zombie brides aggressively vie for your attention. The maze wraps up suitably, in the graveyard, populated by monuments to Scary Farm's past haunts.
There is simply so much packed into Chilling Chambers, it's nearly impossible to capsulize, and is certainly the longest on offer, and worth repeating.
DR. CLEAVER RETURNS
A show making its return to the Bird Cage Theater after many years, Dr. Cleaver Returns revives the humorous and ribald stylings in service of a single magic trick at the climax. Bad jokes fly freely in service of cheap laughs, and at a short 15 minutes, it's easy to fit it into your night.
LE MAGNIFIQUE CARNAVAL DU GROTESQUE
Perhaps the most delightfully enjoyable show at Knott's this season is the Le Magnifique Carnaval Du Grotesque, a carnival style variety and stunt show with all the elements you could ever want: fire, twirling, dancing, sword-swallowing; it never ends. The presentation, which has an ongoing narrative involving a clown with a certain talent, climaxes with a daring Wheel of Death performance that never fails to delight and impress.
MUSIC, MONSTERS & MAYHEM
The Walter Knott Theater, longtime host for dozens of musical variety shows during the haunt season, hosts Music, Monsters and Mayhem this year, an ambitious and campy display of all that is possible in this realm. What begins as a "standard" cowboy themed Halloween musical is hijacked by a witch and quickly devolves into a bombastic display of silly irreverence, while displaying little reverence for the acts that have performed in the theater over the years. Not even Wolfman Jack, John Wayne, nor Elvira escape the quick flying rib ticklers. This makes Elvira's Mistress of the Dark show of yore look like a first graders' production of The Giving Tree.
This is most definitely not a family-friendly show, well, unless your family is well versed in innuendo, sexual and otherwise. This isn't to say that the show isn't delightful, just that it's more attuned to the ways of a debauched night in Las Vegas than the seemingly family friendly tone of a theme park. That said, the quality of this presentation is top notch, and worth the time investment, if only to rest your rickety bones for an hour.
Depending on your outlook, this year marks either the triumphant emergence from the ashes or the dreaded return from the dead for Scary Farm's long running humor/stunt show, The Hanging UnCancelled. This year, the show is located in the relatively private confines of the Wagon Camp arena. The first since the 2019 season, the show includes the standard skewering of pop culture figures in the search for the worst of the year. The "winner" gets humiliated and hanged; you know, for entertainment. The Hanging unabashedly continues to wave the flag for those whose sense of humor never really evolved beyond the fifth grade. It's lewd, crude, and rude. Though much of the content is fairly innocuous, there is a constant barrage of gunshots, sloppy punches and slaps to rival a Three Stooges marathon. And that's pretty much the audience it aims to reach. Dead or alive, famously or infamously, The Hanging lives on.
Waxworks, The Depths, Dark Entities, Bloodline, Grimoire, Mesmer, and Origins: The Curse of Calico soldier on, some rounding out their final year, so be sure to pop in to bid adieu before they disappear into the fog!
Knott's Scary Farm continues through October 31st.