The two major theme parks launch their battle for Halloween supremacy.
The Halloween season begins in earnest tonight with the opening of the two major Halloween theme park attractions in or near Los Angeles: the Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt in Buena Park and Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood. Also opening today is the Halloween Harvest Festival at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, which includes the Fright Fair Scream Park at night.
The simultaneous opening of Knott's Scary Farm and HHN is unprecedented. In the past, the theme parks usually coordinate their efforts to avoid stepping on each other's toes: Knott's Berry Farm opened its Halloween Haunt on the last Thursday in September, and Universal opened its Halloween Horror Nights on the first Friday in October. However, it is no secret that the upstart challenger Universal has long had plans to go after long-standing champion Knott's audience, and this year's scheduling appears to be a deliberate head-to-head confrontation - a suspicion underlined by Universal's advertising tag line, which sounds like a deliberate tweak at the competition. Knott's motto is "All You Fear is Here." Universal's rejoinder is "What Fear Fears Most." (When I asked someone at Knott's whether this intentional on Universal's part, the answer I got was, "You'll have to ask them!")
The two theme park events may intend to battle it out for Halloween supremacy, but that's a good thing for fright fans, who can enjoys the horrors offered at both attractions. However, there is not much new at either location for 2010. Universal is resurrecting Freddy Krueger, Jigsaw, and Jason Voorhees, all of whom have appeared at previous haunts; they are also sticking the obnoxious and rather passe Chucky on the back lot tour. The year-round House of Horrors maze has been decked out as something called "Vampyre: Castle of the Undead," but I'm guessing that only the characters have changed; the walk-through's permanent sets probably remain the same. The only completely new attraction is a scare zone haunted by La Llorona, based on a Mexican legend about the crying ghost of a bride; the character appeared last year in Knott's Scary Farm's Dia De Los Muertos Maze, which is returning for 2010.
The problem with this kind of repetition is that, due to space limitations of the Universal Studios theme park, once the available spaces are taking up by returning attractions, there is little else to offer, except for some scare zones and Halloween-themed shows (like the annual Bill & Ted spoof of pop culture). If not for the long lines, you get could get through Halloween Horror Nights in a couple hours.
Meanwhile, not much has changed at the Knotts Halloween Haunt, either, but at least there is more to see. Two mazes have been added: Viruz Z (a town turned into cannibal zombies, in the Fiesta Plaza) and Fallout Shelter (3D mutants in the Lake area of the park). Also, the Log Ride has been transformed into Sleepy Hollow Mountain, featuring ghosts, ghouls and the Headless Horeseman. However, this is less of a problem for the Knotts Halloween Haunt, which is so full of walk-through mazes and rides that visitors frequently cannot get to everything in a single night, depending on the lines. So, if you missed 2009's debuts (Dia Del Los Muertos, Lockdown the Asylum, Terror of London, and Uncle Bobo's Big Top of the Bizarre), you have a chance to catch them this year, along with such returning old-timers as Labyrinth, Club Blood, The Slaughterhouse, The Doll Factory, and Cornstalkers.
We will reserve final judgment until we have sampled the terrors that both Universal's Halloween Horror Nights and Knott's Berry Farm's Halloween Haunt have to offer, but if we had to measure our anticipation level right at this moment, we would be leaning slightly toward the established champion, if only for the sheer quantity of frights available.
In case you cannot make it out to either Halloween theme park this weekend, there are other Halloween events in Los Angeles that are open for business. The Halloween Harvest festival has already begun its family friendly daytime activities; as sun sets, the fest's Fright Fair Screampark will come alive, offering scarier entertainment for adults. Returning are the Factory of Nightmares walk-through haunted house and the Creatures of the Corn trail. New for 2010 is another walk-through scare attraction, Insane Reaction.
Finally, if you are a brave soul eager to explore previously unknown haunted territory, there is the new Forbidden Haunt, which you can find listed on our Halloween Haunted Houses page. We have no idea quite what is in store for those who brave its terrors, other than that they are titled "Haunted Carnevil" and are set inside a large circus tent, which we recently passed. Although the killer klown cliche has been a bit overdone of late, we appreciate the authentic setting and hope to see whether something new can be achieved with the theme. We will let you know...
NOTE: The calendar on Forbidden Haunt's website originally indicated a start date of September 24. However, the date has been changed to Thursday, September 30. We have contacted the owners to confirm the change.