Per our usual custom, we hit Knott's Berry Farm's annual Halloween Haunt on opening night, and now we're here to tell the tale. Bottom line: 2008 exceeds the 2007 haunt; there is more than enough new to make the trip worthwhile.
As always, we recommend going early in the season. We arrived last night a little after 8:30, an hour and a half after the park opened. By the time we parked and purchased tickets, it was nine o'clock when we entered. Even so, we had more than enough time to hit every maze we wanted, catch a glimpse of the Hanging show, and even go through one maze a second time. Had we been so inclined, there was enough time to squeeze in a little more before 1:00am closing time, but we wanted to focus our attention on new attractions rather than revisiting old ones.
About parking: expect to pay $15 instead of $10 this year. Even though the park was not crowded, we were waved away from the front lot (which charges $15 for "Preferred Parking") to a side lot, which also charged $15 for "Preferred Parking," even though it was nowhere near the front entrance. (To paraphrase Arthur Dent in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, this is some new definition of preferred with which we were previously unfamiliar.) After walking halfway around the park to get in at the beginning of the night and halfway around again to get back to the car, we eventually realized that we were much closer to the park's back entrance. Thanks a lot, Knott's!
At least the ticket lines were short. Once inside, the usual virtues were immediately apparent, chief among them: instant scares, courtesy of a Scare Zone with free-roaming ghouls hiding in the fog. After the long drive to Buena Park, and the long walk to get into the park, we appreciate that the fun starts even before you get to the mazes. The Gauntlet does a good job of filling the usually kid-friendly Camp Snoopy with the denizens of darkness, eager to frighten the unwary. The Carnevil scare zone in the Boardwalk is less successful; haunted by clowns who seem to have wandered out from the nearby Killer Klown Kollege maze, the area is too bright and color, too full of happy people enjoying rollercoasters and fast food, to generate a spooky atmosphere. Best of all is the old Ghost Town. This one is incredibly dark - almost enough to make you loose your footing - and as if that were not enough, it is loaded with fog. The old Western buildings - a year-round ghost town, even during regular business hours - are a perfect setting for spectral cowboys lurking in the shadows.
One problem we always have to Knott's Scary Farm is that, even after all these years, we do not have the layout completely memorized, making it difficult to find each and every new attraction. The ticket-takers do not automatically offer you maps as you enter, but they are available if you ask, so make sure to get one.
In general, the new attractions are situated near the front entrance. Most of them are off to the right as you enter, in the general direction of Camp Snoopy, but if you head this way eager to sample all the new stuff, you run the risk of retracing your steps several times over: in several cases, you will pass the exit of a maze before reaching its entrances; so going through the maze actually takes you back in the direction from which you came, and when you come out the exit, you will find yourself having to walk over the same ground again in order to to continue in your original direction. In the case of something like the outdoor Cornstalkers maze, this is quite a distance.
On the other hand, the one advantage of circumnavigating the park in this counter-clockwise direction is that do not risk bypassing a maze. For example, if you were walking around the perimeter of the park in a clockwise direction, you would reach the Cornstalkers' entrance before you were in sight of the Quarantine maze, and the exit would let you out so far past Quarantine that you would not realize you had passed it.
Before getting into details, we have two minor complaints regarding the fast-food situation in the park: First, it is grossly over-priced. Second, we stopped at two eating establishment whose marquees prominently offered "Burgers, Fries, Shakes," but were unable to actually give us a chocolate shake. Thank god for the Johnny Rockets franchise, who came through for us at last!
As usual at Knott's there are thirteen haunted rides and mazes. This year, six of them are new, and those are the ones we headed to first. We will list them in approximate order of preference.
QUARANTINE: As is often the case, Knott's has a new maze tied in with the release of a new horror movie, QUARANTINE, which opens in October. This maze is located in the Fiesta Plaza that house The Grudge 2 last year; much as we liked the Grudge, Quarantine is a much more intense journey into fear. Although the concept is not clearly explained in the maze itself, the idea is that you are walking through a building where the inhabitants have been infected by a plague turning them into homicidal zombies; you actually get a sense of frantic urgency as you are literally rushed through the emergency outbreak. Unlike most mazes at Knott's this one is rather short, but there is no dead space - no long corridors between room with nothing happening) - you just blast through from one scene to the next.
Watch for yourself below...
LABYRINTH: This one is set in the Balloon Race that used to house the late, lamented Lore of the Vampire. Fortunately, Labyrinth recaptures some of the elegance and style of that excellent haunt (even some of the same props are on view). Instead of the blood-drinking undead, the landscape is filled with mischievous elves and fairies, but much of the seductive atmosphere remains. Also like Lore, Labyrinth is more eerie that shocking. Of all the mazes, it does perhaps the best job of taking you into another world. It should be especially appealing to fans who do not care to have creatures leaping out at them with chainsaw but prefer instead to experience some of the magic of Halloween.
CORNSTALKERS: This is situated outside, on the Stage Coach trail that served as the disappointing Dark Realm last Halloween. The problem with Dark Realm was that the open air provided few places for hidden frights, but Cornstalkers avoids that problem nicely - the entire area has been turned into a sort of outdoor corn maze, loaded with scary scarecrows around every corner. The feeling is a bit reminiscent of the outdoor sections of the old Haunted Vineyard; although Cornstalkers falls a bit short in comparison, it is quite effective, and the exterior setting provides a welcome change of pace from other mazes.
CLUB BLOOD: This is the new vampire maze to replace Lore of the Vampire. It abandons the subtle, seductive style of the old maze in favor of something louder and more brazen, a sort of vampire nghtclub with gyrating undead chicks with fangs performing pole dances as you walk through pathsways of chainlink fence. Overall, we think this approach to vampires is a bit too trendy to live up to Lore of the Vampire, but it is an interesting variation on the theme. Midway through the setting shifts to a hospital where, presumably, mortal women are giving birth to hybrid babies after a night out parying led to bodily fluids other than blood being exchanged. There is one particularly amazing pneumatic effect used here, to create the illusion of one of the vampire babies being born - and flying practically into your face. Tucked away in a quiet corner of the park, along with the Asylum, this one is easy to miss unless you are looking for it. Again, get a map!
ALIEN ANNIHILATION: This occupies the 3D laser tag area that featured a maze based on BEOWULF last year - which was fun but not particularly scary. We do not particularly think of aliens as appropriate for the Halloween season, which should be spooky rather than yucky. Nevertheless, Alien Annihilation has a lot to offer: it's a long maze, very extensive, with many monters and props (including a revamped giant mechanical monster seen in Dark Realm last year). The cast (as in most of the mazes) were very aggressive about scaring the customers, not just leaping out for a single scream but actively targeting and pursuing those who were easily intimidated.
THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE: Located in the main gate area that used to house Redbeard's Revenge, this is the only new maze that, in our opion, falls well short of the one it replaces. Maybe the pirate theme was getting old, but Redbeard offered something a bit different from the other haunts, a nifty nautical theme filled with ghostly pirate wenches and other details that set it apart from a typically gruesome haunt. Slaughterhouse feels like a generic riff on stuff like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE - we even saw a character in what looked like a Leatherface mask. Our personal predilections aside, Slaughterhouse is effectively frightening, and it offers what many of the best Knott's mazes: it is loooonnnnnnggggggg! You're not in and out so fast that you could have blinked and missed it; you're trapped in hell for what almost seems an intolerable stretch; by the time you start expecting the exit, you're only about halfway through, and there's lots more to come. If you're into gruesome horror, this one's for you.
OTHER MAZES: We regret skipping 13 Axe Murder Manor, but our path did not take us in that direction because we wre targeting new mazes. We could not resist another ride through Black Widow's Cavern if for no other reason than that it allows you to sit down while enjoying your scares. We made a point of hitting The Doll Factory because it was our favorite new maze of 2007. One year later, it is still creepy, thanks to the demented twist it puts on childhood themes of innocence, and much of it was revamped or re-arranged to avoid presenting a carbon copy of last year's presentation. Nevertheless, some of the novelty has worn off. We still enjoyed the haunt, but we did not find it quite so jaw-droppingly awesome as before. We ended up revisiting The Asylum because it is situated next to Club Blood, near the Ghost Rider roller-coaster (basically there is one line for both mazes; you go through Asylum first, and the exit lets you out near Club Blood's entrance) . When we first encountered Asylum in 2004, we were quite impressed, but its effects and settings have grown just a bit stale; its amusing to see the prop dummy coughing up blood again, but maybe it's time to try something new. We avoided Killer Klown Kollege and Lost Vegas in 3D, since neither one particularly impressed us in 2007.
One new turn of the screw we encountered this year was a tendency for ghouls to be lurking outside the exits of the mazes. Frightened customers emerge screaming, take a deep breath thinking it's all over, and - faster than a shrieking banshee - they find themselves shocked and startled by some creepy creature leapng out from around a corner. Maybe this is not new, just something that escaped our notice previously, but it is very effective.
Knott's Scary Farm remains the premier Halloween attraction in Southern California. The masks, costumes, and settings are no match for Universal's Halloween Horror Nights, but the sheer surfeit of scares packs more than enough shrieking entertainment to compensate for any slight technical deficiencies. Knott's has been presenting its annual Halloween Haunt for so long that at times, in the past, it seemed somewhat ossified: if you had seen it once, you did not necessarily need to see it again. Fortunately, 2008 offers six new mazes: all of them are good; none of them are duds. (Contrast this with 2007, which offered only four new attractions: one excellent (Doll Factory), two adequate (Beowulf and Black Widow's Cavern), and one disappointment (Dark Realm).
If you haven't been to the Knot's Haunt in a while, this is the year to go. Even if you went last year, it's worth a return visit.
UPDATE - MORE VIDEOS: We have added our Knott's Scary Farm Slaughter house video. As we post new videos from the 2008 haunt, they should show up here automatically.