Hollywood Gothique ranks Knott's 2019 Halloween Mazes from best to worst. Just kidding! There are no worst - they're all great!
The annual Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt continues to outperform rival Halloween theme parks with the humongous cumulative impact of its mazes, scare zones, and shows. With so much happening, it is virtually impossible to be unimpressed. What is truly impressive, however, is that over the course of the past five years or so, the haunt crew behind the event has focused their efforts on quality even more than quantity by reducing the number of walk-through attractions to the manageable number. These nine Halloween mazes are the equivalent of a baseball team lineup in which every player is a heavy hitter: with no pop flies, no grounders, and no strike outs, the batting average is truly incredible.
Let's take a look at how they stack up....
Rating Knott's 2019 Halloween Mazes: Newcomers
Knott's 2019 Halloween mazes include only two newcomers: both Origins: The Curse of Calico and Waxworks feature elaborate environments, inside and out, that fully immerse guests in their morbid worlds.
Origins: The Curse of Calico is great simply and solely as an entertaining haunted house attraction, but it has the added benefit of portraying a wrongful execution of a woman for witchcraft, which left a curse upon Calico, the real-life ghost town from which Knott's Berry Farm takes its inspiration. In other words, we now have an explanation for why the theme park is haunted by the Green Witch every Halloween.
The six-minute walk-through leads through numerous convincing settings, both indoors and outdoors: a court, a school room, a church, culminating in a cave festooned with skulls. The premises are well populated with the wretched victim's of the witch's curse. The witch herself, named Sarah Marshall, appears throughout via digital projection in mirrors or windows, until her climactic live appearance (floating overhead on a rig), reigning maledictions down upon her victims.
By taking a witch and putting her in an old western setting, Origins: The Curse of Calico combines elements of Knott's old Trick or Treat and Gunslinger's Grave mazes. The result is one of their best efforts, a worthy successor to Trick or Treat, whose absence this year would otherwise have been severely felt (at least by us). Thanks to Origins, we don't miss Trick or Treat at all.
Every Halloween at Knott's requires at least one good, grisly maze, and this year's entry is Waxworks. Though not flowing in blood, it is gruesome in its depiction of the old horror movie chestnut about a madman creating wax figures from the bodies of unwilling victims.
Clocking in at five minutes, this is another incredible walk-through,taking visitors through the wax museum's Chamber of Horrors before going behind the scenes to see the horrible reality behind the creation of the displays. The settings are not merely convincing; with their jumble of dangling chain, mannequin limbs, dismembered bodies, and other detritus, they convey a sense of descending into the disordered mind of the wax museum's owner. In a nicely deranged touch, the decor suggests the maniacal madman is truly a demented artist, sculpting his work from flesh and bone instead of clay. A multi-armed conglomeration of skulls, rib cages, and torso suggesting something akin to the Human Centipede.
Waxworks is marred only slightly (or at least it was on opening night) by performers who have difficulty competing with the settings. The rooms are haunted by numerous characters whose human faces have been replaced with wax masks, but they could think of little to say to us except the usual "Help me!" The resident mad genius's question to us - "What are you doing here?" - seemed misguided. Surely, the madman should have been proud to display his work to an appreciative audience, even if he ultimately intended to add that audience to his collection. Fortunately, the maze's overall effectiveness overwhelms any qualms.
Except perhaps for Uncle Willy's Slaughterhouse, we are not huge fans of Knott's grisly mazes (The Tooth Fairy, The Red Barn). Quibbles aside, Waxworks exceeds them all.
Rating Knott's 2019 Halloween Mazes: Sophomore Efforts
Back this Halloween are two mazes that made their debut in 2018: The Depths and Dark Entities. Both were major efforts, obviously intended for lengthy careers. How do they fare in their second season?
The Depths made an excellent debut in 2018, depicting an underground journey to hidden grottoes filled with mutants, sea monsters, a pirate ghost ship, and a giant cephalopod. This Halloween, an elevator has been added near the beginning. This is not merely the old-fashioned shaking room to simulate motion; it uses digital projection to show the rock face rushing by as the elevator takes you from the relatively safe upper mine to the lower caves. This also creates a situation in which guests travel through the maze in groups of a couple dozen instead of flowing through continuously.
The briny depths of this maze are as amazing as ever, but at least on opening night the underground lake inhabited by fish-men was bungled: without sufficient fog, the laser lights were unable to create the illusion of a green surface of water; consequently, the monsters "hiding" beneath the surface were clearly visible.
Otherwise, The Depths is just as effective as last year, its underground caverns inhabited by a variety of imaginative creates, the gargantuan tentacles around the pirate ship a truly awesome sight to behold. It may take only six minutes to walk through The Depths, but if feels like a descent into an antediluvian world, haunted by creatures that have no right to exist in the present.
Dark Entities was a Hollywood Gothique favorite last year, but it didn't click for everybody. We loved the environment and the sense of progression as we walked through the space ship invaded by some kind of alien contamination. Initially, the situation seems containable - robots and overhead audio give warnings and direct astronauts to the decontamination area - but it soon becomes apparent that the danger is spiraling out of control, and eventually everything has gone completely to hell, with the decontamination warning replaced by the threat of a self-destruct protocol.
The goal for this Halloween was to increase the "creepy factor." We found Dark Entities creepy last year, so we're not sure how much creepier it is now. Perhaps the issue is darkness, which masks many of the monsters in shadow; it's an effective technique for creating jump-scares, but it doesn't give viewers a good look at what's new and different. Nevertheless, this is still an obviously elaborate attraction, despite the slightly shorter length (under five minutes).
Our only quibble is that the escalating situation aboard the ship doesn't quite reach the climax it should. The self-destruct warnings are good, but you don't quite feel the sense of urgency you should. Maybe a low thrumming sound effect would help convey the imminent destruction and perhaps a character at the end so eager to jump ship that he accidentally jumps in the giant maw of the space creature near the exit.
Rating Knott's 2019 Halloween Mazes: Final Farewells
Sadly, this is the last Halloween for Special Ops: Infected and Shadowlands, two of Hollywood Gothique's recent favorites. Fortunately, both bid farewell with enough grace and style to leave us wistfully wishing for their return.
Shadowlands has always benefited from distinctive concept, taking inspiration from Japanese horror - not so much contemporary J-horror hits from a decade ago but more from classic films from the 1960s set in the Edo Period, when the misdeeds of samurai could give rise to all manner of yurei (literally "faint spirit"). Over the years, Shadowlands has been streamlined (no longer is there a prologue or forking paths), and there are fewer ghosts (we saw no sign of Oichi the Earless this year) - but most of the best scares remain, and one or two new ones have been added. We were particularly charmed by the silhouette of a Rokurokubi - a female yokai (apparition) who looks normal until her neck stretches to snake-like lengths, her head weaving and bobbing above her body.
After four years, it's probably time to shutter Shadowlands - it's on the shorter spectrum of Knott's Halloween mazes, and it seems slightly underpopulated this year as if the ghosts have been exorcised by news of its imminent demise. Hopefully, Knott's will develop a maze using similar themes in the future - perhaps in a contemporary setting instead of a period setting.
Special Ops: Infected is one attraction that has obviously improved over the years. When it made its debut, it used the available space around Camp Snoopy to good effect, but there was little construction or decor; the result was somewhat like a laser tag game in a scare zone. Since moving to the Mystery Lodge, Special Ops Infected has morphed into an epic depiction of a city under siege with set pieces - including a tank with a blazing cannon - which create a maze-like route for recruits to weave and doge among the living dead.
Special Ops: Infected is more exhilarating than frightening - an exciting romp that for once gives participants a chance to fight back against the monsters. Filled with zombies from start to finish, it saves the best for last - a mega-mutant roaring against the night sky just before you reach safety.
Rating Knott's 2019 Halloween Mazes: The Remainder
Paranormal Inc received a major renovation last year- a new ending. Nothing that radical has been changed this season, but with a Halloween maze this good, there's no need to fix what ain't broken. We did notice one new effect (at least new to our eyes): a lab-coated scientist, attempting to contain the supernatural outbreak, is unexpectedly whisked away by involuntary levitation - a startling effect that goes a long way toward solving the big challenge of this attraction, which is that it has the best opening scene ever - so good that it's difficult for the rest of the maze to top it.
The revised ending from last year adds an interesting twist, taking ghost hunters not into the bowels of Hades but instead into the halls of an asylum, suggesting that the entire experience has been a delusion in the minds of mental patients (i.e., us). Excerpt there's one of those "or is it all really real?" twists added on, featuring a mammoth materialization of the sort that gives Knott's a sense of scale seldom achieved by other Halloween haunts.
Dark Ride is as much fabulous fun as ever. We have always loved the way its concept justified the inclusion of elements we would otherwise prefer not to see in haunts, such as mannequins instead of actors - of course they belong in Dark Ride, because it depicts a haunted funhouse. The Elfmanesque music enhances the weird, wacky vibe, and the giant demon head and hands at the end are spectacular.
We love Pumpkin Eater because its theme utilizes Jack O'Lantern motifs that capture the spirit of Halloween. It's also sinister as hell. We're surprised to see that it's relatively short (less than four and a half minutes) because it is so full of sets, props, mechanical figures, and actors that it feels like a much longer maze.
Rating Knott's 2019 Halloween Mazes: Conclusion
Obviously, there is more to Knott's Scary Farm than Halloween mazes; there are scare zones, shows, and amusement park rides. For Hollywood Gothique, however, it's all about walking through walking through haunted houses, running through zombie infested cities, floating through alien-contaminated space ships, creeping through cornfields, and riding through a dark fun house. As you know, we're prone to nitpicking and quibbling, but the quantity and quality of Knott's 2019 Halloween mazes resist our best attempts to pick them apart for flaws. We had a great time. So will you.
More in this series:
Knott's 2019 Halloween Maze Ratings
Quantity and Quality form an unbeatable combination at this year’s Knott’s Halloween Haunt.
Knott’s Scary Farm 2019 runs through November 2 on select nights. Hours: 7pm to 1am weekdays & Sundays; 7pm to 2am Fridays & Saturdays. Knott’s Berry Farm is located at 8039 Beach Boulevard in Buena Park. Get more information here: knotts.com/play/scary-farm.