Last night, Wednesday, August 26, was the annual preview for the Knotts Berry Farm Halloween Haunt. Fans and members of the press were treated to a one-hour presentation inside the Charles M. Shulz Theatre, in which this year’s attractions were teased, followed by interview opportunities with the event’s creative team. The entire lineup for Halloween 2015 was revealed, with on emphasis an new and upgraded attractions, several of which had not been identified in previous press releases. This year’s Knotts Scary Farm will feature 10 mazes, 3 scare zones, 2 live shows (including the return of Elvira), and a new version new haunted overlay on the Calico Mine Ride.
The new mazes are Dead of Winter (previously announced) and Paranormal Inc. Case #13 – The Haunting of Hayden Hill. The latter is a spoof of reality-show ghost hunters, set inside an asylum, with interactive elements and multiple branching story lines. The former is a wintery not-so-wonderland, populated by an evil Snow Queen and her army of resurrected Vikings. The novelty arises from the use of a bright setting – as opposed to the shadowy darkness of most Halloween walk-throughs.
Maze creator Timothy “Gus” Krueger told the assembled crowd that he was not afraid of a well-lit haunt, because the bright sections would contrast with darker elements; also, the white snow would highlight the bright red blood.
” It’s not all white everywhere,” he explained to me later. “It’s playing with contrast. Every maze should have peaks and valleys. This is just a way of bringing those peaks and valleys into the storytelling – going from the overwhelming brights to the dark darks. I’d always wanted to do something like that; I thought it was a missed opportunity that we didn’t play with brights like that.”
Krueger desire for a bright setting led to the notion of a winter theme. “Thinking ‘white,’ snow-based was best, and then of course with all the Snow Queens in pop culture these days, it was a matter of going back to the root story and seeing if there was anything I wanted to do. The root story is pretty messed up – it’s not this friendly thing. I thought, I’m going to take that and make it even more messed up, and bring in other things that are snow-based, like Wendigo and a dead Viking army. People expecting this to be a cute little parody – that’s not what they’re going to get, not at all. I could do that, but I’d really rather kill things!”
Knott’s management was on board with the novel idea, choosing it from several possibilities. They approved it, and I’m pretty excited because it’s a long shot,” Kruger said. “It’s not something you would expect, but it’s definitely going to be unique and awesome.
The other new attraction is My Bloody Clementine, set in the Calico Mine Ride, which (good news for you hardcore horror hounds) will feature live talent for 2015 – something not seen in the ride for several years. The Mine Ride also features upgraded audio technology and video mapping, allowing for a more intricate story-telling approach.
Design specialist Daniel Miller told me that filling the vast cavernous space of the Calico Mine was not as daunting as it sounds, because, “The theme is so good. It’s set in a mountain town, so filling the mine ride was just a matter of putting the characters in,” adding that there is a visible narrative progression, as the star character Clementine “goes from innocent to more demonic. ”
Of course the highlight of any Halloween version of the Calico Mine Ride is the main cavern, which gives riders a breathtaking view of an enormous space that needs to be filled with something huge if it is to register on the senses. Miller was circumspect about what to expect this year: “I want to keep that secret. It’s definitely creepy, with a lot of effects.”
As always, the train ride itself adds its own quality to the scares, forcing riders to move at a predetermined pace, with no chance to duck the monsters or run away. “That makes the Mine Ride unique, because you are travelling through the scares,” said Miller. “In a walk-through maze, you pause and stare, but the timing is critical in Mine Ride. It’s very conducive to scaring.”
That’s all the new attractions, but fret not, for several of the returning mazes will be revamped this Halloween. Black Magic, Pinocchio Restrung, Forevermore, and Voodoo: Order of the Serpent will have new Skeleton Key Rooms (in which guests who pay an extra charge get more intimate, small-group thrills). The Tooth Fairy will have a new Skeleton Key Room and a new ending. And Trick or Treat will feature a never-before-seen potion room and a bewitched attic.
Most exciting of all, 2014’s hit debut, Special Ops Infected returns as Special Ops Infected: Patient Zero, with a tour of duty doubled in length and double the undead.The interactive zombie-shoot will also feature a new “Battle Rifle Pro,” which provides real-time scoring of the shooter’s zombie-kill-count – and also keeps tabs on the shooter’s health.
The additional interactivity sounds great, especially the real-time scoring (I’ve always suspected that few if any players actually hit their targets in these zombie-shooter attractions), but I couldn’t help wondering whether some particularly bad marksmen might rack up a kill-count of zero, “die” from low health halfway through the course, and slam the rifle down in frustration, shouting, “This is bogus!”
“Well, I really hope not!” said design specialist John Cooke. “There’s going to be so many frickin’ zombies that I really hope you can hit something; as long as you’re pointing somewhere and pulling the trigger, you should be all right. We did want to add in that sense of urgency and distress, so we added that accountability factor. There are re-spawn checkpoints, so if you get taken out, you can get back in [the game].”
Cooke added that the increased zombie count will provide plenty of targets, even for casual players who might fear that their kills will be stolen by better sharpshooters: “There’s so much going on that everyone gets their fair share,” Cooke assured.
Part of the fun of Special Ops Infected is that is solves the problem plaguing so many haunted attractions: Why don’t the monsters actually attack you instead of simply pretending to attack you? Because you can shoot them before they reach you! Musing on the appeal of this sort of entertainment, Cook said:
“Interactive attractions are on the rise, and I think we were able to jump on that by doing this crazy huge experience. You shoot a zombie and he drops to the floor – that’s pretty awesome. The other thing is: every great scare comes from a distraction. When you give somebody a laser-tag gun, and they’re looking for things [to shoot], there’s your distraction! We’re able to really deliver the scare!”
However, arming amateurs guns – even laser-tag guns – opens the door on possible chaos: with dozens of untrained weekend warriors running and shooting like crazy, the possibility of someone getting out of control seems real.
“The squad leaders bring the whole experience to life, but they are also there for security and safety,” Cooke explained. “They’re the ones that keep things wrangled down; when things get chaotic, when someone is taking it a little too far, they’re there to take care of the situation.”
As for the rest, there will be a new version of The Hanging, amusingly titled “Straight Out of Calico.” The Mistress of the Dark returns with a new comedy-dance show, Elvira’s Asylum. Three scare zones return: Fiesta De Los Muertos, Carnevil, and Ghost Town. The latter – the seed from which the Halloween Haunt grew – is supposed to be bigger than ever for 2015, with a special area set aside for a new character, the Doll Maker (a refuge from the well-remembered Doll Factory maze). Also, Knotts Scary Farm’s resident mascot, the Green Witch, will haunt the midway and scare zones, with a new entourage, the Deadly 7, based on the Seven Deadly Sins.
Missing from the Halloween 2015 lineup is Trapped, the interactive maze which debuted in 2012, charging guests an extra fee to enter in groups of six or fewer. The attraction seemed to be a big hit, offering thrill-seekers the sort of one-on-one experience that most theme park Halloween attractions cannot, simply by virtue of the enormous crowds. What happened?
Gus Kruger explained, “I was developing ideas for it, but management decided to allocate resources elsewhere. We had three great years, and if you’re going to go out, you might as well go when you’re on top. That’s not to say it won’t come back.”
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