After more than thirty years, Knott’s Berry Farm's annual Halloween Haunt remains the unbeatable champion of Southland seasonal attractions. This year's event is as good as any the park has ever put on. If you've never seen it, do yourself a favor and check it out; if you've seen it before, you'll want to see it again.
We attended on Sunday, October 3, one of the "Bare Bones Nights," when some of the shows are not open. If you're not interested in seeing the "Psycho Circus" stage show, we recommend you attend on the remaining Bare Bones Night, October 6. You'll be glad you did.
This early in the season, crowds were light; in fact, it sometimes seemed as if the ghouls outnumbered the guests. There was almost no waiting in line, allowing us to see everything we wanted, with the option to revisit some attractions if we wanted. Also, the performers were not burned out from weeks of haunting; they were all extremely enthusiastic, putting on an excellent scare show that had us leaping out of our skins from almost the minute we entered the park.
One of the great things about the Knott’s Scary Farm is that the park has "Scare Zones" haunted by lurking monsters. Filled with blinding fog, these areas are not mazes or rides but just sections of the park that have been decorated for the season and filled with actors in make up and masks ready to jump out and scare you, so that you can enjoy the Halloween horror even before waiting in line to walk through any of the scary mazes.
This year features four Scare Zones: the traditional Ghost Town (the old west section that modeled after Calico Ghost Town in California), the Swamp, the Gauntlet, and CarnEVIL. Like the Ghost Town, the Swamp and the Gauntlet are close to the main entrance, located in dark sections of the park that are conducive to excellent haunting. CarnEVIL is located near the Boardwalk, a brightly lit section filled with roller coasters and other rides, so the scare factor is considerably diminished; nevertheless, it is nice to see that even that festive section of the park has been transformed to fit the season to some degree.
Most of the regular rides (like Kingdom of the Dinosaurs) are open for business, if that's your cup of tea. If you've just come for the Halloween stuff, there is plenty to keep you busy all night. This year, Knott’s has ten walk-through mazes; plus, two rides (the Mine Ride and the Log Ride) have been customized for the season.
We took the mazes in clockwise order, starting from the front entrance. With the light attendance, we had to wait in line only twice. In most cases, guests are allowed into entrances continuously, instead of being forced to go through in groups of ten. (Most haunted houses make their guest go through in groups so that the monsters have time to reset. Knott’s has so many monsters in each maze that this isn't really necessary; there's always somebody waiting around a corner to jump out at you, no matter how many people are in front of or behind you.)
The Asylum is probably the most frightening of the lot, very intense. The inmates are running the sanitarium, and they do their best to make you jump.
Hatchet High is also fun but more satirical in flavor -- an over the top depiction of a high school gone mad, with lots of ghoulish sight gags (a skeleton making a graduation speech, a classroom marked "Home Eeeckonomics," etc). There are some scares here, but the over all effect is more comical.
Blood Bayou is not quite up to these first too, a sort of backwoods tour of some crazed residents who might have wandered in from DELIVERANCE.
Malice in Wonderland is one of the park's 3D attractions. You have to buy a pair of special glasses, but it is worth the $1 purchase price. The wall decorations, inspired by Lewis Carol, seem to float in midair, and the monster makeups almost leap out at you. The overall effect is less shocking than the Asylum, with an emphasis on the bizarre.
Carnival of Carnivorous Clowns from Outer Space is also a 3D attraction. As with Malice, the emphasis is on colorful decor and makeups that make your head spin. The demented clowns are a lot of fun, honking horns in your ears and generally intimidating you with their ghastly faces.
Army of the Underworld takes the old mining train ride and dresses it up for Halloween. As you ride through the darkened tunnels, several costumed ghouls reach out to grab you. There are also some really cool flying ghosts illuminated with black light, and a menacing dragon. There is a hint of inspiration from the Sam Raimi film ARMY OF DARKNESS, with one scene clearly depicting that film's version of the ancient evil book Necronomicon.
Red Moon Massacre does for the Log Ride what Army of the Underworld does for the mining ride. Unfortunately, we did not get to this attraction; the breathtaking plunge at the end of the ride just would not have sat well with the greasy pizza we ate.
Terror Vision in 3D is the third of the park's 3D attractions. The effect is less striking than in Malice and Carnivorous Clowns, but the maze is still fun, with a satirical edge similar to the one in Hatchet High. The various rooms represent horrific take-offs on old television shows ("Killigan's Island" and so forth). One of the funniest is "Star Tracheotomy," which features Halloween's Michael Myers ion the bridge of the Enterprise. Of course, as fans all know, the mask worn by Michael Myers in HALLOWEEN was a slightly retouched William Shatner mask, so you see why it makes sense to put him in the Captain's chair.
Curse of the Spider is one maze that requires you to go through in groups. This is so that the mechanical effect in the first room can be reset, which lowers a giant spider down from the roof. Sadly, this year's spider seemed noticeably smaller that the one seen in previous Haunts. The rest of the maze is still up to par, with numerous scary things lurking in the web-covered tunnels.
Jaguar, Temple of Sacrifice is a large Aztec-looking temple through which you walk to get to the Jaguar roller coaster. For Halloween, several costumes "spirits" have been added. This is one of the less memorable mazes, which is not a problem since it serves mostly as a prelude to the roller coaster.
Lore of the Vampire is a favorite that has been around for at least a few years now. This long maze features fewer masked ghouls jumping out at you, in favor of actors in makeup playing the living dead. The emphasis is on elegance and atmosphere, and one might even call much of it beautiful. Not required to hide behind pullover masks, the actors enjoy making intimidating eye contact with guests. In keeping with recent vampire film and literature, the vampires who haunt these halls emphasize beauty and eroticism. Still, there are a few good jumps to be had.
Finally, there is Red Beard's Revenge, a pirate themed maze that makes you feel like you're walking through an old wooden ship loaded with the ghosts of dead sailors. The presence of a few attractive pirate wenches lends this maze some of the feel of Lore of the Vampire, but in general the emphasis is on a more traditional kind of monster.
As you would expect with this many mazes, they vary somewhat in quality. But even if some stand out in memory more than others, the most important point to make is that they are all distinctly memorable in their own right, each tailored to its theme in a way that makes it different from the others. This is a remarkable triumph: even after going on the first ten, you're not going to be thinking, "Oh, I've already seen this," while walking through the last two.
As for the park's other Halloween attraction, The Hanging (the show that takes place at the gallows in Calico Square), we skipped it. From the glimpses we caught, it seemed on par with its previous spoofs of celebrities and pop icons. This year's cast of characters included Bill Clinton and the Bride from the KILL BILL movies. The swordplay and action stuff didn't look too bad; otherwise, the show was the usual collection of tasteless, juvenile jokes. It's okay to watch if you're stuck standing in line, but if you're pressed for time you'd be better off enjoying one of the many mazes rather than standing and watching the whole show.
One minor note: Once you're inside, your dining choices are mostly limited to fast food (burgers, pizza) and snacks (popcorn, cotton candy). You can get a drink at the saloon in Ghost Town, fortunately. Also, there is a midnight breakfast buffet available at the Chicken Dinner restaurant on your way out, but there are no re-admissions, so make sure you've seen all you want to see inside the park before you go to eat.