Streamlined and focused, Knott's Scary Farm 2017 overwhelms with high-quality haunting from one end of the park to the other.
For the past few years, the Halloween Haunt at Knott's Berry Farm added a little extra spice to the usual witch's brew, in the form of up-charge events (escape rooms, skeleton key rooms, virtual reality), which provided more intimate scares for smaller groups of people. All of that has been deleted from the recipe for Knott's Scary Farm 2017. This might seem disappointing; however, the resulting concoction is stronger than ever, as if those additives were diluting the potion. By focusing on the essential ingredients, this Halloween's cauldron features potent blend of just the right frightful flavors, all of them worth sampling.
In literal terms, this means that, not counting the usual scare zones and shows, Knott's Scary Farm 2017 features only nine walk-through haunts instead of a dozen - no extras and no Calico Mine Ride. Fortunately, downsizing has its advantages, proving the old adage that sometimes less is more.
Knott's Scary Farm 2017 Review: New Mazes
For Halloween 2017, Knott's Scary Farm offers three new or greatly revised mazes. All of them are essential viewing.
Dark Ride's concept is a stroke of absolute genius: the perennial problem of walk-through haunts is making them look like actual places, not a cheap fun house imitation - so, why not create a maze that is supposed to be a fun house? Concept, of course, is one thing; execution is another. The short version: Dark Ride lives up to and exceeds its concept. The premise is that you are walking through an abandoned "dark ride" (with non-working cars on a track). You go behind the scenes, through a door marked "Authorized People Only," and inhabitants lurking in the shadows - clowns and other malevolent figures - don't want you there. Or maybe they do - as playthings. The decor suggests the more delightfully demented imaginings of Tim Burton, and the scope is truly impressive. This is a long labyrinth that never feels padded. The highlight is a huge room where a strange master of ceremonies manipulates levers operating giant hands suspended from the ceiling. So many haunts consist solely of claustrophobic corridors that it is a refreshing breath of night-air to enter a scene of this scope, filled with crazed characters eager to have a little fun at your expense.
Pumpkin Eater incorporates elements of the old Cornstalkers maze and last year's Prey skeleton key room. The Jack O'Lantern motif creates a wonderful Halloween-vibe, but with some grizzly undertones. Like Dark Ride, this is another maze seems to go on forever without ever wearing out its welcome. There is a cumulative impact as the scares pile one on top of the other, and just when you think there cannot be any more - there's more!
Trick or Treat: Lights Out is essentially a "dark" version of the Trick or Treat attraction. It's the same basic layout and decor, made more shadowy and sinister. The change is immediately announced by the new facade, a creepy, monochromatic haunted house instead of the story-book colorful witch's house seen in the previous incarnations. Each trick-or-treater entering the dangerous domicile receives a flashlight, which is programmed to turn on and off at key moments. Small groups enter, slowly progressing while their feeble beams search for a path through pumpkins and other obstacles. Mechanical and lighting effects strike at startling moments (presumably triggered by the flashlight, so that you do not miss them in the darkness). There is a wonderful moving silhouette on the wall of the first room, and of course the resident Green Witch shows up near the end. But it would be unfair to reveal all that waits within. The triumph of this maze is that the darkness leaves room for your imagination to fill in the empty spaces - but those spaces turn out to be not so empty when your flashlight falls upon another waiting fiend.
Knott's Scary Farm 2017 Review: Elvira's Last Show
Elvira's show in the Charles M. Schulz Theatre has always been a hit-or-miss experience for us, an excuse to sit down and rest halfway through our circuit of the Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt. The jokes weren't always funny, and some years the Mistress of the Dark acted more as an m.c., introducing other acts while spending little time on stage. However, Elvira's Last Show (as it is billed) is by far the best we have ever seen. As the gothic glamour gal announces up front, it's all about her this year, a sort of biographical journey through the career, illustrated with live dancing, new video clips, and excerpts from her feature film.
The result is hysterically entertaining, but the funniest thing about Elvira is that she is not just a joke. At 66 years old, there is a serious risk that Cassandra Peterson's sexually charged shtick could be embarrassing (think of the past-her-prime Mae West in Sextette). Her Vegas showgirl routine (twirling tassels from her nipples) should be tacky; instead, it is amazing - like watching a retired Olympic athlete breaking his old record. Even if you have never been a fan, this show is worth seeing.
Knott's Scary Farm 2017: Returning Attractions
Knott's Scary Farm 2017 resurrects our favorite mazes and scare zones from last year. None are showing signs of age; all are worth revisiting. We especially enjoyed the Fiesta De Los Muertos, where the skeletal figures appeared particularly enthusiastic on opening night. The Hollows, with its witchy pumpkin ambiance, is also supremely spooky, though we missed seeing the Headless Horseman. The Ghost Town Street is, as always essential. And even the Boardwalk clowns of Carnevil impress us (despite our antipathy toward the killer klown theme).
Paranormal, Inc. has been high on our list since it made its debut at Knott's Scary Farm 2015, but most of our enthusiasm resulted from the opening dramatic scene, a scientific experiment in ghost-hunting gone wrong. This year, the maze that follows has been visibly improved, with tighter, darker corridors that make the descent into the underworld much more treacherous.
Shadowlands was our favorite from Knott's Scary 2016. This year, the opening scene has been shortened and set in a smaller room. This diminishes the impact slightly but also gets things moving more quickly. The rest of the maze is much the same, with yokai and other Japanese spirits back to haunt you. The spectacular closing scene was underpopulated on opening night (missing a key stuntman); hopefully, this has been remedied. Otherwise, we had as much fun as last year.
We noticed little different in Voodoo and Special Ops Infected, but those two were always fine as they were, so who needs improvements?
Actually, we were ever so mildly disappointed by Voodoo, but only because - in the years since its 2014 debut - there has usually been a little something extra added every Halloween, such as a dramatic moment at the beginning to set the tone for what follows. We enjoyed the tour through the swamp as much as ever, with its lovely sets and zombie characters, but the only thing we noticed for the first time was a giant snake reaching up from the ground to nibble a victim suspended in mid-air - which, when you come to think of it is pretty spectacular, so why are we even complaining?
The Red Barn and The Tooth Fairy are not our favorite examples of Halloween horror, but their grizzly thrills do provide a more visceral form of Halloween horror than the other mazes. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life, and as jaded as we are, we still enjoyed a return visit to the Red Bar more than we expected to.
Knott's Scary Farm 2017: Conclusion
Analyzing mazes and scare zones one by one often fails to capture the overall impact of a Halloween Theme Park Attraction. We may pick a few nits over changes made to old favorites or wonder why returning mazes were not improved with more new features, but the bottom line for Knott's Scary Farm 2017 is that it is a blast from start to finish. The fun begins the minute you enter the park and continues until you leave.
Yes, there are fewer attractions, but all of theme were immensely enjoyable, and as much as we miss the skeleton key rooms and other innovations from previous years, trimming that stuff back allows Knott's Berry Farm to put on a Halloween Haunt that is never stretched thin - it is all hits, no misses. The only thing we would add is this: Get a fast pass, because you will enjoy these mazes so much that you will want to go through them again and again.
The Knotts Berry Farm Halloween Haunt continues on September 28-30; October 1, 5-8, 12-15, 19-22, 26-31. The address is 8039 Beach Boulevard in Buena Park. Call 714-220-500 for more info, or visit knotts.com/scaryfarm.