Reviewing Knotts Scary Farm 2012: You're Doing it Wrong

Knotts Berry Farm Halloween Haunt 40th anniversary advertising artworkLooking around to see what mischief is being perpetrated by my cut-throat competitors in the realm of Halloween Horror in Los Angeles, we stumbled across this somewhat problematic review in the Los Angeles Times: Change Comes Slow for Knott's Halloween Haunt, by Brady MacDonald. Although we have to thank MacDonald for confirming our suspicion that we did not miss much when we skipped the Evil Dead log ride, we do have to take issue with the central premise of his piece. Citing competition from upstart rival Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood, MacDonald states that Knotts Berry Farm has been upgrading its annual Halloween Haunt - but too slowly:

Over the last couple of years, Haunt has responded to the success of Horror Nights by greatly improving its maze quality and attention to detail. But Knott’s only swaps out two or three mazes each year, meaning this season’s Haunt is a grab bag of newer attractions that meet or exceed the higher quality standards and an equal amount that fall far below the new bar.

For the record, there are four new mazes at Knotts Scary Farm 2012 - five, if you count the Evil Dead log ride. But here is our real issue with this statement: Halloween Horror Nights returned to Universal Studios in 2006 and really got up to speed in 2007. All of the mazes at the 2012 Knotts Berry Farm Halloween Haunt post-date these years. Only one of them, Uncle Willie's Slaughterhouse, dates back to 2008. Dia De Los Muertos, Terror of London, and Uncle Bobo's Big Top of the Bizarre made their debut in 2009. Virus Z and Fallout Shelter are from 2010. And Delirium and Endgames: Warriors of the Apocalypse are held over from 2011. In other words, every single maze currently at Knotts Scary Farm came into existence after the resurrection of Halloween Horror Nights.

To us, this seems to undercut MacDonald's central thesis - that Knott's Berry Farm is taking too long to swap out the pre-Horror Nights mazes with new and better ones. But don't take our word for it; instead, read MacDonald's own assessment of this year's Halloween Haunt mazes from best to worst:

  1. Trapped (2012)
  2. Endgame: Warriors of the Apocalypse (2011)
  3. Pinocchio Unstrung (2012)
  4. Terror of London (2009)
  5. Virus Z (2010)
  6. Dominion of the Dead (2012)
  7. Delirum (2011)
  8. Trick or Treat (2012)
  9. Fallout Shelter (2011)
  10. Evil Dead (2012)
  11. Uncle Bobo's Big Top 0f the Bizarre (2009)
  12. Uncle Willy's Slaughterhouse (2008)
  13. Dia De Los Muertos (2009)

Yes, the Top 3 are new mazes are newer, and the bottom 3 are older, but middle of the list features an almost even distribution of new and old mazes. Only two of this year's crop make it into the Top 5, while another two fall into the bottom half of the list. One of the oldest mazes (Terror of London) ranks higher than six newer ones. Relatively recent attractions such as Delirium, Evil Dead, Trick or Treat, and Fallout Shelter fail to crack the top half of the list. Overall, though the results are definitely weighted in favor of newer titles, we do not see a pattern confirming that the older mazes are a terrible liability that should be removed to make room for newer ones.

MacDonald's premise also overlooks Knotts Scary Farm's big advantage over the competition: the Halloween Haunt is so large that it can afford to hold onto old favorites for several years while still having room to include new mazes. This is great for people who do not attend every year, and it gives the haunt a chance to revamp the older mazes from one year to the next.

La Llarona at Knotts Scary Farm. Competition, maybe?
La Llorona haunted Knotts Scary Farm a year before she reached Halloween Horror Nights.

One more point: Knotts Scary Farm offers more variety than other Halloween Haunts in Los Angeles. Sometimes, variety takes the form of avoiding obvious shocks. When MacDonald berates Dia De Los Muertos for its dearth of scares, he overlooks the fact that the maze provides a colorful change of pace from more gruesome attractions - one that appeals to many squeamish Halloween fans who prefer the spooky legend of La Llorona to the butcher work of the Slaughterhouse. Ironically, this maze pre-dates Universal Studios Hollywood's introduction of La Llorona (first in a scare zone, then in a maze of her own) by a year. That's right: Knotts Scary Farm, the Halloween Haunt supposedly racing to catch up with Halloween Horror Nights, was actually way out in front on this one, so let's give credit where credit is due.