What We Learned at ScareLA: Knotts Scary Farm 2014

ScareLA 2014 went off admirably well this weekend. Outside of a few timing issues (panels listed for 3pm that were actually scheduled for 3:30; signs indicating a 7pm start for a party that did not begin until 8pm), the organization and scale of the event were impressive. The big innovation this year was installing mini-mazes on the main floor: several Halloween haunts not only had booths but also short samples of their attractions - for free! Yours truly checked out several haunts previously unknown to us; they will be described in a later post and added to our listings for Halloween 2014. We also conducted our own panel, "Graveyards, Mansions, and Ships: LA's Unique Halloween Event Locations," more on which later (meaning video).

But for now, let's talk about what we learned at ScareLA. As a journalist and a fan, we found the panels to be fun but not tremendously informative; like Hollywood publicists teasing an upcoming release, the haunters seem to be reluctant to give away much more than hints and suggestions, but at least there were a few intriguing tidbits. So first up, let's talk about this year's Knotts Berry Farm Halloween Haunt.

GunSlingersGrave cropA team of designers including Lara Hanneman and several gave a slideshow presentation and answered questions on Saturday afternoon. Much of it was the usual: the returning mazes will be expanded and improved; for example, there will be more murder scenes in the Poe-inspired Forevermore maze, and Pinocchio Unstrung will include more scenes from the original story, including a cricket sidekick whose copyright name can not be mentioned (don't want to piss off Disney!). The magicians in Black Magic should have more tricks up their sleeves. Gunslingers Grave is supposed to get a new ending - improving on a weak point in an otherwise entertaining maze, which made its debut in Halloween 2013 (ironically, it is Knotts Scary Farm's first attempt to include an Old Western theme in one of its mazes). Domain of the Dead will feature an ancient hag of a matriarch - a decrepit vampire queen - instead of the usual ageless beauties, and the over-sized Grim Reaper will reappear.

But of course what we really want to know about are the new attractions for Halloween 2014. There will be a Tooth Fairy maze, though details provided were scant (i.e., non-existent) except for the suggestion that a dentist's drill served as part of the inspiration. Voodoo will take you on a spooky trip through a New Orleans bayou, creating an outdoor setting instead of the usual walls and corridors; there will be some interactivity, with guests choosing which path to take through the swamp, each one offering a different experience, though the number of forks in the road was not divulged.

Trapped will be back, but Knotts Scary Farm is counting this as a new maze because it has been completely redesigned from last year, to make it bigger and better. The Knotts team promises a 24-to-30-minute tour of terror, depending on how courageous you are when confronting the various obstacles and decisions you will encounter inside. As before, the cost is an extra $60 over and above your regular admission, but for that price you can go in with up to five companions.

Perhaps most innovative is the Special Ops: Infected scare zone, which will be set in Camp Snoopy. Borrowing an idea from Haunted Hollywood Sports, Knotts Scary Farm will offer a paint-ball type "mission," in which guests will earn points for achieving objectives and shooting zombies. Special Ops: Infected stretches the usual definition of "scare zone," which implies an area of the park decorated with free roaming ghouls, which visitors can enter and leave at will. Entrance to Special Ops: Infected requires that you "enlist" (i.e., register). You will be given an entrance time, so that you need not wait in line; then you return at that time to take part in your mission, which will be guided by a squad leader. Fortunately, there is no up-charge for this attraction, which sounds unlike anything else at Knott's Berry Farm's annual Halloween Haunt.

The Mistress of the Dark returns in
The Mistress of the Dark returns to Knotts for Halloween 2014.

Elvira will return with a new comedy stage show, every night, and for an extra fee you can meet her in person. The Hanging, staged in the Old West section of Knott's Berry Farm, will also be back, and the Green Witch (visible in the Trick-or-Treat maze) will be on hand for the proceedings. And expect the free-roaming ghouls to be more aggressive than ever, but try to remember: if you think you see them kidnapping a baby, it's all part of the act (and the "baby" is a doll).

As for deals and special offers: the Skeleton Keys will once again be included with VIP tickets, allowing those guests to enter special rooms not available to other visitors (typically offering one or two brief but more personal scares). And for the first time ever, Knotts Scary Farm is offering a season pass that will allow you to visit and revisit the Halloween Haunt as often as you like.

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