Well, last night Hollywood Gothique made its annual trek out to the Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt (perhaps it's more of a bi-annual trip, since we skipped last year, due to time constraints).
Short version of the review:
First off - and we cannot emphasize this enough - if you want to enjoy the Knotts Halloween Haunt, go early in the season, preferably on a week night. The crowds on Thursday night were so light they could not even be called crowds. Only twice did we have to wait in anything even resembling a line, and one of those was the train ride (which can only accommodate so many people at a time). Because of the light attendance, we managed to hit every single maze, even ones we were resigned to skipping, and some we saw two or three times. We had an excellent time, enjoyed every minute of it, and taped the whole thing for your edification (now if we can just find the time to edit and post it - hard to do when we plan to attend both Universal's Halloween Horror Nights and the Queen Mary Shipwreck this weekend).
Now for the details...
We arrived just after 8:30pm, an hour and a half after the park opened. Our customary strategy of using the back entrance (which is usually less crowded) was thwarted when we drove by and saw the entrance was closed. No matter: there was no delay finding parking in the main lot, and the wait at the front entrance was minimal, ten or fifteen minutes at most, including the obligatory metal detector scanner.
We did encounter one small problem when purchasing our ticket. Instead of going to Burger King, we had downloaded a discount coupon at campuscircle.net. For some reason, the girls in the ticket booth did not recognize this coupon and tried to convince us to take a walk to the Burger King down the block to get one of their coupons. Only by raising a fuss did we get them to "make an exception" and accept our coupon - even though the Campus Circle version clearly states "present this coupon at any Knott's ticket window" to receive the discount prices.
Our first mistake of the evening was wearing a sweater. Although the air was slightly chilly, a warm shirt would have been more than enough, especially with the adrenaline pumping from the excitement of fear. Take our advice: even if you fear the cold, don't bog yourself down with excessive clothing. There is a lot of ground to cover at the Halloween Haunt, and you do not want to be burdened with more than necessary.
Working on the (false) theory that we would not be able to hit every maze, we devoted ourselves to the new ones, but some of the old favorites turned out to be just as much fun as ever.
We passed by Red Beard's Revenge, the first one you hit while making a rightward trek around the circumference of the park but could not resist the next oldie...
Lore of the Vampire. This perennial benefits from the emphasis on elegance and makeup, rather than masks and gore. We've described it before, but it is worth noting that some of the familiar gags have been re-arranged, so your trek through the vampire domain is not predictable, even if it is pleasantly familiar. After that, our next stop was...
Dark Realm. This attraction, which made its debut in 2006, is a laser tag the Stage Coach trail converted into an outdoor haunt for Halloween. You can simply walk through, or for ane xtra charge you can rent a laser tag gun and shoot at targets. The open air location makes this different from most claustrophic mazes, which is not always a benfit - you can see the monsters coming because they don't have that many places to hide. However, there was a magnificent roaring mechanical beast (it's mouth vaguely suggested the 1998 American Godzilla) that made the trip worth taking. Next we moved on to...
The Grudge 2. This is another maze that was new in 2006 (when it tied in to the release of the film from which it takes its name). There is little in it that seems specific to the GRUDGE 2 film, but it does a wonderful job of capturing the eerie imagery from THE GRUDGE and its Japanese inspiration, the JU-ON films. Kayako and Toshio appear in lots of different forms, both human and mechanical, including a robotic version of the former, which recreates the famous crawl down the stairs. Japanese horror has been such a huge influence on the genre during the dawning years of the new millennium, so it's nice to see a haunted maze that pays tribute to it in such a wonderful way.
Passing out of the Camp Snoopy area, we moved on through the amusement rides toward the back of the park, where we found...
Viva Lost Vegas. This is another hold-over from 2006. A 3-D maze, this offers a colorful and gaudy version of Vegas, loaded with ghouls. The tone is clearly satirical, and the results are probably more funny than scary. Overall, it was not the most awesome experience of the night, but at least it was different.
And different is important. Much of the appeal of the Knott's haunt is that it is so extensive, offering more mazes than you will find anywhere else. However, in past years, the quantity sometimes led to repetition. One year, we saw three separate attractions that included a mechanical dummy vomiting up blood or bile. This year, we were much less likely to feel that each new maze felt a bit like the one just before it.
Killer Klown Kollege was the first new-for-2007 maze we hit. As the name implies, this is a maze filled with those killer klowns, who seem to proliferate in haunts for the last several years. This attraction was actually not so new; it seems like a combination of the old Hatchet High maze and the Carniverous Clowns from Outer Space, both seen in 2004. IF you dig the clown thing, this is fine, but it did not particularly stand out for us. (By the way, are the producers of KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE getting royalties for all these Halloween haunts that use their concept?)
The Doll Factory is also new for 2007. Fortunately, this one evoked no sense of deja vu for us; it really is an original. The theme is fairly distinctive, so this maze does not feel like the others. Besides the mechanical assembly line and weird toys, there are actress dressed up like dolls, one in particular who does an unnerving imitation of a mechanical doll walking, guaranteed to freak you out. Overall, there is just something about childhood innocence played for horror that generates a creepy sense of the uncanny, and this maze captures that feeling very effectively. We did have to wait five minutes in this line, but by the time we got out, the line had evaporated, so we turned around and went through again. It was even better the second time.
We took a time-out from maze-hunting to sit down for a few numbers performed by Rocketz, a three-piece rock-and-roll band who sing numbers like "Return of the Undead." We don't normally stop for the shows during our visit to the Haunt, but these guys were good enough for us to make an exception. Check 'em out if you need to rest your feet for awhile. They're nice guys and they hang around between shows to talk with members of the audience.
Beowulf is another maze making its debut in 2007. Obviously based on the upcoming movie, this offers cavernous corridors, stone walls, and dark chambers. The story of Beowulf is not really a horror story, but it is filled with three memorable monsters, who make appearances here. There is a huge mechanical Grendel; crouched own, he looks too big to move much, but his arms reach out and nearly grab you. There is also an equally huge version played by an actor (built up with a phony uppper torso and head), for the scene of Grendel with his arm torn off. Even more impressive is the giant mechanical dragon head seen leering over a wall, puffing smoke (well, fog really). The maze makes could use of seductive female sirens to distract you (well, at least if you're male) so that the scare-characters can sneak up on you unaware. The women do a nice job of looking both beautiful and bored, as if indifferent to the attention they draw. This maze is more atmopsheric than shocking, but it is not bad, especially considering that it exists mostly as a promotional device for the movie. We actually ended up walking through this one three times, so we could seen Grendel and the Dragon again and again.
We were doing so well for time that we detoured from our intended goal of seeing the the Black Widow Cavern (another new attraction). Instead we passed through Red Beard's Revenge, 13 Axe Murder Manor, Feary Tales in 3D, and the Asylum. We described Red Beard and the Asylum in our 2004 review; we encountered 13 Axe Murder Manor and Feary Tales during our 2005 visit to the haunt. None of them have changed very much. Murder Manor still packs a punch; of all of them, it is the one still worth revisiting. Feary Tales is another 3D maze, this one offering demented variations on fairy tales; the effect is more hallucinagenic than horrorific, and there was little new, but the brightly colored settings are a welcome change of pace from the other, darker mazes. We loved Asylum when it made its debut in 2004, but the impact has worn of somewhat, and it is beginning to feel a bit tired. Red Beard is nice in that the pirate theme distinguishes it from the other attractions, and it does convey a nice sense of being either in the bowels of a rotting ghost ship or in a treasure cave; the pirate garb is nice, too, complete with ghouls pirate wenches who (like the female vamps in Lore of the Vampire) lend a certain erotic charge to the horror.
Black Widow's Cavern. Our last attraction of the evening was another "newbie" for 2007. This is set on the Calico Mine Ride train, which back in 2005 was the "Cavern of Lost Souls." Instead of floating black lights spirits, the cavern is now filled with giant mechanical spiders. We got the distinct impression that many of these were leftover props from the old Curse of the Spider maze, which was retired after 2004. Nevertheless, the caverns are a perfect location for these evil arachnids, and the train ride is spooky all year round thanks to the dark tunnels which seem to be haunted by the ghosts of long-dead gold-miners. Not only that, but for several years one of the Halloween gags involved unseen dangling threads that brushed your face as if the train had just driven you through a spiderweb, so it makes sense to make spiders featured characters. We had to spend about fifteen minutes in line for this one, but it was worth the wait, and it's a good opportunity to enjoy some frights while resting your feet and letting the train movie you along.
Pyromaniax is the one other new attraction for 2007. This is essentially the log ride dressed up for Halloween. Unfortunately, by this time of the evening we were too tired to try it out; besides, we did not want to expose our video camera to the risk - getting doused with water is pretty much inevitable on the last slide down into the splashing water below. We had enough, and turned our steps toward home, having indulged in a thorougly worthwhile Halloween night out.
Our last impression upon leaving is that, even with the old mazes still in operation, and even with the "new" mazes recycling bits from previous attractions, there is still an abundance of new sights and sounds this year. Knott's is acknowledge as the haunt leader in the Southland, but after you have seen it a few times, you start to feel that you're seeing the same-old-same-old, over and over again, making further trips unnnecessary. For us, having skipped 2006, more than half the mazes were new (even if a few did some recycling from previous years), and some of our old favorites were ravamped enough to make them still feel fresh. That was more than enough to make this a guaranteed highlight for Halloween 2007.