I Survived Knott's Halloween Haunt's Opening Weekend

A review of Knott’s Scary Farm from a veteran thrillseeker.

The park is ready -- are you?

The park is ready -- are you?

I’ve gone to Haunt since the ‘80s, and I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years – from the days of Elvira, the Crypt Keeper and the Haunted Shack to today’s thrill ride-oriented park. I trekked out with an intrepid crew of explorers to the Haunt this last weekend, and I came away with a great impression of the world’s biggest Hallowe’en party in its latest incarnation.

There are definitely still some flaws, but overall I had a top-notch Haunt experience. The crowds were well-thinned (unlike later weekends), the lines were short (very much unlike later weekends), and although the monsters weren’t quite revved up yet, they also still had plenty of energy.

We went to the Pre-Scare Dinner, which is no longer in the picnic area outside the park, but which still features a good selection of quality foods. I particularly enjoyed the prime rib and shrimp. If you opt for this meal and you’re a boysenberry fiend like I am, get an earlier seating because the boysenberry pie will run out!

And now, the mazes (rated 1-5 skulls, 5 being best):

The Great

Two lovely monsters from Terrors of London

Two lovely monsters from Terrors of London

Terror of London: Rated 5 skulls by yours truly
— One of the four new mazes this year, TOL is long on atmosphere and strong on sudden shocks. They make very good use of the space they have, and they give us a goodly dosage of classic, traditional horror, which is always at a premium in commercial haunts nowadays. (I guess they figure modern audiences will be more attuned to Jason and Freddy, or those guys from SAW or SCREAM. I’m not entirely sure why Knott’s is so hung up on monstrous pig-people, though…)

Dia de Los Muertos in 3-D: Rated 5 skulls by yours truly

— Another new maze, DDLMI3D makes excellent use of its beautiful 3-D effects. And speaking of beautiful, the entire maze is just gorgeous-looking, with fantastic graveyard shrines and Aztec idols. The scares are there, but you’d enjoy just strolling through this one any time.

The Doll Factory: Rated 4 skulls by yours truly
— A returning favorite, TDF continues to offer a nice selection of frights along with a nicely disturbing-yet-aesthetic theme. The creepy mannequin women that haunt the attraction are especially nice.

Cornstalkers: Rated 4 skulls by yours truly
— Clearly underrated by many Haunt fans and unfortunately plagued by annoying brat kids on the night my team and I went, the returning Cornstalkers is just a delightfully monstrous maze. It combines the delicious sights and smells of a corn maze with a lot of jump-worthy shocks that you’ll remember a long time afterward. Don’t listen to the people who tell you it’s a lot of walking and not much going on. Cornstalkers is great.

Quarantine: Rated 4 skulls by yours truly
— Not as good as it was in its debut last year, Quarantine still has plenty of terror for Hauntgoers. The architecture of the maze itself lacks some touches – ceilings for key rooms, for example – that helped make it utterly real last time. But the performers bring their A game and the effects are solid, so you can expect screams all around you… maybe from yourself.

The Good

Black Widow’s Cavern: Rated 3 skulls by yours truly
— Okay, I admit that this returning haunt of the venerable and beloved Mine Train Ride isn’t exactly pure fear from start to finish. But it features a spectacular giant spider effect in the central chamber of the ride, and it does get you to jump now and again. I love the Mine Train, so this one’s got a few extra points right there.

Club Blood vampire -- probably doesn't glitter by day

Club Blood vampire -- probably doesn't glitter by day

Club Blood: Rated 3 skulls by yours truly
— New, but not necessarily a huge standout, Club Blood is sort of a combination of the old Realm of the Vampire and Underground mazes. Some good chills and thrills, but really mostly undead go-go dancers working their pole dancing to some industrial music.

Lockdown: The Asylum: Rated 3 skulls by yours truly
— Okay, this new maze won me over simply by its premise. I think the idea of using a prison riot as the basis for a haunted maze is hilarious, rather like Universal Studios Tour’s old “Riot!” scene on their studio tour. It’s a tasteless choice, but it’s fun, and they do work with it well.

Labyrinth: Rated 3 skulls by yours truly
— Well, I admit it: This returning maze isn’t actually all that scary. It’s got a lot of cute young ladies dressed as (ahem) “spooky” wood nymphs in it, so that makes it entertaining. I suppose it’s just me…

Uncle Bobo’s Bigtop of the Bizarre in 3-D: Rated 3 skulls by yours truly
— Old wine in a new bottle, Uncle Bobo’s is a redux on the usual Knott’s Carnival of Carnivorous Clowns maze, and it does pretty well with the theme. The 3-D effects are so-so, but they do get in a few jumps, so it’s decent.

The Not So Good

Kitty Karloff and Zamora the Torture King do the unthinkable on stage at Knott's.

Kitty Karloff and Zamora the Torture King do the unthinkable on stage at Knott's.

Alien Annihilation in 3-D: Rated 2 skulls by yours truly
— Back for another meh year, Alien Annihilation has uninteresting 3-D effects, monsters who seem bored, and pointless laser tag. The giant dayglo mushroom in the indoor forest area was kind of cool, though.

Slaughterhouse: Rated 2 skulls by yours truly
— Another veteran maze, Slaughterhouse is more gross than thrilling, and it (like the rest of Knott’s this year) is curiously free of chainsaws. My friends would’ve probably liked it better if they hadn’t gotten seriously splashed by a really strong water jet as well – beware!

Pyromaniax: Rated 1 skull by yours truly
— Back again… *groan.* Once upon a time, they haunted the Log Ride right. They haven’t done that in a long time. Forgettable.

Other than the mazes, we did see the STEPFATHER remake’s “scare scene,” which was pretty effective, but only worth the three-minute line we stood in for it. If you see a longer line for this, skip it. It’s not that great. We also went to the Birdcage Theater in Ghost Town for “Professor Freak’s Funhouse for Kids (Not for Kids)” and had a good time with the corny comedy they put on. The vampire villainess had an undead gothic sidekick girl named “Hottopica.” We dodged “The Hanging,” now in its umpteenth year of being a boring, overlong, stupid pop culture grab bag. But we did have a good time watching “The Torture King” show starring Zamora the Torture King and Kitty Karloff, and I highly recommend it… if you’re not TOO squeamish.

The Scare Zones were above average this time, too, with the monsters working overtime. But Knott’s only lets Ghost Town and the Gauntlet have any real atmosphere – even putting in a beautiful new pumpkin gateway for the Gauntlet – while red-handed stepchild Carnevil is still stuck with big empty spaces full of bright lights and no fog. Knott’s needs to give its evil clowns and other freaks a better “frighting chance” in Carnevil, although the Baby Cart Clown still “gets ‘em” every time, with or without fog.

All in all, opening weekend at the Haunt was a perfect way to launch the Hallowe’en season. Get thee to the Scary Farm, avaunt!

all photos by Richard A. Becker