In the film All About Eve, Bette Davis utters her most famous line “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night”. She could easily have been talking about Opening Night at KNOTT’S SCARY FARM. Always first with new ideas, the team at Knott’s introduced a special interactive zombie shooting zone and pushed the envelope with two brand new mazes. I attended media night, which was also the first night for the new attractions, so I have faith that the wrinkles I experienced will be ironed out in the coming weeks.
The biggest shake up this year is the addition of the zombie themed laser tag game called SPECIAL OPS: INFECTED. A large section of the park (Camp Snoopy) has been quarantined because of a zombie outbreak. If you want to play, and you should, go there first to “enlist” and get a card with a return time on it. I was told that the cards go quickly, so make sure you get one before all of the times are filled for the night. To play, guests are taken in small groups and follow a squad leader on a mission to find a doctor and the infection antidote. Armed with rifles, running through a deserted part of the park, and shooting at zombies is great fun. The scoreboards weren’t working and our group had trouble with the guns and some of the clues at checkpoints, but it didn’t seem to matter and even with the glitches, I loved it.
Your regular Scary Farm ticket gives you access to all mazes, shows, and the Special Ops zombie hunt. For an additional fee, you can purchase a FRIGHT LANE WITH SKELETON KEY front-of-line pass. The key (a really nice collectible keychain) gives you access to “skeleton key rooms” at the front of five of the mazes. These rooms provide a back story to the maze you are about to enter. Some of them have built in frights, but most are short interactive plays. In the skeleton key room for BLACK MAGIC I took part in a seance to summon the ghost of Houdini and in the key room for VOODOO a priestess tells a story and then… I won’t give it away, but this was a scary one!
VOODOO is the most ambitious of the new mazes. Upon entering, guests are given the option of taking one of two separate paths. I took the path on the left which led through a swamp and into a shack where a Voodoo priestess performed a ritual on a writhing woman. The visuals in this maze are really beautiful. Built like a sound stage, guests are fully immersed in a 360 visual environment. I could see guests who had taken the other path walking around in the distant fog which gave the outdoor scenes unexpected depth. The music was loud for me and I have to admit that when it ended, I was a little disappointed. I was just starting to get into the voodoo vibe dancing through the pathways when my path took a turn and it ended. This maze felt really short, probably because the footprint of the maze is divided into two parts giving each path a shorter distance to cover. Loaded with authentic New Orleans details, this maze was short on scares, but still left me wanting more.
The other highly anticipated new maze is THE TOOTH FAIRY. This maze replaces an older maze in the space behind DOMINION OF THE DAMNED. If you have never been to Scary Farm before, guests enter DOMINION first and then the maze exit line feeds directly into the entrance for TOOTH FAIRY. Unfortunately I hit another opening night bump inside DOMINION when the workers responsible for wrapping the line at the exit didn’t do so and the line backed up leaving us stalled inside DOMINION for over ten minutes. I have never had this happen before, so I’m confident that they can make this set up work, but when it doesn’t work it makes for a frustrating wait. I felt like I was on a broken ride waiting for it to start again as the poor actors in that section dealt with heckles from the antsy crowd.
THE TOOTH FAIRY has the scariest scenes of the haunt. There is just something about dentists that sets my teeth on edge, literally. The rooms are littered with over 2,000 blood splattered human-size teeth molded from a real set of teeth. How’s that for creepy? Inspired by the maze designer’s recent dentist appointment, the path travels through the decades from the 70s to the 80s and 90s as the dental work gets more vicious and extreme. The best part was the squealing whir of the drill that echoed through the maze as the demonic dental assistants pried teeth and jaws from their screaming victims.
Returning mazes for 2014 are DOMINION OF THE DAMNED a gothic vampire fantasy. TRICK OR TREAT, the popular maze where guests go trick-or-treating at the Green Witch’s house. FOREVERMORE, the gruesome tale of a serial killer inspired by the writing of Edgar Allen Poe. PINNOCHIO UNSTRUNG, a bloody trip through a wild marionette nightmare. BLACK MAGIC, a visit to a freaky theater filled with maniacal magicians. THE WITCH’S KEEP, a Halloween overlay of the Calico Mine ride and GUNSLINGER’S GRAVE, a classic Knott’s throwback to the Old West with crazed cowboys, criminals, and killers.
Scare zones include CARNEVIL, FIESTA DE LOS MUERTOS, GYPSY CAMP, and GHOST TOWN. My favorite was GHOST TOWN where the fog is so thick it is impossible to see more than a foot in front of your face.
I did not have time to try TRAPPED: LOCK & KEY. This special maze has an upcharge of $60 for timed visits in groups of up to six guests. It does sell out, so if you want to do it, please buy your tickets online before you go. I have been through the TRAPPED maze for the past two haunts and I have to say that both times I found it a unique and exciting part of the haunt. Every year it is completely overhauled with all new challenges and riddles to master. The rooms inside TRAPPED are kept completely secret, so the only way to find out what waits for you inside is to try it yourself.
ELVIRA’S BIG TOP (pun intended) returns this year with her special brand of saucy humor. She sings, raps, tells jokes, and introduces a couple of circus freaks. The completely insane sword swallower made me cringe in my fourth row seats and the adorable contortionist folded herself into a tiny box onstage like a ventriloquist’s dummy packing itself away for the night. Don’t miss this show. The ageless Elvira is a horror icon and she’s just as sarcastic and sexy as ever.
THE HANGING pokes fun at celebrities and recent news stories in a completely irreverent and hilarious way. For 2014, unsurprisingly, the main target is the movie Frozen, but one of the best jokes of the night is aimed straight at haunt competitor Universal Studios. Last year, Halloween Horror Nights axed their comic parody show BILL & TED when complaints arose that some jokes were homophobic. Aiming for the jugular, THE HANGING has Bill and Ted appear onstage and mock the fact that Halloween Horror Night’s elected not to bring their show back this year (electric guitar riff) Ouch! Of course, the show always ends with the hanging of the most despicable person in the news this year. Justin Bieber is a popular victim and this time seems a likely target, but can he escape the noose?
I have to applaud Knott’s for constantly trying to upgrade and improve their haunt. When you have been around as long as they have it would be easy to rely on a proven fan base and just keep doing the same thing. Instead, they push forward every year, constantly changing the playing field to test new attractions. I admire them for that. It’s the reason they have been around longer than any other SoCal Haunt and it is the reason they will be around long after others have vanished into the fog.
Knott’s Scary Farm runs select dates Sept 25 to Nov 1. For tickets and hours of operation visit knotts.com