Opening night at Knott's Berry Farm's 2013 Halloween Haunt
Written by Jacob Sundstrom
Knott's Scary Farm opened to the masses last night and Theme Park Insider was there to cover all the madness. Since the format for the Horror Nights post seemed to work okay (I assume our Pulitzer is in the mail), we'll follow the same format here. I'll break down the 11 mazes with brief paragraphs and then give you some tips on how to best see everything in one night.Tweet
First, some overall thoughts.
There is a lot to like about Knott's event. The whole thing feels like a group of mazes you might find in your neighborhood — albeit made by especially talented neighbors. It's a nostalgic event in many ways; part of that is because the makeup and set designs are relatively simple, and another factor is the amount that they rely on their scareactors to get the job done.
This has pros and cons. What's great is that the whole thing just "feels" like Halloween. This is an event that has been going on since my parents were in middle school and the park does seem to appreciate the history of the event. The con is that the event is not particularly scary — at least, not as scary as its primary competition. There are several reasons for this; most notably that the actors do not seem particularly focused on generating repeatable scares.
By that, I mean that instead of every actor embodying a role that is a part of the show they appear to be doing their own thing. Each maze is loosely organized chaos with actors roaming around from room to room trying to scare individual guests — this type of thing works great in scare zones (which is where Knott's excels) but it does not translate to mazes where monsters are the show and not just a part of it.
This has been true of Knott's Scary Farm since I started attending the event in 2007. Scareactors crack jokes and talk to guests with reckless abandon which creates a problem: It's not scary or suspenseful. Alfred Hitchcock talked about the difference between suspense and surprise in an interview once, which I think sums up what an event should be going for. (paraphrased)
"Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. ... In these conditions the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen, "You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There's a bomb beneath you and it's about to explode!"
In a Halloween event, this suspense comes from walking into a room and knowing you will be scared or surprised but not knowing where it's coming from. It's akin to walking into a dark room — what you do not see is frightening. What Knott's actors often do is stand out in the open and expect their mere presence to be frightening. For some people this is effective, but it makes an event similar to a bad slasher movie: all surprise with no suspense.
Trick or Treat
Dominion of the Damned
A small portable building that can house no more than a dozen people at a time is filled with mirrors — your job is to find your way out. The problem is that you CAN'T find your way out. One of the mirrors is a hidden door that an actor opens after they feel you've been locked in there for long enough. Not only does this defeat the purpose of the maze, it also makes the line one of the slowest of the night. Avoid this maze at all costs — it's not worth the wait.
Witch's Keep (Calico Mine Ride)
That's it for the mazes — now for the lineup of shows. The Hanging is much the same as last year — if you like the pop-culture skewering type shows (think Bill and Ted at Horror Nights) than you will enjoy this show. If not, you have a few other options.
Elvira's Sinister Seance was great fun and featured the Mistress of the Dark's trademark schtick which will be enjoyed by anyone who considers themselves a fan of her character. She performed in a couple of dance numbers, did some monologue type stuff, made fun of a few audience members and featured in a five-minute long video they showed during the event.
The show was bookended by a couple dance crew performances which were well done all things considered. There are only two showings a night, but the midnight showing I went to last night was sparsely attended, so you may be better off waiting till the end of the night to see this one.
Without a front of line pass, I was able to do every maze before 10pm. It was a sparsely crowded night, to be fair, and I would consider picking up a front of line pass if you plan on going on a Saturday in October. If you can go on a Thursday or Sunday night, I would, as the age of the Knott's crowd skews young — meaning fewer kids in the park on a school night.
I worked my way from the left and went counterclockwise around the entire park. Hitting the four mazes bunched behind Ghostrider right at the beginning is a good move as those tend to see larger wait times as the late arrivers show up at around 8 p.m.
Don't forget about the up-charge maze, Trapped, which may actually be the future of Halloween events. For $60 a group (up to six guests) you can go through a maze which requires puzzle-solving and task-completing to escape. I have not experienced this maze, but I heard good things about it last year.
If you'd like to see some of my photos and thoughts from last night, you can check out my Storify of the event.
Questions? Comments? I'll respond to them in the comments! Thanks for following along and Happy Halloween!
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