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Review: Knott's Scary Farm's 2014 Halloween Haunt

September 28, 2014, 7:14 PM · Last year, Knott’s Scary Farm tried to think outside the box with Mirror Mirror — it didn’t work. This year, they tried again with Voodoo and Special Ops: Infected. Mission accomplished.

This event will always be more fun than it is scary, and that’s not a knock so much as it’s noting Knott’s Scary Farm’s lifestyle choice. They want to be a fun, mostly PG-13 event — and if you get scared now and again, all the better. There’s not the same creeping sense of dread that you get at Halloween Horror Nights, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Knott’s knows their market, and for their 41st Halloween Haunt they ramped up the quality of an event that had become too bloated and too self-congratulatory to ever be truly successful. Some of the same old problems persist, of course.

Halloween Haunt 1

The actors talk too much, more interested in generating laughs than screams; and all too often actors have nowhere to hide inside of mazes that are just a bit too bright. The scareactors are left to wander rooms, creating atmosphere in rooms that are begging for someone to hide in a dark corner.

And while Knott’s creative team is able to cultivate promising ghost story after ghost story, the story seems to end at the facade. Once inside a maze the collection of rooms revolve around a central theme more than they actually tell a compelling story. The shortage of story wouldn’t be a problem if not for the lack of inventive scares — guests will forget about the substance if you’re willing to pump them with adrenaline.

These flaws aside, this is the best event Knott’s has put together in the nine years I’ve been going to the event. Pointing out these problems is less an indictment of last night’s event and more a statement that Knott’s needs to continue to tread down the bath it started upon last night. Halloween Haunt 41 is a good start — but it’s just a start. Now for some of the maze highlights, starting with my favorite from last night.

Halloween Haunt 2

Voodoo promised an interesting twist on the usual maze structure — your path changes as you head through the swamps. Maze hosts guide you through the forks in the road, but the feeling of randomness keeps your mind off of what’s hiding behind the walls of the shacks you travel through. Voodoo was one of the shortest mazes of the night, but the ingenuity, set design (including an amazing facade) and great scares vaulted it to the top of my list.

The Tooth Fairy was the closest Knott’s came to telling a comprehensive story. It made up for its plot holes with horrifying imagery and great scares, including a hallway where the lights were all but turned out; something that Scary Farm could benefit from doing a bit more frequently. Once inside the lair of the Tooth Fairy, the real scares begin as the Fairy’s minions perform oral surgery on her victims. This maze was a lot of fun and a big improvement over last year’s Delirium. Now if they could just axe Dominion of the Damned…

Halloween Haunt 3

Special Ops: Infected provided a very unique experience both from a guest flow perspective and from a haunted attraction perspective. We arrived at the check-in area at 7:15 p.m. and were given a time to return: 12:30 a.m. Surely, we thought, that this time meant a minimal wait time once we arrived for our time to shoot some zombies. This was not the case. We waited 45 minutes after returning to Infected, and the line absolutely crawled making for the only truly unpleasant waiting experience of the evening. Once inside we were given our guns and instructions and sent out with a pair of squad leaders to complete a mission.

One problem: My gun didn’t work the entire time. I alerted a squad leader to the problem as we left the check-in tent, but in truth there wasn’t much he could do about it other than reset the gun and apologize while trying to stay in character. I played along with the rest of the group, all of whom seemed to relish the opportunity to gun down zombies while running around Camp Snoopy. While my experience left something to be desired, this is a concept that I hope Knott’s explores further in the future — possibly with improved tech.

Dominion of the Damned

Other solid mazes included Forevermore and Black Magic, both of which were returners from last year. Some mazes that are due to be put out to pasture include Dominion of the Damned and Gunslinger’s Grave, both of which have always been more themed walkthroughs than haunted attractions.

Elvira’s Big Top (ha ha ha ha ha, get it?) was a lot of fun, even if it was a little light on the Mistress of Darkness. The show featured great acts by a dance troupe (similar to last year’s show) and gave guests the chance to watch a contortionist and sword swallower to do their thing. The show is absolutely worth the 20 minutes or so it gets you out of lines and off your feet — and is certainly more my cup of tea than the ever popular The Hanging show.

Knott’s Scary Farm is better than it has been in years, but it still has a bit of work to do to achieve it’s full potential. I can’t wait to see how they improve for next year.

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Replies (6)

September 29, 2014 at 3:22 PM · So between Universal & Knotts this year, you'd say Universal was better?

I went to HHN this weekend & I've been thinking about Knotts, but not 100% sold.

Were there any mazes at Knotts that you think surpassed Universal? (where I thought AVP, American werewolf & dracula were the best)

September 29, 2014 at 7:14 PM · I've been to the 2012 and 2013 Haunt. Without a doubt, both were terrific Halloween events, with creative mazes which scared me more than the ones at Universal. An excellent value, especially considering that you seldom wait long in line for any maze.
September 29, 2014 at 10:16 PM · @Jay: Yep, without a doubt Universal's mazes were better than Knott's across the board. Voodoo would definitely creep into the conversation, perhaps surpassing Face Off, but that's about as far as I would go.

That being said, it is a solid value since the lines (it appears) are quite a bit shorter than at Universal. Like I said, Knott's is more fun than it is scary, but that's nothing to turn your nose up at. If you can do both, I'd absolutely recommend doing both!

"which scared me more than the ones at Universal," will have to be filed under "to each their own."

September 30, 2014 at 11:13 PM · Jacob, I can't comment on this year's mazes. I hear that Universal has surpassed themselves with some of their best mazes this year.

To be specific, I went to the Haunt in 2012 and 2013, and HHN at Universal Orlando in '12. Those are the ones I'm comparing, and the Haunt mazes definitely scared me more.

Particulary in 2012, the actors "got me" much more often at the Haunt, because Knott's cleverly mixes things up and keeps you guessing with their strategy for generating scares. I found myself on edge, wondering how and when they would spring the scare on me. I would give examples, but I don't want to give away any of Knott's secrets.

At Universal, the mazes are more technically proficient, probably because they have a higher budget with which to work. But the Knott's mazes are more clever, and have a kind of claustrophic quality, because they are smaller and more confined.

Just my opinion, but a Haunt ticket costs less than half of a HHN ticket (with the much needed front of the line access) and is a far better value for the money.

October 1, 2014 at 10:02 PM · I'd say the question is more IF the scares are going to come at Haunt than it is WHERE they're coming from. Far too often the monsters at Knott's aimlessly wander their rooms, waiting for the 14-year-old girl to leap upon.

The value of the events is understandably subjective -- I would definitely not say you NEED a front of line pass to experience every maze; I was able to see the whole event without out. That being said, regardless of the "value" I'd say that Horror Nights' mazes blow Knott's mazes out of the water pretty much across the board -- yes, even in cleverness.

October 2, 2014 at 11:36 PM · Again, I can't comment on this year's event, but I strongly feel that what you're saying doesn't at all apply to the previous two Haunts.

If the scares are that scarce this year, then I have a hard time understanding how you see improvement in this year's edition.

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