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Event review: 2017 Knott's Scary Farm

September 22, 2017, 2:20 AM · Knott's Scary Farm kicked off Thursday night at Knott's Berry Farm for its 45th year of Halloween haunts, scares, and even some spooky silliness.

This year marks the end of the road for Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, who is concluding her run at Knott's Scary Farm after more than two decades. She's still bringing it after all these years — showing off her, um, assets, as well as the self-awareness to know that what she's really selling isn't sex, but humor.

Elvira

Elvira's best move is to pose, so she's never going to fit in the dance numbers that drive much of the show. But Elvira knows that as well as the audience, and there's a great bit in the middle of the show where she's replaced by an obvious stunt double, then a foam dummy, for some uncharacteristically athletic moves. It's all done with one of the Mistress of the Dark's winks — equal parts come-hither and you-know-we're-kidding-right?

Knott's other Scary Farm show is The Hanging, which this year runs with the subtitle "Fake Noose." With that, you know the Trump jokes are coming, and indeed the President plays a recurring part in the show, which gives an even larger role to Russian President Vladimir Putin. You can write your own joke about that here, and there's a decent chance it will be funnier and maybe even more original than anything found in this production.

The Hanging

The performers acknowledge the limitation of this show's format in spoofing politicians, noting that the Secret Service does not take kindly to depictions of hanging the President. So they settle for portraying Trump as Putin's leather-clad submissive, instead. But most of the show is just one blood-squib-soaked fight scene after another, culminating in the the hanging of... the Cash Me Outside girl? How about this: Instead of pretending to hang a 14-year-old, we instead show the hanging of the record company executives who gave her a contract, or the talk show hosts who keep booking her on their shows, instead?

Moving along, Knott's this year also added a seasonal overlay to its Timber Mountain Log Ride, which becomes Halloween Hootenanny. There are some nice touches in here, including a few jump scares from live actors. But the aliens who show up in the middle made me laugh most, and the log ride is always wicked fun at night, even without the Halloween overlay. But enough with the side shows. Let's get to the main event — the mazes.

One of the new mazes this year is Dark Ride, an abandoned carnival attraction that's become home to every out-of-work sideshow freak in the county. Knott's really seems like it wants to call out lots of competitors' attractions here, but that it doesn't want to pay any lawyers to respond to cease-and-desist letters, either. So we get fire-breathing dragons and possessed furniture, but also an enormous helping of the generic blood and guts you'll find throughout Scary Farm's mazes. This was one my top two mazes at the event, but it could have been all-time classic snark for theme park geeks. As it is, it's just a fun time for everyone.

My next-favorite maze was Paranormal Inc., which returns from last year. I love the pre-show that sets up the maze, with its earnest parapsychologists trying to capture a ghost spirit. Be careful what you wish for, guys. The pre-show leads into a trek through an abandoned hospital returned to life, with corpses and vengeful nurses out to get us. Almost everything at Knott's Scary Farm is played with tongue firmly in cheek, but the performers in Paranormal find the right balance between creepy and cheesy to make this a maze worth doing again.

In general, the actors are the strongest parts of Knott's mazes. In most of the houses, you get opportunities where actors don't just jump out at you for quick scares, but where they try to engage you for several seconds to advance a storyline. (Yes, it's also a way to keep you moving through the attraction.) The interaction is most engaging on Special Ops: Infected, a laser-tag zombie hunt — with few actual scares — that I loved way more than I should, simply because I am a sucker for shooter attractions.

The Pumpkin Eater is new this year, taking visitors into the lair of a seven-foot creature that likes to have its visitors for dinner. Literally. The maze takes you through the inside of a giant pumpkin, seeds and all, as well as through all sorts of other creepy obstacles, including a cave of creepy insects, a labyrinth of thorns, and a cornfield.

Moving along through other returning mazes, I enjoyed the "school field trip from Hell" storyline in the Red Barn, which otherwise is just another country bumpkin slasher flick in the (bloody) flesh. Voodoo offers a few glimpses of ambitious set decoration but the cast's vibe in the house struck me as more look-at-our-freak-show than let-us-scare-the-crap-out-you. And The Tooth Fairy is just straight-up cheesy gore throughout. A fun show, but once was enough.

I wish I got what Knott's was trying to do with Trick or Treat: Lights Out, a trip through and around the Green Witch’s haunted home. You are giving a weak flashlight to carry with you through the maze, which is supposed to trigger some interactive elements, but for the life of me (pun maybe intended...), I couldn't figure out what the flashlight was supposed to do. It vibrated a couple of times near the end of the maze, in the presence of the Green Witch, but if that was supposed to signify something, I missed it. My frustration with the flashlight didn't help sell me on what is otherwise a fairly generic walk through common Halloween tropes.

The final maze is Shadow Lands, which I missed tonight because the line was not moving and they weren't letting anyone in the two times I tried it. Shadow Lands is a returning, Samurai-themed maze, so if any of you got to it, let us know in the comments what you thought.

In all, Knott's looks its best for Scary Farm, when monsters roam the fog-shrouded streets. Whether this is a better event than Universal's Halloween Horror Nights is up for debate, but there should be no question that the much-lower-priced Knott's Scary Farm is the theme park industry's value champion for after-hours Halloween events. Knott's Scary Farm runs 25 nights through October 31.

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Replies (3)

September 22, 2017 at 9:19 AM · I'm guessing you never actually watched Elvira's movie because all of those dance numbers are lifted almost exactly from the film! watch you but be warned, once you cross the darkside you'll forget about the sun!
September 23, 2017 at 11:14 PM · Not a lot of new mazes this year -- I did most of those last year. At least Knott's front of the line pass, unlike Universal's, lets you do the mazes as often as you want.
September 24, 2017 at 7:49 PM · We went last night and LOVED it! Such a great value, and the monsters seem to have a Judy Garland-Andy Rooney "Let's put on a show!" vibe missing at Universal's overpriced Halloween Horror Nights--with its god-awful 90-minute lines, miniscule horror zones, and one dance show.

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