Opening night at Knott's Berry Farm's 2013 Halloween Haunt

September 27, 2013, 2:43 PM · 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.

Welcome to Ghost Town

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

Trick or Treat
One of the returners from last year, this maze takes you through the Green Witch's house where you'll be spooked by all manner of tricksters. The set dressing in this maze is great and for the most part the actors seemed to be focused on scaring the guests.

Also a repeat from last year, Endgames puts you in the middle of a battle arena with loud music and loud actors — this is a skippable maze if the line is very long.

Dominion of the Damned
A sequel to a solid maze last year, Damned does not have enough scares to go with its solid set design. I liked the look of this maze, but there were not enough people taking advantage of the guests distracted by the great sets.


Easily the best maze of the night for the second straight year. While a hodgepodge of the bizarre by its very nature, Delirium is extremely scary with some very inventive scares inside. I won't spoil anything, but you're going to want to do this maze. Note that to reach the entrance for Delirium you need to go through Dominion of the Damned; two ghouls with one ghost-vacuum.

Pinocchio Unstrung
In this version of the story, Pinocchio was never turned in to a real boy at all — and he's taking his anger out on you by turning humans in to puppets. Some frightening imagery and good scares in this one.


Probably my second favorite maze of the night, this maze saw its great concept fully actualized as you enter the lair of the "Forevermore killer," a serial killer who uses the works of Edgar Allen Poe as inspiration. If you're a fan of the poet at all, you'll appreciate all the nice touches inside — particularly the poem readings while you walk through the maze.

Black Magic
This Houdini-inspired maze rounds out my top three. Great effects inside and a really clever idea for a maze. Magic was very theatrical — as many of Knott's mazes are — and it worked. Highlights include a killer rabbit coming out of a hat and monsters "locked" in a tank filled with water.

Mirror, Mirror

Mirror Mirror
You might recall my excitement about this maze when it was first announced. Billed as "a maze you can get lost in," Mirror Mirror was, I thought, going to revolutionize the way mazes are built from now on. Hooooooo boy was I wrong. Easily the worst maze of the night, Mirror Mirror is not a maze you CAN get lost in — it's a maze you MUST get lost in.

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.

Gunslinger's Grave
An old Western town has been overtaken by bandits who appear to be more interested in taunting you than scaring you. The set design was solid, but the maze was not in any way frightening.

At the maze reveal, the designers said Slaughterhouse would get a refresh this year. Maybe it did, but other than more actors it seemed to be the same maze as last year. There's nothing particularly wrong with that, but the maze certainly feels a bit dated as it is now the longest running maze at the event.

Witch's Keep (Calico Mine Ride)
This isn't a maze, per say, and it's extremely hard to do anything effective with this concept. I'm not sure that Knott's would be better off by letting this concept go dark next year, but I don't think there is a way to make this attraction anything other than forgettable.

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!

Replies (5)

September 27, 2013 at 3:14 PM · Hey Jacob,

So the inevitable question comes up. Which did you prefer Universal or Knotts this year? What was the scariest maze from both parks.

I did both last year, but thinking of maybe only doing one this year.

Also (while this prob doesn't fit into the "theme park guidelines", did you go or have a review for dark harbor at the queen mary?


September 27, 2013 at 3:22 PM · @Jay

For me, Halloween Horror Nights is far and away the better event. If the extra money that Horror Night costs is not an issue, I'd advise you to go there.

Insidious was, in my opinion, the scariest maze at Horror Nights while Delirium took that prize at Knott's Scary Farm.

Horror Nights wins in terms of maze quality while KSF offers five more mazes. Despite Knott's insistence that they're taking a quality over quantity approach (as evidenced by having less mazes this year, I guess) this year's event felt like a step sideways for the event.

I have actually never been to the Queen Mary in any capacity (which I suppose makes me a bad Californian) and I'm getting on a plane to move to Houston tomorrow, so I don't think I'll make it out there this year. I have heard good things about it in the past -- and I don't believe it's particularly expensive.

September 27, 2013 at 3:46 PM · Thanks Jacob!

Last year, I did all 3 & thought Queen Mary was the best, followed closely by Universal.

Was just curious about this year.

Thanks for the review & enjoy Houston!

September 28, 2013 at 4:30 PM · I went on Trapped this year (2013) and I do not believe it was worth it. After reading up on Trapped prior to the opening night, they were promising more rooms and harder interactivity (is that a word?) Anyways, it felt like it was put together in a month and you did not really have to solve anything in the majority of the rooms. I agree, some of the mazes were really awesome looking, but not scary. Knotts also promised on quality, but that should have been focused on scares rather than story. I just want to be scared; I don't really care about story. Enjoy!
September 30, 2013 at 10:49 AM · Disappointing to hear that about Trapped -- I really like the concept and hope it is expanded to other parks and events. That being said, there are plenty of non-theme park affiliated events that do mazes like Trapped already, particularly in the L.A. area.

I think it's possible to both have a story and be scary -- Knott's has done it before, after all; but if they're just going to do one thing, it should certainly be scaring.

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