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.
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.
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…
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.
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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