No, no, come sit down. We’re all here because we love you and we want you to get better. I know this is going to be hard, but you need to sit and listen before we can help you get where you need to be. I’ll go first.
Knott’s Scary Farm is in its 43rd year of existence. I imagine it was quite scary and impressive for many of those years, but after taking two steps forward the past two years the event took a major step backwards this fall.
Of the 11 mazes at the 2015 event, three were what I would put in the category of “recommendable.” The other eight range between “take it or leave it” and “avoid.”
Let’s start with the good stuff.
Paranormal Inc. was spectacular, and it was great to see Knott’s try something out of the box, theatrical and scary. Some of the special effects (video effects in particular) aren’t really necessary, but they’re fun and occasionally pose distractions actors can use to scare unsuspecting guests.
Following a trip through a haunted house you’re sort of haphazardly dumped into Tooth Fairy, which was another highlight after being a lot of fun a year ago. It’s a bit gruesome and there should be more actors, but it delivered on its premise. Trick or Treat is now in its fourth year at Scary Farm, and remains unchanged with the exception of the final few rooms. This is still a great maze and worth doing, especially if you haven’t done it before.
Okay, so...now to the less fun part.
Whether it’s perception or reality, it seemed there were fewer actors and far, far fewer scares this year than in recent years. Mazes felt more like well-themed queues for attractions that were never to come.
Voodoo in particular suffered this fate. My favorite maze from a year ago was “plussed” this year, though in what way I cannot say. We counted six actors throughout the entire maze in which I saw one scare. The rest was some kind of atmospheric experience that, while beautiful and cool, was not scary.
Then there’s the wait. Our return time was for 7:30, so we hung out in the area until then. Then we waited 45 minutes to get in the maze — I assume this number only got higher as the night went on. This seems to defeat the purpose of handing out return times, but honestly it would be worth it if the experience was spectacular.
It wasn’t. Half the guns in our group didn’t work, and we kind of aimlessly ran around camp snoopy shooting at zombies with no effect. Halfway through the experience someone in our group asked, exasperatedly, “are we done yet?” After reaching the conclusion those whose guns worked weren’t able to see their scores, which truly makes the whole thing a glorified game of make-believe. I could do that at home.
Dead of Winter was fine, but also had far too few actors and far too few scares. Someone decided they wanted to turn “Frozen” into something treacherous and scary but never quite figured out how to do it. Forevermore, now in year three, featured the same great sets it did a year ago but at best one actor in a room — there were multiple rooms where there were none at all.
Black Magic and Pinocchio: Unstrung remain virtually unchanged and are certainly no worse off for it. Pinocchio may be a candidate for replacement in the near future, now in its fourth year.
My Bloody Clementine didn’t quite reach as high as I hoped it would, but the live talent, albeit sparse, certainly improved the experience. There was no story to be had, really, which is disappointing. No old-timey-camp-fire-narration to tell us the story of Clementine and her father and why she’s haunting the mine. We can guess for ourselves, of course, but with as many dead spots as there are in the experience, why not try something more?
What’s most disappointing about Knott’s Scary Farm is that it has aspirations of being something so much bigger and so much better than it is. Given an opportunity to step up and prove they still belong among the top-tier Halloween experiences, Knott’s seemed more "aging movie star" and less "actor readying for a comeback."
And that’s too bad. Halloween is better when Knott’s is good.Tweet
My biggest takeaway from Scary Farm is that Knott's has no clue how to put on an event of this size from an operations standpoint. I used to work guest control at Disneyland and that was FAR from perfect, but goodness was it a step up over what Knott's was attempting to do with Special Ops on Thursday night.
I'd love to get some behind-the-scenes info on some of the business decisions that go into making this what it is on a yearly basis, because it feels like someone's budget got hacked this year. That, or...I don't know, maybe fresh blood is needed creatively. I don't know enough of the inner workings to know if that would make a difference at all.
Gunslinger's Grave was an improvement on last year but still a colossal disappointment. Like many of the mazes this year, it's all ~aesthetic~ but no substance. They didn't do enough with it. The first time I went to Scary Farm was 2006, so it was already Cedar Fair owned at that point. I don't want to give up on this event, but they have a LOT to work on this offseason.
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