What's the Deal with This Year's Knott's Scary Farm?

September 25, 2015, 1:30 PM · Knott’s, we need to talk.

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

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.”

Haunted house

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.

Right, scary. It’s right in the name. Voodoo was the most disappointing maze, but Special Ops: Patient Zero was the most frustrating. As soon as the park opened we hooked a right to grab a return time. It went how I imagine handing out free bags of money would go. Massive crowds, all right near the front entrance and a few staff members not at all equipped to handle it all. Once you got your time? Yeah, you had to wade through the crowd that had just rushed the dead-end street. Nice.

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?

Calico Square at night

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.

Replies (5)

September 25, 2015 at 8:46 PM · I honestly believe that Cedar Fair ruined this event. A Halloween horror overlay recquires great theming and I don't think Cedar Fair is about theming, it is more about great roller coasters. Ever since they acquired Knott's they have shifted the focus away from the themed lands to some great coasters. No hate intended, I think Cedar Fair makes the greatest coasters in the world, but they don't care about an immersive atmosphere and focus on making it thrill centers
September 26, 2015 at 1:54 PM · They need better show writers and directors. And whomever lights these things should be fired, or made a victim at The Hanging. Even that show sucked this year.
September 26, 2015 at 2:31 PM · I went to Knott's last night and I couldn't agree more. I only wish that you had reviewed the WORST "maze' of them all...Gunslinger's Grave. That thing is a total bore and even elicited a few groans when announced at the passholder event. I was also very underwhelmed at the 2 new shows Knott's has for the horror nights. First up is "Elvira's Asylum". It was EXTREMELY LOUD, seemed like she had little to no rehearsal time, and consisted of a couple of disjointed musical numbers, cheap circus "acts", and her walking back and forth across the stage telling dumb puns that had nothing to do with the show. Then there's The Hanging (a.k.a. Straight Outta Calico). The humor was cruder (which is okay) and the plot horrible. The fun banter between the Sheriff and the Hangman is lost as the Sheriff shoots the Hangman dead within the first couple of minutes of the show. Sporadic applause at the end of each of these shows demonstrated how little the audience thought of these shows. I have tickets to go again tonight but have decided to skip this for the remainder of the season. Hoping my trip to Universal next week goes much better than this. And yes, I too noticed that the live actor count was greatly reduced this year.
September 28, 2015 at 6:28 PM · Neither of these shows are for me...I think that the Hanging is (and always has been) tasteless humor that often crosses the line in terms of what's cool and what's...well, not.

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.

September 29, 2015 at 3:13 PM · I agree completely. Knott's Scary Farm 2015 is just a big fat fail in my opinion, I recommended some close friends of mine to just skip it this year or go else where. I purchased the freight pass with the skeleton key and it was honestly a huge waste of money and time, The mazes were disappointing not enough actors working inside the mazes or out in the park.

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