Haunt Review: KNOTT’S SCARY FARM (2019)
Courtesy of Knott’s Scary Farm

This year’s Knott’s Scary Farm returned for its 47th season with the launch of new mazes WAX WORKS and ORIGINS: THE CURSE OF CALICO, hilarious puppet shows, and the guarantee of scares around every inch of the park. For the Halloween-season, the park once again was taken over by monsters far and wide to ensure that guests were amused, delighted, and – ultimately – scared beyond belief as they explored all there is to offer at Scary Farm. The following is a recap of each of these exciting, titillating experiences beginning with the mazes, lingering in the scare zones, and ending with the shows taking residence at Knott’s Scary Farm.

WAX WORKS – MAZE

Haunt Review: KNOTT’S SCARY FARM (2019)
Courtesy of Knott’s Scary Farm

Description: Mysterious lights and strange noises have begun to emanate from the eerie abandoned wax museum. The once prominent plastic surgeon, Dr. Augustus Scratch, has been seen tinkering at night and is now ready to show off his beautiful yet terrifyingly life-like masterpieces of hot molten wax and bloody flesh. It’s rumored that bloodcurdling screams can be heard echoing through the halls of Wax Works as victims are horribly submerged into a scorching hot cauldron of bubbling wax. Take a closer look at his gruesome works of art and try to escape his deadly grip or become the newest masterpiece in his collection.

Sarah’s Thoughts: The new maze addition this year is Wax Works and we were one of the fortunate first groups to get in before the maze had to shut down a bit opening night. Needless to say, the maze is visually splendid and does capture the essence of a decaying wax museum.

Throughout the course of the maze, you really get to see the horror that the plastic surgeon, Dr. Augustus Scratch, is creating. We see this in the creatures that occupy the corridors of the museum. From presidential figures to plastic surgeon botched dolls to people screaming as they await their doom, it really does come together to paint the narrative that the team is trying to get across. And, when we finally got to the end of the maze where we could finally see what the mad Doctor was working on, the creature that the team had created did not disappoint. It was truly gross to look at.

I think I would have liked to see the maze a little bit lighter in terms of the light that they had inside. There were times that I had difficulty seeing, but this is really a minor note. I really think that narratively and visually, the team that constructed Wax Works did a great job! I can’t wait to visit this maze next year.

THE DEPTHS – MAZE

Description: A heavy fog drapes over an abandoned port village where ancient creatures lurk inside the pitch-black underground caves hidden below the seaside shores. The Nightwatch Mining Crew has mysteriously disappeared and village rumors point to the eerie tunnels the town sits upon. Myths of the terrifying horrors that lurk within the cave have often been whispered but never confirmed. Did the crew meet their demise at the hand of vicious creatures that live within the cave? Journey into the ominous caverns and follow the crew’s path into The Depths, discover if the superstition revolving around the cave is true or not. But be warned! All who have entered have never resurfaced.

Sarah’s Thoughts: This maze debuted for the first time at Knott’s Scary Farm last year and I remember being completely blown away by the team’s efforts to bring the story to life. This year is no exception.

For returning maze go-ers, there are some slight changes that have been made to the beginning of the maze that actually help more than hinder the overall maze. Instead of walking through the caves where we eventually meet the hidden horrors that occupy its corridors, guests will take the elevator the miners take to enter the caves. This small change helps to further immersive us into the story, but also has the effect of making us feel more trapped. Once we enter these caves, there is really no way out except to head back.

Other than that particular change at the beginning, the maze is about the same as it was last year. It’s still immensely fun though, especially since the actors have so much fun embodying the creature roles that they’ve been given. Their enthusiasm was evident as we went through, which is always a big plus. That coupled with the set design and the animatronics (here’s looking at you, my beloved Kraken), this maze is easily up there in my top 3 favorite mazes that are at Knott’s this year.

My note to guests this year still stands about going when the sun has set. The lack of lighting should play a role in making the maze atmosphere scarier and more technical things like seeing where the animatronics are less obvious.

PARANORMAL, INC. – MAZE

Description: The Haunting of Hayden Hill: Paranormal Inc. maze once again reopens its doors to those brave enough to uncover an eerie and supernatural adventure. Guests investigate a haunted hospital where the patients were tortured for decades by deranged doctors and nurses. Demonic spirits of the murdered victims have been detected throughout the mysterious halls, while evil medical staff prowl for new patients to torture.

Sarah’s Thoughts: This was actually my first time ever going into Paranormal Inc and, after hearing all of my friends and colleagues talk about it, I had fairly high expectations going into the maze. Unfortunately, I do not think that they were entirely met.

Guests enter Hayden Hill under the guise of paranormal investigators. We get an opening scene that introduces us to the Hill and how the ghosts have been able to get out. The introductory premise helps to set the tone, which is almost goofy and comical. However, we are then plunged into madness as we are now forced to navigate the corridors of Hayden Hill and deal with the demonic presence that is making itself known. To say that it generally felt like we were walking in chaos would be what I think the maze is supposed to make us feel. However, at times, it felt like the chaos was more distracting than anything else because there was so much frenetic energy to take in.

Part of this could have to do with the stuntwork. This is a maze that boasts a substantial amount of stuntwork. While it was cool to see the wirework in the closing portion of the opening scene that forces us to move into Hayden Hill, the wirework that appears inside the actual maze itself proved to be more of a distraction. In my opinion, I’m not sure it added to that supernatural feeling that the team was trying to convey and, ultimately, it took away from the experience more than added to it.

However, there were good quality moments. I really enjoyed the scene where we are taken back in time to a more “normal” time in Hayden Hill’s history. Everything is clean and bright, but you know that something is off. And, if you have watched enough of the movies tackling this sub-genre in horror, you know that this is just a red herring. Something is about to happen. And happen it does. It was the moment when I got to finally see my friend shriek in terror at the surprise that was waiting at the end.

Overall, I’m not sure Paranormal Inc. is as much of a stunner as it has been in the past. It is still an okay maze, but it’s too full of distractions to really hit the mark.

DARK ENTITIES – MAZE

Description: Teleport beyond earth and into a realm where the darkness is absolute. In the depths of space, a lone station faces terror beyond all imagination. An extraterrestrial mutation has invaded the station, and it’s on the prowl for new hosts. The unearthly inhabitants’ force increases as it feeds on its unwilling victims. Escape the dark entities before its deathly force eliminates all living forms aboard the station. There’s nowhere to escape when time is running out!

Sarah’s Thoughts: Last year was the maiden voyage for Dark Entities and it was one of the more narratively cohesive mazes. This year continues that trend. With a premise like an alien parasite taking over a space station, it’s pretty difficult to go wibbly-wobbly off the track on that type of narrative.

The transition from the station into the more infected parts is one that is still one of my favorites. It’s simple, yet effective and helps immerse the audience in knowing that they are entering new terrain. From that transition on, it becomes pretty clear what to expect. The infection is running rampant throughout the station and chaos is ensuing. It’s just a matter of time before we ourselves are also infected.

The note that I have for this maze is more focused on the actors rather than the overall execution of the maze. Considering the type of mutations that are supposed to be happening to those on board the station, it was a bit disheartening at times to see some barely animated actors. Granted, in some areas of the maze, there was limited space for them to move around, so being animated could have been more difficult to execute. However, I wanted something more from the actors in selling to us that we needed to get out of there. That this station was, in fact, dangerous.

We can see with the set design and prop work how this is the case, but I wanted the acting to be cohesive enough to sell that point home to me and I just didn’t get it. Since it was opening night, I know that there will be room for growth as Scary Farm dives deeper into the haunt season.

ORIGINS: THE CURSE OF CALICO – MAZE

Description: Pierce the veil of time to discover the secret of the evil fog that hangs over Knott’s Scary Farm’s Ghost Town streets in this new maze. Unearth the sinister paranormal activity that plagues the town as Sarah Marshall is put on trial for her suspected crimes of witchcraft. All will be unveiled when the Green Witch rises up and curses the townsfolk, transforming all who have accused her into a wicked horde of malicious creatures with an eternal quench of the living.

Sarah’s Thoughts: Wow. That was the first thing I thought as I left Origins: The Curse of Calico. For a maze that is using what is their own IP and building off the story of the witch Sarah Marshall, there were a lot of high expectations going into this and I definitely think the team hit it out of the park.

The Origins: The Curse of Calico takes you from the moment Sarah Marshall has been sentenced to hang up until the end of her casting the curse and her full transformation into the Green Witch. What I greatly appreciate about this maze is that you get to walk through the entire town that has been built from scratch and see how every town member either dies or becomes completely transformed into the creatures that we know today. Part of this is done with the use of cool projection (the Bride comes to mind), but also in well-constructed set pieces. I mean, who would have thought that we’d get to see an epic saloon fight from the outside. There are so many stunning visuals that it’s hard to not want to stay in each room.

However, the use of technology does have a moment when it can be distracting. There’s one room in particular where you get to see the various stages of Sarah Marshall via video screens. While the video screens featured throughout the course of the maze helped aid us in seeing the Green Witch slowly transform, when they were crowded together in one room, it just felt like too much. These rooms are generally built to be tiny and, while it had the effect of us seeing the different forms of transformation in each frame, I think it was more distracting than anything.

What was really my favorite part of the maze was when we got to see the Green Witch in her final form before engaging in an epic aerial stunt. This stunt, honestly, added to the overall mystique and power that we were anticipating throughout the course of the maze. The usage of technology to showcase the transformation leading to this epic point at the end of the maze definitely proved to be beneficial.

Overall, I really enjoyed Origins: The Curse of Calico. It was a really ambitious undertaking and, with a little bit of technological finessing, I think it will be a maze that mainly will hold near and dear to their thoughts.  Also, I now need a book entirely about Sarah Marshall. The maze made my brain come up with too many questions about Calico and Sarah Marshall pre-trial, so now I just naturally need a book to answer these questions.

SPECIAL OPS: INFECTED

Description: Enlist to fight the zombie apocalypse in an all-out war against the undead in the interactive experience, Special Ops: Infected. Armed with specially designed laser guns, brave groups of guests embark on a mission of navigating through the city in a quest to find the infection cure. Take your last shot at saving mankind as this heart-stopping attraction is going out with a bang of new surprises, including two brand-new show scenes and characters for its final year at Knott’s Scary Farm.

Sarah’s Thoughts: It’s really sad that this will be the last year for Special Ops: Infected because it’s just a fun experience all around. The concept of the maze isn’t really all that unique, with you needing to get out of the city and defeating the source of infection so that the world can go back to what it was before. However, the interactivity portion of attendees having to run around and shoot zombies is what keeps the experience fun.

While last year we had issues with the technology that we were given i.e. the guns wouldn’t work for some of us. This year it seems like the equipment was working all around. But, even if the technology wasn’t working, it’s not hard to pretend to shoot the zombies coming at you. Just having the laser gun in your hand is enough to ground you in the experience and help enforce the immersive quality of the maze.

In terms of what’s new this year, it’s always difficult to know what is new and what isn’t when the adrenalin kicks in. There is a portion of the maze where groups get split up and converge together. That serves to heighten the drama and the intensity because, as we know from zombie apocalypse movies when the group splits up, shenanigans will follow.  Overall, I’m bummed that this fun, adrenaline rush of a laser tag maze will be leaving us. But the memories and the fun of just running around living out a safe version of my innermost apocalypse dreams will forever remain.

SHADOW LANDS – MAZE

Description: A fulfilling life ensures a soul safe passage into eternity, but what happens to the souls of soldiers slain in battle? Enter the hair-raising Shadow Lands maze and fight off demon samurais whose souls are cursed to rot within the depths of purgatory. Guests will embark on a quest through a sacred shrine, an ancient Japanese temple and into the midst of the shadow lands.

Sarah’s Thoughts: One of my personal visual favorites from last year has returned for what will be its final sendoff. Shadow Lands is meant to focus on what happens in the Japanese afterlife, which can be a bit difficult to pick up on since there isn’t really a linear storyline. As far as narratives go for mazes, this one is less obvious and could feel a bit disjointed since this requires a bit more knowledge on the culture featured in the maze.

However, from a cultural standpoint, it is a lovely homage to Japanese folklore. From the allusion to the Aokigahara and the various types of youkai (demons) featured throughout the course of our journey in the Japanese style shrine we enter once we make our way through the Aokigahara, you could tell that some thought had been put into the design and concept. Throw in performers who were into their roles and you definitely feel like you’ve been transported somewhere else.

The only note that I can make about the maze after initially walking through is wondering if the bungee performers featured in what I imagine as the second to last scene were meant to be stationary. I didn’t see them engage throughout the course of my walkthrough in that section, even with the large group behind us. So, I was left wondering if that might have been purposeful or not. Bungees can be difficult to work with, so I can also see that the actors might have been taking a moment as well.

DARK RIDE – MAZE

Description: Journey through an abandoned carnival ride where cruel carny folk still linger in the shadows in Dark Ride: Castle of Chaos. The carnival has become a refuge for freaks and carnies. Now those shunned performers have created a dark world of terror which they plan to unleash on those who enter. Dark Ride will lead brave visitors through a treacherous path and into the bowels of a long-neglected attraction, as sinister shadows and horrifying scenes cast a gloom over the once pleasant ride. It’s everyone’s worst nightmare, being helplessly trapped inside an abandoned carnival ride without a way out. New for 2019, Dark Ride will be debuting a brand-new ending show scene where guests can walk through the rides attached to the Gift Shop and come face to face with Smiley Sam and Baby Fool.

Sarah’s Thoughts: Dark Ride was one of the newer mazes last year and really helped launched guests into that feeling of nostalgia with the design. This year that nostalgia is still there, but the feeling that this nostalgia hides something truly sinister is more pronounced.

Part of that sense of foreboding is delivered via the soundtrack. The track skips and your brain is wondering what is going on to make you feel on edge. That and seeing things like blood trails, props falling apart steadily due to the natural decline in upkeep, and the like make for heightening the tension before you really get behind-the-scenes of the Dark Ride. It’s there where we really are exposed to the Carnies that reside within the maze and realize that they’ve made their home here. The addition of the security room scene definitely helped to increase that tension, as guests then learned that they had been watched this entire time via camera monitors.

The only thing that felt off to me was the new end-scene. It was very much a blink and you missed it sort of scene.  That combined with the timing of Smiley Sam and Baby Fool barely popping out might have had a lot to do with it. I’m curious to know if the scene will feel more apparent as the season moves along because I think what I mentioned above had more to do with ill timing on my part as I exited the maze.

PUMPKIN EATER – MAZE

Description: Survive the wrath of the murderous 7-foot tall creature that haunts the old woods surrounding The Hollow in the Pumpkin Eater maze. The notorious creature is on the prowl hidden within the dark confines of the haunted town he once terrorized. To escape the sinister Pumpkin Eater’s wrath all that enter must go on a quest through the silent town of victims, face a cave of crawling insects and solve the labyrinth of thorns that blocks the way out.

Sarah’s Thoughts: The Pumpkin Eater maze always fits into the realm that Knott’s has constructed in the heart of Camp Snoopy. It’s not difficult to go from The Hollow scare zone into this maze because it’s an almost seamless transition. Once you’re inside the maze, it’s not difficult to get swept up in the atmosphere and setting that the team has created for you.

I’ll never not enjoy being inside a giant Pumpkin as this maze lets us do. It’s always a blast going in and swatting aside dangling pumpkin seeds and avoiding the creepy Pumpkin things that are trying to come at you from the dark murky corners inside the Pumpkin domain. Note: this is probably the most I’ll say the word ‘pumpkin’ this year. This all leads into what you think is an escape from the Pumpkin Eater once you exit the giant pumpkin, but the feeling that something is still after you lingers. This is what I had wanted to feel when I attended last year.

My note from last year was that when we entered the corn maze, that it felt open enough and comfortable enough to feel like we had actually escaped. This time the corn/hay maze that they had created felt more closed in. It really felt like you were trying to get out and I appreciated that. That combined with the monsters that were waiting as you made your way out helped enhance that feeling of, “Holy crap. We need to get out of here, stat!” All in all, Pumpkin Eater was a solid maze this year.

GHOST TOWN STREETS – SCARE ZONE

Description: Ghost Town Streets is the original – and still most terrifying scare zone – that started it all. Bands of half-human, half-animal monsters prowl the streets and inhabit the fog. Beware the notoriously startling Sliders who lunge from every fog-filled corner of the land.

Chloé’s Thoughts: There’s a reason Knott’s Scary Farm continues to have Ghost Town Streets: this is a Scare Zone that is scary. Because of all the fog, you can’t tell if the person walking toward you is a fellow Knott’s-goer or a scare actor—until they’re getting right in your face and making otherworldly animalistic noises. All in all, an effective walk-through.

THE HOLLOW – SCARE ZONE

Description: From within the fog, Witches of the Hollow along, with their armies of creatures, have risen once again to battle with the Witch Hunter and terrorize guests.

Chloé’s Thoughts: This Sleepy Hollow-esque Scare Zone spoke to my East Coast-born soul. Pumpkins—and pumpkin-headed actors—studded this area, giving it a true Halloween feel.

FORSAKEN LAKE – SCARE ZONE

Description: This unearthly scare zone is making its sinister return to the park, Forsaken Lake. Once again, the lake underneath Silver Bullet reveals the horrors and creatures it’s kept hidden, until now. Forsaken Lake will unleash gothic creatures, which have been ravaged by the dark and murky waters, as they wander their crypts preying on unsuspecting visitors, looking for victims to drag back to their watery graves. 

Chloé’s Thoughts: If you loved The Depths maze and if you’re a fan of Lovecraftian horror, you’ll be thrilled with Forsaken Lake. Gothic ghosts stalk the ground, snarling and pulling strands of seaweed from their throats. I almost expected them to get together and begin chanting “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.” They didn’t. But even so, I’d have to say Forsaken Lake was my favorite Scare Zone. 

FORSAKEN LAKE – SCARE ZONE

Description: Knott’s Boardwalk is taken over by “CarnEVIL,” where the freak show is the main event and countless deviant clowns crave your undying attention.

Chloé’s Thoughts: Truth be told, this was my least favorite Scare Zone at Knott’s Scary Farm. At a certain point (approximately one minute after entry), the whole psycho clown schtick becomes boring. Still, those with a particularly strong aversion to clowns (that is, most of the human race) might find Carnevil frightening.

PUPPET UP! Uncensored – SHOW

 

Description: Exclusively performing nightly at Knott’s Scary Farm for the 2019 season, Puppet Up! Uncensored is an outrageous, off-the-cuff live show featuring a combination of improvisational comedy and the magic of puppetry performed by a cast of world-class comedian puppeteers from The Jim Henson Company. Created by legendary puppeteer and award-winning director Brian Henson and directed by Patrick Bristow (“Ellen”, “Seinfeld”, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”), Puppet Up! Uncensored is no ordinary puppet show.  In true uncensored form, the content is driven by audience suggestions and participation, topped with the zany antics and bawdy shenanigans of the colorful and brazen puppet cast. Puppet Up! Uncensored will be performed three times each night at Knott’s Scary Farm and is intended for mature audiences.

Danielle’s Thoughts: Three times per evening, talented improvising puppeteers grace the Charles Schultz theater to present the newest show at Knott’s Scary Farm, Brian Henson presents Puppet-Up. This hour-long naughty puppet show uses the audience’s suggestions to create comical improvised scenes with plush. The host and co-creator, Patrick Bristow, skillfully listens to audience suggestions to direct scenes for the puppeteers. Audience members are asked to shout suggestions for locations, physically demanding jobs, and headlines for a news story during the show, which provides novelty to every performance. There are also a few non-improvised offerings including an opening song, a “naked” puppet number, an ironic love song, and looped video quintet. One of my favorite performances was a revival of the 1957 number “Java” that I have not seen since my childhood. Another highlight was when one volunteer was brought on-stage to perform an improvised scene with Brian Henson himself. Although there were cursing and tongue in cheek sexual references, the performance felt weirdly wholesome likely due to the use of puppets. Even though this show may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it is hard not to appreciate the puppetry and improvisational skills of the performers. Overall, the show was highly enjoyable and a unique non-horror offering at 2019 Knott’s Scary Farm.

THE HANGING – SHOW

Description: The Citizens of Calico face their toughest foes yet, the censors; in this live stage show that looks back at the year’s pop culture with some killer comedy. Notorious for its special effects and high-flying stunts, The Hanging is a no holds barred assault on pop culture’s most infamous moments of the past year.

Danielle’s Thoughts: Returning 2019, is the wildly popular Knott’s Scary Farm staple, The Hanging. Using pop-culture references throughout the year, The Hanging creates parodies of society’s most despised public figures and has them battle one another. Singing, dancing, terrible cringe-worthy jokes and stunts are the backbone of this show. Although many of the jokes fall flat, one can appreciate the stunts, use of fake blood, and review of pop culture figures. The intro and ending referencing Knott’s Scary Farm’s witch of Calico, Sarah Marshall, was also a enjoyable new element of the show that was added this year. However, personally, I am not a fan of The Hanging. I found this show incredibly difficult to sit through as it is not my preferred form of humor or entertainment. That being said, there is a reason Knott’s brings back The Hanging every year. On the outskirts of Ghost Town, you can catch The Hanging at select times per night.
Knott’s Scary Farm starts September 19th and will run for 26 nights through November 2nd. Tickets and season passes are on sale now here.
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Sarah Musnicky

Managing Editor at Nightmarish Conjurings
Sarah is the managing editor of Nightmarish Conjurings and a lover of all things magical and horrific. All who are familiar with her can attest for her love of glitter, adorable plush, and obsession with folklore and mythology. When she's not chasing after things she probably shouldn't hug, Sarah is making sure that Shannon's sanity stays intact long enough for deadlines to be tackled.
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