Haunt Review: KNOTT'S SCARY FARM

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Recently, Craig, Melinda, and Megan had the chance to attend Knott's Scary Farm's opening night and offered up a few thoughts on the event for all you haunt enthusiasts. All three had never attended Knott's Scary Farm before so they were eager to take on the granddaddy of theme park haunted attraction. The following is their recap of each of the haunt mazes and scare zones they took on. 

SPECIAL OPS: INFECTED (House)

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Description: Armed with cutting edge laser guns, brave guests will face off against hordes of zombies in the groundbreaking Special Ops: Infected interactive maze. Small units of guests will battle the zombie apocalypse through blood soaked city streets and an underground sewer system crawling with nearly one hundred ravenous zombies. The high tech innovative experience thrusts guests into the middle of a live-action video game complete with live actors, real time scoring system, kill streak rewards system and interactive targets, including a juggernaut boss zombie. The new attraction is one of the largest mazes ever created in Knott's Scary Farm history so form your squad an put your zombie apocalypse survival skills to the test in this action packed, one-of-a-kind experience. 

Megan's Thoughts: We started the night by racing into the park out of sheer excitement (and with a goal of conquering all that the park had to offer), and we quickly landed on our first maze of the night: Special Ops: Infected. As we approached the queue, we were greeted by a high energy Special Ops Sergeant who armed us with laser guns and gave us specific instructions on how to survive the zombie apocalypse that awaited us. We were instructed to work together as a team to shoot as many zombies as possible, with an emphasis on head-shots (and don't forget to double tap), all while navigating the shadowy streets and underground sewer systems of a town under the attack of brains-hungry zombies. There were various checkpoints throughout the maze which, in addition to being armed and shooting at zombies left and right, made it feel like we were living a video game. At each checkpoint, a different member of the Special Ops team would rally us and gear us up for the next leg of the journey. This high octane maze was the best way to kick off the evening, the interactive elements left us feeling pumped and ready to take on the rest of the park. 

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DARK RIDE (House)

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Description: Journey through an abandoned carnival ride where cruel carny folk still linger in the shadows in Dark Ride, Knott's Scary Farm's newest maze. The shunned performers have created an ominous 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 gloom over the once pleasant ride. It's everyone's worst nightmare, being helplessly surrounded by clowns without a way out. 

Melinda's Review: I am here to tell you, fiends, Dark Ride has set a new precedent for theme park haunts. Hands down, it is one of the most exciting things I have done this season so far. Participants walk through various sets, and even the maintenance bay, of a rusted out boardwalk-style dark ride. The set and sound design in these spaces was highly creative. Musical tracks skip, lights flicker, and demented audio-animatronics twitch as DARK RIDE rises from the ashes like some undead phoenix. The same scare mechanism made me scream not once, but twice. I saw it coming the second time, too! This type of psychological gameplay is what makes Dark Ride almost perfect. What looks inert at first is there to jolt you the moment you get even an ounce too comfortable. 

Almost every single scene in Dark Ride is Instagram Boomerang worthy. Of course, you will want to walk around the maze without a phone in your face, but you will find it nearly impossible to not become enamored with the creatures and creations inside. There is a bloody water feature in one room that held my attention for about a minute about two-thirds of the way through the maze. While it would seem majorly uncool to give anything away about the climax scene of Dark Ride, it feels important to note the actors switch it up. No two jaunts through the maze are alike and, trust me, you are going to want to jaunt through Dark Ride more than once. 

CARNEVIL (Scare Zone)

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

Melinda's Thoughts: In terms of the CarnEVIL scare zone itself, I have heard it is not much different from years past. (Yes! This year was my very first Scary Farm and, without question, I am a full-blown convert to all things Knott's). Casting in this Scare Zone is top-notch. There were contortionists, acrobats, and one old broad dressed in the finest threads a clown could acquire. If one of them walks up to you asking if you want to see a trick, always answer with a whole-hearted, "yes." After my first round in Dark Ride, it was awesome to see the way scare actors slipped into the maze to offer continuity between the Scare Zone and attraction. Taken as a whole, the boardwalk area was my favorite part of the whole park this year. 

In full disclosure, I am all about that evil clown lifestyle. In fact, my downtown LA shoebox in the sky is peppered with little clown action figures and statues. Despite my fondness for grease paint and honking noses, I found DARK RIDE and CarnEvil truly unsettling. Run, don't walk, to find out what goes squeak in the night at Knott's Scary Farm this year!

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SHADOW LANDS (House)

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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.

Craig's Thoughts: The opening act to this house is absolutely fantastic. Sure, it is a simple trick, but it perfectly sets up the story moving forward. From there, our journey in and through the Shadow Lands is populated by many a mythical monster, a gaggle of gruesome geisha's, and a slew of savage samurai. Even with all of this on the table, I felt like there were a few rooms where I missed the actors entirely though I was leading my group. Even having the feeling that I missed some of the cast members, I personally found this to be a house based more around ambiance than actual scares. Sure, there were a few good scares along the way, but I was more impressed with the ambiance actors, the effects, and the sets we encountered. Seriously, this was just a stunning house to look at and all the visuals along the way only added a sense of creepy uncertainty to the proceedings. All in all, while this was not the scariest house of the evening, the ambiance created by the sets and effects is just phenomenal putting this somewhere in the top half of my favorites. 

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FIESTA DE LOS MUERTOS (Scare Zone)

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Description: Fiesta de los Muertos fuses Latin American mythology, colorful costumes, and larger than life stilt walkers to create a terrifying trail filled with legendary monsters from hundreds of years of folklore waiting for you in the shadows. 

Craig's Thoughts: I have two caveats to my review of this scare zone: there was a press event being held in here so it was not as large as it would normally be and I did not spend as much time in here as in the other zones. That being said, the costuming on the actors was very well executed. The cast was doing its best to get a scream from the guests, but given the small size of the zone, it was fairly easy to see them coming. All in all, this is a zone with a lot of promise, I hope having more space will allow the cast to really get into their groove. 

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The Hollow (Scare Zone)

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Description: From within the fog, the legendary Headless Horseman and his army of the undead are ready to unleash a reign of terror in the newest scare zone, The Hollow. Guests entering the frightful 6-acre area will be terrorized by the souls of fallen soldiers and local farmers that have escaped their shallow graves. 

Megan's Thoughts: Out of the four impressive and foreboding scare zones, The Hollow was by far my favorite. Living jack-o-lanterns and deranged scarecrows roamed the streets, which were appropriately decorated like a disturbing harvest festival. I was completely swept away by the scare actors and all of the beautiful decorations that created a scare zone which totally encapsulated the spirit of Halloween. 

PUMPKIN EATER (House)

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Description: Survive the wrath of the murderous 7-foot tall creature that haunts the old woods surrounding The Hollow in the new maze, Pumpkin Eater. 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. 

Megan's Thoughts: Next up, nestled in The Hollow scare zone, is Pumpkin Eater! Luckily enough, this was a maze we were able to knock out early in the evening and were able to go back through a second time toward the end of the night, and it's a good thing we did because there was a lot to see... and hear... and smell. The set design and level of production value throughout the entire event was out of this world, but this maze in particular offered an amazing array of effects that engaged just about all of the senses. Pumpkin Eater's sinister twist on the well known nursery rhyme felt like the perfect eerie Halloween folk tale; the seven foot tall title character, an urban legend come to life. As we stepped through the threshold of a giant foreboding jack-o-lantern, we were met by Mr. Pumpkin Eater who we caught in the grisly act of dismembering his victims and turning them into pumpkin creatures and other monstrosities who lurked throughout the maze. As we journeyed further inside the giant pumpkin, we discovered bits of human remains embedded amongst the giant seeds and pumpkin sinew that coated the walls, and the air began to fill with the fresh scent of a newly carved pumpkin. After we made our way through the pumpkin, we found ourselves in the midst of a corn field maze filled with twisting pumpkin vines and haunting scarecrows that truly made me feel lost. I stumbled out of the maze disoriented and absolutely thrilled. The whole point of a maze is to make you feel lost and this one totally succeeded while thoroughly creeping me out and engaging the senses along the way. 

GHOST TOWN STREETS (Scare Zone)

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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. 

Craig's Thoughts: This is the heart of the event as it is not only the birthplace of Knott's Scary Farm, but also the birthplace of slider scare actors. The fog is thick, the actors are plentiful, and the costumes are well thought out. I did not get to spend a ton of time in this zone, but what time I did get to spend was mighty impressive. The actors did a great job of not only tag teaming guests, but also using the fog machines to their full advantage to get a scare. All in all, this is a must see when attending the event. 

TRICK OR TREAT: LIGHTS OUT (House)

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Description: Are you afraid of the dark? You will be. Armed with only a faulty flashlight, explore the creepy house at the end of the street in the upgraded Trick-or-Treat: Lights Out maze. Face the terrors of the house in complete darkness as your interactive flashlight reveals the horrors hiding in the shadows. Featuring the new state-of-the-art effects, unexpected scares and other other eerie surprises, Trick-or-Treat: Lights Out will terrorize you like never before. 

Craig's Thoughts: Remember that house that everyone knew was haunted? Remember how people would dare one another to run up and touch the front door or, more daring yet, to enter the house? Well, imagine entering that house armed only with a flashlight. Not just any flashlight, but one that flickers, changes color to reveal message on the walls, and could cut out completely. The fact that this gimmick was able to be successfully integrated into a nearly pitch black haunt is just one of the many signs of how Knott's Scary Farm is seeking to revolutionize haunts. This was a seriously impressive feat as they would have rooms where little items would move making one think that they saw something, but when they ran their light back over all would be still. Just as impressive as that little trick is the fact that even though the house was mostly dark, everywhere I shone my light there was an impressive set piece at the other end of the beam. They could have skimped on the sets, knowing that it was going to be mostly dark, but they went whole hog in on this idea and really made it feel like we were exploring a condemned house. To add to the idea of the rundown homestead, the look of the actors was equally as decrepit. There were lots of worn looking masks, older looking actors, or just generally dirty looking characters that backed up the idea that some sort of supernatural hobos have taken over this home. The cast did a great job of working the scares by utilizing the flashlight flickering or the moments when there was no light aimed at them getting themselves into position for their next scare. All in all, this was one of the highlights of the entire night as the gimmick perfectly matched the story which helped to create an unnerving ambiance for the actors to really get some good scares going. 

THE HANGING: FAKE NOOSE (Show)

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Description: A live stage show in Calico Square that irreverently 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. A must see parody!

Craig's Thoughts: Allow me to remind readers once again that this is my first ever trip to Knott's Scary Farm so this is my first experience with The Hanging. Given that, my closest comparison to this show would be Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure from Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights which seems a pretty fair comparison since they made fun of that show. In many ways the two are quite similar as they both involve pop culture references and choreographed dancing, but the hanging adds high energy combat to the mix which puts it in a league all its own. For me, the crude humor worked even though certain jokes were definitely cringe-worthy. I know this is going to show my age a bit, but I also had no idea who they ended up hanging at the end of the show as that person was such a blip on the pop culture radar that I had already forgotten they even existed. Possibly the best bit in the show was the Beauty and the Beast reference, which I will not say any more about for fear of spoiling the surprise. All in all, thanks to some cool choreography, this show proved to be highly entertaining and very different from most pop culture shows I have seen at other parks.

ELVIRA'S LAST SHOW

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Description: Elvira, the legendary Mistress of the Dark, graces the Knott's Scary Farm stage for the final time this year! Elvira goes out with a bang in a spectacular all-new show! The one of a kind performance will transport guests to a spooky world full of music, dance and humor. Don't miss your last chance to pay your respects to the Queen of Halloween at Knott's Scary Farm!

Melinda's Thoughts: Elvira is the only woman who can move me to tears with nipple tassles. And you, too, will laugh, cry, and reluctantly say goodbye to the Mistress of the Dark during her farewell show at this year's Knott's Scary Farm. 

As one of the longest theme park haunt attractions, Elvira's annual revue has been a fixture at Scary Farm since 1982 (there were, of course, some breaks from the spotlight, but her tenure is absolutely incredible). Can you really call yourself a Halloween obsessive if you haven't seen Elvira's unwavering bouffant, twinkling eyes, and generous assets at least once in the flesh? 

Each musical number in Elvira's Last Show will have you singing along and wiggling in your seat. It was equally entertaining to watch the many costume changes of Elvira and company fluidly transition from scene to scene. Should you choose to attend, I promise there will be rain, fire, fog, and zero blood. Among my favorite moments was when some of southern California's most finely toned 20-somethings throw an Elvira dummy through the area with the grace of five-year-olds at a birthday party in a bowling alley. Somehow, the creative team behind this show pulled off a masterful blend of special effects and campy gags. 

With equal parts sass and fright, Elvira is a one-woman Halloween tradition. Go watch Elvira be hot and fabulous before it is simply too late. Performances are held at 9:00 pmand 11:30 pm each night of Scary Farm, so you have ample opportunity to worm your way into the audience. Elvira's Last Show will be running at Knott's Scary Farm through October 31st.

PARANORMAL INC. (House)

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Description: Paranormal Inc. features high flying aerial stunts and scares as guests help 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. 

Megan's Thoughts: Toward the end of the night, we found ourselves at the door of Hayden Hill Sanitarium, where we joined a team of paranormal investigators as they looked into the twisted past of the old hospital. Again, I was utterly amazed with the production values of this unique maze that began with a live show. As the audience was ushered into the small front room of the sanitarium by crew members, we shuffled into what looked like the film set of a ghost hunters show, where the host attempted to capture a malevolent spirit. After things went awry and the spirit broke loose, the room immediately filled with organized chaos, complete with aerial stunts and actors totally committed to their roles of being terrorized by the evil lurking within the asylum walls. After that outstanding opening, the doors swung open and we were instructed to find our way through the haunted asylum. As we made our way through the maze filled with lively ghouls and artifacts of the occult, I was blown away by the incredible set design and overall production of yet another maze. 

VOODOO (House)

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Description: Beware the cursed swamps of New Orleans, where mindless zombies trudge through the murky bogs in search of bloody sacrifices and demons use Voodoo curses to possess innocent souls. Choose your path carefully children, for one wrong turn and you will be hexed forever. 

Melinda's Thoughts: "Laissez les bons temps rouler" in true New Orleans fashion with Papa Legba in Knott's Scary Farm's Voodoo. Encounter gators, bayou rednecks, and altars overflowing with skulls as you get the next best thing to an August night in Louisiana.

Sure, there are no beignets or chicory coffee in this attraction, but Voodoo does what Disneyland's New Orleans Square cannot: screen the intro sequence from COPS on loop. Oh, and scare you. The voodoo theming seems to be a pretext for ritualistic frights and zombie-filled scares. While some may take umbrage with the theme, Voodoo does try to stay as visually close to New Orleans as possible. In some ways, its bayou sets reminded me of a weird blend between Anne Rice novels and blaxploitation favorite The Zombies of Sugar Hill. You may not leave this maze hexed, but you will be vexed by how much you will scream in fear or glee. 

The biggest announcement for Voodoo leading up to the opening of 2017 Scary Farm was that it would have participants traveling backwards through the maze. If you read our top five list of most anticipated mazes at 2017's Scary Farm, you, too, were probably wondering what "traveling backwards" meant. Well, I have an answer! You do the same sequence of events as last year's Voodoo, but in reverse order. Since it was clear all of the park's efforts were put into making Dark Ride and Pumpkin Eater while revamping older mazes like Trick or Treat, this twist seemed reasonable. The maze is still visually baroque and you will want to linger in each of its rooms, just don't expect to see anything new if you have attend Scary Farm in the past. As a Scary Farm newbie, though, I found Voodoo to be absolute delight.

Never have skulls and jewels looked more glamorous in a Halloween haunt than at this year's Scary Farm. Even the murky bogs in Voodoo will take your breath away. 

TOOTH FAIRY (House)

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Description: This twisted tooth fairy steals more than just baby teeth as he drags his victims out their bedroom window and into a world of deranged dentistry. Unbelievable special effects include a blackout room through which guests must feel their way out, a disorienting x-ray strobe light room, and a finale with new terrifying surprises. Say aahhh. 

Melinda's Thoughts: As a tried and true favorite, The Tooth Fairy at Knott's Scary Farm 2017 does not disappoint. If you have been shirking your personal responsibilities by not setting up a dentist appointment for yourself, The Tooth Fairy is a nice reminder that irresponsible oral hygiene has consequences.

Piles and piles of glistening, bloody teeth are in each stage of the maze. The sounds of dental drills will also haunt you for days. Not one for body horror, each room left me shuttering, but still wanting to move into the next. Among the most striking visual moments in The Tooth Fairy is the space housing an animatronic entomology collection. Those slowly twitching undead moths and butterflies are among the most stunning things to watch in Knott's (I am including the grimacing faces of the Mine Train workers in this list). Perhaps what I enjoyed most about The Tooth Fairy was that its Victorian vibe allowed for a slower burn and not every room had a jump scare.

There were a few moments in The Tooth Fairy, however, where they could have upped the ante. The newest part of the maze, for example. While it is super chilling to have to feel your way out of a dark, cramped room, there were zero scare actors laying in wait. As we turned each corner, the lack in any sort of presence felt like a missed opportunity. There are spaces where scare actors could be hiding in the future, though... Don't be eased into a false sense of security on account of this review. Overall, your hands will nervously find their way to your mouth as you scuttle from ravaged dentistry chair to children's bloodied bedrooms. 

Like Santa, The Tooth Fairy has a knack for breaking, entering, and leaving a little something extra behind. Knott's Scary farm ramps up this bit of cultural folklore and makes you question every you quarter you ever got from the winged fella as a kid. 

RED BARN (House)

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Description: Take a trip to a blood-soaked barn filled with carnivorous animals seeking to prey on human flesh in the Red Barn gore maze. Legend has it the farmer who owns the barn was transformed into a heinous creature that sends his sadistic sons to ensure his legacy. None dare enter the barn, for those who enter never escape. 

Craig's Thoughts: The concept of this is something out of a classic slasher flick with guests serving as the victims trying to escape from a seemingly inescapable barn. While they tried to add a sense of urgency by having other victims along the way advising us to hurry through the barn, the line kept getting backed up so it never quite worked. That being said, the set design in here was fantastic and it really seemed like a long house from which we might never escape. The actors were doing a great job of trying to make this feel action packed and there were a lot of scares. This was also the only house or scare zone where I recall seeing/hearing a chainsaw, which was impressive given how common of a scare tactic they have become over the years. All in all, this might not be my favorite house of the evening, but it is still a solid center of the pack entry. 

HALLOWEEN HOOTENANNY ON THE TIMBER MOUNTAIN LOG RIDE
Description: Since its opening in 1969, the Log Ride has always been one of the most elaborate log flume rides in the US, taking guests through an 85 foot high by 330-foot-long mountain range themed to a nineteenth-century lumber camp. In 2013, the Log Ride reopened after an extensive revitalization, included the restoration of classic scenes, upgrades to ride figures, and new special effects to thrill guests and preserve this classic attraction for a new generation of fans. 

Megan's Thoughts: I'm going to start off by saying I am not a fan of water rides. There, I said it. I just don't like the idea of getting soaked only to walk around a theme park feeling soggy all day, so when the group suggested we hop on this log flume ride, I was slightly reluctant. However, since it was the end of the night and I knew I could escape to the warmth of my car for the ride home right after, I agreed and I am so glad I did. The night just kept getting better and better and it ended on a high note as we took off down the Timber Mountain River in our little log boat. The ride was cleverly decorated and we were surprised to find costumed scare actors lurking around every corner, ready to deliver some choice jump scares. I had never been on a ride that included live actors and I think it totally enhanced the ride experience and made for the perfect ending to a perfectly spooky night. 

For more information on Knott's Scary Farm and to purchase tickets, visit https://www.knotts.com/play/scary-farm. Knott's Scary Farm will be open on select nights until October. 31st.