Haunt season in Southern California seems to be back in mostly full swing. With Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights, Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest, and Knott’s Scary Farm opening their doors as part of the Big 3 haunts in the area, haunt fans are ecstatic about getting back into what is considered our norm for the season.
And, for us here at Nightmarish Conjurings, it doesn’t quite feel like the start of Halloween Haunt season until we hit Knott’s Scary Farm, the oldest operating Haunt at a theme park. With one new maze added to this year’s line-up, and a whole slew of shows, there’s definitely a lot for attendees to enjoy. As a general note, the show additions themselves also provide a safe distraction and are easier to control from a crowd management standpoint, so kudos to Scary Farm for really tapping into that area of entertainment for this year’s venture.
The following is a recap from Sarah and Craig of each of what this year’s Knott’s Scary Farm has to offer, beginning with the mazes, frolicking through the scare zones, and ending with the shows taking residence at Knott’s Scary Farm.
PARANORMAL, INC. – MAZE
Description: The Haunting of Hayden Hill: Paranormal Inc. maze reopens its doors one final time to those brave enough to uncover a bizarre 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 of this haunted hospital, while evil medical staff prowl for new patients to torture.
Sarah’s Thoughts: As a maze that has been around for a few years, Paranormal, Inc. is a fan-favorite for many. While I was not super impressed when I went through for the first time in 2019, I was wondering if my thoughts would change going into this final year. Alas, I think Paranormal, Inc. is retiring at a good time.
After literally cramming guests shoulder-to-shoulder into a small box-sized room, which is a poor design choice considering COVID-19 is still a thing, guests are ushered into a larger space where they get a bit of a pre-show similar to seasons’ past. We see how the ghosts have been able to get out in Hayden Hill before everything explodes into chaos. From here, the layout is about the same from previous years. There are two pathways that guests split off into, where they can take note of the various demonic happenings that have taken control of Hayden Hill.
Much like my note from 2019, the chaos felt more distracting than actually aiding in conveying the story of the maze. It is also in this portion that, since things remained overwhelmingly unchanged, the lack of cohesive immersion in the concept’s execution felt more noticeable. The open air above the general maze-goer sightline made it easier to pick up on when stunts were going to happen. It also further added to taking out of the overall immersive impact. With scare actors trying to find their groove on opening night added into the mix, the first 2/3 of the maze underwhelmed.
Where the maze still excels is in its brief pause in chaos, when maze-goers are shuttered back in time to Hayden Hill in its heyday. This is where the backstory provided in the maze description resonates and reminds us how vital these story elements are in pulling concepts together. It is then after we leave the clean and bright corridors of Hayden Hill’s past, that we realize what is in store for us in the maze’s final moments.
If there had been a way to make our trek through Hayden Hill’s demonic shenanigans land better from a storytelling perspective, I do think that Paranormal, Inc. would have hit far more successfully. However, with untethered chaos taking the reins, it undercuts the overall impact the maze could have. Clearly on its last legs and with not much new to add to its story, Paranormal, Inc. (and Knott’s Scary Farm) picked a good time to shutter its doors after this season.
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 in this scare maze when time is running out!
Sarah’s Thoughts: Heading into Dark Entities after Paranormal, Inc. highlighted how maze design and a simpler storyline can create something more impactful for the average maze-goer. In the case of Dark Entities, the set-up is about the same as its previous iterations. However, while the design and layout may be about the same, the atmosphere created combined with how the scare actors utilized their space made the maze memorable for the best reasons.
From my observation, there did appear to be fewer scare actors than what I could recall from our last venture into Scary Farm. However, with the animatronics and digital effects used throughout the maze, it did not take away from what we got to experience walking through this creepy space station. The gradual transition from a seemingly normal part of the station, with further signs that something is wrong, is effective. The lack of scare actors through these transitions heightens that tension. And then, we hit the infected areas.
This is where the scare actors on deck excelled. Making use of the plentiful distractions provided by props and set pieces, the actors made good use of the darkness and distraction scares to get at attendees. There were a couple of times that even I got startled, so I have to give mad props to the actors that took advantage of every nook and cranny in their sections.
One note that I will make, since I have pointed out little design flaws as it pertains to COVID, but I did wonder whether or not it might be a design flaw to include those long plastic mitters where entryways were. Given how flexible the mask restrictions are and knowing how moisture collects on mitters (plastic or cloth), I’m not certain it’s the best design choice from a hygienic standpoint. This is a nitpick note, but something to keep in mind considering the past 18 months.
Overall, Dark Entities is a maze that still slaps. With a simple enough premise, cohesive set design, and taking full advantage of generating tension via a lack of living presence via the actors until much later on, this maze still has plenty of life left to give.
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 the haunted trails have never resurfaced.
Sarah’s Thoughts: Full disclosure: The Depths will probably always be my favorite maze until Knott’s decommissions it. With that said, the team this year delivered what is expected for the concept of this maze, making little changes that past attendees may pick up on that mostly add to the experience.
One noticeable change is that the transition from the mines deep into the caverns has been altered. In 2019, the team had added an elevator sequence to help attendees better immerse themselves into the story the team was providing. It was a lot easier to connect how the miners would have met their demise. This year, possibly due to the close proximity the elevator requires of guests, the design team nixed it. Instead, we have a similar transition to what we experienced in The Depths’ inaugural year, where we walk through the miners’ barracks into the caves. While it’s a bummer that they made this change, I understand why. And, thankfully, it’s not long before we’re completely captured by The Depths and its spellbinding maze design.
I’m also not sure if it’s new, but the addition of mermaids later on in the maze will awe many. The design of the mermaids, in particular, is what I wish we got more of in mermaid-related media. They are terrifyingly designed and menacing. A great addition!
Taking these changes into consideration, The Depths is about the same. But it’s better not to mess too much with it because what the team has going continues to work, especially if you go through it once the sun has completely set. The actors in the maze have fully embraced their positions. It’s clear while we’re going through the maze that they were having a blast.
Overall, The Depths truly is a classic. Everything still continues to work, even if they changed the elevator transition. It really will be a bummer once they decide to retire it because it is a personal fave and has that strong Lovecraftian feel to it.
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 terrifying life-like masterpieces of hot molten wax and bloody flesh.
It’s rumored that blood-curdling screams can be heard echoing through the halls of Wax Works as victims are horrifyingly 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 to add to his collection.
Sarah’s Thoughts: Returning for its sophomore year, Wax Works is still pretty nifty. The maze layout seems about the same as it was in its first year. But there could have been new additions I didn’t pick up on while I walked through. Going to this maze towards the beginning of the night in the Fast Pass line provided us with the huge benefit of being able to go through in a smaller group, which enabled us to separate a bit space-wise to get our own personal experience. This benefit definitely enhanced things this go-round because it truly felt like I was a lone person walking through this seemingly abandoned wax museum.
Narratively and visually, Wax Works kicks butt. While not as overt as Dark Entities, there’s plenty done to help the attendees piece the story together. We get to walk through the museum, checking out Dr. Augustus’s more kosher work before it slowly begins to devolve into the more monstrous and concerning. Major props need to be given to all the craftspeople involve, from conceptualizing to execution to build crew for creating a most aesthetically pleasing maze. That being said, I’d like to never go inside a wax museum again.
While the scare actors were hit or miss with their performances when we walked through, I can imagine them hitting on all cylinders once the maze flow picked up later on in the night. And, performances aside, the darkness and feeling of decay help build a tense, suspicion-building atmosphere for the maze attendees. So, even when there might be too much space between monsters, there’s still plenty to keep us on our toes.
Overall, Wax Works still, well, works. The concept is executed sufficiently, with plenty to distract the attendees’ gaze and keep them feeling a sense of doom as they walk through the museum’s spoopy corridors. Since we went opening night, I do think that the scare actors will have found a groove that will work for optimum scare factor post-opening weekend, so my notes shouldn’t be an issue at that point.
PUMPKIN EATER – MAZE
Description: Survive the wrath of the murderous 7-foot tall creature that haunts the old woods surrounding The Hollow in the haunted trail, 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.
Sarah’s Thoughts: Whenever I think of Pumpkin Eater, I immediately think of Halloween. So, the inclusion of Pumpkin Eater again in this year’s lineup is sure to generate all those nostalgic feelings about Halloween. Just, with the added addendum of a creature and monsters chasing after you inside a giant cave and stuff.
This is always a fun maze to roll through, especially once you enter inside the giant Pumpkin-like cave the team has created. With pumpkin seeds dangling down (I dare anyone to try not to impulsively bat at them) and bugs trying to crawl their way out of the flesh of this giant board, there is a level of subtle fun that attendees will get to experience. One minor thing for me was some of the actors did try to talk to us but, because of the noise level competing against their voices, I could not hear what it was they were trying to say. This ended up detracting from some possible scares.
This year, they did take away the corn/hay maze that used to be how attendees would “escape” away from the haunted town. In previous years, this inclusion of the corn/hayfield helped provide a little extra layer of immersion to the maze. So, it did feel greatly missed when we reached the end of the maze. Maybe when the pandemic has eased down and restrictive constraints are lifted, we might see its return.
All in all, Pumpkin Eater is still fun to walk through. While the scares might have been more miss than hit, no one can deny that walking through this maze is always a fun frolic.
Description: Journey through an abandoned carnival ride where cruel carnie 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 Halloween maze into the bowels of a long-neglected attraction, as sinister shadows and horrifying scenes cast the gloom over the once pleasant ride. It’s everyone’s worst nightmare, being helplessly trapped inside an abandoned carnival ride without a way out.
Sarah’s Thoughts: Back again and still just as nostalgic as before, Dark Ride: Castle of Chaos will take lots of attendees back to those carnival rides at the questionable pop-up carnivals we all grew up with. As was the case in 2019, the team has kept with that underlying feeling of dread with the maze and sound design.
The soundtrack plays a huge part in creating that sense of dread and concern as we walk through the abandoned corridors of the carnival ride. The set design alternates between the once familiar ride and the peeled back layers of the behind-the-scenes components that truly reveal that something is amiss. The peeling back of these behind-the-scenes components helps to heighten the tension for the attendees which, given the general lack of scare actors for the first half of the maze, provides a major benefit.
However, at a certain point, we do get to see in the depths of the attraction where all the carnies have gone to. And the sheer breadth of scare actors in this section will really surprise folks. It aids in transitioning that slow-building dread to run amok levels of chaos, especially once we hit that main room. The ending scene seemed smoother than what we were introduced to in 2019, but I still wonder what could have made it pop further after that internalized emotional journey guests had just gone through. Take into account, though, that this is a nitpick. Overall, there isn’t much I’d really change about this maze as it was fire!
For those with light sensitivity/epilepsy issues, there is one particular room halfway through the maze that may not be the best for you to walk through. Pronounced strobe is featured in this room and can make you uncomfortable.
ORIGINS: THE CURSE OF CALICO
Description: Pierce the veil of time and discover the secret of the evil fog that hangs over Knott’s Scary Farm in Origins: The Curse of Calico. 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 for the living.
Sarah’s Thoughts: One of my favorite new additions in the 2019 year, Origins: The Curse of Calico is back and still holding strong. Based on Knott’s Scary Farm’s original IP, this maze will continue to make converts of newbies and oldbies to the cult of Sarah Marshall. Known as the Green Witch, attendees are taken through Marshall’s origin story, which starts after the citizens of Calico executed Sarah Marshall for crimes of witchcraft.
While Knott’s Scary Farm’s maze designs have always been top-notch, Origins exemplifies the craft and care taken into the maze designs. Guests get the chance to walk through the town of Calico. From the courthouse to the Church to a School and to a Saloon, we all get the opportunity to explore what was once a thriving town before Marshall’s curse took hold. Aiding in keeping that gradual eeriness growing is the use of technology, a note that I made in the maze’s inaugural year.
This year, what I considered an overuse of video screens with Sarah Marshall’s gradual transformation didn’t appear to be a problem. I might be wrong on this, but it did appear that they pulled back on integrating this particular component through the maze. By the time we get to the room where we see the various stages of Marshall’s transformation, it did not seem as distracting as it had been the previous year. The use of projections this year also resonated further, creating safe impactful scares in areas where scare actors weren’t necessarily needed.
To wrap up the overall maze, attendees get an epic aerial stunt with the Green Witch in her full transformation. The logistics of this stunt is honestly what I would have liked to see a bit more of with Paranormal Inc. where it was less easy to track where the actor was coming from. A little maneuvering/camouflaging goes a long way in maintaining that facade for park guests.
Overall, Origins: The Curse of Calico still kicks butt. For fans of Knott’s Scary Farm IP, this will be an insta-favorite. And, for me personally, it makes me interested to see whether or not the team will tap deeper into the well of IP for future mazes. Seriously, it would be so fun!
Description: Within the canvas tent lies the secret of the most potent force in the universe: the human mind. Give in and succumb to the hypnotist Mesmer and his sinister sideshow, as it pries on your hidden fears. Release your inner thoughts and descend into a world of madness, torture, and eerie enlightenment in this haunted maze. There you will uncover the grotesque secrets hidden as you brave through the most terrifying show ever created.
Craig’s Thoughts: Distant carnival music fills the air as we approach a banner advertising a sideshow act called Mr. Zoetrope. Like the rats of Hamelin, we are drawn towards the far-off tune, passing by more banners and a cage, until we come upon a giant circus tent. A voice beckons us to forward, telling us that by doing so we are not entering a mere circus, no, we are in fact journeying into our own minds. A journey, the voice adds, that we might not ever escape. But still, with the entertaining freaks outside and the mysterious tent before us, it is hard not to be curious about what could be inside.
Then again, they do say curiosity killed the cat…
So begins what might be one of the more cerebral haunted houses ever attempted by the haunt wizards of Knott’s Scary Farm. While we do see many of the various typical freak acts one might expect at a sideshow, the context and interpretation of these tableaus is given a new skin thanks to the deeper than average backstory. As we journey through this sideshow that might only exist within our heads, we get reminders by Mesmer himself that we might not ever escape from the depths of our own mind.
To further back up the psychological trappings of the house are various perception-based special effects that are designed to disorient us as we travel within the realm of the hypnotist. It becomes clear early on that whole rooms might move or people could appear out of seemingly solid walls during the course of our journey. These trippy effects combined with the solid character designs and top-notch animatronics add up to a memorably disturbing experience.
If I had to level a critique at the house, it would be that there were occasional hallways that were either not really themed or had nothing happening to keep up the visual palette of the experience. I suppose one could write this off as the transitions of our mind connecting the various sideshow acts together, but they still stood out as missed opportunities. In fact, the reason these moments stood out so much is because, while they probably only made up about ten percent of the house, they stand in stark contrast to the other, wonderful, ninety percent.
All in all, Mesmer: Sideshow of the Mind is a big swing for Knott’s that packs a visual and visceral punch. The strong story and top-notch visual trickery lead to a journey that guests are sure to find mesmerizing.
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 between the fog-filled haunted attraction.
Sarah’s Thoughts: Ghost Town Streets is arguably one of the oldest Scare Zones ever (and I know someone is going to slide in here and correct me), and the zone has a reputation to uphold. Of the Scare Zones, they are considered the creme de la creme of Scare Zones. After a year away from scaring, I was expecting the scare actors to be completely rabid. I know the instinct to scare kept wanting to come out while walking through the mazes and Scare Zones this year. Needless to say, the scare actors more than delivered. Everyone was completely on their A-game and, considering this portion of the park has the heaviest traffic, none of the actors had any wiggle room to break character or not give their all. Keep doing what ya’ll are doing, Ghost Towners. That level of energy and commitment is what keeps bringing us back again and again.
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 among the Halloween attractions, looking for victims to drag back to their watery graves.
Sarah’s Thoughts: Ever since its introduction, Forsaken Lake has been my personal favorite Scare Zone at Knott’s Scary Farm. From the gothic costuming to the swamp-like Mausoleum-esque decor, the team somehow manages to transform an otherwise barebones section of the park (sans Silver Bullet) into a spoopy zone. While the scare zone itself works well in the sunlight, the real magic of Forsaken Lake hits when the sun goes down. All actors that occupied this zone showed no mercy to anyone who would dare to wander through. And, with their relentless approach, all I can say is may all the hats be tipped in your favor!
THE HOLLOWS – SCARE ZONE
Sarah’s Thoughts: Entering The Hollows from the Fiesta Village side of the park will always be my personal recommendation for attendees to this haunt. The foreboding atmosphere is set in the darkened campgrounds that make up Camp Snoopy. As you trudge forward, one lone monster might find you, and your hackles will rise. The near-abandonment in the dark quiet on this side of The Hollows sets the mood as you move forward deeper into the scare zone. The scare actors featured in The Hollows were enthusiastic, moving their way through the crowd seamlessly and scared without mercy. The only complaint I have is that, once we get around the Pumpkin Eater maze, the scare actors become a bit more congested, which seems to make the crowd control issue a bit worse, not better. Other than that, this area is still a fun time.
GORE-ING ’20S – NEW SCARE ZONE
Description: Step back into the dark decadence of a by-gone era as the newest scare zone, The Gore-ing ’20s, terrorizes even the bravest and most brutal souls. Here gangsters run illicit hooch for the ghostly revelers as the otherworldly musicians play the music of the damned. Tell the Bouncer the secret password, and you’ll have the time of your life…for as long as it lasts.
Sarah’s Thoughts: To be honest, I think I only caught a smidgen of this particular scare zone. From what I did see of the Gore-ing ’20s, compared to the more overtly monstrous Scare Zones in the park, this Scare Zone read weaker in comparison conceptually since the costume design and characters seemed more human than not. The scare actors I did see in the area worked hard, maintaining their ’20s characters the majority of the time. Because of the more human element with the character designs, though, I can easily see it be easier to break character down the road, with nothing to hide behind when that does happen. All in all, though, this may just only be an issue for me. Others will derive fear from this particular zone as well.
CARNEVIL – 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.
Sarah’s Thoughts: Look. I know people who work in this particular session, so I know they are going to read this. But man, I hate clowns. I’ve been a clown at haunts and that still doesn’t erase the sheer terror I feel walking through this fricking scare zone. All of the scare actors have way too much fun being their best evil, chaotic-evil selves in this section of the park. And, if I say that they scare the living snot out of me, I am hoping this means that maybe, just maybe, they won’t target me in the future. I can only silently scream so much every time I meander in this section.
DOCE DE LA NOCHE – SHOW
Description: The night comes alive at the stroke of midnight when our electric dance group takes the Fiesta Village stage. Dressed in colorful and vibrant colors, the lively dancers dazzle all with their moves set to high-energy music, which takes over all senses and has everyone dancing their feet off.
Craig’s Thoughts: Described as a high-energy dance show, Doce de la Noche takes to the Fiesta Stage this haunt season to delight guests. That’s not hyperbole, this show really is a quick delight. I mean they crammed a high octane, funny performance into about a ten-minute performance.
Putting a show on what might be the smallest stage in the park certainly is an interesting choice that comes with some very real restraints. First of all, anything that goes here has to be compact to account for the lack of room, while also having to take into account that effects are pretty much a no-go. This seems the perfect fit for the venue as it is able to adequately accommodate the five dancers and really does not require any effects to be a success.
I hope this show serves as a template for whatever happens to Wicked Drums as Doce de la Noche manages to drop any pretense of story and instead goes all-in on the talent, providing a quick adrenaline shot to the audience.
WICKED DRUMS – NEW SHOW
Description: Deep within The Hollow, The Witches summon you to a percussion ritual to awaken the dead. Hosted by the evil Hag of the Hollows, Wicked Drums, high energy drumming collides with ancient witchcraft in a sensory overload sure to raise your spirits. It’s a Halloween activity worth witnessing.
Craig’s Thoughts: Occasionally, there comes a show that just does not really work. Sometimes it is the gimmick, sometimes it is the writing, and sometimes it is a little of both. Well, in the case of Wicked Drums, they subverted a good gimmick with some bad writing. This is a real shame, because the drummers are quite skilled and probably could have carried the show by themselves.
The structure of the show is that the witches of The Hollow are summoning the Headless Horseman and need the help of three percussionists in their chant. Not an awful concept, overall, but the show relies too much upon trying to tell a story than on showing off the skill set of the drummers. To fully emphasize how much the story gets in the way, the conclusion has some audio of the Headless Horseman riding, with the witches stating it to boot while pointing off into the distance, but never gives the audience the very thing we were promised, an appearance by the Headless Horseman.
Had we just had the percussionists performing a chant with less story, I would be writing a much different review. The three drummers really were skilled and could have easily carried the show by themselves. I hope this concept sticks around, but gets presented in a different fashion in the coming years.
CARNAVAL DU GROTESQUE – NEW SHOW
Description: Grab a seat as the Halloween carnival show is about to begin! Your mind will melt at the sights and sounds of the Carnaval du Grotesque. Live bands provide the soundtrack for the creepiest company of performers to ever disgrace the stage.
Craig’s Thoughts: Taking over the stage that used to hold The Hanging is the brightly colored Carnaval du Grotesque. The design is enough to draw the eye to the proceedings at hand while the constant rotation of entertainment adds an energy to the area. For those who decide to linger a bit, the acts occupying the space alternate between a band and a sideshow performer.
For the record, I was able to catch the following bands over the course of three nights of entertainment: Hiatus and The Haxans. Since everyone has their own opinions on music, and musical choices, I imagine opinions will vary on this part of the show. Personally, I enjoyed the bands, but it definitely reminded me more of Knott’s other concert-based event, Summer Nights. To my knowledge, The Haxans have never played during that particular incarnation of this concept, so it was fun to see a new, spooky-themed band on offer.
To me, though, the strength of the show was the inclusion of a real sideshow performer. For my three visits, I caught George the Giant, and I was duly impressed with his skill set. Whether it is fire-eating, hammering nails into his skull, or laying on a bed of nails, this is a multi-talented performer who legitimizes this show being called Grotesque.
PUPPET UP! – UNCENSORED – RETURNING SHOW
Description: Returning nightly to Knott’s Scary Farm for the 2021 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 naughty 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.
Craig’s Thoughts: Before I get into anything else, allow me to say that Puppet Up! is a must-see show at Knott’s Scary Farm. In fact, if there is one show I would say people should not miss, it would be this one.
Apart from that, there is not much new to say about this show compared to last year. Structurally it all works the same, the audience yells out suggestions for the improvisers to act out with puppets, we can watch the actors or the screens (or both), and there are still a few classic Henson based segments on offer. Sure, there have been some small tweaks, such as a more decorated stage and the cutting of the audience member being brought on stage, but apart from that, it is business as usual.
And boy is that business entertaining. Upon multiple viewings, I have to admit that I am most drawn to when the audience’s suggestions are abstract. Sure, the bawdy is fun, but when the suggestion for an activity that hot dog puppets would do is, “Slowly realize they are hot dogs,” the segments turn from entertainingly brash to clever, comedy gold.
INVITATION TO TERROR – NEW SHOW
Description: Invitation to Terror is a digital illusion horror show which tells the story of Millionaire Tom Shackleford, who is set to unveil the secret project that he promises will change the world. Set in Calico 1986, guests are invited to the debut of Futuretronics, the world’s top technology creator, latest technological advancement. It’s going to be a killer Halloween party with plenty of terrifying surprises no one will ever see coming.
Craig’s Thoughts: Utilizing the long empty Mystery Lodge theater is the newest special effects-laden show – Invitation to Terror. A blend of actors, special effects, and some really dark comedy, it feels right at home in the Scary Farm lineup.
As guests, we are invited to a trade show meeting where Tom Shackleford, the head of the company Cybertronics, is going to show off his latest discovery, which will bring about a new glorious future for all. As we wait in the lobby, the sales representatives interact with us, trying to sell us hard on the vision that Cybertronics has for us, though occasionally one might be heard to mutter, “Run, now” before returning to salesman mode. After a brief video explaining the history of the company, and the owner, we are brought into the main room to meet Mr. Shackleford.
It is here where we see the famous Mystery Lodge set, though it has been redressed with something resembling an altar in the center. As if the audience was not suspicious before, it is now clear that something is not quite right with Mr. Shackleford. Perhaps it is the tragic backstory he has of having lost his daughter under mysterious circumstances, or maybe it is the fact that it is heavily implied his Halloween treat of choice is nose candy, but I think the most likely reason his motivations are suspect comes down to the laissez-faire attitude he displays as he reveals an ancient, obviously evil, grimoire is at the center of his plans.
What follows is a special effects show that is creepy, a little gory, and darkly amusing. While the third act may suffer from a weird conclusion, the rest of the bit works really well. I would recommend this primarily because it is a fun way to get off one’s feet for a while and watch an effects-heavy show.
CONJURERS – MAGIC AND MIRTH AT THE BIRDCAGE THEATER – RETURNING SHOW
Description: You won’t believe your eyes when our skilled Illusionist takes the stage in the heart of Calico. Get to the magic show early as seats have been known to vanish.
Craig’s Thoughts: Much like my thoughts on Puppet Up!, reviewing Conjurers is a hard thing to do. This is a returning show that spotlights a rotating list of magicians, giving them a stage to command. The show rises and falls on the performer, so mileage may vary based on who happens to be treading the boards any particular night.
For my review, I was able to see Johnny Ace Palmer perform some up-close magic. As far as presentation goes, he had a very calming personality with a sincerity and joy that made watching him a pleasure. This was even before we take into account his actual illusions which ranged from some up close standards to a finale that left the audience in absolute awe.
TIMBER MOUNTAIN LOG RIDE: HALLOWEEN HOOTENANNY – RIDE
Description: Every year the citizens of Timber Mountain invite the mysterious creatures that live out in the woods and caverns of the area to join them as they celebrate the season at the Halloween Hootenanny.
The ride’s interior features surprises as guests venture past the Calico Coffin Creeper Band, the town’s Green Witch, and splash down Skull Mountain through a labyrinth of jack-o-lanterns. This Halloween adventure is set around an original song performed by Krazy Kirk and the Hillbillies.
Sarah’s Thoughts: The Timber Mountain Log-Ride: Halloween Hootenanny is honestly the little engine that could. The Halloween-specific overlay this year wasn’t as elaborate, in my opinion, compared to previous years, so the Hootenanny was a little bit subdued in comparison. For a soaking wet break from the reality outside of mazes, it has its own aura of creepiness if you look at the animatronics for long enough. For those prone to epilepsy, this ride may be one to skip as there is an aggressive strobe sequence as you start embarking up the final hill drop. Other than that, a fun little detour from the rest of the haunt experience.
To purchase tickets for Knott’s Scary Farm, go here. Knott’s Scary Farm 2021 runs on select nights from September 16th through October 31st.
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