Full disclosure: I have not attended a Knotts Scary Farm event in close to 10 years. There was the Disney phase, when any time I was making the trek towards Anaheim it seemed ridiculous not to go visit our favorite corporate Mouse. Mostly, however, it was the sheer exhaustion that results from making the drive out to Buena Park. When it takes 2 hours to travel a mere 25 miles, it puts a damper on the whole day. Despite the draining drive (which, no insult to Knotts whatsoever, may actually be the scariest thing one could ever face), Knotts Scary Farm has solidly proven that they are capable of bringing thrill seekers into the fog and spitting them back out as trembling, nightmare-ridden shadows–ones that have had a great time being scared silly and spooked to the bone, of course.
The creative powers that be of Knotts Scary Farm place a lot of pride in their artistic ability when designing and introducing newer mazes, as well as when setting up the staple horror shows. The maze designers delve deep into mythos and lore to create something that is not simply terrifying because you are constantly being submerged in darkness and attacked by gruesomely made up actors.
No, the terror we felt walking through the artful Shadow Lands, for example, rose from the immersive, deeply unsettling mythos that wove our path.
Shadow Lands spins the idea of an after-life Samurai warriors slain in battle, unprepared for death, might encounter. Begin the journey in an ancient Japanese shrine and enter the Shadow Lands as you witness their path with your own eyes.
Shadow Lands is still struggling against another maze for personal favorite of the night: Voodoo. This trek to the bayou was another maze that did not incite jump scares and close range terror, but it was a gorgeously thought out adventure through an unsettling neighborhood. While there were certainly some actors settling into character (and a few that didn’t quite know what to do if I laughed instead of screamed), most were already spot on and did a great job of committing to their personal horror. Both Shadowlands and Voodoo did feel more like a fascinatingly creepy walk than a harrowing journey with an oppressive sense of danger hurrying you along.
Now, for serious horror seekers this could pose as a downside, since the scares are less immediate and certainly not often dramatic. No one’s going to chase you through a bloodied room with a chainsaw as your senses are inundated with terrible smells, shrill shrieking, and dim lights in these mazes.
One of the mazes that brilliantly combined classic horror with consistent story-telling is Paranormal Inc. What happens when a group of over-acting, drama-king ghost hunters stumble onto something truly evil? Well, some cheesy acting and a chilling run through a creepy abandoned hospital.
There are the more mundane mazes–The Red Barn throws guests into the classic cannibalistic redneck horror show while The Gunslinger’s Grave captures the classic Knotts Great Western Ghost Town-y feel with some added death. And while I say mundane, I don’t at all mean the mazes are less enjoyable or poorly thought out, but it was a lot more of the jump scares and grotesque scenes same ol’ same ol’.
Trick or Treat, while a staple in the Knotts line-up and certainly not particularly innovative, was far more enjoyable than expected. Chance persuaded us into trying the maze, which hadn’t really appealed during research for the visit, and the campy sense of Halloween terror ended up making for a fun, jumpy run. We love horror, and we love Halloween, right? That’s why we love it when theme parks bloody themselves up and let the spirits loose. That’s why we carve pumpkins and spend way too long picking out costumes. Trick or Treat is an unabashed celebration of this pumpkin-pie fueled love.
Hands down the most terrifying–yet exhilarating–event of the night was the fully revamped Black Ops: Infected. This maze brings a new level of engagement as guests are fitted with laser guns and sent through this harrowing cityscape on an important mission to discover the source of the infection. Basically, military personnel are going to scream at you to move, bark orders at you, and count on you to be a hero whilst zombies are popping out of every crevice and trying to eat your brains. The only way to get them to back down? Shoot ’em in the head. Well. In the sensory necklace each of them is wearing.
Look. I can’t even pretend. I’m haven’t been so raw and terrified in a long time. It starts off as sheer adrenaline, easing you into it with a few lethargic zombies chained to walls or stuck in doorways. Let me tell you, this false sense of security DOES NOT LAST. Soon, they’re flying at you from all sides, chasing you even after you see their collars blink, signaling a successful shot. Somehow, I got pushed into the rear during our journey, which meant not only did zombies come from in front of and next to me, but also started chasing after me from behind. NOOOOPE.
Oh, and while shooting blindly at EVERYTHING and ANYTHING that moves during your jaunt through this city might seem like a good idea, it’s actually not. I adopted this method, and was soundly and violently chewed out for shooting wildly at one of the military personnel waiting to guide into our next mission as I came around the corner. Stared me dead in the eye and barked, “Never, ever, shoot me again, do you hear?” I’M SORRY.
Despite the pervading terror and the way my heart raced for the next 15 minutes, Infected was–well–it was fucking awesome. There was really no way to tell if I had done reasonably well, since no scoring system seemed to be in place, but aside from my unintended bout of friendly fire, I did successfully fend off all of the zombies trying to flank us from behind so….there’s that.
Finding Your Way Around
The bright (yet small) neon signs announcing the location of each maze was minimally helpful in locating many of the attractions, especially the ones tucked into spooky, dark corners. Much of our experience talking with other guests involved things like “What? You found Zozo? We walked around for 10 minutes looking for it and ended up at The Red Barn instead!” or “Yeah, we were trying to go to Prey but just gave up after circling around three times. Shadow Lands was great though.” There was also basically no distinction between the special Skeleton Key room attractions and the open-to-all mazes, which led to some upset guests that slipped by a distracted employee and into lines they didn’t have access to.
I mean….we certainly can say we returned to the fog–in several cases, the very same patch of fog over and over and over. Conceptually, giving guests few prompts and encouraging the wandering is fitting for a horror event, but as far as keeping guests happy and excited, probably not the strongest strategy. With so much to see and many other attendees to contest with, making it from destination to destination in an efficient manner is paramount.
Skeleton Key Rooms
This new spin on the Skeleton Key room attraction sought to strike true terror in the hearts of guests with a more personal touch. For an additional cost, thrill seekers can opt into these extra experiences as part of the “Fright Lane” package, which grants guests unlimited priority access to all 9 of the regular mazes as well as a trip through each Skeleton Key room. During our visit, about 6 guests at a time are let into the experience, of which there are four.
The four experiences offered by Knotts are Prey, Visions, Zozo, and Slasher. Prey equips the huddling group with a faulty lantern and sends them through a pitch-black hay maze, an already terrifying experience enhanced by–what else–terrifying creatures wishing nothing more than to hurt you. Visions lures guests into the Green Witch Museum in Ghost Town, where they can explore the mystical haunted artifacts and witness paranormal activity. Slasher channels the spirit of 80’s horror flicks by thrusting you into a world terrorized by a mask-wearing madman. Zozo preys on the almost universally held fear of fucking around with a Ouija board.
Cool as the two we did see were, the underlying puzzle of organizing and moving through the lines will be the Skeleton Key rooms’ biggest challenge. Already lines stretched for a solid hour, and with each session clocking in at about 4 minutes, not only does the line crawl slowly and unsatisfyingly forward, it also becomes hard to justify an hour’s wait for a 4 minute excursion. As the parks grow more crowded, it will be interesting to see how Knotts deals with this experience. Our advice to attendees for now? Get into the rooms you absolutely don’t want to miss early, before the lines become unbearable.
And the rooms you absolutely don’t want to miss? Well, we can guarantee that Zozo is one of them. Attend an eerie seance with a Ouija Board as your medium, throwing caution to the wind as soon as you take your seat at the ancient table. It’s just a game, right?
Slasher is a little less cinematically intense, falling back on the classic tropes of psychotic murderers and gruesome murders. You’re ushered into a tiny room, listening fearfully to the ominous broadcast as light and sound create a building sense of terror. This little abandoned barn you’ve stumbled into is perfectly safe. Probably.
We never made it to Prey, which is one we had most been looking forward to. It may have been because we were stuck in line for Visions–the other Skeleton Key room we were unable to experience. That’s an entirely different, frustrating story, to which I will merely say: It was a shitstorm for media attendees, Fright Lane guests, and regular guests who had not been informed of the Skeleton Key’s exclusivity, leading to disappointment from all aforementioned parties. The employees handling the line(s) for Visions were ill-equipped and misinformed, which led them to misinform their media guests, enrage paying guests, and ultimately prove that their conflict-resolution skills are virtually nonexistent. Making an error is one thing (and a completely acceptable thing -especially- on an opening night), but failing to deal with the repercussions of said error and instead punishing your attendees while absolving yourself of blame is not an acceptable way to run an attraction. Thanks, Natalie.
Luckily, the other nights will not have a plethora of media outlets in attendance, so the separate line for Media Night attendees becomes a non-issue, but the distinction between mazes open to all and special pass entry needs to be handled with far more clarity.
Knotts Scary Farm boasts two campy freakshows to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve. The Hanging, an irreverent jaunt through the year’s hits, is a pop culture bonanza that cheeses its way through pop culture reference after pop culture reference. This year, Comic-Con gets poked fun at, dubbed Noose Con and showcasing some very interesting celebrity talents, which was an engaging moment for the nerd-inclined (as we are). Expect a lot of campy-as-all-hell fun with extra cheese, and don’t search for anything particularly deep–especially since one regularly on stage character can’t be known for his intelligence–and you’re likely to enjoy the show. It’s a solid change of pace from wandering through mazes, waiting for the ghouls to get you. Nightly showings at 8:00pm, 9:30pm, and 11:00pm on the Calico Mine Stage.
Elvira, Mistress of the Dark commands the second show offered during Scary Farm, Elvira’s Danse Macabre. Join her masquerade nightly with showings at 9:00pm and 11:30pm at the Charles M. Schulz Theatre. Watch as the Queen of Horror regales her guests with fabulous dancing, laughter, music, and other feats of artistry. There’s also an exclusive chance for a meet-n-greet with Elvira herself if you visit Elvira’s Boo-tique.
Knotts offers several different ways to get yourself into the chilling event this year. Tickets can be bought for single nights or unlimited returns. Upgrades to Fright Lane passes with Skeleton Room Key access or early admission and inclusion in the famous Boo-fet are also available to enhance your experience. Knott’s Scary Farm packs a punch, bursting with thrills, screams, and lasting scenes of horror for an almost unbelievably reasonable price–especially if you look at the pricing offered by the next biggest competitor. Check out all the options and get yourself ready to return to the fog.