By Charly SHELTON
The Halloween season starts earlier each year and it’s already time for Halloween spooky-time fun at the local theme parks. Last week, CV Weekly took an in-depth look at Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights and next week will check out Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor. This week we delve into the haunted depths of the granddaddy of all haunts – Knott’s Scary Farm.
Scary Farm has been running annually at the Buena Park theme park since 1973, making this its 44th year. Knott’s Scary Farm set the bar for haunted attractions and, despite the competition from Universal, Queen Mary and even Six Flags, Knott’s is something to look forward to every year by offering new, unique mazes that combine an original theme idea and stunning special effects.
With two major Halloween event haunts behind me, I can say that my favorite maze of the year is “Shadow Lands” at Knott’s Scary Farm. It’s their big, new, E-ticket maze for the year, replacing the aged “Black Magic” maze from 2013. This new maze takes guests through the dark world of the dishonored dead, portrayed by a samurai who is the lone survivor of a battle. All of his friends received an honorable death in war and he was ashamed to be spared. When he finally dies, he is sent to a warped version of feudal Japan with monsters, evil spirits and flying samurai all out for his head. Not a bad premise, and so well executed. It’s long enough to justify the (typical) 90-minute wait without feeling drawn out. The effects are great, with nice nods not only to historical references but also to classic Japanese horror films and legends. Just a really well done maze.
Other mazes of note are “Trick or Treat,” which has been around for five years but is a classic Halloween themed attraction, “Paranormal Inc.,” which was the best of last year and is brought back again to continue the scares, and “Special Ops: Infected.”
I reviewed this when it first opened in 2014 and it was an ambitious concept but weak in execution. It is a zombie maze but instead of just walking through, guests are given machine guns and told to shoot the zombies. Many times the zombie scaractors would ignore the gunshots while the front of the group picked off zombies from afar and left little for the guests at the back of the group. This year is much better. The zombies are wearing green- or red-lit infrared targets and the guns keep track of the kill count. When a zombie is shot, the collar flares red and he staggers back until it turns green again, ready to attack a guest at the back of the group. Much better system and it makes the maze more fun.
But let’s talk lines. Just like at Universal, I think the benefit of a Front of Line pass, called a Skeleton Key at Knott’s, is the only way to go because otherwise guests can’t see every maze. I had the Skeleton Key and I still didn’t see a couple of attractions. An incentive to buy the Skeleton Key has, for many years, been the added scare rooms that are exclusive to Key holders. This year that concept is taken a step further by having completely separate Key rooms. Rather than attached to a maze, guests with the Skeleton Key are given a completely standalone extra attraction. There are four rooms this year. Unfortunately these have extensive wait times of over an hour in some cases and guests spend a good portion of their night waiting in line. It seems counterproductive to buy a pass to speed up access and then wait in line almost as long as at a full maze. The Skeleton Key rooms aren’t worth the wait – not by a long shot – but the Key itself that allows front of the line access is totally worth it.
So whether a seeker of zombies, Japanese ghosts, gunslingers hunted by werewolves or a classic Halloween witch, Knott’s Scary Farm has something for everyone this season. For more info and tickets, visit Knotts.com.