REVIEW: Dominion of the Damned 2013 Knott’s Scary Farm

Vampires have long been a standing theme at Knott’s Scary Farm’s Halloween Haunt. From the “vintage days” of the vampire mazes in the early 1990s to 2013’s Dominion of the Damned offering, the creatures of the night have continued to play a vital role in the overall production of what’s revered as the granddaddy of all Halloween theme park events. Some years have been greater than others, for sure. One thing is undeniable however: guests and fans love the subject and vampires have become a Gothic, hissing cornerstone of the Scary Farm.

Dominion of the Damned made its debut this past season at Knott’s Scary Farm following closely in the footsteps of its predecessor, Dominion of the Dead (yeah, I know – it gets tricky for those not following closely). Dominion of the Dead debuted in 2012 during Knott’s 40th Halloween Haunt, playing the nostalgia card, as the vampire maze had been called that once before, in the mid-’90s and was arguably the greatest maze ever at the Scary Farm. The maze was popular during the Haunt’s 40th season, but designers felt that it was time to move on past the nostalgia and thus, the theme was altered a bit from last year and the name changed slightly to reflect a darker, more sinister experience. Dominion of the Damned was just that in 2013: a dark, very heavy maze experience that was both gorgeous and haunting, as well as a bit more in-your-face and frightening than it’s been in recent years.

DOMINION_2013_5224The maze was created in 2012 by Kathryn White, an artist that has lent her artistic talent to Knott’s over the years, most notable being her involvement with vampire maze artwork since the early ’90s. Having an artist outside of the “design team” core when it comes to Knott’s Scary Farm is a rare occurrence. Furthering that unique “bloodline” in the case of Dominion of the Damned, another designer from outside the usual suspects of Haunt creators was called on to re-work the maze for this year – Orion McFaddin, who works year-round at Knott’s Berry Farm. Having two individuals not generally titled as Haunt designers create this maze was an interesting move for Knott’s; one that ultimately, worked better this year than last.

Dominion of the Damned was a very successful blending of sensual, Gothic vampire imagery and brutal, ritualistic scenes of horror in an environment that featured elaborate mansion-like sets to underground catacomb-like passages filled with chained wooden coffins barely containing their restless inhabitants, hungry for blood! The set design and sense of placemaking was really strong and very good this year. While the story may have been a bit muddy, the basic idea of guests entering the dominion of vampires was crystal clear throughout, and the visual support of the maze’s design was absolutely strong enough to carry the idea and theme from beginning to end. Kudos to Kathryn for giving “Dominion” its new direction last year, and huge props to Orion for really taking that blueprint and twisting it into a darker, more terrifying Haunt experience for guests in 2013; great job, all the way around!

DOMINION_2013_5228It should be said that some of Kathryn’s artwork has been part of the Haunt experience as long as Theme Park Adventure has been covering the event. Her style and haunting work really have helped define the vampires at Knott’s throughout the years. In addition to the amazing artwork that has been a hallmark of the vamp mazes at Haunt, so has the music associated with them each year. Dead Can Dance leads the way with what has become the “vampire anthem” at the Scary Farm for two decades – The Host of Seraphim. I would be hard pressed to come up with another song that I consider to be as synonymous with Halloween Haunt than this one. The Host of Seraphim is to Knott’s Scary Farm what the Baroque Hoedown (Main Street Electrical Parade) was to Disneyland for decades. It defines and captures the entire event in its notes and embeds itself in the psyche of fans forever. Sadly, it also reminds me very strongly of Sandy Graham, a dear, sweet friend who reigned as “Vampire Queen” for just about every year that Knott’s has had a vamp maze. Sandy is no longer with us physically, but whenever and wherever I hear that song – especially at Knott’s – I know she’s grinning and winking at us from the shadows, and I often become emotional, missing and mourning our dear Sandy who was so unfairly taken away. In standing with tradition, The Host of Seraphim was a strong part of Dominion of the Damned this year, and it worked beautifully, of course. I truly hope that Knott’s designers share in my sentiment and always maintain this aspect of the vampire mazes in the years to come at Haunt; a common, iconic thread that is just as perfect as it can be.

Naturally, as with any maze, success boils down to talent; the men and women who make up each crew, from monsters to blackouts and Talent Captains. I’ve said it so many times before, and I will say it well into the future: you can have the most amazing maze design in the world, and ruin it with horrible talent. Thankfully, this was not the case for Dominion of the Damned, and the team was on their game each time we ventured through the darkened halls of this particular attraction at the Scary Farm. Whether silently lurking in the corners or along crypt walls, or addressing and interacting with guests directly, this team did a fine job at being scary, seductive and ultimately, appropriately spooky as per their theme and environment. Kudos to everyone for working so hard and making Dominion of the Damned a strong, solid addition to the Knott’s Scary Farm maze lineup in 2013!

Did you visit Dominion of the Damned at Halloween Haunt this year? If so, what did you think? How did it compare to vampire mazes in the past? We want to know your thoughts and carry on the discussion here with our TPAers below! Sound off!

– Rick West

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