Knott’s Scary Farm 2014 Returning Maze Reviews

Knotts_Black_Magic_2014_40672014 was a mixed bag of new, innovative attractions at Knott’s Scary Farm, along with the return of familiar mazes that fans have come to love over the more recent years. In this maze review, Theme Park Adventure takes a look at all of those returning attractions to Halloween Haunt and how they have fared compared to years past, as well as the newer mazes that were rolled out this year.

Since Knott’s Scary Farm offers so many walk-through mazes, they are on a several-year rotation once they debut (unless they are really poorly-received or one-off productions, such as studio-backed movie tie-ins). Generally, we lose two or three old mazes each season to make way for new attractions or mazes at Haunt. Some people bemoan this process, saying that Knott’s should introduce more new mazes each season and get rid of the returning ones faster, or simply only have them for a year. While we get that, it’s simply not feasible or doable, considering that the Knott’s Haunt design team is relatively small; Cedar Fair doesn’t provide a large enough budget to Knott’s to come up with upward of 10 new mazes each season, either. Considering the history of Knott’s Scary Farm, I honestly don’t think it’s something that the company needs to do now or any time in the foreseeable future; fans adore Halloween Haunt mazes, and the majority of people don’t have a problem with most returning for several years. Occasionally, mazes last even four or five years – however, that is very rare these days. By the time most mazes fade into the shadows and history books, we’ve had our fill and are ready for what comes next. Sometimes it’s a bummer to see mazes disappear, and they become the stuff of legend. Other times, mazes devolve into pale ghosts of their former glory (as we witnessed this year), and we’re glad to see them go away rather than continue a bummer downward spiral.

Let’s take a look at this year’s returning Halloween Haunt mazes…

TRICK OR TREAT

When this maze debuted in 2012, we showered it with praise and I even went so far as to say it was my favorite Halloween Haunt maze since the original Dominion of the Dead. Unfortunately, while other Haunt mazes are generally improved on as they return to the Scary Farm, Trick or Treat slipped in quality, losing most of its original charm this year, leaving us with a bad taste in our mouths and heads shaking.

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The story of Trick or Treat is that it’s the home of the event’s Green Witch; not the Ghost Town character that has been part of Scary Farm for more than 30 years now, but rather, the icon that was created for the 40th Haunt in 2012. Innocent children were lured into the witch’s house, and killed, where they became her minion – known as “Tricksters”. The Tricksters and Green Witch can still be seen roaming the park each Halloween season during the event, although I’m not too sure how much of the general public has really ever understood the lore involved in all of this back story.

Trick or Treat’s style is a really neat mid-1900s motif, with the Tricksters wearing simple, “traditional” type masks, similar to what those of us growing up in the ’60s and ’70s wore each year. Hell, there’s even a sheet ghost thrown into the character mix within the maze for good measure – something that confuses a lot of people, but actually, it’s a touch we love, because it fits the theme perfectly.

Even the music that Brooke and the team originally chose for the maze fit – old-school ’40s -type radio/record tunes and songs that further supported the overall theme of the maze. All in all, Trick or Treat was a charming Haunt maze that didn’t feature any gore, was fairly family-friendly, and really marched to its own drum in comparison to the rest of the Scary Farm offerings. Some people didn’t feel it – Theme Park Adventure loved everything about it.

Knotts_Trick_2014_4362Here’s where Trick or Treat comes unraveled. We’ve noticed a steady decline in quality since 2012, and this year, were just really disappointed overall with the maze. Not the talent per se – although nothing about this year’s talent really wowed us, nor did we particularly find ourselves captivated with the Green Witch character as we’ve been in the past. There’s not much to really point to when it comes to the lackluster feel of the maze; it just feels very tired and frankly, boring now. Nothing new has been added – and in fact, little details have gone missing since 2012. One of the most glaring omissions this year to us was the fantastic Jack O’ Lantern tree that stood outside the maze’s facade its first two years. This year, the tree was gone – and it made the exterior of the maze so two dimensional and bland. Even if the tree got damaged or something happened to it between last Haunt and this year’s – it’s a tree! Make a new one! This is a classic example of a little touch that is noticed by fans that adds a lot to the overall experience.

I do have a small rant that will play into a bigger discussion throughout these reviews. When we shot our video flow-through this year, I was shocked to see a monster in the maze (dining room, to be exact) wearing a “modern” Cenobite-looking mask. Shocked so much, that it really took me out of the moment and completely ticked me off. I don’t care what the reason – that mask had zero reason for being in Trick or Treat. Zip. Zero. Zilch! When the story you’re telling is set to a certain time period and style, you simply cannot put something so out of place into the mix without being called out on it. Whoever made the decision that this mask was okay for Trick or Treat – what were you thinking? If the maze was short talent, then that particular individual should have been touched quickly with airbrush paint and sent into the maze that way to blend in with the Tricksters and surroundings. Knott’s has been doing this way too long. It takes careful design and execution to tell a specific story with a Haunt maze; it takes one lazy decision like this to bring the whole thing off the rails because fans zero in on that one thing that is so terribly out of place. Shame on whoever let that happen; I hope it was a fluke and not something that was part of the experience nightly. It shouldn’t have happened even once.

And so, while most of the talent in Trick or Treat worked their butts off every night, it pains me to say that this maze has rapidly fallen from grace. We’d much rather see it removed from the rotation for something beautiful and new than further waste away with a return in 2015. In fact, I think it’s time for Knott’s to lay the whole Green Witch and Tricksters thing to rest. The concept was interesting, but I just don’t think it adds anything at all to the overall event anymore (if it ever really did), and I really don’t think the general public gets it beyond “Why are their costumes so cheesy and cheap?”

This year, the trick was on us – and the treat is all gone.

BLACK MAGIC

Ah, Black Magic! The tale of famed magician Harry Houdini, and his obsession with the spirit world – one that he didn’t really believe in throughout his career. Black Magic tells the tale of Houdini’s wife and the annual seance she held each Halloween night. Inadvertently opening a “portal” to the Great Beyond, the seance fills an old theater with evil spirits of the past, bent on terrorizing guests that have ventured in to their old stomping grounds.

Black Magic made its debut at Knott’s Scary Farm in 2013, and left a huge, positive impression on TPA as well as fans alike. Daniel Miller mixed tremendous show moments and sets with good old-fashioned Halloween Haunt terror, and created a really special maze that impressed on many levels. Black Magic’s story is relatively clear (much more so if you do the attached Skeleton Key room at least once to get the back story), and the execution throughout the maze is pretty flawless.

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This year, the maze showed some signs of evolution at Haunt, with the biggest addition being a visual gag that SoCal haunt fans recognized immediately from past years at Sinister Pointe Haunted Attraction, where a seemingly empty hallway lies beyond a clear ramp that a monster suddenly slides down toward guests from the darkness above; it’s a great gag, and was implemented flawlessly in Black Magic this year. On a side note – during Theme Park Adventure’s 20th Anniversary Bash, I witnessed Daniel Miller telling Jeff Schiefelbein (owner of Sinister Pointe) that he’d used one of his gags in Black Magic, and wanted to tell him before he saw it for himself. I thought that was totally classy and very respectful of Daniel. Most good gags and ideas show up in haunts and themed attractions once people have created them – that’s just how entertainment works. However, it’s rare to see two professional haunters like this acknowledging it, and so I really was impressed by the friendly exchange and thought it was exceptional that Daniel would approach Jeff and tell him in person.

Black Magic’s soundscape continues to be very strong, and is definitely one of the best currently in the Scary Farm maze rotation; we love it! There’s nothing negative to say about it – from music selection to voice track work, this maze has an incredible soundtrack from exterior to end.

Knotts_Black_Magic_2014_4086Speaking of exterior – Black Magic remains the only maze facade at Knott’s to use registered projection to accomplish animated effects such as bricks cracking and the theater going up in flames. While we expected it this year, and knew it wouldn’t be different than last year, it was still an impressive visual. Guests love it too, and were definitely wowed by it as they approached. The only wish we have is that the projector used was a bit higher caliber to really saturate and lay the effect on thicker; however, most people don’t even notice that type of technicality, so that’s just us being nit-picky in this case.

The talent throughout Black Magic was really strong, and we love seeing interaction with guests. So much so, that we really took a disliking this year to so many monsters in this particular maze wearing masks. As part of this year’s on-going common thread, we felt that in the case of Black Magic, the use of masks was really a deterrent to the overall greatness of this attraction. If the theater has become populated by old spirits, we want to see and hear them; and that’s not possible when your actors are stuffed behind a latex mask. Let them explore their own characters – be vampy, over-the-top old theater stars; let them be whatever they were on the stage before they met their demise. That would be so much more rewarding than generic monster masks. In the end, that’s the only thing negative we found with Black Magic this year; considering that’s a much larger issue that is park and event-wide at Knott’s, it doesn’t really reflect a specific problem with this maze.

It was great this year to see Black Magic remain strong for its second Haunt, and it was good to see some improvements made to it along the way. After seeing the maze mature this year, there’s no doubt in my mind that a third year for it in 2015 would be just fine. If it’s in the cards, we’d love to see Houdini and his pals return for one more season of spirited fun!

DOMINION OF THE DAMNED

The saga of the ever-changing vampire maze continued this year with Dominion of the Damned. Drawing on a very rich history at the Scary Farm, Dominion was touched up this year and made to be darker and more foreboding than it has been in recent years, if ever. In that sense, Dominion worked really nicely this time. In the big scheme of things, one starts to wonder how long this particular maze can continue without starting to feel really dated and drawn-out.

Vampire mazes at Knott’s go back decades – to the early 1990s. Many of us have emotional ties to that lineage for one reason or another, and personally, I have a very deep fondness for the Knott’s vampire mazes both from a design and personal stance. If we step back and look at the big picture however, Dominion – or the whole vampire thing – may be getting a bit stale (or a lot stale, if you’re not a vampire fan). I wouldn’t be opposed to giving the vampires a dirt nap for a few years; let the past fade away a bit, and then bring out a fresh story and theme in the future. What Haunt designers have planned for the vamps, I honestly don’t know. If they continue at Haunt for another year, I am fine with it; if the maze goes away, I am fine with that decision, too as a fan.

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Dominion of the Damned was dark this year in story, and I really liked that. Some years, this maze has leaned toward sensual, and this year, it was more aggressive and spooky. The music is always very good throughout the maze, and there seemed to be a nice soundscape in place, too. The show lighting was good (although physically darker as well, it seemed, than previous years), and the sets looked great.

I want to give a shout out to the build team and artists that worked on Dominion. It’s really a gorgeous maze that often flies under the radar, since it’s sandwiched in at Knott’s in an area where the newest and best mazes debut. The fact that Dominion of the Damned was daisy chained to The Tooth Fairy this year, meant that fans anxious to see the new maze rushed through Dominion to get to it, or didn’t pay much attention to its rich detail and tremendous artistry. And that sucks. Theme Park Adventure really has never liked the joining of mazes together at Halloween Haunt. It doesn’t serve any great operational purpose and seems to cause more problems than positive experience (mazes getting backed up, guests sandwiched in line between like sardines, people being forced to maybe go through a maze they aren’t interested in just to get to what they want to see). It’s become an annual beg of us to Knott’s operations – please stop chaining the mazes together. If it’s a queue space issue, figure something else out. The daisy chain experience sucks and isn’t necessary at all – especially since the mazes that are connected have never had anything to do with one another. We’d love to see Knott’s drop this next year and return to each maze having its own queue.

Knotts_Dominion_2014_4246Without digressing too much, I want to reiterate how gorgeous Dominion of the Damned was this year. From the artwork on the walls to the faux marble finish of the walls themselves – we noticed it all and really appreciated the work that has gone into this attraction. There are a lot of static props throughout Dominion as well, and while they may not necessarily work as monsters, they were all cohesive to the theme and not distracting in any way.

There were plenty of masks in play throughout the maze this year; something again, we feel Knott’s needs to keep toning down. In the case of Dominion, there are some monsters – such as bat creatures – that are obviously monsters. Mostly in the darkness, we get that masks are the way to go for those individuals. However, ghouls and vampires roaming the halls next to guests need to be able to hiss, speak, and interact. Masks kill that immediately and take us out of the moment when we have willingly suspended disbelief. The vampire mazes have always done a good job with face characters and some use of prosthetics on the talent. We’d love to see more of that continue should the vampire maze return in 2015.

In closing, it was really fun to see the return of The Wraith to the end of Dominion of the Damned. For many years, “the big guy” has lingered in the shadows of the vampire maze’s exit – lunging forward from the darkness with silent speed, scaring the crap out of guests. It’s a fantastic gag and has always been a favorite element of ours. It was brought back to the ending of the maze this year, and worked perfectly! There were times many years ago when I would spend an hour or so just sitting at the exit in the darkness shooting video of The Wraith in action with night vision; those are some great memories, and in the case of that character in this particular maze, it’s really cool to see that some things never change!

FOREVERMORE

One of the stronger mazes by Haunt designer Brooke Walters, Forevermore tells the tale of the Forevermore Killer, a madman that emulates the works of Edgar Allan Poe when carrying out unspeakable crimes of violence against the living.

This year, Forevermore returned to the Scary Farm for its second run following a really strong debut in 2013. One of the longer mazes at Knott’s Scary Farm due to the location’s historically huge footprint backstage behind Mystery Lodge, Forevermore absolutely retained the momentum that it came on strong with last year, and delivered an equally stunning performance at this year’s Halloween Haunt.

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Forevermore works well on different levels. Those Haunt guests too young to be very familiar with the work of Poe are treated to a visually stunning maze, and taken on a highly-detailed terror tour through very elaborate sets filled with gruesome props and fired-up monster talent. At the same time, older guests – folks that are knowledgeable of the various Poe tales depicted throughout Forevermore – love seeing “what comes next” around each corner, as the stories unfold scene by scene.

And fine details like those found in each scene of Forevermore as they relate to different stories is exactly the type of touch that Brooke’s become known for in her designs. We first saw such a bond with Terror of London, for which Brooke did a lot of research to make locations and even scenes of murder historically accurate for that particular maze. It’s a great touch when a designer can do that, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy to make an all-immersive experience that guests lose themselves in. That’s one of Brooke’s strengths as a designer, and I really applaud that effort in what she does.

The soundscape of Forevermore is absolutely fantastic, with menacing, heavy musical Knotts_Forevermore_2014_4190moments and a disembodied monologue from the Forevermore Killer as guests make their way through the maze’s various sections, explaining how he drew inspiration for each ghastly act. I’d say the Forevermore soundtrack at Knott’s is one of the most mature in design that we’ve ever had before at Haunt, so huge kudos to everyone involved in the audio portion of the maze.

Hell, huge props to everyone involved with Forevermore. The design and execution of this maze are top-notch, bringing a level of finish that really embodies the new generation of Halloween Haunt mazes at Knott’s. Forevermore is polished, bloodied, dark, and absolutely badass in every way. Everyone associated with this maze should be very proud of themselves for a job very well done this year. Too often we see mazes debut with a bang at Haunt, and then begin to fizzle the following year; not the case with Forevermore.

The cast throughout Forevermore absolutely owned it, and they are all very aware that their October home is something special; that’s something that can’t be faked – we can tell when a crew is really proud of their attraction or not. From beginning to its club music-filled ending, Forevermore is unique, frightening, and something very gritty that fans have fallen in love with this year and last.

I think it’s safe to assume that Forevermore will return in 2015; and it should, based on how strongly it performed this Halloween. Additionally, I think it will go down in Haunt history as one of Brooke’s best contributions to Knott’s Scary Farm, following in the footsteps of The Doll Factory and Terror of London. We look forward to seeing this maze continue to age and evolve into next year and possibly beyond!

PINOCCHIO UNSTRUNG

Pinocchio Unstrung returned for its third run this Halloween season at Knott’s, and to the delight of fans, not only remained fairly strong all-around, it was given an infusion of new ideas and added scenes for 2014 that really worked well for the maze.

Originally a Daniel Miller design, which was really well-received when it debuted in 2012, Pinocchio Unstrung is the twisted tale of a marionette that wanted nothing more than to become a real boy. When the Blue Fairy turned him down, he snapped and went on a violent rampage, exacting his revenge on everyone in his path. For the 2014 iteration at Knott’s Scary Farm, designer Gus Krueger gave the maze a shot in the arm, with the addition of some new scenic elements within, including barnacle-encrusted ship remains, and a more dense and frightening internal portion of Monstro, and a large Jiminy Cricket figure. These new adds really helped Pinocchio maintain its edge, and definitely strengthened the attraction without changing it too much or taking anything away from Daniel’s original vision.

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The talent in Pinocchio seemed pretty fired up and many of the face characters did really well interacting with guests. Even those stuck behind masks did their best to talk and interact with people passing by, so the whole team should be proud of their collective performance.

When Pinocchio Unstrung debuted, it was applauded for its highly-thematic environments and lavish set design. Legendary Imagineer Tony Baxter was even quoted as saying that Pinocchio Unstrung’s quality blew him away, and that it looked like something Disney would do. That was a huge accolade to Daniel at the time, and everyone was very impressed by the maze much in the same way. It’s a credit to the entire Knott’s Scary Farm team that now, just two years after its debut, all of the new mazes that have been introduced far surpass the detail and design of Pinocchio Unstrung. That’s not at all knocking Daniel – it’s a realization of just how high he and his colleagues have raised the bar now, and in such little time.

Knotts_Pinocchio_2014_4121The soundscape throughout Pinocchio is appropriate, and while it’s not anything that we’d consider extraordinary, it’s doing its job by supporting the story and visuals of the maze all the way from exterior facade to bitter end. One of the most requested things on our YouTube channel when it comes to Pinocchio is a recording of the exterior of the maze; the chilling manifesto – or explanation of Pinocchio Unstrung. People are definitely keyed in and listening – which is a good thing! Any time you can begin a story in a queue area, it makes the entire experience much richer. Pinocchio does that brilliantly.

Since 2014 was Pinocchio Unstrung’s third season at Halloween Haunt, the big question is, will it return for 2015? The third year is usually the pivotal point for any maze at Haunt, and so the team will have to look at it and make the tough decision of whether or not to extend it, or cycle it out for something new. If Pinocchio Unstrung fades away, we are totally fine with that. While the maze looked good this year, it’s definitely slowing down in its appeal, especially in the wake of newer, more elaborate mazes at Knott’s. It’s had a great run, and definitely will go down as one of Daniel Miller’s greatest contributions to the event overall. If Pinocchio does return for a fourth season next year, we’re fine with that, too; it’s a great maze, fun story, and it’s aged very nicely at the Scary Farm.

GUNSLINGER’S GRAVE

2014 marked the second year for Gunslinger’s Grave, a Western-themed maze at Halloween Haunt that pretty much extends Ghost Town into the world of Haunt with good versus evil cowboys, bandits, and a host of other characters one would expect to find in a classic ghost town environment.

Given the reaction by fans, Gunslinger’s Grave is a real shake-up of what people expect from Knott’s Scary Farm; it isn’t exactly a “maze” in the traditional sense, nor is it simply a walk-through environment, because it does follow Haunt maze guidelines and uses the same template as just about every other maze featured at Knott’s. Yet, it leaves guests confused as to what it is and how they feel about it. Often, we’ll hear someone say they don’t like it. When asked why, there’s never really a clean-cut response; it’s usually, “I dunno – it’s just weird. It doesn’t feel like a maze.”

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Most of Gunslinger’s Grave takes place outdoors, as guests walk through a ghost town environment that includes a saloon (complete with brothel gals), jail, and stable. In my opinion, Gus Krueger did a tremendous job designing Gunslinger’s as the ultimate tribute to the theme of Knott’s Ghost Town during Halloween in maze form. There wasn’t much change between last year and this year’s iteration of the maze, so if you didn’t like it in 2013, chances are, you didn’t care for it this year. That said, if you did enjoy the maze last year, you absolutely had a good time experiencing it this Halloween season; I know I did.

The major gripe I have with Gunslinger’s Grave is the use of masks for some of the talent. I hate it in this maze more than any other, since none of the characters are “monsters” in this maze. Last year, we wrote that if we could have one wish granted for Haunt 2014, it would be that Gunslinger’s would become 100% mask-free. That didn’t happen, sadly, and in a maze where all talent are human characters, some were stuck behind masks, muffled,  trying to interact with guests through latex. There is no reason to have masks in this maze whatsoever, and so, we’re really disappointed by that decision. One of the fantastic aspects of this maze is that with an all-human cast, every character has the Knotts_Gunslingers_2014_4009chance to enhance the experience by yelling at, flirting with, and being socially interactive with guests as they pass through. Why certain people aren’t given that opportunity when working this maze is beyond me; and I don’t know that I necessarily would accept any reason. Being a second-year maze, Gunslinger’s has a high chance of returning to Halloween Haunt once again in 2015. If that is the case, we again issue a direct challenge to Knott’s to unmask everyone in this maze, and take it to the next level with everyone being a highly-interactive character in Gunslinger’s Grave; you’re almost there – just do it.

The cast of Gunslinger’s Grave really enjoy their Halloween home, and again, they put on one hell of a show for Theme Park Adventure as we came through with cameras on. For the second year in a row, our Gunslinger’s flow-through video is my favorite. Playing out like a mini movie, this crew went way above what was expected during our visit; the result is pretty fantastic and something I will always absolutely adore. Granted, guests that visit Gunslinger’s Grave don’t receive the same amount of show or attention – that’s understood. However, the fact that this crew wanted to go so big and over the top for us – that’s awesome, and we are so grateful. Gus and the entire Knott’s Haunt team should be proud of this group and their outstanding performance effort! And that goes for every night – not just when the TPA cameras are present. These men and women are mostly face-to-face with guests all night; they are constantly on, you know? Most of them don’t have frightening masks or prosthetics helping them with their scare appeal. They can’t just come around a corner, slam a wall and snarl. The nature of Gunslinger’s Grave makes it necessary for them to act, and to interact as humans with guests – so by the very nature of its design, I would say that currently, Gunslinger’s Grave is the most challenging maze to work at Haunt. I have the utmost respect for the guys and gals that do it, and kick ass every single night whether they feel up to it or not. It’s a tremendous accomplishment; one that I wish more fans were into. I certainly am, and would love nothing more to see Gunslinger’s Grave return for Haunt 2015 – without any masks – and really nail its third year at Knott’s Scary Farm!

And that’s it! Our 2014 Knott’s Scary Farm reviews of all the returning mazes from this year’s Halloween Haunt! Many long-time TPAers will notice that we’ve done things differently this year with our Knott’s coverage. The size and scope of Halloween Haunt along with our own crazy schedule during October dictated change in 2014. The result was our reviewing of the event’s new mazes and attractions very early on, the grouping and later reviewing of each of the returning mazes, and finally, our look at the 2014 entertainment offerings at Haunt, along with a more detailed look at each of the scare zones, which will be coming soon here on Theme Park Adventure.

Huge thanks to everyone at Knott’s for our continued partnership; this was our 20th year working closely with Haunt, and it was fantastic in all ways. As always, these maze shoots are something that we really love doing. Theme Park Adventure pioneered this at Knott’s years and years ago – the fact that we remain able to do this for and with Knott’s each season is an honor, and something we look forward to every Halloween. We love seeing each maze crew get so fired up and excited when we come through – and it’s awesome to be able to share their efforts with fans around the world by the thousands!

Knott’s Scary Farm 2014 was very strong, and by in large, it was thanks to the folks associated with the event’s mazes, which we’ve showcased here! Kudos to everyone – and thank you all for a job really well done!

– Rick West

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