It’s a tradition going back to 1973 here in Southern California; the sun flickers and drowns over the horizon, nightfall creeps across the land, and fog billows from Ghost Town and other areas of the theme park as it writhes in pain, transforming from Knott’s Berry Farm into the world-famous Knott’s Scary Farm!
Okay – perhaps it’s not so dramatic; and to be honest, fans get just as excited reading that makeup and wardrobe operations have commenced in the early afternoon hours backstage in the fabled Warehouse P at Knott’s, and techs are making last-minute checks on fog machine juice and lighting inside the mazes and scare zones as media assembles for the opening night of Knott’s Scary Farm in Buena Park! That’s exactly what transpired on the evening of September 24th; for Theme Park Adventure, it continued our 21st year covering the granddaddy of all Halloween events (the first event being the 2015 Scary Farm preview in August).
As you may well know, our coverage of Knott’s Scary Farm is very detailed, and rolls out several weeks after the event has started. We attend opening night, and while there, we take in the mazes, a media/VIP reception, scare zones, and a show – if time allows, which varies from year to year. During opening night, we shoot pictures, video, tweet, and this year, broadcast several Periscope sessions; those broadcasts can be found on TPA’s Katch page, where many of our special event Periscope sessions are now archived.
Opening night at Knott’s Scary Farm is something that we look forward to here at TPA on very personal and professional levels. On one hand, we’re there as media to bring it to fans around the world through pictures, video and finally, in writing. However, it’s also a night that our inner geeks delight in the haunting that takes place – whether it be in the mazes or as we pass through the foggy streets of Ghost Town. I’ve been attending Knott’s Scary Farm since the very early ’80s; it’s so ingrained in who I am as a Halloween/haunted attraction fan, that attending Knott’s Scary Farm on opening night feels like a homecoming to me, if that makes sense. It’s a deeply-rooted tradition that’s shaped me as a fan, and has no doubt, been a cornerstone of Theme Park Adventure for the past two decades.
This story is not at all a review, but rather, a general sampling of things we really like – and issues we see already for this year’s Scary Farm event. A sampler platter if you will, of the detailed features to come! We have pictures to share with you, as well as our First Night video, which has also become a tradition of sorts here on TPA. Enjoy our whirlwind trip through Knott’s Scary Farm on its first night of 2015!
Knott’s Scary Farm has a host of new “lead characters” they’ve introduced this year – the Deadly 7. Based on the spiritual “seven deadly sins” – greed, envy, gluttony, sloth, wrath, lust and pride – these are the new minion of the Green Witch, the event’s icon that oversees all things evil at Knott’s for the Halloween season. These new “mega” characters roam the Farm together, and from all accounts, it seems that each one is featured in a “show moment” of sorts at various locations throughout the park. We only saw them gathered at the park’s main entrance when the event began – but they do roam all of Knott’s each night – so keep an eye out! It’s a fun idea, much like the Tricksters were for several years; whether or not casual visitors truly get it or not – or even care for that matter – remains to be seen at this point. It’s definitely a fun bunch to find yourself in the middle of, however! Go searching; you’ll cross paths eventually!
For me, the main event at Knott’s Scary Farm has always been the mazes. Mazes, mazes, and more mazes; I love ’em, and can never get enough! In recent years, we have seen the quality of Knott’s mazes skyrocket to stay on par with other events’ offerings, from theme parks to stand-alone haunts. It’s a great time to be a Scary Farm fan, because the designs just keep pushing boundaries and getting better and better. This year, we (barely) managed to hit all of the mazes on opening night. Without a doubt, the mazes that are all in the “extended” part of Ghost Town (backstage, behind Ghost Town and GhostRider) are the strongest, with Trick Or Treat, Voodoo, and Tooth Fairy all receiving major changes/upgrades that look fantastic. By far, the busiest area of Scary Farm this year will be there, backstage, where most of the mazes are clustered. I’m personally not a huge fan of the way Scary Farm has evolved footprint-wise to mostly be crammed backstage in the past several years – but at least the mazes aren’t connected by daisy chain-style queues; that was a pain that I’m really glad Knott’s finally got over. I do miss the days of mazes being more spread out all over Knott’s and the delight in “finding” them as we’d walk around a corner or enter a new area of the park. It was much more organic then, and felt more exciting to me. While I adore Scary Farm, I do feel that it’s lost some of its “magic” by 50% of it being clustered in large butler buildings backstage all in one spot. More about that, I’m sure, in our detailed review of Knott’s Scary Farm 2015 in the weeks to come.
Other mazes that have been changed-up are Forevermore, as well as Gunslinger’s Grave. Gunslinger’s has the addition/over-lay of werewolves added to the mix, which I really like. It’s been a long time since Knott’s had a werewolf-centric maze, so having them populate Gunslinger’s is a really cool refresher, in my opinion! The down side to that, is that most of the monsters are suddenly back in masks again, making the maze that almost was 100% mask-free back to square one. Chutes and Ladders, I suppose. Chutes and Ladders of progress.
There are two mazes at Knott’s getting huge buzz this season; Paranormal, Inc. and Dead of Winter. The event is still so fresh and new, we don’t want to blast out too many spoilers or opinions here yet; that’ll come soon enough. Of the two new mazes, our favorite is Paranormal, Inc.
Paranormal is heavily show-based, which is thrilling fans. On the flip side of that, it’s causing some hefty wait times, as I was concerned about since the attraction was announced. Historically (and in general, it’s just a rule of design), any maze that has a show beat/pulse point causes tremendous back-up in the queue; I’ve never seen a maze at Knott’s that hasn’t suffered from that – and Paranormal has more than one. On opening night, the attendance at Knott’s was pretty mellow; however, in the thick of the event, the queue for Paranormal, Inc. was really full. I am definitely concerned about this one as crowds increase into October at Knott’s; it’s definitely one to watch. My advice is to make a beeline to this maze the moment Scary Farm opens; either that, or wait until the very end of the night to get in line. If you choose the latter, understand that some of the talent may be gone already, and your experience could be lackluster because everyone is tired after a long, strenuous night of scaring. I recommend starting your night with this – but do get to Knott’s and get in line before it opens, or you’re going to be waiting a long time in queue for this.
Dead of Winter is an interesting design with components that I really like – and some things that have me holding judgment until more nights pass and kinks are ironed out a bit. In the week or two that follow the opening of Scary Farm, Knott’s tweaks mazes, adding to them or taking things out that don’t work. I suspect there is some of that taking place currently in Dead of Winter. It was neither scary or boring – it was kind of odd and well… it’s perplexing to me. Again, I’m striving to not hammer out spoilers because the event has just started. My initial reaction (we only did each maze once thus far) is that Gus (Krueger), the maze’s designer, attempted to get too much back story into the maze, and it didn’t quite carry over in translation from concept to execution. Physically, it’s a lot darker than we thought it would be – and it wasn’t as cold as everyone said it would be (the Ballroom, which is where the maze is located, got a new A/C unit and folks building the maze reported seeing their breath when working, it was so frigid); we were really looking forward to the cold, since here in Southern California, it’s still hotter than Hell as we head into the Halloween season. Perhaps once the weather starts to mellow out, Dead of Winter will be more wintry, temperature-wise. This maze has one of the best Skeleton Key rooms at Knott’s this year, and we have seen them all. Unfortunately, the story is lost throughout the maze, and we found ourselves encountering characters we really didn’t understand that much. Dead of Winter will be tweaked, and we’ll form a better opinion once we visit the Scary Farm again. Until then, we’re just saying that it’s an interesting maze with some challenges that need to be addressed; I think with some fixes, it could work very nicely and is definitely something new and worthy at the park.
Black Magic is still a strong maze, as is Pinocchio Unstrung, although they didn’t receive the same kind of love this year as the other mazes did; that could signal a final season for both of them – time will tell.
We did not get to experience Infected yet; there have been massive issues with it since opening night, and the result has been a huge wait time that most people don’t want to endure; so we have no opinion of this large-scale attraction at Scary Farm this year. Hopefully, the team will work out whatever the issues are – Infected was re-worked this year for better capacity after suffering from throughput issues in 2014; so far, it seems to be much worse. So, our fingers are crossed for this one – it’s a fun attraction and concept; I’m still far from convinced that it’s ever been right for Knott’s Scary Farm specifically for the reasons we’re all discussing now. Anything at a theme park haunt should be a people-eater; attractions with questionable or low capacity that aren’t huge up-charge components – you’re asking for major headaches, folks. Here’s hoping Jon Cooke and his team can work this one out sooner than later and get those guests through. If not, I’d be stunned if this isn’t the last year for Infected at Knott’s Scary Farm.
While there for opening night, we did not attend the Elvira show or The Hanging; we usually hit the shows later in the season, although a technical difficulty caused the final Hanging of the night to be cancelled – we had planned on seeing that, actually. So, at this stage in the game, we have nothing to say about either one – except that we’ve heard from fans that the Elvira show seems to move at a better pace this year than last, and that it’s a pretty solid production; we look forward to checking it out soon!
The scare zones at Knott’s were an interesting mix on opening night. Ghost Town was rocking, while Carnevil and Fiesta de los Muertos seemed very sleepy and sparsely-populated. We did encounter some great talent in each of the areas – but more often than not, monsters would simply walk on by, even when no one else was in the area, which was very disappointing. I am not sure if that’s a rookie situation where people are trying to find their groove, or if they simply were too hot and tired after a few hours to engage us. If I had to guess (and I suppose I am), I’d say that the street talent was rusty/new and the near-100-degree temperature didn’t help at all with energy levels throughout the night. We never judge a zone or maze with a critical eye until it’s been a couple weeks, because opening nights are rough at any haunt, even the Scary Farm. We hope to see a lot more talent on the streets in Carnevil and Fiesta de los Muertos in particular because for the first time in a while, both areas felt really low, talent-wise. We’re hoping that’s not the case in the weeks to come, or it’ll be very disappointing to us as fans.
As usual, we found ourselves rushing at the end of the night, which makes it plain to see that Knott’s Scary Farm is most definitely a 2-night event, if you want to see everything the park is offering. Knott’s has grown so much in recent years that even with their Front of Line/Skeleton Key pass, there’s simply too much to do in one night if you want to have any fun without running from maze to maze with no time for breaks or to simply enjoy the decorations or scare zones. Folks that buy the Scary Farm Pass and attend more than one night get the biggest bang for their buck, as it also includes event parking this year. Buy the pass, go a few times during the Halloween season, and it’s paid for itself. If you’re a die hard Knott’s fan, this is an excellent option; just make sure you safe enough cash to see other haunts during the season, too – spread that support and fun out a bit here in SoCal, where we have the greatest variety of haunted attractions in the world at our doorsteps!
We look forward to returning to Knott’s Scary Farm very soon, and bringing you our in-depth reviews, flow-through videos, and image galleries! As fans, we love Knott’s and are really impressed with their offerings this season. The Scary Farm needs to be near the top of your haunt list for 2015; you’ll love the new mazes, and the huge refreshers some of the older ones have received this year. Obviously, the later in the season you wait, the busier the park is going to be; also, Friday and Saturday nights are the busiest, so plan accordingly. If you plan on attending multiple times, we strongly recommend the Scary Farm Pass for the remainder of the run.
That’s it! Our down and dirty look at Knott’s Scary Farm’s opening night, complete with roses and thorns! We try not to look at anything too critically, because we know things will be much different on our next visit. Until then, enjoy that sweet fog, some Boysenberry Punch, and look out for those spooks lurking in the shadows!
– Rick West
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