Knott’s Scary Farm Preview 2015 – Thoughts and Discussion

Trick 1This week, Knott’s Berry Farm revealed all that fans can expect when they pass through the gates and into the fog-filled scare zones of Knott’s Scary Farm 2015. Tons of media outlets were in attendance, Theme Park Adventure included, and reports of the new attractions are abundant online.

What I would like to do here is simply jot down in post format, what I’ve been discussing with fans on our Periscope broadcasts of late – some personal opinions, thoughts and ponderings regarding Scary Farm 2015’s lineup. In no way is this a definitive break-down of all that in store at Knott’s this Halloween; I am simply going to comment on a few of the most talked-about additions, and then wait patiently like the rest of you for opening night, September 24th.

Halloween Haunt vs. Scary Farm

You may or may have not noticed that Knott’s has begun a concerted effort to completely drop the name “Halloween Haunt” from its annual Halloween event. This has been set in motion, and only “Scary Farm” will be used in marketing, on merchandise and anywhere in between when it comes to the world-famous event in Buena Park, California. Granted, changing the psychology and terminology that has been used for 43 years is not going to happen overnight (I’ve been doing my best, but “Haunt” sometimes still slips out when I am talking about the event with people), but I get it. Some may scream “sacrilege!” but this is what’s going on: Cedar Fair uses the term “Halloween Haunt” at several of its other amusement parks around the country.

hauntscaryfarmlogo

In an effort to allow Knott’s to stand out, the Scary Farm name is the one that has been placed in the spotlight, since it is unique to that park, and rightfully so, that park should stand alone when it comes to the Halloween season. Both “Halloween Haunt” and “Scary Farm” have been used for decades – they are names that fans dual-wield, so with Cedar Fair landing on “Scary Farm” when it comes to Knott’s, I totally am on board with that line of thought, and think the company absolutely has made the right decision. I do think that it’ll take years for most people/fans to catch on that “Haunt” isn’t being used anymore – and possibly longer for long-time employees to switch tracks completely. Either way – Knott’s Scary Farm remains the gem in the Cedar Fair Halloween lineup no matter what you call it.

Green Witch with 7 Deadly

The Deadly 7

One of the new additions to Scary Farm for 2015 is the introduction of the Green Witch’s new minion – The Deadly 7. For the past several years, old-school trick-or-treaters known as “Tricksters” have roamed the event at will, terrorizing guests, playing pranks on them, invading mazes (I never liked that – way too confusing to guests and very distracting to the themes/show) and whatever else the Green Witch instructed. It was all tied to the Trick Or Treat maze (which returns this year, with some modifications), which is something fans likely got for the most part – but was probably lost on casual guests. Now, the Tricksters will be confined to the Trick Or Treat maze only, and a new group will be roaming the park at will, at the bidding of the Green Witch; The Deadly 7.

Based on the Seven Deadly Sins, this new group of demons/monsters will roam the scare zones of Knott’s randomly, menacing guests and bringing a new level of terror to the event. Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Pride, Lust, Envy, and Gluttony will manifest and lurk in the fog throughout the event this year. It’s an interesting addition to the street characters, although based on fan reaction, perhaps a new maze based on this theme may have been a better direction to take this idea.

I think adding The Deadly 7 to the Scary Farm is fun, and it’ll be interesting to see just how many people get that these are “special” street monsters. The event has attempted special street characters over the past years, including the Green Witch (the new one – not the Ghost Town Green Witch that is a Knott’s icon herself; that’s a whole other confusing discussion) and before that, the Overlord. Tricksters have roamed the streets these past couple of years, but guests who don’t understand who or what they are often wonder why their costumes are so different (and generic) compared to the other creatures lurking in the darkness; it’s been an issue, for sure. The Deadly 7 will definitely be elaborate and will be frightening to encounter. Whether they will simply fade and become “just another Knott’s monster” to people remains to be seen; that depends solely on how Knott’s showcases and spotlights each character. Time will tell!

Gunslinger's Grave Blood Moon Knott's

Gunslinger’s Grave: A Blood Moon Rises

This isn’t actually a new maze – but there is a substantial change that I think is worth noting. Gunslinger’s Grave has always been met with mixed reaction – it’s more of an elaborate walk-through than a traditional maze at Knott’s, with heavy emphasis on acting and interacting, rather than simple jump scares.

Gunslinger’s Grave will feature werewolves this season, which was met with huge applause from fans during the park’s announcement event earlier this week. Tossing werewolves into the mix will bring an element of fear that Gunslinger’s may have been missing until now. Designer Gus Krueger says it’s part of the story’s evolution, and I think it’s a good move; I am very curious and excited, since I have always loved werewolves being showcased at Knott’s Scary Farm.

The only setback that I can see here, is the return of masks to a maze that was just about void of them – something we have been really excited about and strong advocates of in recent years. Unless Knott’s is creating custom prosthetics and all of the monsters in Gunslinger’s are going to have the ability to interact with guests in mid-transformation, my gut says that we’re going to have plenty of werewolf/wolf masks back into the mix. We can’t wait to find out!

Dead of Winter Knott's Scary Farm

The Dead of Winter

Dead of Winter takes place in the Ballroom at the park, and will feature high-contrast scenes (very dark, very bright), and a brand-new super-cold air conditioner for the building that will keep the environment chilly during the event, which will be awesome if we get stuck with a nasty Indian Summer. If I were a Knott’s maze monster, I’d be begging to work Dead of Winter simply because of the AC, regardless of the execution of the maze itself!

There have been a few mazes over the years at Knott’s that feature bright show lighting, but never one that is mostly white. I think it’ll be really interesting, and reminds me of a stand-alone haunted house I went to as a child where one of  the rooms featured an abominable snowman that was brightly-lit and even had a strobe light going. It’s very disorienting to be in a maze that has bright lighting – almost scarier than being in the dark I think, because you can see what’s lurking nearby! There is nowhere to hide – for the monsters, or the guests! I have high expectations for Dead of Winter and look forward to seeing what the team has done with it!

My Bloody Clementine Knott's Scary Farm

My Bloody Clementine

Of all the announcements, My Bloody Clementine makes me the most nervous. Not because of the theme or content, but because Knott’s is going to install a Scary Farm overlay – as well as live talent – in the Calico Mine Ride for the first time since its amazing refurbishment last year. Fans cheered the news, and in all fairness, have been asking for Scary Farm overlays for both Timber Mountain Log Ride and Calico Mine Ride since both attractions received multi-million dollar refurbishments, and have never looked better.

The idea of putting Scary Farm props, equipment, and most of all, live talent in the Mine Ride makes me very uncomfortable. Whenever these types of overlays are used on attractions, wear and tear is inevitable. Each season when Disneyland changes The Haunted Mansion over to Haunted Mansion Holiday and back again, there is always damage or other issues. No matter how careful Knott’s is, I worry that the Mine Ride or one of its new figures might be damaged in the process; usually, whenever that occurs anywhere, the damage is not fixed or corrected completely. Throw live talent in there with those delicate new figures – and you add yet another high level of damage risk into the equation. One would like to think that people would have enough respect and common sense regarding the ride’s interior components – but you can never be certain someone won’t unintentionally – or worse, intentionally – do harm to the ride, especially when they are temporary seasonal workers rather than steady full-time Knott’s employees within extremely close proximity to the ride’s figures and props.

Perhaps I am being alarmist about this; or maybe this is a very legitimate concern. It’s been echoed by Knott’s management in recent years that the two beloved mountain attractions at the park would be left alone regarding Scary Farm, due to the back-to-back renovations to each in 2013 and 2014 respectively. If this year’s Mine Ride overlay is successful (and how could it not be?), I would venture to guess that one of the big announcements we’ll be hearing for 2016 will be that Timber Mountain Log Ride has returned to the Scary Farm mix as well, as the two attractions have always played a major role in the Halloween event.

Here’s hoping that Clementine and her fellow spooks wreak havoc on Scary Farm guests – and not their surroundings this year!

Knott's Scary Farm_Special Ops Infected-Patient Zero

Special Ops: Infected – Patient Zero

One of the major concerns I had last year was Infected, which  takes up a full quadrant of Knott’s Scary Farm, takes a lot of people to operate, and returned a relatively low nightly capacity (guest throughput). This was problematic, and compounding that issue were the Scary Farm passholders that literally, abused the time-slotted attraction’s system by loading up on multiple slots at the beginning of each night, effectively shutting out casual one-time guests coming to Scary Farm; general admission folks would work their way over to Infected after walking through Ghost Town or whatever else and find that they were out of luck when it came to the year’s most-touted attraction at Scary Farm. That’s a problem; that’s a big problem.

This year, Infected returns, and is double in size. This is to accommodate higher capacity and a much more rapid dispatch rate (I’m not assuming – I asked), so the team is aware of the challenges that last year presented. I was really interested by the changes that Jon and the team have made for 2015. And some of them sound really cool – the weapon/gun this year is more advanced (and a lot sexier-looking, honestly), and creates more of a gaming feel for Infected. The better you perform along the way, the more powerful your weapon becomes. That’re pretty nifty; there are other gaming-like components this year too, which absolutely keep our interest piqued.

The one thing I was hoping would be resolved this year, was that the time slot aspect of Infected would simply go away, and those wanting to do it, would simply queue up, and be separated into squads/groups and sent into the attraction without the inherent headaches that come along with scheduled experiences that aren’t up-charge in nature. There’s plenty of room for a massive switchback queue for Infected; I say line ’em up, and let ’em get to it; if the wait is too long, come back later, just like anything else at Scary Farm. Time slots are something that usually looks doable on paper, but I can’t recall a single haunted attraction that we’ve attended that is time-slotted and operating on time, ever. It’s something I’d stay away from, especially when the attraction in question isn’t an up-charge or VIP experience.

It’ll be fun (and exhausting) to check this out, and I look forward to all of the cool enhancements that have been worked into Infected this year.

Paranormal Inc. Knott's Scary Farm

PARANORMAL, INC. – Case #1 – The Haunting of Hayden Hill

While the full name may not roll off the tongue very easily, rest assured that it’s on the lips of Knott’s fans big time now with great anticipation.

Paranormal appears to be an “interactive” maze experience. This part show/part maze hybrid will likely take typical Knott’s Scary Farm attractions to a new level; the concern here is that it will also take wait times there, as well. This isn’t a negative ding at designer Jon Cooke; his heart is in the right place, and I know that fans love what he does (last year, Jon introduced Infected to the Scary Farm, and has been busy working on upgrading that attraction for 2015 as well). It’s just an observation that every maze at Knott’s in the past with show elements or lower-capacity design – from Lair of the Vampyre (1992) and Tales From the Inquisition Starring the Crypt Keeper (1999), to Curse of the Spiderwoods (2001) and more recently, Mirror Mirror (2013) – has suffered horrible wait times without fail. The only way to have a show-based/pulsed/interactive maze or experience is to duplicate each room several times so that the hourly throughput isn’t affected by the show. I’m not sure that has been designed into Paranormal. Whether that has or not, my feeling is that this is going to be a very long line on most Scary Farm nights. My strongest advice of the season thus far, is to get to the event early, do the Pre-Scare meal option, and whether let in early or with the general crowd, make a beeline to Paranormal before you do anything else. Otherwise, it may be a long wait to experience this new maze.

I’ll tell you what I do immediately like regarding Scary Farm operations this year; there will be no more daisy-chained mazes at Knott’s! No longer will you have to wait in line and go through “Maze A” to get to “Maze B” – that’s something I have always hated, and have been very vocal about for years, since the bulk of Knott’s Scary Farm has been moved backstage at the park into warehouse buildings. So, I am really stoked about that, and I imagine other fans are, too – now you can head to whichever maze you want without being forced to do anything else; bravo to Knott’s for making that decision!

And that’s it! The conversations will continue up until opening night – and then beyond, as we all experience Knott’s Scary Farm 2015 and all it promises to be! I’m excited by the lineup, and while I have some operational worries, I am always very pleased to see Knott’s trying new things as they continue to make history as the granddaddy of all haunts!

– Rick West

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