REVIEW: Black Magic 2013 Knott’s Scary Farm

2013 was one of the best Haunt seasons Knott’s Scary Farm has ever had. With a world-class design team and fearless leadership at the helm both in Buena Park as well as Ohio, the very evident push was made to raise the bar of quality and overall event excellence this year. One of the new mazes that was a huge hit with fans, and was Theme Park Adventure’s favorite Scary Farm attraction this year, was Black Magic.

The story of Black Magic is rich and rooted in historical truth. I love when fact and fiction are blurred when it comes to attractions of any sort; when it’s a haunt, even better! Veteran Knott’s Haunt designer Daniel Miller took the tale of Harry Houdini’s promise to his wife that if there was a way to communicate after death that he would, and turned it into the premise of Black Magic.

BLACK_MAGIC_2013_5429For those unfamiliar, Houdini is revered as one of the greatest magicians of all time. He died on Halloween, 1926 in a Detroit hospital. Toward the end of his life, Harry Houdini spent a great deal of time and energy debunking spiritualists and such practices of seances, and psychic communication. Before dying, Houdini and his wife Bess agreed on a code phrase – “Rosabelle believe” – that he would use as a means of communication from beyond the grave, if it was possible. For 10 years, Houdini’s widow held a seance on Halloween for 10 years, waiting for that simple phrase; it never came. However, in Black Magic, not only does the phrase come from beyond the grave – so do a host of sinister ghouls that slip through a portal into the realm of the living inside an old theater to haunt and torment visitors! A fantastic story, a totally unique experience and by far, one of the greatest mazes Daniel has ever designed!

Black Magic, which was located below Xcelerator, featured a facade that came to life via registered projection; an old theater that would burn and change right before our eyes and undergo other various effects and transformations. While not a new technology, this was a first for Knott’s; it was great and we hope to see more projection used in the future at the Scary Farm, as it’s relatively inexpensive to pull off and extremely successful. Kudos to Daniel and the team for making this happen for Black Magic; definitely one of the finest maze facades ever at Halloween Haunt!

BLACK_MAGIC_2013_5460The rest of the maze was simply gorgeous. Dark, ominous, and totally immersive, Black Magic took guests on a trek through creepy backstage areas, dressing rooms, and finally onto the stage as menacing monsters closed in on all sides. Skeleton Key holders also were treated to that ill-fated seance session where the door to the spirit world was opened; we didn’t take video or pictures of the special feature, but it was definitely a neat addition to Black Magic. Many fans that we spoke with that attended Halloween Haunt felt this was the best of the Skeleton Key bonus maze rooms; we didn’t see all of them this year, but have a feeling that this general consensus is probably accurate.

The level of detail and design throughout Black Magic really pushed the boundaries and raised the bar for Knott’s even higher – something that we’ve noticed more and more over the past several years. The exciting thing is, it’s not just one designer on the Haunt team accelerating and doing this; it’s all of the designers. It’s management. It’s the entire crew that paints, props and lights these mazes. The professional level of thematic detail across the Scary Farm is better than it’s ever been before, and we’re really stoked about that as long-time fans of Halloween Haunt.

BLACK_MAGIC_2013_5463Black Magic’s theme is unique and follows a really specific storyline. We’ve noticed a weird phenomena recently; I’m going to dub it the “Doll Factory Syndrome”. What we’ve found at Haunt, is that mazes with extremely focused stories/experiences such as The Doll Factory tend to come on very strong and seem to lose their thrust quicker than more general themes such as Slaughterhouse or Uncle Bobo’s. Doll Factory Syndrome has happened to some of the best mazes in Haunt history, including Terror of London, and we’re seeing it happen to Trick Or Treat to some extent already. It’s not a bad thing – it’s just a strange fate that mazes with highly specialized stories seem to suffer at Knott’s. While Black Magic certainly is at high risk for this in years to come, I think that the inclusion of more “generic” characters – ghosts – that fill the shadows of the theater may give this maze enough wiggle room to not be affected by rapid burnout. Only time will tell; I’d be extremely surprised if Black Magic didn’t easily last three, maybe four years at Knott’s Scary Farm.

The talent working Black Magic knew they had one hell of a fantastic home for the Halloween 2013 season, and it showed. Each time we visited the maze, its crew was spot on, very active and definitely interactive with guests. A really cool talent position within Black Magic had monsters performing slight of hand tricks for guests as they filed through a specific room; the main gag was a blindfolded individual doing the cup and balls trick. In the case of Black Magic, this performer had large blood stains seeping through his blindfold and streams of blood dripping down his face from having his eyes gouged out; naturally, the balls used for the trick were his eyeballs; a great gag, and something special, but simple enough to not really create a choke point in the maze’s flow.

Black Magic’s soundtrack was really great as well. A mix of ominous, haunting music and chilling sound effects and voice tracks worked beautifully to create a soundscape that was perfect for the maze. Flames, screams, and Houdini’s disembodied voice from beyond the grave made for an grand soundtrack that Daniel and the team should be extremely satisfied with.

BLACK_MAGIC_2013_5445There were several rooms in the maze that were pretty badass and worthy of being singled out here. In one portion of Black Magic, guests walked between a pair of walls with iron spikes protruding outward; bodies were impaled on some of the spikes and as guests passed by, the walls would suddenly move inward, threatening to do the same to them. It was a simple, really great moment that made people scream each time we witnessed it happen! Another room featured tanks of bubbling water, an homage to Houdini’s many drowning danger-based tricks. Monsters would stand behind these tanks and it would appear that they were submerged in the water; a really neat visual and then a great scare as they’d suddenly leap from behind the tanks into the groups of passing visitors!

One thing that TPA has always loved at Halloween Haunt are its large mechanical props that have been placed in different mazes over the years. Black Magic featured a massive mechanical white rabbit emerging from a black top hat. The rabbit was monstrous – much like the one in Twilight Zone: The Movie. Huge thumbs up, as the rabbit was awesome and absolutely stood out as a genuine favorite visual of Halloween Haunt 2013! Hats off to the in-house team at Knott’s Berry Farm that brought this creature to life! Awesome stuff!

BLACK_MAGIC_2013_5468In the past, Daniel has openly said that his maze designs are often inspired by video games. Such is the case with Black Magic, as Daniel cited his love of BioShock throughout the process of bringing this maze to life at Knott’s Scary Farm. We could see that, and while there are some similarities in style and character design, Black Magic really stands on its own, and it is magnificent.

The trick that Black Magic needs to pull off is longevity at Halloween Haunt. If it can escape the dangers of “Doll Factory Syndrome” and remain general enough to keep the interest of fans past the first year honeymoon, it’s going to be around for quite a while. And we love that, because we think Black Magic is completely gorgeous and is definitely one of the greatest Scary Farm mazes we’ve ever seen. Here’s to the return of Houdini in 2014!

What did you think about Black Magic? Are you a fan? Share your thoughts below and discuss with other TPAers!

– Rick West

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