Another Halloween Haunt maze that returned once again to the Knott’s lineup this year was Dia de los Muertos, which translates to Day of the Dead for all of you non-bilingual types! Originally designed by former team member David Ortiz, Dia was a shining gem in the Scary Farm offering, specifically giving a nod of respect and inclusion to the event’s vast Latin guest demographic; and it was brilliant!
Keyword “was”. Somewhere along the way, Dia de los Muertos really took a turn for the worse, and never came back to us. What was one of my favorite Halloween Haunt mazes became one of my least enjoyed in just a matter of years. I think specifically, Knott’s took David’s creation, and rather than build on it, they reduced it each year in scale and in content. The dramatic, colorful graveyard scene became smaller and more cluttered with larger crypts and more monsters. The scenic village transitions were dropped so that guests simply went from room to room with little or no transition to set up the flow of the story. That really hurt this maze, as it was originally beautiful, rich in culture and delivered a fair amount of scares along the way. This year, it felt like a sloppy, thrown-together second thought rather than a star attraction. And that’s a real shame.
New to the design department, Gus Krueger took on the task of piecing what was left of Dia de los Muertos. I don’t envy that, nor do I hold Gus accountable for the maze’s poor condition. You can’t polish a turd, and by the time it was handed to Gus, it was pretty much dead on arrival. Unfortunately, nothing Gus did or wanted to do could save Dia from a very grim showing this year. I wouldn’t call the 2012 version of the maze terrible – but it was certainly far from good. That’s a hard one for me to wrap my head around; David Ortiz created an amazing, rich experience; and in a matter of years, it was reduced to utter crap instead of built on and taken to the next level. I really don’t get that and think the Haunt team really fumbled on this one, whether it was budget, management or lack of interest; this opportunity was handed to Knott’s on a silver platter and it was carelessly discarded and disgraced; shameful.
The talent in Dia de los Muertos was decent, although admittedly, we didn’t go through this maze many times at all this season, as I was so disgusted by how it was run into the ground. The men and women working the maze seemed fine, but their efforts were simply overshadowed for me by the state of the maze in general. Granted, I go through these things and see them in many more dimensions and in ways casual Halloween Haunt guests never would; I get that. So understand that my sensitivity to the changes within this maze probably weren’t even noticed by Joe Guest simply looking for someone to jump out and scare him. Unfortunately, I haven’t been Joe Guest for decades, so I have no choice but to notice everything and that has given me a real bitter outlook on Dia de los Muertos.
Not helping the situation was management’s no signage/low profile policy on Halloween Haunt mazes during the day at Knott’s Berry Farm. Not only did Dia de los Muertos not have an entry sign this year, the fantastic artwork by long-time Haunt art contributor Tamara Lujan was left off of the building this year; completely left in storage, or thrown away, for all we know. Rather than the building being adorned with her colorful Dia de los Muertos paintings – nothing that would be frightening or off-putting to children or daytime Knott’s guests – it was allowed to stand there with no signage or artwork; man, what a disappointment. Honestly, I hope that 2012 was the final year for Dia, because it’s beyond ruined at this point; if Knott’s brings it back in 2013, it may be the first time in a long time that I refuse to go through a Scary Farm maze. It literally is that offensive to me; and it has nothing to do with the fact that David Ortiz and I are friends. Even the second year, when David “spooked up” the graveyard a bit, I told him I understood the directive and the decision, but that I really didn’t like it. So, the decline of Dia de los Muertos has been coming since the second year now; finally, it’s so bad, I actually hope it doesn’t return.
Without beating this dead horse too much, I’ll simply say that in all my years visiting Knott’s Halloween Haunt, fewer mazes have stood out for their excellence and originality than Dia de los Muertos did when it made its debut in 2009. Perhaps it’s a location-based curse of sorts. After all, one of the most groundbreaking mazes of all time – Nightmares – was in the same spot; in the years to follow, it was degraded and whored out as a marketing piece for the painfully bad Elvira show next door! Both landmark mazes, both suffered horrid fates. Coincidence or curse?
Perhaps we’ll never know.
– Rick West