Knott’s Scary Farm’s Halloween Haunt is the granddaddy of all theme park Halloween events. All theme park haunts and many industry firsts – such as the technique of “sliding” – can trace their roots to the age-old streets of Ghost Town in Buena Park, California. It is with great anticipation that fans wait for opening night each year, and as the fog billows and the wind begins to howl in the eaves of the Calico roofs, the excitement is almost palpable!
Due to the size and scope of Knott’s Scary Farm, the matrix of shows and attractions constantly evolves, with many mazes staying put for anywhere from two to five seasons. Each Halloween Haunt brings brand-new experiences as well, which fans get really excited about in the months leading up to the event. In fact, it’s become so popular for Knott’s to announce the new mazes each year, that they host a large-scale fan preview at the park itself to unveil all of the Haunt offerings during summer; it draws hundreds of the Scary Farm’s biggest fans, as well as a ton of media.
With emphasis on the new mazes and experiences for 2014, Theme Park Adventure agreed with Knott’s to roll out the park’s new attraction reviews first, so that fans everywhere could hear what we have to say and see our photos and videos of the first-run mazes. This is why we’re doing things differently this year here at TPA; rather than roll out individual mazes at a time, we’re doing them in chunks, to expedite the process for everyone and get the information to the masses as quickly as possible. Indeed, the returning mazes and attractions are equally important to us; we will be reviewing each of those in detail as well very soon in another feature here on Theme Park Adventure in the weeks to come!
For now, however, it’s time to shed some light into the darkness – through the lurking monsters we go, into the deep bayous of Louisiana, to a gritty fairy tale realm, into a series of grim encounters and putrid tasks, and straight into a military theater of operation against an army of undead!
Editor’s Note: The following reviews contain spoilers in writing, image galleries, and video. If you plan on attending Knott’s Scary Farm 2014 and wish to keep everything a surprise, we recommend bookmarking and returning to this page once you’ve visited Halloween Haunt.
TRAPPED: LOCK & KEY
Returning for the third season at Knott’s Scary Farm is its up-charge attraction, Trapped. This year, it’s titled “Lock & Key”, eluding to the puzzle-like situations that guests are forced to partake in within, if they wish to make it through. Trapped isn’t a maze in the traditional sense, but it is a series of rooms that feature sometimes frightening talent, as well as violent or mature situations. As far as theme park haunts, Trapped is pretty edgy and has pushed the boundaries at Knott’s most definitely over the past three seasons since it was introduced as part of the Scary Farm program. I’ll say right up front that Knott’s declined to let us shoot Trapped: Lock & Key in any way this season, as they want to keep the experience completely out of the public’s eyes unless they experience it on their own. While we are disappointed and disagree with this stance (our offer is to always present the material after Haunt is over, since Trapped cannot be repeated in any way from year-to-year), we respect Knott’s and its decision. I just want to put this out there so we’re not asked why we didn’t bother shooting the attraction for our coverage; it’s not for lack of trying or “love” for the cast and crew.
Following a less-than-stellar incarnation in 2013, Knott’s enlisted some new blood to turn this particular attraction around and give it new teeth, so to speak. Jeff Tucker, a long-time member of Knott’s Entertainment management, and Gus Krueger (Gunslinger’s Grave, The Witch’s Keep), one of the company’s very talented Haunt designers, were brought together to work out new and terrifying ways to make visitors squirm and scream. After experiencing Trapped for myself this season, I can say that it’s definitely a huge improvement over 2013’s version of Trapped, and rivals – if not betters – Trapped’s 2012 debut.
I’ll also say that Trapped: Lock & Key isn’t really scary in a monster-ooga-booga type of way, either. Instead, Jeff and Gus have come up with a series of scenarios that are both psychologically messed up, or simply gross and messed up. I’m not going into detail here – because regardless of our spoiler alert early on in this post, I really don’t want to ruin any shocks or surprises; everyone has worked way too hard for that for TPA to give anything away. Let me just say – and those who have experienced Trapped this year will know what I’m referring to – I did drink the drinky drink, and I swallowed it down without gagging! That can’t be said for other guests; there have been reports already of people vomiting in Trapped; that is somewhat of a badge of honor for Gus and Jeff, the same as making a guest piss or poop themselves is for a haunt monster! So kudos… I think! Let that puke fly!
Trapped: Lock & Key also deals with some “mature” situations, and it’s all in good fun; hopefully, the talent doesn’t get too weirded-out by chance creepers that may come through the attraction. Let’s just say it’s definitely not for the kiddies! This is the first time that Trapped has featured any characters of the “sexy” type, and it’s done very well in a way that isn’t offensive in the least (and if it does offend someone, what the hell are you doing at Haunt anyway?).
This year, Trapped does include some pretty crazy moments, from being hooded to a split-level room that is very surprising and really cool – huge props to them for such a creative design element! It’s not physically demanding, so to speak. Trapped will however, push people to their limits as far as psychological fear and personal comfort levels. In the end, you just need to remind yourself that it’s all make-believe… or at least, try to tell yourself that.
Jeff Tucker and Gus Krueger are definitely a winning combination, and this time around, Trapped is definitely worth the up-charge admission, especially if you go in a large group so that it’s only $10 or so per person. It’s definitely a fun group activity, and would be fairly intense for a couple by themselves. Alone, I am not so sure that Trapped would be as effective, so I will say definitely do it with someone else or preferably, a small group. We did it in a group of six, and it was perfect.
Up-charge attractions are sometimes nothing more than a money grab. That is not the case here. One of the main reasons theme parks employ up-charge admission to certain attractions is to “thin the herd” and insure that not everyone can or will participate. Trapped can take upwards of 25+ minutes to complete; that is a long experience for an event such as Halloween Haunt. Even running several groups at a time, there is no way they could cycle most of their guests through Trapped in an evening; to alleviate major over-crowding and unhappy guests, Knott’s has set up reservation time slots and a substantial up-charge price as a “people dam” and for the most part, it is working relatively well this season. Special Ops: Infected is faced with similar challenges with its through-put, and is not protected by an up-charge price; in a moment, we will get into the impact that is having on the event this year.
Trapped: Lock & Key has redeemed the experience in the eyes of many fans – Theme Park Adventure included – from last year’s version. We’re really pleased to see that Knott’s called on some heavy creative guns to turn the situation around; they’ve done so with flying colors. If you’re on the fence following perhaps a disappointment with last year’s Trapped experience, we’re encouraging you to give it a try this season; it’s a whole new ballgame and it’s done very well. Huge props and kudos to Jeff, Gus, and the entire crew that worked on bringing Trapped to life at Knott’s this year, and the great men and women that keep guests on their toes (and nervous as hell) throughout the experience!
Trapped is back! And it really is better than ever!
SPECIAL OPS: INFECTED
Of all the new experiences at Knott’s Scary Farm this year, none is being more highly-touted than Special Ops: Infected. The scope of this attraction is huge; to be clear, this is not a new maze, and this is not a new scare zone. Infected takes up all of Camp Snoopy (formerly Necropolis during the last several Halloween Haunt seasons), featuring multiple routes that guests are led quickly through in military squads as they fight off zombies coming at them from every direction.
To say this is an ambitious new attraction would be an understatement. Special Ops: Infected takes a cast of 130 zombies and 25 soldiers to accomplish its mission. That is a staggering number to consider. To put it in perspective, it takes almost the same amount of talent to man Infected as it does to populate Ghost Town, CarnEvil, and Fiesta de los Muertos with their monsters. The scope and scale of Special Ops: Infected is the largest we’ve ever seen for a single Haunt attraction. This is also likely where the bulk of Knott’s entertainment budget went as well, considering all but The Hanging and Elvira are show options this year.
There are two main routes through Infected – Alpha and Bravo. Alpha departs from the entrance of Camp Snoopy nearest the park’s main entrance. Bravo teams depart from the side of Camp Snoopy that leads into Fiesta Village, near Montezooma’s Revenge. Along the way, guests are urged to move quickly by their squad leaders as hordes of infected – zombies – pour out of the darkness from behind vehicles, around trees, and through building windows. Guests are equipped with guns that recoil when they’re fired, and tally points depending on how many zombies are shot and where (head shots are best). This is literally a first-person shooter game that puts you right in the middle of the action. It’s terrifying, exciting, and in the end, exhausting – especially for those of us older or out-of-shape kids!
Infected is headed up by Jon Cooke, who is fairly new to the Knott’s design team. Fans may recognize him as Johnny Plague from the popular American deathcore band, Winds of Plague. Jon’s a long-time Haunt fan and has been known to work related events as monsters as well as on the creative end. Ultimately, design work is what he loves to do, and he brought Special Ops: Infected to Knott’s Scary Farm in a big way this year. We give huge props to Jon and his enthusiasm – he’s a great guy with big ideas and a genuine love for this industry. We look forward to seeing what his future contributions at Knott’s will include!
The entire Infected team is outstanding, from the military squad members to each and every monster or talent along the routes inside the attraction. No one working this experience can have an “off night”, as they are constantly in the spotlight and always have to be moving and active; by the end of each Haunt week, they must feel absolutely destroyed physically. Utmost respect and props to all of them, as this is probably the most demanding attraction at Knott’s to work night after night.
Alpha side takes guests on a harrowing trip through a zombie-filled building (Grizzly Creek Lodge), which we found to be really intense and extremely satisfying. The Camp Snoopy barrel bridge and cavern features are also used along the Alpha route, which is also littered with props and burned-out vehicles filled with nasty creatures. Bravo side takes guests on a mission to save survivors and transport a scientist with the possible infection vaccine to a safe zone. This route features several close-quarter puzzles/attacks, as well as a few quick-paced stretches where guests are swarmed by the undead from all sides. In the end, both sides are great, and if you have a Scary Farm Season Pass, by all means, try both Alpha and Bravo. If we had to choose, or if you have only one shot at Infected this season, I think Alpha side is better by a narrow margin, simply due to the layout of the course and building interior portion of the experience; it’s really spooky and exciting!
The sound design for Special Ops is great. Helicopter rotors, evacuation sirens, gunshots, screams – everything has been done the right way for Infected, and as I always stress, the audio for any maze or attraction is just about as important as the visual aspect. The soundscape here is multi-layered and plays an important role in the story. Huge props to Dan Bieranowski for his involvement with this attraction.
Stepping back and looking at Special Ops: Infected as a whole, I do have some very serious concerns about it working in a theme park environment such as Knott’s Scary Farm. For the guests that get to check it out and participate each night, it’s definitely a great experience. The fact that Knott’s chose to offer this for free and not create an up-charge buffer for this is also really cool and I totally appreciate the sentiment when it comes to not charging guests more money. That said, I think it’s ultimately, not a great match for Knott’s in the long run.
Special Ops: Infected is the park’s headline attraction this season, without a doubt. Naturally, when it’s marketed so much and so eagerly-anticipated by people, the crowds are going to come wanting to see this massive, innovative attraction. If your event holds more than 30,000 guests on busy nights and your main attraction only has a nightly capacity of a few thousand people (not listing actual numbers in this case, but rather a general ballpark figure), you leave the majority of your guests either frustrated because they couldn’t experience it, or simply pissed off because they spent a long time waiting for a time slot to open up and as a result, missed other Haunt mazes and shows. We experienced this first-hand on opening night with a given time slot that we ended up waiting almost an hour longer for than anticipated; we ended up missing other Haunt features as a result. Granted, it was opening night and any attraction needs time to work bugs out of – however, the concern is very real, and it is still there. In my opinion, Special Ops: Infected, while a great experience, is a really challenging prospect for an event with crowds the size of Halloween Haunt’s. As a stand-alone haunted attraction or thrill experience, Infected is a no-brainer and would be huge on its own.
Without being an extreme up-charge attraction, I just think that using such a huge amount of space and spending so much money on it for a mere fraction of your nightly guests getting to participate is a misstep. Trapped gets away with it because it’s a $60 up-charge and the capacity is decent for the type of experience it is. There’s just no way logistically that Infected can be successful capacity-wise unless groups of guests are being dispatched every minute or so; and that is definitely not the case. While that is really an operational challenge, it does fall on the shoulder of the creatives as well to present a concept that not only is strong, but efficient and ultimately, is a people-eater. An entire quadrant of the park is used for this one attraction. That means Knott’s is losing revenue on a restaurant location, food and beverage locations, merchandise locations and they’ve also lost a maze footprint as well as scare zone in the process. If you weigh the pros and cons, I would have an extremely hard time green-lighting such a proposal. It just doesn’t work from an operations and revenue point of view. Sure, people are coming to Knott’s to see Infected. But when they get to the park an hour after it opens only to be told that Infected is sold-out for the night – you end up with disappointed and pissed off guests rather than thousands of people leaving the event raving to all of their friends that they have to come to Knott’s and check it out. An essay could be written exploring the pros and cons of this one attraction.
Another issue that we have observed is a problem that Knott’s has pretty much created on their own, further complicating the operational aspect of Infected. With the availability of Scary Farm Season Passes, we’re finding that fans are coming several times a week, and they are spending a huge chunk of their nights doing multiple runs through Infected. That’s a problem. While it’s great that passholders are able to experience multiple missions and participate in the leader board element of Infected, it makes it even more challenging for one-time guests to have a chance at experiencing the new attraction. It’s a very serious issue that has no easy answer. Disney is having a hell of a time dealing with the downside of way too many passholders jamming queues and scooping up Fastpasses at Disneyland, creating ungodly long lines and capacity issues. Knott’s is now dealing with this type of problem on a smaller scale with regulars taking up a lot of spots each night for Infected. As I said, there’s no easy answer or quick fix for this… except eliminating such a massive, low-capacity attraction at Haunt after this season is over.
What a bi-polar review! We think Special Ops: Infected is groundbreaking for Knott’s Scary Farm, and it’s been executed really well for a first-year attraction. There are flaws – some of them serious – and there are some really fantastic aspects of this experience. The talent is superb and the guest engagement is probably the strongest we’ve ever seen at Halloween Haunt. I just don’t think it belongs in a major theme park setting without being a serious up-charge and some major re-working of the overall experience. I think Special Ops should be not available to every guest, and for those who do participate, it should be a substantial investment that takes up a big piece of their evening and offers a longer, much more intense experience. Theme Park Adventure doesn’t necessarily think Infected should go away – but we do think it needs some major changes to better serve a much smaller portion of the Haunt visitor demographics.
This is one of the biggies this year, and for good reason! Since designer Brooke Walters (Forevermore, Trick Or Treat, Terror of London) announced it during the Scary Farm Fan Preview this summer, people have been waiting with great enthusiasm to see this new type of Haunt experience featuring multiple paths and a huge portion of its sets built over a huge water reservoir, creating a bayou.
While Halloween Haunt has had mazes with a Voodoo theme or vibe over the years, nothing this substantial has been taken on, and it certainly has never been played up as much as this particular attraction. Brooke’s track record as a designer speaks for itself, and Theme Park Adventure has the utmost respect for her creative skills. Voodoo sounded like a winner from the get-go to us as well, and we knew that Brooke would come at it with a beautiful-yet sinister take, which is exactly what she delivered.
I’m going to say right away that after much pondering, I don’t really consider Voodoo to be a new “maze”; at least not in the traditional haunted house sense. It should be noted that while there are definitely similar elements in place throughout, Voodoo is more of a highly-immersive walk-through experience, rather than what guests might expect as a standard Scary Farm “maze” attraction. A few weeks ago, when Knott’s Area Manager of Wardrobe and Makeup Design, Tim Barham, discussed Voodoo, he nailed it when he said it was not a scare zone or a maze, but rather a hybrid of the two. We couldn’t agree more. Understand that this notion doesn’t take away from the experience – it just better defines it.
The first time I saw the Voodoo facade, I was stunned. Completely hiding the large warehouse that the maze is housed in, the facade is a two-story New Orleans-style building, complete with wrought iron balconies and glowing lamps. Colorful strands of Mardi Gras beads hang everywhere, as jazzy music fills the air. Guests in line for Voodoo are definitely appreciative of this gorgeous design, as pictures and videos are being taken left and right. This is the largest facade ever for a maze at Knott’s Scary Farm, and it is definitely one of the most intricately crafted.
Voodoo features one of the park’s Skeleton Key rooms – a pre-show that gives visitors a better understanding of the maze’s theme and story line before releasing them into the main attraction itself. I don’t want to give it away in this case, but I will say it’s fun and definitely should be checked out if you have the Key. Since the concept of Voodoo is already fairly well-known, the way that Brooke sets up the experience through the Skeleton Key room is smart, putting guests on edge as they immediately battle their own fears of separation and claustrophobia.
One of the new features that Voodoo introduces to Haunt this year is the allowance for guests to choose their own paths at two points in the route – once at the beginning and once again in the middle. Each path offers different rooms and encounters with talent, from a dark magic supply shop, to a terrifying human sacrifice! The path becomes a singular route mid-way through the experience, and takes guests on a journey through trees, an above-ground cemetery and through a Voodoo ritual as it’s taking place.
Voodoo is really impressive, and very pretty to look at. The sound design is great as well, from the jazz being played outside, to the heavy, driving tribal drums and chanting within. Brooke definitely has created yet another Halloween Haunt attraction that is wooing and wowing guests by the thousands each night. There are however, some issues that Voodoo has that we found to be really troublesome this year.
One of the biggest “selling points” of Voodoo is that a huge portion of the ramshackle backwater village is built over a 50×50-foot reservoir; Knott’s has actually created a bayou within the warehouse that contains Voodoo, which is no small task. Anyone that has worked with a water element such as this will attest that it is a nightmare of a challenge on multiple levels, often frustrating and very tricky. However, when the fog machines are on inside the attraction, it can become so dense that you can barely see the scenery around you, let alone the fact that you’re walking over a large reservoir. Even when the fog isn’t dense, never once are our eyes or attention directed to look at the water below. Most guests pass through Voodoo and have no idea that much of the experience took place over water. And that’s a shame, because it’s truly impressive. I think much of the issue is that the blue show lighting coming from overhead throughout the building illuminates the sets too brightly; the lower the sets and props, the darker it becomes. At water-level, there is no lighting that we saw at all; it’s just dark. Perhaps some underwater lighting as well as show lighting under the wooden plank walkways would better reflect off the surface of the bayou and give guests a reason to notice the water below. I’d rather see the swamp than the rooftops of every shack illuminated. It would also help to give us a show moment – a large prop or live talent in the water to draw our attention there. Perhaps Voodoo worshippers calling forth a water demon or zombies from the murky depths; something to punctuate the fact that there is really water inside the attraction! I hate seeing all of that creative effort go to waste.
Water aside, the biggest problem we have with Voodoo is that there is no definitive ending. The experience has a very strong facade and beginning with the selection of which path to take. The middle of the attraction features multiple rooms – each with their own scenes being played out over multiple paths – and the end following the graveyard is very anti-climatic; you walk past a couple of people performing a dance ritual around a bonfire, and then you find yourself outside next to the GhostRider roller coaster behind the warehouse you just came out of. It’s a harsh, abrupt ending that doesn’t sit right with us. One of the most popular characters in Voodoo lore is Papa Legba, who was recently a showcased in American Horror Story: Coven. The gatekeeper of the Voodoo world, Papa Legba is a demonic force that moves between the realm of the living and dead. Perhaps an ending where guests enter a dark blacklight “spirit realm” and are admonished by Papa Legba – a huge, terrifying figure – to return immediately to the world of the living, or remain trapped forever in the underworld. Guests would exit the attraction and find themselves in a back alley in New Orleans, complete with hanging beads, and the echoing sounds of laughter and jazz music from the street nearby. A powerful show moment to bookend the experience is what Voodoo is missing this year. We know that Haunt mazes and attractions are revisited and tweaked from season to season. It would be great to see some love given to Voodoo’s abrupt ending in 2015, as we’re sure it’ll be around for a couple more years to come.
Despite its challenges, Voodoo is a must-see attraction at Halloween Haunt this year. It’s innovative for the Scary Farm, it is beautifully designed, and it delivers some in-your-face spooky moments that are sure to thrill new fans and long-time Knott’s visitors alike. Kudos to Brooke and the entire Voodoo crew on a job very well done!
THE TOOTH FAIRY
It’s no surprise whatsoever that this year’s grittiest, most foul and violent new maze comes from the twisted imagination of Haunt designer Daniel Miller (Pinocchio Unstrung, Black Magic, Delirium). Historically, Daniel has delivered some of the Scary Farm’s most intense and graphically violent mazes; that tradition continues in 2014 with his latest terror trip – The Tooth Fairy.
The story of the maze is simple; guests bear witness to what happens to naughty boys and girls that try to sneak a peek at the Tooth Fairy, when they are taken into the night to a world of torment and despair. It’s akin to the sinister side of Pleasure Island in Pinocchio, only much, much more heinous… and with bloody dental tools.
The Tooth Fairy is a quintessential Halloween Haunt maze. It’s packed with truly disturbing scenes – some shocking, scary monsters, it’s long, and delivers tremendous visuals that really give strength to the theme and story line. Hands-down, this is Theme Park Adventure’s favorite maze at Knott’s Scary Farm this year!
To be fair, The Tooth Fairy isn’t without it’s flaws (I wanted so badly to write “floss” and see how many of you would catch it). The facade and first room of the maze are disjointed, and while it looks like a house that we’re in, it’s not made clear, and is very abstract. Ultimately, what should be the establishing story beat is confusing and muddled, missing the opportunity to put guests smack in the middle of a family’s warm, loving home, just before evil invades, stealing one of their children away. Hopefully, this will be addressed next season; the opening sequence of the maze should be saccharine – something straight out of The Brady Bunch. That would draw the line of contrast much more effectively as we witness this perfect home turned upside-down by evil. It’s much easier to take guests on a downward spiral into horror when your stepping off point isn’t already intimidating or ominous in appearance, as The Tooth Fairy is right now.
Sound plays a critical role in any themed experience. I’ve said it before, and I will say it a thousand more times: a haunt’s soundscape is almost as critical as its visual elements. In the case of The Tooth Fairy, the sound design is superb, knocking it out of the park. Haunting music accompanied by the ever-present high-pitched scream of a dentist’s drill are the signature of this attraction. And by God… once you hear it, there is no way to get that drill noise out of your head for the rest of the night! Huge kudos and resounding DAMN YOU! goes to Adam Hankinson and Dan Bieranowski, the sound wizards behind The Tooth Fairy’s audio. What a beautiful, really nasty soundtrack!
Something that has been brought up regarding The Tooth Fairy that surprised us into contemplation is that a lot of the violence featured in this maze is focused toward children. And that is upsetting to some folks, specifically parents. I get it. I do. I just don’t process Haunt horror vs. real-world death and destruction. As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to haunted attractions, pretty much everything is fair game if it’s done well and in context to the story and theme. And after all – how many famous children’s stories feature really messed up characters targeting children? Pinocchio… Hansel and Gretel… need I go on? You catch my drift. There’s no need to be concerned with what’s “taboo” when it comes to haunted attractions to the point of dulling all your points and taking the bite out of things. Thankfully, Daniel didn’t shy away from this, and Knott’s built a near-perfect Haunt maze for all of us to enjoy with The Tooth Fairy.
Huge props to everyone involved in the development and nightly operations of The Tooth Fairy. This maze should be at the top of everyone’s To-Do list this year at Knott’s Scary Farm. Note, it’s daisy-chained to Dominion of the Damned, which we hate (the operational aspect – not the maze). That means you have to go through Dominion to get to The Tooth Fairy. Perhaps if it’s late or not crowded, Line Control will let you in to The Tooth Fairy directly rather than routing you through Dominion. We wish Knott’s would stop chaining these two mazes together and run separate queues for them. Guests wanting to experience The Tooth Fairy shouldn’t have to go through another maze to get to it. However you get there… get there. This is one of Daniel’s darkest and most gripping mazes to date, and needs to be part of everyone’s Halloween Haunt experience!
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And that’s what we think of Knott’s Scary Farm’s new mazes and attractions for 2014! If you haven’t visited the Haunt yet, you need to. It’s a very strong year, and the returning mazes also are really strong this season; their reviews, images and videos will be coming soon here on Theme Park Adventure.
A special thank-you to everyone at Knott’s that works with TPA to make our coverage so successful. Everything couldn’t have gone smoother for us as we celebrate our 20th year in partnership with Halloween Haunt; that is something we are very proud of, and we enjoy the rich legacy it’s created for fans around the world to enjoy!
– Rick West