REVIEW: Slaughterhouse 2013 Knott’s Scary Farm

Once in a blue moon, Knott’s Scary Farm in Buena Park, California, sees a Halloween Haunt maze that overcomes the usual two to four year lifespan that most attractions at the annual scare event last for. Such is the case of Slaughterhouse, a gory scream fest that was originally introduced to the Haunt line-up in 2008 by veteran designer Daniel Miller.

The story of Slaughterhouse is a basic, relatively generic one: redneck cannibals a la the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films capturing victims and making barbecue treats out of them. The secret to Slaughterhouse’s great success at Knott’s and its longevity is its simple story and wide appeal as far as a haunted house theme goes; I am convinced of that.

SLAUGHTERHOUSE_2013_5560Another thing that has given Slaughterhouse such legs at Haunt is the fact that it has been re-imagined several times during its six year run at the Scary Farm. After its debut in 2008, it was re-configured by Todd Faux, another senior designer who is no longer at Knott’s, as well as Gus Krueger (Gunslinger’s Grave, The Witch’s Keep) who this year, re-worked some of the guest flow issues and added a Skeleton Key room to the beginning of the experience. There’s no doubt in my mind that going through three iterations absolutely determined the success that Slaughterhouse has enjoyed so long at Halloween Haunt. In fact, Slaughterhouse is one of the very few longest-running mazes in the 41 seasons of the event; for that alone, it will forever go down as one of the greats, and anyone that has been a part of it over the years should be proud that they took part in history in the making.

Since its inception, Slaughterhouse has been gritty, ultra-gory and totally in your face with boo-scares and loud noises/music to accompany it all. Visually, the maze has always been really dark, similar in intensity to Asylum when it debuted in 2003 (also a Daniel Miller – Fallout Shelter, Black Magic – design) at Knott’s. Through the years, one aspect of the maze and its story that has grown in popularity is the fictional restaurant and food packing company that is the front for what’s truly taking place – Uncle Willy’s BBQ. In fact, Knott’s even produced and sold Uncle Willy logo shirts in 2012 as part of the 40th Haunt season; something we’ve always wanted to see for various mazes and something we’d love to see continued in the future (only black shirts, please – Uncle Willy’s was on powder blue; who the hell wants that when it comes to Haunt wear?) at the Farm that are also very popular with fans. Dark and visually gritty mazes absolutely have their place at haunted attraction events such as Scary Farm; lots of people love highly detailed, spooky mazes and others love non-stop, blood-soaked gore around every corner. And many like both.

SLAUGHTERHOUSE_2013_5575Slaughterhouse always lived up to its name; it’s always funny to read the comments on Theme Park Adventure’s older video flow-throughs of this maze as many viewers find it really disgusting; sickening, even! In that case, Daniel accomplished what he set out to do back in the day! All these years later, Slaughterhouse is still grossing out people left and right!

The art direction and propping out of Slaughterhouse has always been very good; great, nasty gags (including some of the first water-squirting moments at Knott’s in a maze as well) and moving props at every turn, combined with a really compact, twisting layout that is both disorienting and terrifying for guests. The combination of ghoulish black humor combined with scenes of raw, gratuitous violence has always worked nicely; when done correctly, humor and horror absolutely work in concert to disarm and  then really catch people off guard.

SLAUGHTERHOUSE_2013_5566Slaughterhouse’s soundtrack has always been a really great blend of Charlie Clouser score from Saw and meat-grinding machinery, masterfully mixed by Halloween Haunt’s soundscape guru, Adam Hankinson. Another brilliant example of how a proper soundtrack lends itself so powerfully to a maze’s story – even something like Slaughterhouse that could have easily been drowned out by deafening metal music by a less experienced team of designers. In this case, loud rock music could have perhaps worked, but in the end, it was made so much better by the thoughtfulness of the soundtrack that was created just for this particular experience. So as usual, kudos to Adam and the rest of the designers over the years for keeping Slaughterhouse in check audio-wise and not taking the easy way out with it.

The only thing left to talk about now is the talent that not only worked Slaughterhouse 2013, but every year since it debuted at Knott’s – many of them for successive seasons. Never once do I remember the talent in this maze being lack luster or disappointing. This crew has always been on fire, excited to be part of Slaughterhouse, and I’ll say it with great pride – many TPAers have worked this maze over the years, and have always been ultra-supportive whenever we would come through, and during the rest of the year, for that matter. Theme Park Adventure goes way back with many maze and street monsters at Knott’s; Slaughterhouse has a special place in our heart due in part to how long it’s been part of Haunt and the fantastic friends we have that were part of the maze in one way or another for the better part of a decade. Props and huge love to you all. Y’all done lip-smackin’, finger-suckin’ good!

SLAUGHTERHOUSE_2013_5556While Knott’s hasn’t formally announced it, it seems that 2013 was the final year for Slaughterhouse, ending its wildly successful six years as part of Halloween Haunt. Against all odds, the maze has withstood the test of time as well as outdoor elements (since its layout was backstage, most of the maze remained up and exposed to the seasons throughout the year). No one ever thought in 2008 that Slaughterhouse would become the next “king of the hill” at Haunt for longevity, but it did. Due to the aggressive nature of new maze designs and experiences coming online with more frequency each season, it is quite possible that the six year run that this maze enjoyed will remain unchallenged for a mighty long time; perhaps indefinitely, as new generations of Haunt fans and the evolution of the haunted attraction industry as a whole demands constant change to keep fresh, popular and relevant. Slaughterhouse was a moment in time, captured in the transitioning of old school Haunt practices to a new regime at Cedar Fair and Knott’s Berry Farm that look to newer, different experiences for Scary Farm guests these days. You could almost say that Slaughterhouse’s staying power was a happy accident. However, there’s no denying that its strength was in a simple, yet effective story, masterful execution and ultimately, a talent team each season that kicked mighty ass and served up terror hot and fresh!

Did you experience Slaughterhouse during the 2013 Halloween Haunt season at Knott’s? If so, what are your thoughts? We’d love to hear your own take on why it was so successful for so long, and if you were ever part of the team that made up the Slaughterhouse crew, let’s hear from you as well below! Represent, and share the love for this classic maze with fellow TPAers!

– Rick West

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