REVIEW: Trick Or Treat at Knott’s Halloween Haunt 2012

This year, Knott’s made a strong effort to introduce its own unique character to the public as the face of its 40th Halloween Haunt event in Buena Park, California. Unlike the unsuccessful Overlord character that Cedar Fair cookie cut and rolled out at several of its theme parks a few years ago as the “icon of Haunt”, Knott’s was tasked to create an all-new, park-specific character that would symbolize the park’s 40th run of Halloween Haunt while paying homage to its past in a way that could be used to strongly market the Scary Farm’s milestone incarnation. That character was the Green Witch, and in turn, Knott’s felt that the icon needed a home somewhere within the Scary Farm. Halloween Haunt designer Brooke Walters was handed this task, and really strove to create something special for Knott’s. And so, Trick Or Treat was set in motion.

Brooke has designed some of the most iconic mazes in recent Haunt history, including The Doll Factory and Terror of London. Her keen sense of design and understanding of all things spooky really are showcased in her creations; she is capable of making a bloody mess (literally), yet she understand the strength in something that is simply haunting and dark. A fan of the horror genre as a whole, Brooke understood that Knott’s needed something “old school” with Trick Or Treat; a maze that would stand out and bring “Halloween” back to the event. Brooke opted to skew away from the gore and in-your-face violence that is very prominent throughout the park’s many mazes, and give guests a truly different type of experience, which is exactly what she did.

Trick Or Treat was a decidedly different type of maze in the Halloween Haunt lineup, which seemed to have an interesting effect on guest reaction. We heard that some people didn’t like it because it “wasn’t scary” enough, while others loved it for its genuine creative direction and “good ol’ spooky fun” flavor. We absolutely adored Trick Or Treat, and almost immediately named it as Theme Park Adventure’s favorite new maze of 2012!

Much of Brooke’s design turned the clock back decades, with the general look/feel of the Halloween decorum of the maze to 1930-1950ish; that palette was apparent immediately when looking at the facade of the maze, complete with a hanging Jack O’Lantern tree and strung “Trick Or Treat” paper block letters across the front of a classic “haunted house” facade; it was stunning visually, really. One of the first times in a long while that I stopped in my tracks and completely gasped at a facade design.

Trick or Treat Maze at Knott's Halloween Haunt 2012

Part of loving Trick Or Treat is understanding its significance and what its story was. In short, the main character of the maze was the Green Witch; the house belonged to her, and was populated with dead children who came to trick or treat at her door. The dead trick or treaters were named “Tricksters”, and were placed under a spell to reanimate and do the Green Witch’s bidding. In fact, the Green Witch and her Tricksters were the main marketing push of Haunt 2012, with them all roaming throughout the event with reckless abandon – even in different mazes, which is the only part of the campaign I truly disliked and disagree with on a creative level, simply because most guests didn’t understand what was happening and Tricksters causing havoc in other mazes really messed up each theme and took people out of that moment. But I digress; within Trick Or Treat, the characters were present and worked beautifully with the overall theme. Coming face-to-face with the Green Witch inside her home was also thrilling and created a strong show, which most guest really seemed to enjoy!

Guests lining up in the outdoor queue were taunted and interacted with by a trick or treater standing on the porch of the house, and each group was let into the maze only after ringing the doorbell, many of them being told to shout “trick or treat!” The interior of the maze was incredibly detailed; easily one of the most complete set designs in Haunt history. It was really hard to remember that we were in a large warehouse rather than an actual old home somewhere. That is a huge compliment to the men and women who had a part in building Trick Or Treat; the artistry and skill level involved here really pushed the bar and raised it yet again at Knott’s. The team should be extremely proud of what they all accomplished.

One of my favorite visuals in Trick Or Treat was a hallway that was lined with the masks (again, vintage Halloween, not modern), illuminated from behind so that they were glowing and shafts of light spilled through the eye holes and into the foggy corridor; absolutely freakin’ brilliant visual – I was thrilled! There was also a stairway at the beginning of the maze that was populated with glowing Jack O’Lanterns that worked equally as well as a powerful visual. Wonderful, creative direction really was the strength of this maze throughout.

Trick or Treat Maze at Knott's Halloween Haunt 2012Other special effects were present in Trick Or Treat such as an active Ouija board, animated books in a library and a mirror gag with the Witch’s apparition. Each room of the house was an incredibly rich environment, with only one catering to gore lovers; the kitchen. The kitchen scene depicted hanging meats and insinuated this was where many trick or treaters and other creatures met their demise at the hands of the Green Witch. There was also a decomposing body in a bathtub in the bathroom scene of the maze, but it was dark enough and lit well so as to not become a gore show, which I appreciated completely; it would have been very easy for Brooke to simply go for blood and gore, but she didn’t and in the end, I feel it paid off completely.

The climax of Trick Or Treat was a party scene, where all of the Tricksters had assembled and the Green Witch made an appearance high above, levitating on her broom. Pulsed groups would come to a stand-still at this point, which did cause some operational hiccups, as show beats typically cause huge guest flow issues in mazes. However, the finale remained pretty much as planned for the duration of the Haunt’s run, and it was wonderful.

Trick Or Treat’s soundtrack was a mix of music, ambient sounds and pre-recorded voice tracks for the Green Witch. It was a fantastic blend, and really stood out in a year that featured many really awesome soundtrack mixes at Knott’s; a huge shout out to the audio team as well for their part in this new maze.

The main thing that most Halloween Haunt fans seemed to be disappointed with was the length of Trick Or Treat. It was a short maze, and my guess is that it was due to the complexity of the design. The “house” guests ventured through was so detailed and so thoroughly built-out, the rooms were large and thus, took up a great deal of space. There definitely had to be back of house access as well within the maze’s warehouse location, and that eats up a lot of space, too. Unlike other mazes that can zigzag back on themselves, the environment of Trick Or Treat had to be realistic, and so, the flow time took just as long as it would to walk through someone’s home. Trick Or Treat definitely left us wanting more at the end, but in a positive way; we didn’t want it to end, simply because it was so damned good. It was by far, the one maze at Knott’s that we visited the most during the 2012 Haunt season; we couldn’t get enough of it.

Trick or Treat Maze at Knott's Halloween Haunt 2012

The cast and crew of Trick Or Treat were all great, and the folks playing the Green Witch were absolutely fantastic! Huge kudos to you all! It was very apparent that you were all in love with your maze and very proud of your surroundings, which you should have been! It was a brilliant addition to Halloween Haunt and one that really showcased Brooke Walters as one of the most gifted maze designers in the industry.

In closing, I want to say something about Trick Or Treat that has rolled around on my tongue since the first time we experienced this Haunt maze. It’s not the largest maze ever at Knott’s, nor is it the most technically advanced we’ve ever seen. There was nothing “ground-breaking” or over-the-top in the way of visuals or special effects. There was no shock value or truly “scary” moments for us anywhere in the maze. However… the sheer beauty of how all of the design elements worked together to create this environment really spoke to me and clicked for me. I’ve been a long-time fan of Halloween Haunt and for 18 years, have shared my likes and dislikes about the Scary Farm in great detail with fans around the world. It’s been a privilege to know the Haunt’s designers and many of the crew members over the years, giving me a very definite special insight to this event and what it takes to create it. I consider myself a very seasoned Haunt veteran in the fan/media arena, and I know there are lots of people who appreciate what I say about each of these mazes every year as we review them. If in fact, that has any heft to you as a TPA fan, then take this to heart: Trick Or Treat is my personal favorite Halloween Haunt maze since the original Dominion of the Dead in the mid-’90s. It was fantastic and beautiful in every way, and a damn-near perfect maze in my opinion. I fell in love with Trick Or Treat this year, and have already gushed my adoration of it to Brooke and others. For over a decade, Dominion of the Dead was a maze that I measured all others by, due to its intense creativity and bar-raising elements. Now, Trick Or Treat has taken that mantle of excellence, and I am so very proud of Brooke and the rest of the team for their stunning accomplishment with this maze! I hope to see Trick Or Treat return for many more seasons at Knott’s Scary Farm – and in turn, I cannot wait to see what Ms. Walters is working on for the future!

– Rick West

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