Two weeks have now elapsed since Knott’s kicked off the 2019 season of Scary Farm and it’s finally hitting its stride. The biggest gripe of reviewing Halloween events like this is that opening night can sometimes be the least accurate night of the event. As guests and performers react, the whole event shifts organically. The monsters finish warming up. The mazes work out kinks. The crowds start increasing. The weather gets less brutal.
Suffice to say, even if I wasn’t reviewing this, I’d still be making multiple visits as I just have a blast every time I make my way down to Buena Park and venture into the fog.
After the big Knott’s Scary Farm event in August, they pretty much revealed everything to expect for this year. And we say “pretty much” because there’s always going to be surprises to discover.
Of the nine mazes this year, seven are returning, with two of those earmarked with 2019 as their final season. Shadow Lands is definitely feeling a bit long in the tooth. When it originally debuted, it was something special, due to the opening show scene. But that was quickly eliminated to improve crowd flow. If anything was changed this year for Shadowlands, I didn’t personally notice it, but it’s still definitely good for a few walk-throughs.
Special Ops: Infected did get some love this year. It’s a curious one, as there’s always a very long wait for this maze, and that’s not just because of the equipment that has to be distributed, but also just because it’s fun and engaging. The new rooms in Infected are well done, but it feels a bit frustrating because it feels like they should have been there since the first days. Infected’s biggest issue since it moved from Camp Snoopy to the innards of Mystery Lodge has been the lack of an open environment. It went from an interactive open field to a conga line maze with a gun. Anything to break up the monotony is appreciated. I’m hoping whatever replaces it in 2020 is conscious of those efforts.
Outside of those two, which have some special pins for sale, commemorating their runs in the park, the remaining 5 mazes are sticking around for the foreseeable future.
Dark Entities was our favorite last year, and this year it seems a bit more gory and alive. A few of the scenes had a lot more life added to them, and that would be all different kinds of lifeforms. The robot surgeon, arguably the best scene in the maze, has gotten splattered with the result of his work. The entire maze is a fun experience.
The other new maze from last year, The Depths, also has some changes to it. Instead of having a long walkway that was about descending on a path into the depths, you now enter an elevator with a large group of people, similar to Men in Black: The Ride at Universal Orlando. It’s a good effect and sets the mood for the maze, but unfortunately it’s about 100 feet into the maze and causes some awkward loading issues and wait times until you get to that point. While the Knott’s team members are loading people in at a steady clip at the entrance, be prepared to wait as you slowly inch your way forward to get past the bottleneck. I’m not sure what can be done to resolve this in a better fashion, but the best advice is to head to this maze first in the night to get it out of the way.
That leaves the classics. Without Trick or Treat dominating the wait times in the backlot area, it seems Paranormal Inc. is now the new favorite of the classics. Last year, unbeknownst to anyone, it got a completely new ending that features some amazing surprises which can only be hinted at as a bit of time travel. It’s not worth ruining the surprise and it ends the maze on a high note. That ending is still here this year and is still just as mind blowing every time we see it. Unlike The Depths, this has a much better intro show scene that doesn’t cause flow issues in the maze. The live actors in the maze really add a lot to setting up the story well.
Dark Ride is sticking around, too. As mentioned, this had two new rooms added for 2019. A security camera, with interactive buttons, and a gift shop exit scene. Upon entering the camera room, the buttons are really obvious and a clown invited me to press them. Unfortunately it was hard to hear what he was saying that they did, but upon exiting the maze, and going through the gift shop, it was quite clear and worth a hearty laugh. I only wish the shirt was actually for sale, as I’m sure many guests do. The gift shop exit itself feels very small, but they got a lot packed into such a small area. Much like Paranormal Inc., it’s amazing what a new ending can do for a maze. The final feeling you get as you exit is what sticks with you the most.
That leaves Pumpkin Eater of the classic mazes. I’m not sure what else to say about this maze except it fits the area well, and it’s very lengthy. There’s a few scares in there, but it really feels like its time has come. I understand the desire to have mazes fit their scare zone, but this needs a fresh take. If there’s anything changed this year, I’m not sure we noticed anything.
But, I’m happy to report that both new mazes this year are stellar.
Wax Works is I think the perfect embodiment of what makes a great Scary Farm maze. Sly references to park history, little bits of interactive surprises, absolutely gruesome sets, great actors, and a story you can follow without too much effort. The maze is very clearly the work of Daniel Miller. His twisted mind comes through clearly in all the depravity in display in this maze. There’s something haunting about all the melted faces. As you first enter, the lighting in the room is just dark enough you can’t make out how disfigured the first actor is until they get close. It’s a double whammy of scares. Then, as you get past the main show scenes, you enter the back room, where you are told to not go, and that’s where it gets even more perverse. There’s one specific sculpture in the maze that can only be describe as a corpse gestalt and it’s stunning. While the maze occupies the same footprint as the old Trick or Treat, you wouldn’t know. It’s a completely different path and a different feel entirely. The pre-show video in queue is a nice touch, playing an old add for the Wax Works museum, in its heyday. Plus, keep an eye out for some old banners that used to occupy the Carnevil scare zone. This maze really exceeded my expectations this year.
We saved the best for last.
Origins: The Curse of Calico is an experience. Replacing the Red Barn, it comes at a perfect time. While The Green Witch previously occupied Trick or Treat, she now makes her canonical debut in Origins. Through the use of the characters speaking in the maze, and the carefully placed videos throughout the maze, you see how the town mistreated Sarah Marshall and how she became the Green Witch that many Scary Farm regulars know of. Beyond that, the maze is just a masterwork of design. Every room in the maze is distinct and pushed the limit of what we call a “room”, without several outdoor scenes that make it way more than the sum of its parts. The classroom has a gigantic scare in it that’s not easy to pull off. The bank has a gigantic vault you have to walk through. (Although I can see guests have already made off with many of the plastic coins, despite how glued down they were) The outdoor saloons and the caverns are pulled off perfectly. And this being a maze based on a character from the park’s history, it would only be appropriate to have other nods to the park’s history like The Haunted Shack and the Catawampus.
For what it’s worth, Awaken the Dead is a useful show. I’m not sure if I would call it a show, but rather a place where you can reliably find a DJ playing music in one of the few areas of the park devoid of monsters. In that respect, it’s almost an anti-show. A respite from the rest of the chaos everywhere else. I kind of wish it was still a scare zone, but this works, too.
Conjurers returns this year and is great as usual. It’s a rotating cast of magicians, however by the time you read this, the magician hosting regular shows inside the Bird Cage for the rest of the season will be Chipper Lowell. Thankfully, he’s great fun to watch and there are shows very late into the evening, so it should be easy to catch a show with him.
The Hanging returns this year, themed to Witches’ Revenge, further cementing the Sarah Marshall legend this year, if the Origins maze and opening act weren’t enough. I suppose it’s only tradition to say this year is worse than last year, in some M.C. Escher-style paradox of quality. This year the story is easy enough to follow, but it seemed quite clear the audience was a bit unfamiliar with the final surprise hanging victim, as he was outside of the normal realm of pop culture icon. Given how this show is the biggest example of changes throughout the season, I can’t safely say anything without it being outdated by the time you read it. Ultimately, the performers are fantastic this year, and the bits mocking Disney are great for a laugh. So any regular theme park goer should get a few laughs out of it.
Puppet Up – Uncensored is pure magic. I could probably gush for pages about how much I love the show, but it’s just pure magic. It’s crass, it’s well produced, and it’s a perfect length of time for being a part of a bigger event. I’ve had the lucky pleasure of seeing the show twice at the Jim Henson Company Studios, and while this is a truncated version, it’s every bit as hilarious. We’ve watched it every visit so far, and among all our friends, they’ve done the same, seeing it at least once every visit. My biggest concern before the show debuted at Knott’s was whether the audience would enjoy it, as they didn’t seem to appreciate Hacks much in 2018. But the guests are definitely sticking around, only a scant few walking out when a particularly offensive line was spoken, which makes it all the more enjoyable. This is a special thing to be able to see this rarely seen show and it’s worth the price of admission to the event alone. It’s that good.
The Scare Zones
Outside of that, the scare zones are the same as last year. They’re all fantastic with their special unscheduled events still occurring. We’re still trying to piece together when all the parts happen. For example, at 9:45 in The Hollow, near the jail cell, you might want to keep an eye on the witch that is captured. We haven’t caught the Forsaken Lake funeral procession yet, though. But that’s the rub with these things. You can’t always be sure if they exist or not until you’ve seen them in person. Unlike other parks, Knott’s really feels like they encourage you to linger in these scare zones. They’re just as entertaining as the mazes themselves.
The Wrap Up
Finally, the Time Zombies VR game was moved from being under Iron Reef to taking over a stall in the midway in CarnEVIL. It works much better over there, as VR doesn’t need as much space as the old laser tag area took up. The merchandise is fantastic. The shirts look like they might be the best in a long while. And there’s some interesting pins to collect, as well. The magic shop has one exclusive one, featuring the Dead Man’s Hand.
The Into The Fog exhibit returns this year. And the work continues to astonish. The talent that this gallery attracts is just heartwarming. It’s funny, how an event focused around such violent and gory tendencies can really create such amazing works of art.
And the Timber Mountain Log Ride also gets its annual reskin into the Halloween Hootenanny again this year. We didn’t spy any extra monsters during the Scary Farm hours, but it’s still definitely worth it to ride it, if not just to see the giant bear tell you “Trick or Treat!”
Overall, there’s a reason Knott’s has been doing this event for nearly 50 years. They knock it out of the park every time and definitely have earned the mantle as keeper of Halloween.
Knott’s Scary Farm runs select nights through November 2nd and tickets are on sale now at Knotts.com.