Knott’s wasted no time last week during their annual Scary Farm Reveal event. While a small tease was given during Midsummer Scream’s panel a few weeks earlier, this was the whole shebang.
Every maze, every show, every scare zone, was revealed in one fell swoop.
These reveal events have become increasingly theatrical and engaging over the years. So not only was there an opening number for the entire event, but both of the new mazes also had a song and dance routine to go along with it. And they were well done. The amount of effort put into this spectacle is impressive considering it’s just a one-time thing, and not a nightly affair as part of the event itself.
It exudes a certain amount of pride and ownership of Halloween to introduce the year’s details the way that Knott’s does. And this year they seem to have hit a stride.
If I was to compare this event to iPhones, it definitely feels like this year is an “S” year. No radical changes, but really just getting everything polished and amazing.
All the scare zones are returning, including last year’s debut of Forsaken Lake. That area worked out fantastically well, with the periodic procession, and the amazing costumes. The Hollows, Carnevil, and Ghost Town Streets all return, as well. And that makes sense. There’s been a conscious effort to have the mazes tie into nearby scare zones, so that takes a certain amount of investment. Dark Ride has Carnevil, the Hollows is with Pumpkineater, Forsaken Lake stands alone, however, but that might not be for long.
That leaves Ghost Town Streets. One could argue that the Red Barn was tied into Ghost Town, but this year’s offering takes it to the next level.
Origins: The Curse of Calico is the name of one of this year’s two new mazes. And, as the title suggests, it’s about the origin of Sarah Marshall, better known as The Green Witch, the character that best represents the entire 47-year history of Knott’s Scary Farm.
And, as it just so happens, Knott’s has an award-winning event that takes place right during that time period of the maze itself, Ghost Town Alive, so many familiar faces will be inhabiting this maze, giving it not just an anchor into the land, but also the history of the park in a way that no maze has ever attempted. Those faces made their way out into the event to give their side of the story for why Sarah Marshall deserves to be hanged for her crimes. The audience gave enthusiastic cheers as the Deputy Mayor and Judge introduced themselves to the crowds.
That kind of energy is what makes Knott’s stand apart from these other events. The mazes aren’t tied to a movie license, or just a “let’s make this random theme scary” maze, but they’re building on their near-100 year history as a park, and leaning into it. The scares mean so much more when there’s a deep understanding to them. It’s also what helps with the Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor, too. The characters come back. It’s more than just flashing lights and spooky cobwebs.
Of course, the flipside of that, is that it means so much less if you aren’t aware of the story that has been built, so on that note, it ends up with the similar downside of licensed mazes.
The other new maze is Wax Works. When it was first revealed, my mind went straight to the Wax Museum maze that has been at California’s Great America. While that maze was a great take on famous figures, this seems like a much more “behind the scenes” affair of a mad sculptor, more along the lines of Knott’s own Doll Factory that ran from 2007 to 2011. There seems to be a large presence of bees in the artwork for this maze, hinting at the source of the wax used to entrap the souls.
Now, these mazes are replacing existing ones. That means we say goodbye to the Red Barn and Trick or Treat: Lights Out this year. While many will not miss the Red Barn, despite multiple attempts to make the theme work, Trick or Treat really stuck around, first debuting in 2012, and later getting an interactive flashlight upgrade.
Knott’s did something very tricky this year. They avoided spoilers leading up to this event in an impressive fashion. To avoid a 2018 leak of the new mazes, this time around they saw fit to cover the merchandise in the store until the big reveal. But beyond that, they also seeded fake mazes. These mazes are constructed in the park itself, and being that Knott’s only closes 1 day a year, any guest can often peek around and see things going on backstage, especially from rollercoaster tracks. People on Ghost Rider could see entrance signs on the ground for “Devil’s Den in 3D” and “Red Barn II: Gunslingerz Revenge” which sparked endless debate on forums and social media. As you can figure out by now, those were red herrings and worth a good laugh. I’m sure in the future, people are going to be very wary of reporting what they see.
Awaken the Dead was confirmed to return as a dance party in that area again. This worked out better than trying to mix in a live DJ into the Hanging which let to confused groups of people.
The magic show in the Bird Cage Theater, Conjurers, also returns, but no lineup was revealed yet. In 2018, there was a new act each weekend of September, and one act for the rest of the event. We’ll see if that pattern holds. And, of course, it wouldn’t be Scary Farm without the nightly Hanging.
That leaves the headlining act in the Charles M. Schulz theater. Last year it was Hacks, a horror-inspired improv show. Personally, improv is something I’m a sucker for, but it was clear that many other guests didn’t enjoy it as much, especially considering the large venue it was hosted in. This year, in another attempt at improv, comes Puppet Up! – Uncensored, from the mind of Brian Henson.
We’ve had the lucky opportunity to see this twice in person at the actual Muppet Studios and had a blast both times. The talented cast does so much, so quickly, that the evenings always flew by. If your first thought is “puppets are for kids”, don’t worry. This is most definitely, in every way, not for children. Or the light-hearted. They don’t set out to be raunchy, but the bits tend to get very edgy when there’s no need for a child-safe filter to be applied.
Beyond that, Puppet Up is just a wonder to watch it happen live. You get to really see how puppeteers work and make the felt-covered monstrosities come to life. While I’m unaware of how closely they will stick to their normal format, they use a wide range of technology in their shows, so there’s more than enough content to keep you captivated for an evening. It will be running three times a night, and I can not stress how lucky we are to have this available for regular viewing during Scary Farm. The Puppet Up shows are held only a handful of times a year and quickly sell out, so this is a chance to experience something unique, not to mention how a park ticket to Scary Farm is cheaper than seeing just Puppet Up alone. You owe it to yourself to give this show a chance.
While the idea of improv and puppets may not seem like a good match for Halloween, it’s really important to get a mental break during these events to reset your mind. You need that balance of fear and laughter. It’s why the Hanging continues after all these years. And if you need something really out of this reality, they have “Time Zombies” available to play in their VR area for a small fee .
Finally, Knott’s also confirmed that all mazes in the future, when being retired will get pins. So alongside Special Ops: Infected, departing this year, Shadow Lands will bow out at the end of this season, so pins for both of those are on sale now. Sadly, this means Trick or Treat and the Red Barn missed the cutoff for being memorialized, but you have to start somewhere. At the very least, guests now know to get in that extra headshot on Infected, and to look out for the undead samurai in Shadow Lands this year, instead of telling themselves “I’ll see it next year” and never getting that chance.
One thing not touched on, however, were the pop-up events around the park. Last year, each scare zone had multiple unscheduled shows, that would appear if you happened to be in the right place at the right time. The saloon in Ghost Town had a music act on the balcony. The Hollows had a witch burning, alongside countless other interactions with the characters. Forsaken Lake had their funeral procession. While no schedule was ever revealed, sharp eyed guests could piece together the frequency of them, and by the end of the season knew when to anticipate it.
Hopefully those events return this year, with new twists. People-watching at Halloween events, just taking in the atmosphere, is a large part of Scary Farm, so finding new ways to enjoy it is always appreciated.
Finally, the art exhibit, “Into the Fog” this year returns, with all new art. Most originals and prints are available as well, so you can bring the spookiness into your own home. I’m glad Knott’s takes the time to curate these galleries during the Boysenberry Festival and Scary Farm.Knott’s Scary Farm runs select nights from September 19th through November 2nd. Tickets and season passes are on sale now at knotts.com.