Oh man, it’s been a journey to get here. Ever since the lockdown of 2020, theme park events have been shifted all over the place. And the big 5-0 for Knott’s Scary Farm was creeping ever closer. They, rightfully, wanted to go big, and that requires a big budget. But then 2023 decided to throw a wrench into everything with some inflation woes and budget cuts across the industry. So did they pull it off?
It’s Knott’s. Of course, they did.
After half a century of doing this, it’s expected to have a certain cadence and rhythm that becomes established over time. The regular pace of “Two mazes in, two mazes out” along with a new show or two had to be shaken up this year. This time, we got three new mazes, three new shows, and a much-desired resurrected scare zone.
This year in the Walter Knott Theater you’ll find one of the three new shows, Music, Monsters & Mayhem. While the park lacks any specific celebrity host this year, this show would match perfectly with the Elvira shows of old. It’s the same layout, composed of well-produced musical numbers punctuated with edgy comedic bits that are not for children. Being that the 50th is all about honoring the past, all the bits feature the host of the show becoming possessed by the spirit of the previous hosts thanks to a curse from the Green Witch. It works well, with a slight explanation of each character so newer folks aren’t confused. The musical acts are great. Each one alludes to the park’s history, be it Ghost Town as a whole or a former maze like Doll Factory. Every performer gives it their all. I missed these big numbers over the last few years, so it’s good to have it back. The only minor complaint is that because of the history the show needs to cover, it runs over 30 minutes, and that can mess with the schedules of folks assuming it’s a typical 20-minute affair.
Given the extended length of the show, the spicy content, and the number of beefcake dancers, it feels like it’s an homage to a similar show of the past from a friendly rival up the road. But that’s just my own mind second-guessing every new bit of entertainment this year. And not too far away, La Magnifique Carnaval do Grotesque returns for its sophomore year. This was a great replacement for where the Hanging used to reside and continues to deserve this cherished spot on the Mine Stage. The show fits in with the Halloween theme, showing a variety of circus acts broken up with a dance routine and MC’d by a pair of frighteningly ghoulish hosts who are more than happy to check off all the puns you’d expect this time of year. The act and storyline are refreshed compared to last year, so don’t skip it assuming that it’s the same as last time.
The second of the new shows is Dr. Cleaver Returns, which is something a lot more low-key. Boiled down to the basics, it’s an effort to make the sword box magic trick into a 20-minute affair full of the most crass one-liners possible. It’s not a big extravaganza. It’s not a musical number. It’s three actors doing a fast-paced and eye-rolling bit inside the historic Bird Cage Theater, which is exactly what this venue is for.Rounding out the trio of new shows is the one that can’t be killed. The Hanging: UNcancelled has returned because people just couldn’t live with it and couldn’t live without it. This time around, it takes place in the Wagon Camp, meaning passersby won’t be subject to the insanity of it all. But that also means there’s a limited capacity for each show, meaning you have to make time for it to guarantee a good spot.
As for returning mazes, they’re all preserved. No major changes have been discovered, outside of some minor tweaks to make them interact with the new lantern being sold in the parks. Of course, because our impressions are all from opening week, things change rapidly, so anything specific we’d get into might change or be removed or fixed by the time you read this. This form of live interactive theater is an amazing gift to the world, but we are forever limited by the linear nature of time.
Ultimately, both The Depths and Dark Entities have become long in the tooth, despite being well done upon their initial arrival. Effects from their initial years like the elevator sequence in the Depths, or laser jails on Dark Entities, are distant memories. However, The Depths seems to have cheated death for one more year. Get your visits to both while you can.Wax Works, Mezmer, Grimoire and Origins all returned and are in great form. They’re top tier and because they’re not the biggest newest shiniest thing, wait times for them are much more tolerable now.
That leaves Bloodlines as the sole returning maze worth discussing. Last year it was the one maze to have an audience-participation segment, using a multi-function rifle to blast away vampires as you run through Maldonia. Unfortunately, due to a number of logistical reasons, it was a less-than-ideal experience for most guests. You want to get as many people through it as possible, but that runs counter to the idea that you can shoot zombie actors and expect a solid response. The conga line is not conducive to a shooting game like this. Camp Snoopy’s setting for Infected was a much more open world to play in and handled it better. It wasn’t an easy decision, but Knott’s decidedly to wisely remove the guns this year, allowing guests to instead let the two sides fight it out themselves. The layout actually remains exactly the same, leaving the opening armory to become wrecked by vampires from the time you arrive. It honestly feels like a kind of 4th-wall-breaking change and helps the flow greatly.
Last year saw the last of The Hollow scare zone, as Pumpkin Eater also went back into the fog. That left The Gauntlet open to return to Camp Snoopy. It’s quite similar to The Hollow with the same fantastic scareactors haunting the area, but with the drum-beat processional of old. A land of tradition and fear, savagery and malice. The big question is how long it will continue to stick around as this iteration.
Of the three new mazes this year, Room 13 is the sole one that isn’t an overt tribute maze. Instead, it’s a fitting companion for the Gore-ing 20s scare zone right outside. You walk through a cursed hotel, all poisoned by the Devil’s Elixir. It’s a wonderful maze and my clear favorite this year. Each room is distinct, from bars to lobbies to bathrooms, everything you’d expect in a hotel. And it’s full of so many wonderful and beautiful details. Heck, even the entrance is around the backside of the arcade, making it feel like a speakeasy before you even go inside. Wendell & Hurlbut, you say? These kinds of nods are appreciated. There are some impressive effects, like the scaffolding on the balcony making you feel like you’re 10 floors up. And the finale has a few giant set pieces that I love, too. Taking up a significant footprint of the arcade is certainly a risky choice, but it paid off. Also, in keeping with the theme this year of everything being a tribute, I can’t help but feel like this maze is a silent nod to the B340 maze of Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor. Even the smells inside the maze evoke walking around on the haunted ship. RIP Dark Harbor, we still miss you. Dark Ride is no longer of this world, being replaced by Cinema Slasher, a combination of a trio of mazes from Knott’s past reworked into kitschy slasher films that invite the audience to see first-hand. Starting out in the theater, with a haunting mix of Let’s All Go To the Lobby filling the air, it makes use of the trope of walking into the screen, making the guests a part of the movies. If Camp Gonnagetcha means anything to you, don’t forget to take your arthritis medicine and a low-dose aspirin before you log all your steps at Scary Farm this year.One of the strengths of Knott’s Scary Farm is that because each maze is themed to an idea and not a movie, there’s no need to have a linear flow for each scene, meaning it can all feel totally cohesive. Both of the tribute mazes this year suffer a little because they are disjointed from trying to cover so much ground. But, in a deliberate move, these mazes are a few rooms longer than normal, too. Definitely used the budget to extend these out. That also helps heighten the fears because just when you think you’re done, you enter a 4th movie, or exit, really. I honestly lost count of the number of shows and mazes that mentioned Doll Factory this year. It doesn’t feel like a coincidence and I wonder if it’s a hint of things to come. And that leaves Chilling Chambers, which is a museum as much as it is a maze. The Keeper, an homage to Sinister Seymour, the original host of the Haunt event from 50 years prior, guides you through a menagerie of scenes from the past.Every room feels like it’s crafted full of Easter Eggs begging you to explore it multiple times over. Again, for many of these references, it takes you back decades. Some are more subtle, and some are obvious. And every maze has a headstone or marker somewhere in this mausoleum.Don’t get us wrong. The maze is full of scares, gruesome scenes, and everything else that makes a good maze, but you’re not in here for the frights. You’re here to see the amazing thingie that we all miss from years past. One twisted silver lining is that this maze’s location, at the entrance to Camp Snoopy, has typically been a less visited area, for whatever reason. So the lines are never exceedingly long and no room really holds up guest flow. A few areas aren’t as well marked as they could be, leading to guests going in the wrong direction, but that will likely be corrected by the time you read this. Some scenes have very overt references to mazes of years past, labeling the dolls of VooDoo, or all the keys of Trapped. And as previously stated, it never forgets that its supposed to be a proper maze. There’s a few displays of The Keeper introducing you to the next segment. The stained-glass sketch effect is a bit weird, but not enough to ruin any experience. There’s no chronological order to the maze tributes, so you have to hunt from them, like here with Lost Vegas. Without spoiling too much, I’ll just leave you with more photos from the maze. Oh boy. That’s a lot to take in. This also doesn’t touch on the lantern areas scattered around the park in each scare zone, the new food options, or the performances accompanying each area of the park. There’s also the beautiful tribute store accessible from inside the park during Scary Farm hours, or outside the park otherwise. That’s a whole attraction in itself! There’s a reason there’s a line to get in right next to other mazes. The one takeaway we’ve had from our visits so far this season is that every conversation between friends meeting up in the park inevitably asks “So, when are you coming back?” It’s the perfect sentiment, because there’s more here than can be done in one night, and that fits in with the idea that Halloween is a season, not just one single night at the end of October.
We strongly recommend buying a Season Pass as it removes so much of the desire to turn the visit into a checklist. Take it at your own pace. People watch in a scare zone. Try the pizza with actual turtle meat. Ride the mine ride or log ride at night to see the scary overlays. Eat popcorn while watching carnival acts.
Every year already feels like the biggest event thus far, building on the knowledge and experiences of the past but Knott’s went all out for the 50th Anniversary – honoring the first five decades of the event in a way that wasn’t alienating to the new guests (since teenagers are a core audience of these events, and suffice it to say, they weren’t alive when the event started).
Season Passes and single-day tickets are available at Knotts.com. The event runs on select nights through October 31st. See you in the fog!
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