That being said, I think it's time for me to take a little break.
Of course, the Haunt was still fun this year, as always. (It's pretty difficult not to have fun in an entire theme park that's been decked out in ghoulish homage to your favorite holiday.) But, in maze after maze, I couldn't shake the feeling that - with a couple of very notable exceptions - I had seen it all before. Knott's is fantastic because it's such a reliable southern California stalwart when it comes to Halloween fun, but unless there are all new mazes next year, I think I might skip the Haunt in favor of checking out some lesser known local attractions, just to see what I've been missing all these years. Who knows? Maybe in 2011 I'll come running back to Knott's with open arms.
That being said, here's my maze by maze review, ranked in order from best to worst:
- Dia de los Muertos 3D: One of the two new mazes (along with Terror of London) that persuaded me to return to the Haunt this year. I have been crossing my fingers for a Day of the Dead-themed maze for years. Knott's went above and beyond with this maze, including holiday-specific scenes such as a graveyard decorated with colorful altars, and rooms that nod to such icons of Mexican folklore as the Chupacabra and La Llorona. There's even a human sacrifice to the Aztec gods toward the end. Everything I had hoped for and more, this maze is pure eye candy and absolutely awesome. It also lends itself extremely well to the 3D concept.
- Terror of London: I definitely missed 13 Axe Murder Manor this year. That maze, with its haunted house/axe murder theme, had something that many of the mazes lack: Subtlety. Fortunately, Terror of London does a very good job of filling that void. It's a beautiful, atmospheric maze that really gets under your skin. Watch for the Victorian hearse shrouded in fog, the graveyard scene, and the brothel. Creepy rather than horrifying, this maze is ideal for those who would take The Haunting over the Saw franchise any day of the week.
- The Doll Factory: This maze was less scary to me than in years past, but I still have to give it high marks for both concept and execution. What I like most about the Doll Factory is that the idea is so original and disturbing, and the monsters - rather than run of the mill zombies, clowns with chainsaws or dead cowboys - are empty-eyed dolls come to life, and a very creepy killer called "the Marionette Murderer." Pretty much the only maze that makes me wish someone would turn it into a full-length movie.
- Cornstalkers: When it premiered last year, this maze was another dream come true. I kept thinking it would be cool to have a good, old-fashioned corn maze that made use of classic Halloween iconography like scarecrows, pumpkins, etc. Well, the Haunt gods must have read my mind, because Cornstalkers fulfills that wish to a T. My only complaint is that it's a little brief, and there weren't enough monsters in it this year - but it still absolutely smacks of autumn, and I appreciate that it's another atypical choice for a maze.
- Labyrinth: Yet another unusual maze. I'll be the first to admit that this one really isn't scary at all. However, I think it does a fantastic job of creating a magical, mysterious, disorienting atmosphere. The scenery and the costumes are gorgeous, and I like how it leans toward fantasy rather than horror, adding some much-needed variety to the Haunt.
- Quarantine: I seem to remember this maze as being much scarier last year. This time, it was significantly less frightening, but I still appreciate it for being the closest thing to a traditional zombie maze in the park.
- Club Blood: Decent, but I really, really miss the old vampire maze, Lore of the Vampire. (Does anyone remember when it was called Lair of the Vampyre?!) Get the vamps out of the clubs and back to their sexy, Gothic roots! Or, alternately, hook up with the makers of True Blood, rename it "Fangtasia," and fill it with Vampire Bill and Eric lookalikes. Hmm...
- The Slaughterhouse: Not to sound like a broken record here ("Bring back the glory days of the Haunt, wah wah wah!"), but I really preferred Blood Bayou to the Slaughterhouse. Now there was a Deep South/chainsaw/cannibal maze I could get behind! This is a bit of grotesque fun, but it plays like a second rate Texas Chainsaw knockoff rather than the humid, swampy nightmare it could be. P.S. No chainsaw on the night I went! BOO!!!
- Lockdown: The Asylum: For several years, the Asylum was my favorite maze. What could be creepier than an abandoned and/or haunted insane asylum full of murderous crazies, right? Then, last year, I observed that the maze was beginning to lose its luster. I was excited at the prospect of a new concept for the Asylum (now, apparently, it's a prison for the criminally insane), but it just couldn't match the sheer creepiness of the Asylum at its peak. (Case in point: One room in the old Asylum was filled with bloody hospital beds, and things lurking in the shadows. Now that's the kind of disturbing imagery this maze needs!)
- Uncle Bobo's Big Top of the Bizarre 3D: Sigh. The clown maze. Always loud, always headache-inducing. I wholeheartedly support revamping the clown maze with a "bizarre circus" theme; however, they didn't take the new theme far enough. Next year, if the clowns must stay, why not reimagine the maze completely and populate it with sideshow performers, "freaks," murderous bearded ladies, and so forth? Think Carnivale, not Krusty the Clown with a chainsaw!
- Pyromaniax (Log Ride): I miss Red Moon Massacre (a.k.a. the Little Red Riding Hood maze). It worked so much better with the Log Ride's rustic look and feel. Bring it back!!!
- Black Widow's Cavern (Mine Ride): It seems like there's a lot of potential for the Mine Ride to become a really excellent maze. However, I have yet to see the ride actually realize that potential. If it weren't for the enormous spider, the theme of this maze would've escaped me entirely.
- Alien Annihilation 3D: I have never seen anyone purchase the $5 laser tag guns you need to "participate" in this maze. Knott's, it is with love that I point out that, although you gave the laser tag maze a good sporting chance, the experiment has officially failed. Put the space to better use next year! May I suggest a witch maze?
My conclusion? If you haven't been to Knott's Scary Farm, you must visit. If you've been a few times, go again this year to check out the incredible Dia de los Muertos and Terror of London mazes. But if you're a regular like me, here's hoping for a fresh and innovative maze roster for 2010. (Seriously, Knott's - a witch maze! Think about it...)