In fact, this is the Haunt's 38th (!) year, and it boasts 13 different mazes, in addition to 3 scare zones and 7 shows. Compare that to the 5 mazes each at Universal and the Queen Mary and you're beginning to understand just how much Knott's overwhelms the competition in terms of quantity. But how do the mazes fare when it comes to creepy content? Here is my breakdown of each maze, ranked from best to worst:
- Virus Z: There were only 3 new mazes this year, but 2 of them are at the very top of my list, with this awesome zombie maze claiming the top spot. The plot is simple: A mysterious virus has ravaged the '50s-era town of Pleasanton, and the infected have laid waste to everything in their path, from the diner to the tattoo parlor to the school playground. This was basically a zombie movie come to life, and everyone in our group agreed that this was one of the best of the night - and, in my opinion, the best take on the zombie theme that Knott's has ever done. Bravo!
- Sleepy Hollow Mountain: Another brand new maze for 2010, this one isn't a walkthrough - it's the new Log Ride overlay, replacing the (very tired) Pyromaniax. I don't think I've seen such a masterful use of the Log Ride since Red Moon Massacre - and truthfully, I like this even better. The theming and decor are both fantastic. I loved the dozens of glowing jack o'lanterns suspended from the ceiling just before you make your ascent up the final hill before the watery plunge.
- Labyrinth: A maze that seeks to enthrall and enchant rather than startle or disgust. Visitors find themselves in "the dark catacombs that lie beneath a ruined castle," where they'll encounter otherworldly creatures and demented aristocrats dressed like they're attending a masquerade gone horribly awry. Again, not the scariest maze, but very beautiful and different.
- Cornstalkers: I've gathered that some Haunt visitors find this maze a little boring, but I personally love it. Nothing says "fall" quite like a corn maze complete with demonic scarecrows. This year, Cornstalkers ends in a barn that boasts a uniquely intimidating inhabitant. Nice touch!
- Dia de los Muertos: Another favorite of mine, simply because the Mexican "Day of the Dead" isn't the most common theme for a maze, yet it totally works. I loved walking through the day-glo cemetery with its altars and offerings, and the 3D effects give it a surreal, dreamlike quality.
- Terror of London: The Jack the Ripper maze! The fog machines are out in full effect here, and the costumes and settings are fantastic. From the streets of London and the gaudy bedrooms of a bordello to Highgate Cemetery and a mad doctor's laboratory, this really is a little piece of England right in the middle of Buena Park. A must-see for fans of classic monster movies.
- The Doll Factory: I used to love this maze because it was such a cool original theme: The Marionette Murderer turns his victims into dolls. Unfortunately, after several years, that theme is beginning to feel a bit tired. If you've never seen it before, it's still awesome - but adding a few twists next year for Haunt regulars would be much appreciated.
- Club Blood: I still prefer my vampire mazes to skew gothic, so it's time for my annual cry of, "Bring back Lore of the Vampyre!" But I have to admit that I had fun at Club Blood this year. It still boasts the single best gross-out sight gag in the park (vampire baby birth scene, anyone?) and there was a special thrill lurking in the shadows in the very last room that actually elicited a shriek from me and one of my friends.
- Lockdown - The Asylum: Not to sound like one of those people who always complains about how the old mazes were better, but...the old Asylum maze was better. Remember when the Asylum had that room full of empty, blood-spattered hospital beds? Now THAT was chilling. Imagine Shutter Island, but with more gore. Lockdown leaves those subtle yet disturbing scares behind for a more aggressive, prison-break vibe that is less to my liking. I still enjoy this maze, but I prefer it in its former incarnation.
- Fallout Shelter: This is the third new maze for 2010, and the least exciting of the three. It's kind of like Virus Z, but with zombies instead of mutants. Lots of vats oozing radioactive green goo. Sorta/kinda 3D, but not really. I don't have any specific complaints about this maze - it just wasn't the most memorable.
- The Slaughterhouse: Perhaps we just happened to hit the Slaughterhouse at an off-point during the night (it was the last maze we visited before leaving the park), but it seemed severely underpopulated by monsters to me. And where was the chainsaw?! I always expect a chainsaw scare in the hillbilly/backwoods maze, and the Slaughterhouse didn't deliver this year! It still nails the dirty, unpleasant Texas Chain Saw Massacre meets Motel Hell vibe though.
- Uncle Bobo's Big Top of the Bizarre: The final 3D maze. What can I say? I'm just not that big on scary clowns. For those who are (or who have never been to the Haunt), I'm sure this maze offers some perverse, demented thrills, but as for me, I keep wishing they would revamp the clowns - or do away with them entirely. I stand by the suggestion I made last year: Turn Uncle Bobo's Big Top into a scary carnival with freaks and sideshow performers in addition to murderous clowns, and it could be one of the best in the park! On the bright side, there was far less toilet humor than in years past, for which I am grateful.
- Black Widow's Cavern: The Mine Ride overlay. This isn't at the bottom of the list for any specific shortcoming; I just feel like it squanders both the spider theme (remember the Kingdom of the Spiders walkthrough maze?) and the Mine Ride's scary potential (remember when the central room in the mine used to house a massive fire-breathing dragon instead of a big spider who just sits there listlessly?).
I'll conclude this review much the same way I concluded my assessment of the 2009 Haunt: If you've never been to the Haunt at Knott's - or you haven't gone in several years and you're totally unfamiliar with the mazes that comprise the first half of the above list - it's time to buy your ticket and hit the Scary Farm. As for the rest of us regulars, a visit to the Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt is still a great time...but a bit more fresh blood would be fantastic for 2011.
Knott's Berry Farm's Halloween Haunt takes place now through the end of October; see the official website for details, including specific dates and times. Tickets are $33-56, and parking is $15-20.
Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary passes to review this event.