Tuesday, October 4, 2011

GUEST REVIEW: Knott's Scary Farm 2011

A visit to Knott's Scary Farm is one of my most beloved annual traditions. (You can read my review of last year's event here.) Unfortunately, I won't be able to make it out to the Haunt this year - but fear not! My dear friend Jill O'Lantern has graciously agreed to review Halloween Haunt 2011 for you! Enjoy.

The tradition of the annual Knott’s Haunt has been thrown into uncertainty by the flashier haunt, Universal Horror Nights. If forced to choose a favorite, it’s a difficult decision. Knott’s Haunt lacks the high-quality mazes, but they make up for it in quantity. For 2011 they have 13 attractions, and seven live shows, plus all the roller coaster thrills you can stomach in one evening.

This year, I did the Boo-fet in addition to the Haunt. It’s $24 for an all-you-can-eat buffet dinner. The food is pretty good; they offer prime rib, roasted turkey, shrimp cocktail, Mrs. Knott’s fried chicken, lots of sides, snacks, and an enormous drink with free refills. Careful how you eat at the Boo-fet because there are roaming monsters ready to scare the mashed potatoes down your windpipe. Aside from the food, the real benefit to the Boo-fet is the chance to ride the bone-crushing Ghost Rider before sneaking in the park early while the regular-ticketed folks watch jealously from behind the rope.

After riding the Ghost Rider (on a full stomach...not recommended) we ran around the park like crazy, trying to hit as many mazes as possible before the crowds came in. My favorites, in order (spoiler alert):

Terror of London - I had the pleasure of walking through this maze alone, so the monsters were all out to get me. I was threatened in the pub, charmed by a murderer on the streets, and chased through a graveyard. It was the stuff of my favorite nightmares. My memory is not the best - I think the rainy London alleyways were new. It was so scary being harassed while walking through the rain. The bonus of London was the endless feeling. Each dark hallway had me convinced that the fun was over, but then a new section started with new scares. This was the most rewarding and fun maze of the evening. The dedicated actors inside really gave the theme life.

Virus Z - This was my favorite new offering last year, and it was just as good the second time around. The walk-through took us around a small town, hit suddenly by a zombie virus. Some of the make-up and costuming was great. After walking through his living room, Zombie Grandpa followed me around the maze. I can’t remember what he muttered at me, but it was unnerving and funny. The make-up on the girls in the diner was especially good.

Delirium - New for 2011. The execution of the theme of insanity and nightmares was vague, but this was a great new addition to Knott’s. I absolutely loved the psychedelic dream-turned-nightmare feel. The wall of glowing eyeballs, and the room filled with disgusting cockroaches stand out as the most striking elements.

Dia de Los Muertos 3D - This maze was light on the scares, but heavy on beauty and theme. I just enjoyed walking through it and gawking at the murals, costumes, and effects.

Fallout Shelter - The person who sold me 3D glasses explained that there was a third 3D maze that was not listed on the map. This was it. The 3D was a definite afterthought in this maze since certain elements were painted in blacklight-responsive colors but overall it was a standard maze. It was very long and there were some good props, so it was fun. The actors did a great job in this one - lots of creepy people walked near me, and because of their clothes, I couldn’t tell if they were mutants or other maze-walkers. I feel like the 3D glasses helped with the scares in this one because the glasses blocked my peripheral vision.

Endgames - This was new for 2011. I’m a huge fan of all things post-apocalypse battle, especially the Hunger Games, and Battle Royale. I liked the eerie live footage of other people walking through the maze, but I didn’t see any of the scare-actors doing anything other than banging the walls and yelling in my face. The theme was all over the place - were they post-apocalyptic barbarians, or were they steampunk? I hope next year the scare-actors will get better, more defined roles for this maze. (Watch what’s happening live inside Endgames here!)

The Slaughterhouse, Lockdown: The Asylum, and Doll Factory were all fun mazes but you probably remember them from past years. The Doll Factory is my favorite of the three, because I like all the women's creepy-but-pretty costumes, and walking through the shredded dollhouse curtains.

Invasion Beneath (The Calico Mine ride) - Despite my love for all things spider, the Curse of the Spider overlay was wearing thin. Invasion Beneath’s theme was described as an “invasion by unknown creatures through a large fissure in the Earth’s core. Military has just infiltrated the mountain.” Frankly, this new theme was baffling and incomplete. I somewhat understood that there was drilling or mining (there were spinning drill bits), but I’m not sure if I saw the unknown creatures or the Military action. There were several similar robot-looking figures standing ominously throughout the maze. That’s it. They stood there, and there were a few lasers (by a few, I mean two: red and green pinpoints of light in the darkness), but no explanation, action, or scares. Nothing about this was engaging, comprehensible, or scary. I really hope they put work into this for next year to give it some story - the monster invasion idea is great, and it could work well with the giant cavern.

I skipped Cornstalkers, Sleepy Hollow Mountain (the Log Ride), and the dreadful Uncle Bobo’s Big Top of the Bizarre. Sometimes roller coasters are scarier than nightmares.

Throughout the evening, I saw monsters working in groups to scare and entertain, and it genuinely seemed like they were enjoying themselves. Walking through the Carnevil area, I heard the familiar skidding sound of a monster coming straight toward me. I turned my head in alarm and saw a clown lying on his side, grabbing his knee, and crying out in pain. I froze - was it real? Right behind him, another clown ran up and blamed me for hurting his friend before kicking the downed clown in the knee. It was the best! I felt like I was in my own clown slapstick nightmare. This year more than ever, I felt like the monsters were really portraying characters, not just trying to scare.

Overall, the scare-actors are what make Knott's' Haunt fun. Knott’s doesn’t have the slick, movie-quality sets, costumes, and props that Universal has, but it does have a lot of really dedicated monster talent. Knott’s is always nearest and dearest to my spooky heart.

Read more from Ms. Jill O'Lantern on her blogs Magnets de los Muertos and Tart for Pumpkins!

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