Wednesday, October 11, 2017

REVIEW: Knott's Scary Farm 2017

Honestly, I had no intention of writing about Knott's Scary Farm this year. It will forever hold a special place in my heart, as the oldest and best of the southern California theme park haunts, but I also think lots of other websites, blogs, and publications offer much more in-depth coverage than I do. Plus, I thought it was just going to be another standard year at the Haunt, that I wouldn't have much to say beyond a cursory, "That was cool."

Dude. I was wrong. Because Knott's wasn't just cool this year. It was SUPER FUCKING COOL.

I had so much fun that it totally reified my love for Knott's, haunts, and even Halloween itself. If I had to point to just one reason why this happened, I could do it in two words: Dark Ride.

I've been through a lot of haunts and mazes in my day, and many of them have been remarkable. But Dark Ride is MY FAVORITE OF ALL. I've never seen a concept so well-executed. It was gorgeous and fun and spooky and nostalgic from top to bottom. I went through it twice! I don't know if I've ever gone through a maze twice in the same night before, simply because I wanted to savor every detail.

The spook house is always the best part of any carnival, right? But the gaudy exterior usually writes a check that the interior can't cash, if you catch my drift. Imagine what you wish was inside every spooky carnival dark ride, and you're beginning to touch on what you'll find in this maze.

Knott's also had the courage to try something totally different with their maze layouts this year. Instead of just winding your way through endless switchbacks, Dark Ride (and many of the other mazes) play with space in a way that totally caught me off guard. There's a lot of ducking (no crawling), fogged-out spaces, nearly impenetrable darkness, and - my favorite - big, open rooms that allow for larger set pieces and free up scareactors to try more inventive creep-out tactics.

Speaking of the scareactors, this maze also had many characters who were genuinely creepy, not just in-your-face startling. One clown just stood there, watching us, from several feet away, and I actually felt the hairs stand up on my arms. In a world that relies too often on bombast, Knott's provided some actual, lingering fear. If the other haunts are serving up metal and dubstep, Knott's decided to go with eerie synths and the Devil's Tritone.

The other new maze this year, Pumpkin Eater, was also great, and autumnal as fuck with its pumpkin monsters, leering jack o'lanterns, and cornstalks. In fact, all of the mazes were outstanding this year - not a dud in the bunch.  Trick or Treat: Lights Out is an excellent variation on the beloved maze, and one that, like Dark Ride, gave me some actual genuine feelings of terror and not just cheap frissons of fright. Special Ops: Infected - this year's zombie laser tag maze - was just like living through the video game Left 4 Dead, and erased all of my preconceived notions about laser tag mazes. Even the Red Barn was incredible, rather than the rote iteration of the slaughterhouse theme that I was expecting.

I left these mazes feeling like there's no such thing as a tired maze concept, because truly inspired execution can breathe new life into even the most seemingly played-out ideas.

In addition to the mazes - which, again, are at the top of their game this year - the scare zones are pretty rad, especially The Hollow (the wicker man looming on the hill is a nice touch!) and Ghost Town Streets, which I consider the best scare zone of all time. If you like rollercoasters, Knott's has some great ones, and you can ride them in the dark at the haunt. (I highly recommend Ghostrider and the scarier-than-it-looks Sierra Sidewinder.) Even the Log Ride is decked out for the Haunt again this year, resplendent in its pumpkins-meets-Old West "Halloween Hootenanny"overlay.

And, finally, the number one reason to visit Knott's this year? To catch Elvira's last-ever stage show at the park, based on her iconic 1988 film Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. It starts with her rolling out in the fucking Macabre Mobile and ends with this:

Need I say more? That's why she's the Queen of Halloween.

Go to Knott's. They didn't just kill it this year - they murdered it with a chainsaw and then reanimated its mangled corpse so they could murder it again.

Life is short and Halloween is fleeting. Don't you owe it to yourself to have some fun in the fog?

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