View Full Version : Knott's Scary Farm Haunt 09 FULL REVIEW!

10-14-2009, 12:26 AM
After an impressive showing last year with something like six all new mazes, Knott’s has definitely taken their foot off the gas a bit for the ’09 season. We get four new mazes, which sounds like a lot, but upon further inspection we find that two of these newbies are really just glorified remakes (or reimaginings if you will) of mazes from last year. While it is not uncommon for Knott’s to reuse themes and even resurrect older mazes entirely, it seems a little underwhelming to rework attractions from the previous year and then present them as brand spankin’ new. What we end up with is a Haunt event that is solid enough but isn’t offering us anything new or exciting. But let’s get into the nitty gritty details and take a long look at the maze offerings for 2009.
NOTE: I did not include Alien Annihilation as I didn’t have time to go through it this year.

The Slaughterhouse
Having debuted last season to mostly positive reviews, the Slaughterhouse remains a solid addition to the maze lineup and fills a niche as a somewhat generic and less folksy Knott’s version of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (sans chainsaws).
The story is vague and some of the details are missing this year (such as mood-setting characters in the queue and the clever anti-cannibalism picket signs) but the theme remains thoroughly apparent – as we are exploring the less than humane slaughterhouse facilities that service Uncle Willy’s BBQ, a roadside eatery that is clearly serving up more than pork ribs. The biggest problem with the maze’s narrative is the fact that we’re injected directly into the murderous madness without much of a buildup and although the characters of Willy and Ida are referenced we are never obviously introduced to them and thus what could be a rich thematic continuity is reduced to a series of gory set pieces that work on their own but lack cohesive flow.
That said, the sets are immersive enough and some of the sight gags work quite well (the giant meat grinder springs immediately to mind) but the layout is hindered slightly by long stretches of minimally themed corridors and large empty spaces. The sound design is quite flat and for the most part, unremarkable, with the inclusion of industrial metal seeming particularly out of place which is a shame as some clever audio could really give the Slaughterhouse a much-needed dose of personality.
The talent in this maze, on the other hand, did bring originality and energy to the proceedings. They were fully dedicated to the theme and the characters they were portraying – from the hapless victims to the ravenous hillbillies. Despite some serious understaffing and subsequent lack of maze coverage (there were several lengthy stretches inhabited by absolutely no one) when the actors popped up they were firing on all cylinders which really brought an otherwise mediocre maze to life, bumping its grade up from a C+ to a B-.

Lockdown – the Asylum
Lockdown is a serviceable maze that admirably delivers exactly what one would expect but fails to really bring anything new or exciting to the table. Part of the problem is in the maze’s name which inexplicably uses the subtitle “the Asylum”, a tactic which does nothing other than remind us that this is really just a retooling of the old Asylum maze (which was a long-standing Haunt favorite) and not a fresh original concept. Perhaps the designers thought that the maze’s obvious derivative nature would be questioned by fans if they hadn’t called themselves out or that some sort of brand recognition would automatically endear the maze to returning patrons. Either way, all it really serves as is a reminder that Lockdown isn’t actually all that new or exciting and the whole affair would have benefitted from leaving memories of mazes past behind, allowing this current incarnation to succeed or fail on its own merits.
Disregarding all familiarities, the façade of Lockdown is quite impressive and sufficiently immerses you into the theme right off the bat, but the eye candy pretty much ends there. The set design is serviceable throughout but the “prison from hell” theme doesn’t really call for a high level of creative scenery and we are mostly treated to a labyrinth of cells and twisting blood-spattered corridors which are all fully appropriate but lack individual personality. Even the scenes and themed rooms (such as the laundry room or the gas chamber) are either decorated with props held over from the Asylum or are by-the-numbers rooms that lack any particular quirks or punches. Regardless of this, the maze is effective and fairly detailed, providing plenty of tension but remaining somewhat predictable.
There is no real story to speak of but this fact doesn’t hinder the maze, as it’s more of a concept than a narrative. A little back story (a la the Asylum) would have been nice but ultimately proves superfluous. The sound design, while unrefined, gets the job done and is probably the biggest factor in conveying the chaotic atmosphere throughout. Effects loops are successfully layered with pounding music, the individual room sounds are obvious without being overbearing and the loudspeaker spiels barking at you as you enter the maze permeate throughout the building, creating an authentic tension that never lets up.
The talent was solid and this was one of the mazes to suffer least from lack of coverage (there were only a couple of short vacant stretches as opposed to most of the mazes which tend to be plagued by significant monster drought) and although the characters, like the maze itself, are fairly generic and lacking individuality, their manic energy adds to the chaos and somehow the whole thing just works. At the end of the day Lockdown is basically just a reimagining of the Asylum, and while it has stripped away much of the personality of its predecessor, the altered theming and layout have given the experience new legs and produced a thoroughly solid addition to the Haunt.

Club Blood
With the demise of the traditional Vampire maze last year, Club Blood burst upon the scene and while this gorier and more modern approach to the subject matter was a welcome respite from years of Anne Rice staleness, one can’t help but think that the maze designers could still hatch a more original take on the vamps as club blood is ultimately as derivative as anything that has come before it.
One of the most glaring issues here is the vague nature of the story. There is clearly an attempt at a narrative progression as the maze unfolds – we are taken into a vampire club in what seems to be a seedy part of town (where the bloodsuckers seem more keen on dancing then eating us humans) and then behind the scenes into a progressively horrific operation that ends with some sort of human/vampire birthing center. The problem is there are no real details or key scenes to pull us into the story or truly immerse us and the transition from scene to scene is disjointed and awkward with too much time spent traversing white blood-soaked hallways, resulting in an experience that feels like we are just watching and not participating in the narrative.
The set design is wildly varied in this maze – the opening scenes of the city streets and the club are very detailed and quite effective but as you progress into the sterile environments behind the scenes all the rich theming of the opening rooms is forgone in favor of generic scenery and aforementioned bloody hallways. This boring set design makes up the majority of the maze and creates a sort of anti-climax effect as the theming of the rooms gets progressively sparse the further you go. The sound design follows a similarly disheartening pattern, starting strong and becoming more and more unremarkable as the maze wears on, with plenty of missed opportunities for creepy ambiance and frightening music.
Most disappointing of all was the talent in this maze which, with the exception of a few roving ghouls near the beginning, proved fairly listless and more fond of (unsuccessful) attempts at looking creepy than selling their characterizations or going for good scares. This approach can be effective in the right situations but room after room featuring supposedly eerie vampire nurses clicking their fingers together does not an intense maze experience make. The climactic “big finish” gag has been altered to accommodate a dummy rather than the human actor (used last year) but still lacks the gore and set-up to really make the effect work, adding a feeble ending to a maze that stands mostly as a tribute to wasted potential.

10-14-2009, 12:30 AM
Terror of London
A new maze for ’09, Terror of London is easily among the best of the bunch, suffering only from a slight lack of cohesive thematic continuity. Despite this, and somewhat lackluster talent, the attention to detail and successful immersion really shine and the overall experience is a pleasing one.
The story is the biggest hurdle standing in Terror of London’s way to Haunt greatness. At its thematic core, this is really just a Jack The Ripper maze, following the infamous murderer’s gory trail through the creepy streets of old London town, but there are some extraneous elements present, including the inexplicable finale in Frankenstein’s lab, that only serve to confuse and tend to derail an otherwise slick narrative. The attempt to create a sort of gothic greatest hits is admirable but badly executed, proving that a little more focus could have really made this maze shine.
In contrast to the muddled storyline, the set design is stellar and right on point. There is a stunning attention to detail on display throughout, down to the wanted posters, lighting schemes and authentic interiors. The graveyard scene is particularly gorgeous and features the best animated gag I have encountered in seven years of visiting the haunt and even the out-of-place laboratory is full of cool props and fun gory touches. The ripper’s murder scenes are all well done and thoroughly disturbing (if slightly derivative of From Hell) and there are some fog/lighting effects that are really pretty ingenious (one effect that simulates rain is particularly remarkable). The sound design is also top notch, offering really creepy ambient moments (most notably the clip-clop of nearby footsteps on cobblestones and the Ripper’s signature unsettling whistle) and a cinematic immersion on par with the Doll Factory as bits of dialog, music and chilling effects seem to fade in and out at just the right moments of the maze. While still not as fine-tuned and refined as it could be, Terror of London’s audio leaves little room for improvement and works in perfect harmony with the set design and layout to really convey the appropriate atmosphere.
Along with the unfocussed story elements, the talent is really what holds this maze back. Although a couple of actors performed admirably, and everyone stayed in character there was an apparent lack of energy throughout. Monsters shuffled by here and there, missing a lot of obvious scares and largely failing to take advantage of the ready-made atmosphere which is a shame when taking into account the plethora of opportunities for characterization in a maze of this type. While a lack of coverage is disguised by Terror’s abundant eye candy, it would be nice if the talent really seized their moments, using all the apprehension the theming provides. Unfortunately said moments were ultimately wasted. Fortunately, Terror of London’s high points outshine its lows and the maze stands as one of the seasons best.

The Doll Factory
Now in its third year, The Doll Factory is aging gracefully and has remained a strong maze - a testament to solid theming, design and execution. This is a great example, like the recently retired 13 Axe Murder Manor, of a classic concept given a fresh spin by Knott’s while still retaining enough vintage haunted house elements to ensure its status as a modern classic.
The Doll Factory’s biggest flaw may strangely be one of its biggest assets. The maze’s somewhat convoluted story leads to a disjointed narrative that comes across as feverishly nightmarish – almost like a David Lynch film come to life. There is a back story involving the “marionette murderer”, a serial killer who runs his operation out of the titular abandoned factory and makes life-sized playthings out of his victims, but the pervasive theme of the maze seems to be more of a general twisted doll factory thing, with the serial killer’s lair almost coming through as an afterthought. The progression from scene to scene is also rather disjointed (after leaving the impressive foyer with its creepy doll part conveyer system) but where in some mazes this would hinder the narrative, the jumpy, schizophrenic nature of the Doll Factory actually adds to the experience in a positive way.
The set design is appropriately surreal and horrific but not in the progressive way one might expect. The unpredictability of the whole affair creates the nightmarish atmosphere previously mentioned and the imagery retains a disturbing quality regardless of whether it adorns one of the intimately detailed rooms or the many twisting hallways. The element that really brings the mysterious theming and smash-cut narrative together and makes the whole thing work cohesively is the unparalleled sound design. Enough cannot be said of the audio within the Doll Factory and every maze designer the world over should look no further for a model of perfect aural execution. The super creepy music box theme that follows you through the entire maze is nothing short of brilliant and it swells to horrific grandeur at just the right moments, slipping away to stripped-sown subtlety at others, always completely appropriate for the thematic shifts of the maze. The sound effects are also nigh perfect, complimenting the wonderfully cinematic score and achieving full emersion in the world of the Doll Factory.
Despite the apparent departure of the infamous contorting doll girl (traditionally stationed at the entrance of the life-size dollhouse) the talent level in this maze remains high. The designs of the various fiends lurking in the factory are among the best in the Haunt and the level of characterization is admirable. Truth be told, the sets and sounds are enough to scare most and the high level of talent operating here is just the icing on the terrifying cake. The only thing holding this maze back is its anticlimactic ending, which basically amounts to some cold storage tunnels with body parts frozen in the ice. The musical theme drops out entirely, replaced by ambient effects and the last thing seen is an unsettling scene involving a ballerina in bondage inside a glass case and the return of the music box theme. Although this final image is disturbing, the unexciting walk through the cold storage section really diminishes the tone set by the maze up until that point which in turn spoils the effect of the finale, which lacks a real thematic punch to begin with. The maze would easily be better off without the final stretches of hallway but other than that small complaint, there isn’t much wrong here.

Dia De Los Muertos
I am not a fan of 3-D mazes. They were novel back in the 90s when the gimmick was all the rage in haunted attractions across America, but it seems tired at this point and why haunts continue to design mazes of this variety eludes me. That said, Dia De Los Muertos is something of a return-to-form in regards to 3-D mazes at the Haunt, so if you’re into that kind of thing you’re in for a treat.
This maze harkens back to what could be considered a short-lived “golden age” of 3-D mazes for Knott’s, most fondly represented by Malice in Wunderland. The theming of Dia De Los Muertos is kind of a mixed bag, and not being an expert on the subject, strikes me as well-researched but still rather narrow-minded. There are some obvious traditional elements at play but they are mixed with ravenous chupacabras, coyote men, skeletal mariachi bands, a Day-Glo jungle complete with generic human sacrifice and a jovial Mexican Satan. There is no real narrative cohesion and the transitions from one scene to another, while not without logic, do not tend to follow any obvious story or thematic progression.
The set design is oddly appealing and much more detailed than most of Knott’s 3-D efforts, conveying the sensation that you are walking through one of the Fantasyland dark rides at Disneyland. There are some nice, if underwhelming, effects and wasted space is at a minimum but there is nothing remarkable set or scenery wise and the ultimate result is satisfying but not particularly memorable. The sound design follows suit, offering some nice moments and helping soften some awkward scenic transitions but remaining largely forgettable.
The talent on hand performed well, and while the maze seemed understaffed the actors were well placed so that there were never long stretches devoid of monsters. The confused theming makes it difficult to get a handle on whether the maze aims to be kitschy or genuinely creepy which comes through in the talent who seemed to hold back to a degree. This is a shame as some real kinetic energy could bump up the overall experience. As it is, Dia De Los Muertos is about as good as 3-D mazes get at Knott’s (and head and shoulders above the abysmal Lost Vegas of the past few seasons) but that isn’t saying a whole lot.

10-14-2009, 12:34 AM
Uncle Bobo’s Big Top of the Bizarre
Much like 3-D mazes, I tend to believe that the evil clown theme so popular for years at haunted attractions, has more or less run its course. This is clearly not the attitude of the people behind Knott’s Halloween Haunt as they bring the clowns back year after year, recycling gags and props with reckless abandon. Fans of the older Knott’s clown mazes though, have reason to rejoice as Uncle Bobo’s is basically an amped-up remake of the original Carnival of Carnivorous Clowns with better jokes and music.
A marked improvement over the previous clown affair, Killer Klown Kollege, Uncle Bobo’s is thematically less original but executed much better than the maze it replaced. Amounting to a tour through a demented side show, the narrative is not particularly fresh or interesting but the less-is-more approach works in this capacity and the posters throughout the queue and the early parts of the maze supply ample foreshadowing of the sights to come including a flea circus (hilarious), a freak show (disappointing) and the infamous “thingy” (a rare case in which an anti-climax totally works). The flow from scene to scene doesn’t seem particularly well thought out and the inclusion of a sewer scene was perplexing but the pacing is good enough throughout.
Much like the theming itself, the set design is completely predictable but not without merit. There is heavy reliance on 3-D artwork in lieu of detailed environments or any sense of realism but the theme is well conveyed and the return of clown classics like the toy room and the elephant fart gag (reproduced much bigger and more effectively) still work. As previously mentioned, a scene taking place in a sewer seems out of place but other than that the sets are serviceable if obvious and perhaps a bit lazy. The sound design is exceedingly simplistic but the choice to replace the old music (which was a little too whimsical) with various loops lifted from the Mr. Bungle song Travolta is a solid one as the track retains the needed carnival feel with an added dose of menace. As the maze progresses the sound design remains stripped down and though there could be a lot more going on, the audio leaves little to actually complain about.
The talent within the maze was extremely hit and miss, with many performers really hamming it up (in a good way), displaying good monster fundamentals and even pulling off a couple of impressive bait and switch bits. Unfortunately these high points were marred by just as many lazy actors that seemed complacent sitting in their respective rooms not really doing much at all. By the end of the maze most of the tension supplied by the energetic performers at the outset had warm off due to the lackluster talent in the final stretches. While Uncle Bobo certainly brings a better show to town than the clowns of recent years, the whole deal just seems done to death and if the theme is destined to stick around Knott’s needs to implement a serious overhaul.

Last year this maze based on the film of the same name (which is itself a remake of a foreign film called Rec.) admirably took over for the aging Grudge maze, filling the Haunt niche of recent years – the relentlessly hit and miss movie themed maze. The first of the crop appeared three years ago as The Grudge maze opened at the Haunt in correspondence with the opening of The Grudge 2. The maze was impressive – sporting an arsenal of super creepy animatronic props, effective design and top-notch talent but stuck around for a subsequent season and lost a lot of its edge the second time around. That year also saw the opening of a new movie maze, this one based on the CGI Beowulf film. This maze featured some nice set design but proved ultimately underwhelming (not to mention somewhat out of place at the Haunt) and did not return. The Quarantine maze was introduced the following season and proved a return to the intensity and quality of the original incarnation of The Grudge, standing out as the best of the 2008 mazes. So what happened this year?
Quarantine (the film) turned out to be a raging bomb at the box office, even garnering unfavorable reviews from the horror community. Its DVD release has come and gone without much fanfare and the film has already faded into relative obscurity, which leads to this maze feeling like an afterthought. Adding to the problem is the fact that the maze has been stripped down significantly – the ceiling has been removed, exposing the tent structure that houses it (a problem not present in other mazes), the hordes of energetic actors that once inhabited the maze have mostly been axed, leaving only a handful of ghouls and a bad space to monster ratio (i.e. lots of empty space) and many of the cool animatronic gags have fallen on hard times, appearing now as static props (for the most part). The set and sound design remain nicely done but are of little consequence when everything else about the maze seems left over and uncared for.
The talent wasn’t bad but was so sparse and pulled-back from last year that it seemed anemic and inconsequential. The whole experience reeks of apathy and fails to justify its own existence which is a shame because this was originally a very well done maze. Instead of a new full-on attraction we are treated to a one-room walk-through tied in with the upcoming release of The Stepfather remake and a returning maze that has aged badly.

Corn Stalkers
Another returning maze that failed to strike any real chords last season, Corn Stalkers is back with a partially improved layout but still falls just short of being a compelling maze experience.
The maze begins and ends strong with impressive sets depicting a giant malevolent jack-o-lantern (whose mouth serves as the entrance) and a nightmarish barn respectively, but the long stretch in between is nothing short of dull. Like last year, the majority of the maze is made up of rotting corn stalks but the whole thing has been changed from a twisting claustrophobic path to more of a wide open straight shot that doesn’t work well for the aesthetic feel of the maze. There also don’t seem to be nearly as many scarecrows stationed throughout the proceedings this time around and thus the inability to execute a quality dummy gag falls upon the shoulders of the designers just as much as the talent. There is no real thematic narrative or sense of story with Corn Stalkers falling back on a rather generic haunt concept. The same strategy is implemented with Lockdown but while the execution of that maze elevates it above monotony, the same cannot be said of Corn Stalkers. This lack of commitment to originality or continuity comes through in the uninspired set design, most obviously exemplified by a significant stretch of the maze taking place in a non-descript black box.
The sound design is rather sparse and mimics the layout by opening and closing strong (the maniacal laughter echoing through the sinister entryway sets a great tone) but disappearing completely or being reduced to clunky sound effect tracks within the maze proper. The talent on hand is adequate despite not being given much to work with in terms of maze design, yet most actors on hand missed a lot of opportunities and failed to really add anything to the whole affair. Unfortunately the resulting experience is flat and underwhelming.

10-14-2009, 12:35 AM
The Labyrinth
The Labyrinth, returning for a second season, remains an odd duck at the Haunt. Forgoing both the traditional gore and kitschy humor found in most of the Knott’s mazes in favor of a sort of gothic fantasy setting and quasi-serious tone, the Labyrinth can be viewed as both a welcome respite and a bit of an odd duck.
Thematically, this maze is about as confusing as they come. We travel through a bit of forest populated by malevolent fairies, then into a castle where we are treated to various scenes that seem (very) loosely inspired by the film Pan’s Labyrinth, the 80s fantasy film titled simply Labyrinth and any number of mildly creepy fantasy outings in between. Aside from these allusions, the maze seems to have no real story of its own and ends up seeming rather aimless. The vagueness of the theme at hand lends itself to nearly limitless possibilities and yet we get a whole lot of nothing. The scenic transitions add to the confusion, making geographical sense but possessing no real meaning or narrative progression.
The set design is clearly the star here, with many large, impressive animated props on display and a relentless attention to detail. The only downside is that unlike some returning mazes (the Doll Factory comes to mind) the Labyrinth’s sets are not aging well. Most every room is in need of a fresh paint job and the dummies (particularly in the creepy banquet room) have lost much of their previous luster. It stands mentioning that the room in question is perfectly set up for a classic dummy gag that is evidently not to be. Taking all of this into consideration the sets are still top notch in this maze and demand a walk through on their merits alone. The sound design strikes me as a bit unrefined and generally underused as this is another situation where great audio could really bump the experience up a notch or two. There are some instances of haunting music that work well (entering the castle section is a good example of this) but too many missed opportunities to really warrant mention.
The talent on hand was actually fairly impressive but their tactics feel out of place in a maze of this ilk. Something about the characters executing traditional jump-scares and pounding on walls seems wrong within the thematic confines of the Labyrinth, which is a shame since the actors’ aggressive nature would have fit well in almost any other maze. At the end of the day, this maze is solid but confused and really should be treated differently than its peers.

10-14-2009, 12:44 AM
Wow, great reviews. Very well thought out. Thanks.

10-14-2009, 01:16 AM
No problem! I had hoped to get these up sooner but you know how it goes. Stay tuned for Universal Hollywood's HHN review!

10-14-2009, 03:00 AM
Thank you so much for taking the time to do such a detailed review.
What are some good Haunts that you have been to or you know are going to be good in LOS ANGELES. Im always looking for something new and good, so many haunts in LA just plain SUCK!

10-14-2009, 11:20 AM
You're absolutely right, Adam. Kind of amazing how behind the times California is in regards to haunts, isn't it? So much for being a trend setter.

You would think that with our huge population that we could support something of the caliber of at least one of those great midwest haunts.

10-14-2009, 01:01 PM
Knott's Haunt is the only event I have been to thus far in the season. Heading to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal tomorrow.
The Haunt is clearly the grandpappy of all haunted theme park events and retains a sort of DIY charm about it - executing fundamentals well (usually) but failing to really break any new ground. It almost seems as if the people designing and planning it largely ignore the haunted attraction community, relying on their own formula year after year. While the formula does have its merits, and I wouldn't want to see the Haunt lose its traditional elements completely, it would be nice if they paid a little more attention to their out-of-state brethren and took some more risks.
I also believe that the presence of Haunt (and the reemergence of HHN) leads to the absence of good independent haunted attractions in Southern Cal, as the theme parks offer so many mazes, etc. that they virtually render smaller attractions obsolete. How are independent haunts supposed to compete with theme parks that have huge advertising budgets?
I believe the Spooky House still operates in the valley but last time I went to that it was thoroughly underwhelming (that was a few years ago though) and there is a new Haunted Hayride that some of you may have heard about. I'm hoping to get out to that sometime next week. They seem poised to fill a niche here and have modeled their event on the hayride at Bates Motel (which we all know is rather infamous) so that could prove an interesting addition to the LA haunt landscape, but beyond that I have not heard of much going on.

10-14-2009, 01:31 PM
Due to the death of it's owner last July Spooky House is no longer in operation.

10-14-2009, 03:27 PM
That is certainly sad news. R.I.P. Another LA haunt bites the dust. Maybe we should band together and start our own So Cal haunt. Anybody know someone with lots of expendable cash? I know we're not short on ideas.

10-15-2009, 03:32 AM
Yes i heard about Bobs death the other day. Sad news.

I felt the same way about the Spooky House i went to about 2 to 3 years ago. I was so disappointed the last time i went i decided i would never go again.

I did do the Hay ride opening night and was not scared once not even a little.
They had some cool stuff here and there but the space between the characters and the wagon just doesn't translate at all. Very weak.

10-15-2009, 04:54 AM
There is also Sinister Pointe in Brea.

Gore Galore
10-15-2009, 07:17 AM
Beautifully done.
Quite a good job reviewing the mazes.
It is nice to see a few different people doing such a good job of this this season.

10-15-2009, 07:45 AM
Great reviews.

Something that I found rather interesting is that a number of the Cedar-Fair owned theme parks seem to be down as far as "scaryness". I've been to two this year and both are not as intense as they've been in years past. Don't know if it's the economy, difficulty in finding good actors, or what, but most people I know agree that's they're lacking a bit this season...

I hope HHN goes great. One of these years I'll get down there...