Tag: Terror Tips

Terror Tips: Maximizing Your Theme Park Haunt Experience

It’s haunt season again!

Many of the big theme-park haunts are creaking open their gates this weekend and we’ve carefully assembled some Terror Tips for getting the most screams and bang for your buck out of the night. As you begin your planning and preparation for the season of the witch, this list of tips will help you experience every maze, attraction, and maybe even the dumb shows at these mega-haunts. So pay attention, please. We don’t want you or your money to be left behind.

Trust us, we know how to Haunt Stalk.

1. GET THERE EARLY

This is the number one tip. Seriously, if you follow only one recommendation on this page, this should be the one. This will make or break your entire night. TRUST US. Get there before the haunt opens; we recommend at least a half-hour early. Remember you need to plan time for parking and to get through any security checks so you can queue up to get inside at opening. Some haunts will actually start letting people in before the posted official opening time. Universal has started opening some haunts as early as 5pm. If you get there early you might be able to go into a maze with almost no one else in it. Other haunts have “opening scare-amonies” that are worth watching and set the mood for the night (but skip them if you can get into the mazes ahead of the crowds). At Knott’s Scary Farm we’ve been able to get into three mazes within the half-hour before the haunt even opens, and we’ve never bought the early entry or “pre-scare dinner” option.

Related to this: Buy your tickets in advance if you can. Waiting in line for tickets wastes valuable time. Why add another queue to your night?

2. Go Early in the Season cal_right

Haunts get more crowded the closer it gets to Halloween. They hit their peak on the weekend before Halloween. We suggest attending as close to the opening weekend as possible. The actors are also fresh and ready to scare. We’ve witnessed “monster fatigue”  when we’ve gone near the end of haunt season, when we’ve noticed monsters talking to each other inside the maze or drinking a soda as they lean against a wall. The only downside with attending early in the season is that some scares might not be completely worked out, and actors might just be finding their groove. The second or third weekend of a haunt is usually the best time to visit.

3. Haunt Stalk on “Off Peak” Nights

From our experiences, you’ll find much shorter lines by going to haunts that are open on Wednesday and Sunday nights. Thursdays can be lighter earlier in the season. However, do pay attention to the local school holidays as those can have a significant impact on the crowds’ sizes during these “off nights” as the haunt will be filled with pre-teen brats who were dropped off by their parents so that the ghost and ghouls can babysit them for the night. The Sunday before Columbus day is especially risky.

4. Consider a Front-of-the-Line Pass on Friday and Saturday Nights

…if you insist on ignoring the previous tip. Perhaps this tip should have been titled “Avoid Friday and Saturday Nights,” but we know that’s not realistic for most people. Work and school get in the way of attending haunts during the week. Sunday night could be a good compromise—lines will be much shorter, and you’ll still be able to arrive early (see tip #1) to avoid more of the crowds (your co-workers are used to seeing you looking hungover on Mondays anyway). But if you absolutely must go on a Friday or Saturday night, we recommend upgrading your ticket to a “Front-of-the-Line” pass (don’t forget to buy in advance!). Time is money, however, we realize that these passes can be pricey, so if you follow the other tips, you might be able to bypass the upgraded ticket and still see everything. After all, there are a lot of great haunts to attend, and you don’t want to blow your budget on a single ticket.

5. Bone Up on the Rules

dsc_0023_6With the terrors of the real world growing rampant, the security measures at many of these haunts has increased significantly. With this increased security comes annoying policies and rules that can make it even more time consuming, difficult, or even preventative for you getting inside; even if you have no intentions of being a haunt evildoer. Therefore, bone up on the rules at the respective haunts before you arrive. You don’t want to be the one who has to go all the way back to your car to return your forbidden camera, spiked jewelry, or switchblade.  We also suggest that you travel light as there’s usually express lines for Haunt Stalkers who aren’t trying to enter with purses, bags, clothes (j/k), etc. Anyway, you’re just going for a night and not moving in… unless the haunts choose you to fill their residency quota.

6. Eat Before You Get There—Or Wait Until You Leave

Do you really want to wait in line for a crappy hot dog that costs $8? No, you don’t. As part of the “GO EARLY” plan, you should have an early dinner near the park. If you get hungry, grab a snack and eat in line. Don’t waste valuable time queuing up for theme park food. On the other hand, you could also wait and eat afterward. For example, Knott’s usually has a “midnight breakfast buffet” (12 am to 3 am) at the Chicken Dinner Restaurant next to the park that might be a good option.

7. Keep Your Group Small

“The More the Merrier” does not apply to haunts. Hitting all the mazes, scare zones, shows, and rides in a single, crowded night requires coordination, and the more people you have in your group, the less likely it is that consensus will be reached about where to go and what to do. Some people will want to go on the rides first, some will want to hit the mazes, some might be hungry and want food (see #3 above). We recommend keeping your group to no more than 6 people unless you’re willing to accept that you won’t get to do everything.

8. Tackle the Haunts Front to Back

Note: this works only if you’ve arrived early. You might think going straight to the mazes in the back of the park is a good idea, but you’re wrong. Sure, there will be no one in the back when you get there, but when you circle back to the mazes in the front of the park, they’ll be packed. Almost everyone else will be working from front to back, so as long as you’re ahead of the pack (by getting in early, see #1 above), this approach works best. If you’ve arrived late, forget it. You’re screwed, no matter what approach you take.

As a side, with Universal Hollywood’s unconventional layout they tend to allow early entry for the mazes in the lower lot, at the back of the park, so follow this plan doing the first mazes you encounter on the lower lot and then keep working your way to very back.  You’ll likely get through all those mazes, which is a majority of them,  with a significantly reduced wait time. Just be prepared to wait a little longer for the few on the upper lot.  However, your overall wait time for the night should be reduced with this plan.

9. Don’t Loiter in the Scare Zones 

Scare Zone Fog… well only if you’re talking about our website. You will most likely pass through the scare zones as you make your way to the mazes. This absolutely adds to the overall experience but don’t get caught up hanging in the scare zones until you’ve already been through all the mazes/houses. As while you’re busy running away from and taking #selfies with a ghoul, the crowds will be surging past you and filling up the #longlines. You can always go back later in the night and leisurely scream through the scare zones.

10. Go On Rides and See Shows Only After You’ve Been in All the Mazes

It’s Halloween season, and mazes/houses are the main attraction. These are open only 5 or 6 weeks at most during the year. You can go back and to get on all the coasters and E-Ticket rides some other time. And let’s face it, most shows at haunts are pretty terrible. Save all of these “dis-ttractions” for last, or at least until after you’ve hit all the mazes you really wanted to go through.

Most Importantly Remain Calm and Happy Screaming!

What Scares You II: 2018 Horror Trends

In just a little over a week, the gates of haunts across the country will begin to creak open. For frequent haunt stalkers, we’ve seen just about it all when it comes to the array of haunt themes, characters, and storylines. We’ve also shared many of the popular haunt themes here on The Scare Zone over the years, which includes the mainstay characters such as zombies and ghosts to slashers and vampires.

(PRNewsfoto/America Haunts)

This year, America Haunts, an association of the most successful U.S. haunted attractions, has announced their top 3 scare trends for Halloween 2018. De-mystifying what it takes to heighten fear is second nature for America Haunts’ members, given their decades in the business offering high-caliber fear attractions. This year’s AH trends incorporate the mystic, the innately frightful, and raises the undead from cemeteries from another century. Their 2018 trends include:

  • Dragons Magical and mythical. Fiery dragons come to life with technology that makes realistic fire-breathing, and roaring sounds – appearing from the depths of dark, fantasy storytelling.”Dragons will definitely have a big presence this year and do their job to create fear,” said Amber Arnett-Bequeaith, Queen of America Haunts. “They are spell-binding and attack from above while breathing fire that can burn you alive. They’re terrifying.”
  • Killer Bees & the Creepy Crawly Killer bees, spiders and creepy insects tap into our phobias. Inside haunts, the scare is amplified when these creatures touch visitors. “The old days of haunted attractions with scary sets visitors view from behind glass are gone,” Arnett-Bequeaith explained. “Today, all senses are activated. It’s 4D. See, feel, hear and smell inside the haunts. Horror is big because horror is smarter. Guests may hear buzzing sounds and suddenly feel the sensation of killer bees swarming over their face, igniting the phobia of getting stung in a swarm of bees – then discover they are underneath giant hives with killer bee animatronics creating buzzworthy fear.”
  • Graveyards Resurrected Massive realistic graveyards within the haunt attractions create a perfect scene for screams. “It’s human nature to run from death,” said Duane Sandberg, 13th Gate in Baton Rouge. “A staple of the south, our New Orleans-style graveyard has elaborate stone crypts and mausoleums – creating an uneasiness that something is lurking behind the tombs. The smell of death leaches from the coffin and penetrates your nostrils.”

So there we have it America. Dragons, bees, and graveyards! These are very unique trends and we’ll have to keep our eyes out this season to see how many dragon bees in graveyards we encounter. Let us know if you see any too.

What Scares You? A Breakdown of Common Haunt Themes

It’s time to venture into another season of haunts and for all of our Haunt Stalkers to get out there and conquer their worse (and best) fears. After many years of being chased by clowns with chainsaws, stalked by famous horror movie killers, seduced by vampires in billowy gowns, and of course running from countless hordes of zombies, we’ve come to expect some of the same haunt archetypes. The fact that these themes reappear year after year seems to indicate that they’re the most popular and probably considered the scariest by a majority of the public. So, we’ve decided to further break down these themes to explore how they’ve evolved and why they continue to scare us. And we ask you: What scares you the most?

Vampires

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Vampires have been a popular haunt theme for many years. Vampire mazes usually have elaborate sets, lush soundtracks, and scareactors who love to play up the drama. In our opinion, most haunts focus too much on the sets and drama and don’t provide enough menace to their vampires (and we pray never to see a Twilight-based maze). One exception is Freakling Bros. Castle Vampyre, which lured us into a frightening world of sinister bloodsuckers. This year Knott’s Scary once again resurrects some narcissistic nocturnal blood suckers with their revamped Dominion of the Dead. Universal is also taking a big bite out of the genre with mazes based on From Dusk Till Dawn and Dracula Untold. Early reviews seem to indicate that the former offers some new blood to the theme while the latter needs to stay inside a closed coffin.

Slashers and Madmen

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Mazes based on horror movie slashers and madmen can be very popular because the attackers are instantly recognizable by the guests, which gives any scareactor in a killer’s mask a built-in terror factor. Halloween Horror Nights has built their Halloween empire around movie based themes featuring many iconic killers. However, HHN might be running out of slashers they can choose from as in recent years killers have started to become replaced with ghostly apparitions and demonic creatures. Nonetheless, this year HHN Orlando is celebrating the grandfather of slashers, Michael Myers, with a maze based on the original ’78 film. In addition, you can usually find Michael, Jason, Freddy, and other popular psychos making cameos at haunts across the country.

Apocalyptic Chaos 

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What can be scarier than the end of the world? Mazes featuring apocalyptic worlds have been commonplace at haunts for a few decades. This theme can combine zombies, aliens, robots, or just plain crazy people who are ready to enact raging forms of torture on weary post-apocalyptic survivors. The mazes or scare zones usually are enhanced with heavy metal music, strobe lights, cages, tanks, and metal barrels (where do all the barrels come from in the future). The apocalyptic theme has evolved to now also include paintball and laser tag activities making haunt goers really feel as if they have to fight for their lives to get out. Another variation that has become prominent in past year is purging, where acts of random violence are allowed in order to preserve our future existence. Not matter the tactics, haunts always showcase the worse case scenarios for our futures.

Zombies

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It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between a post-apocalyptic maze and a zombie maze. The two themes go hand in hand. All things zombie have been very popular for the past several years. This is often a low-budget maze theme because all you need is some makeup and tattered clothes—and voila—you have a zombie! As with vampires, we usually don’t find the zombie mazes to be too scary. Zombies are usually portrayed as slow-moving, drooling creatures. Zombie scareactors usually try to create fear by lunging at you and getting uncomfortably close up into your personal space. For the past 3 years Universal has heavily relied on the zombies from the Walking Dead to dominate their haunt offerings. We think that haunts should work to put a new spin on their zombie mazes if they want to keep it at all interesting and scary.

Aliens 

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Invaders from other worlds can make any Roswell believers uneasy inside of a haunt. Alien mazes often rely on claustrophobic and dark passageways where the nasty beasts can hide and attack unexpectedly. There’s usually elaborate puppetry and costuming involved to bring to life some of the most out of the this world and grotesque creatures you’ll see inside a maze. This year HHN in Orlando and Hollywood have decided that one alien isn’t enough and both feature AVP (Alien Vs. Predator) mazes where you must place your bets on which of the two creatures is the most terrifying in the universe. This begs the other question, who would you rather get killed by, Alien or Predator (we had to ask)

Slaughterhouse (often paired with hillbillies and cannibalism)

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People must really be afraid of being cannibalized, because this is a theme that is found in some variation every year at nearly every haunt. Slaughterhouse and cannibal mazes are usually designed whereas you’ll be forced to touch and push your way through the bloody sets while the monsters taunt you with sharp and blunt objects. These mazes top the list in being  gory and disgusting, often including scents of rotting meat and sprays of blood as you walk past gruesome scenes of dismemberment. They’re usually set in some kind of backwoods area or an abandoned meat factory/butcher’s shop. Of course, 100% of these mazes ends with the obligatory chainsaw chase out. We found that chainsaws and cannibals are popular themes at Vegas’s Fright Dome, which is featuring the king of slaughterhouse cannibalistic hillbillies, Leatherface.

Clowns and Circus

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The technical term for fear of clowns is coulrophobia, and haunts love to exploit this common terror. These mazes can be fun or terrifying, depending on your personal fears. Clown mazes often have a lot of black light and warped and demented soundtracks. This theme usually provides an opportunity to show off 3D effects but the impact is hit or miss depending on the design and performance of the scareactors. In recent years, clowns and their circuses have become increasingly sadistic with the other themes of cannibalism and zombies being mixed in. Universal has such variations of Clowns present in this year’s maze lineup. Now, we’re still waiting for someone to add in the alien quotient and tackle Killer Klowns from Outer Space.

Ghosts and Apparitions

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This is a hard theme to pull off in a maze. Effective ghost scares rely on a very precise build up of suspense. Ghosts are usually ethereal and elusive, and how do you turn that into a scare? For this reason, we don’t see many of these haunts, and the most effective have been at Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor and Universal’s HHN. During Halloween season there’s also a good number of ghost hunting experiences available, and while they may not immediately startle or terrorize you, they can continously haunt you for days after with the lingering notion that you may not be alone.

Haunted Mansions

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We love a good haunted mansion, and yet this theme can fall flat if not done right. Haunted mansions sometimes fall victim to becoming houses for every theme where one room will feature aliens, another slashers, and yet another zombies. Proper haunted mansions let the house tell the story and build up the mystery of how the haunted inhabitants met their demise and then came back. Secret passages, trap doors, and ghostly occurrences are some of the key ingredients of an effectively scary house of horrors.  The best haunted mansions we’ve experienced are usually put on by smaller local haunts with a crew dedicated to extreme detail (for example, Reign of Terror and Sinister Pointe).

Insane Asylums 

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Similar in design to haunted mansions,  asylum mazes  terrorize us with the disturbing combination of slashers, cannibals, and other living and dead crazies trying to escape, and maniacal doctors trying to exploit our darkest phobias. Maybe they are insensitive to those with mental illness, but insane asylums are always creepy and scary. The frenetic and unpredictable nature of the scareactors and the dank sets combine to create that uncomfortable feeling that puts you on edge. The real fear may come from wondering if you may actually belong there yourself.

Pirates/Natical Haunts

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This is one of the newest themes to set sail in recent years. It seems that the number of pirate mazes has jumped considerably since the Pirates of the Caribbean movies hit theaters in the last decade. These ghostly swashbucklers also bring to life our fears of drowning and being eaten alive by sea creatures. Of course, Pirates of Emerson in California is the original pirate maze and Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor continues to get more creative with some new and interesting takes on haunted nautical themes.

Haunt Review: Knott’s Scary Farm 2013

With “Nowhere to Hide” we successfully survived another year of Knott’s Scary Farm Halloween Haunt!

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This year solidified Scary Farm’s reinvention with the most highly themed and exceptionally crafted mazes in it’s 41 year history. In comparison to other big SoCal Theme Park Haunts (er, Universal) Knott’s still wins big in creating the perfect feeling of a big Halloween celebration. Knott’s also benefits from having unique mazes themes that are not constrained by the pre-scripted story lines of movies and TV shows, thus allowing for more surprises throughout. The total number of mazes slightly decreased but it wasn’t noticeable given the quality of the mazes they do have (we also appreciate having fewer mazes to write about). We do miss was the haunt layover of the Timber Mountain Log Ride. Even though the ride’s scare factor had declined over the years it still was one of the most unique haunt attractions anywhere (and a nice way to get scared without having to walk).

The caliber of the shows was also increased with production upgrades made to The Hanging and the voluptuous return of Elvira. We did miss the new Possessed show. We had the intention to see it but among the exFRIGHTment of all the other haunt attractions we somehow forgot about it. We blame it on the fact that there wAS no visible signage or barkers to attract people in to see it. It seemed to get lost in it’s location in the back corner of the park, near Pinocchio and Forevermore.

10091544724_aabb76260f_oThey say there’s “Nowhere to Hide” but we didn’t know what we were hiding from as the Scare Zones has less of an impact this year. It  goes without saying that the Ghost Town still sets the scary tone for the entire event but the other zones were far less interesting or memorable this year. The Tricksters from Trick O Treat were roaming the park causing chaos but it was all fun with no scares.  We also noticed that the caliber of the talent in the mazes didn’t match to that of past years or at other haunts we’ve been to recently. Many of the mazes felt understaffed where we would wander through a few consecutive rooms before being scared. We actually encountered more blackouts (maze security) than monsters.  We did notice signs saying that they were still hiring monsters, which isn’t a good sign (no pun intended) . Could it be that the budget trade off  for more elaborately theme mazes took away from the the talent budget? Once they get the talent on par with the new maze designs Knott’s could be the unbeatable ticket in town.

10091613226_1d727d6bec_oWith all this said we did have a great time at Knott’s Scary Farm. Going back always feels like a haunted homecoming for us. When it comes to horror the mazes are a little more mild than Universal’s but there’s still enough visceral eye candy and frights to keep your heart pumping through the night. If you could only pick one haunt to visit, Knott’s does offer a great value with it’s broad mix of mazes, experiences and shows all for very a reasonable price point. Nonetheless, we don’t know why in hell you a would pick just one haunt to go to.

Now here’s what you really want to read, our maze ratings. Since we went on a slow night, we didn’t buy the Fright Lane/Skeleton Key option so we didn’t get to experience the extra Skeleton Key rooms. We do think that this gimmick is great way to add value for those who cough up more money for front of the lines passes. We wish it was possible to just buy the Skeleton Key but we can see how that could cause further line backups. Our fellow Haunt Stalker at ThemeParkHD did manage to capture some great maze videos for us including the Skeleton Key rooms, which we’ll share with our reviews. Just be warned they are full maze spoilers.

We do our best not to spoil the mazes for those who’ve yet to experience them, so we won’t provide scare-by-scare reviews, but we will share highlights and our overall opinions from our own experiences in the mazes.

NEW MAZES 

Black Magic

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This maze was one of our favorites of the night. We were amazed by the detailed themeing and settings they created around this story. Using magic as backdrop for a maze provided continuous surprises throughout. There was definitely more than rabbits popping out of hats inside of here. The talent in this maze were some of the most impressive of all the mazes with scary magician’s assistants, victims of tricks gone bad, and an actual magician who did a quick card or handkerchief trick as you passed by. This maze also had a nice blend of light and dark scenes allowing for some good scares as your eyes adjusted with the lighting transitions  If you get the time, we recommend that you go through this maze twice to make sure you get to capture all of the Black Magic inside of this maze.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 5 Skulls
  • Theming: 5 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 2.5 Skulls
  • Overall Rating: 4.5 Skulls

Forevermore

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The Edgar Allen Poe theme has become more popular at haunts across the country in recent years with both Universal Orlando and Busch Gardens taking a stab at the infamous writer. Knott’s diverts from strictly recreating eerie scenes of Poe’s stories and creates the story line of a serial killer who is on a murder spree utilizing  murder tactics from Poe’s fables akin to The Following.  What we liked about it were some of the clever modernization of Poe’s stories into death scenes. The Pit and the Pendulum scene is incredible. While there was some good eye candy in this maze, it wasn’t always clear what was going on. In one scene it looked like we stumbled into Club Blood. The scares were also far in between. In comparison to Busch Garden’s Nevermore maze this maze has room for improvement. We see it being a good maze for the next year or two but overall this isn’t a theme they’ll need to keep bringing back… “Forevermore”.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 4 Skulls
  • Theming: 3 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 2 Skulls
  • Overall Rating: 3 Skulls

Mirror, Mirror

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… on the wall, WTH, that is all?  Here, they let small groups into a carnival style mirror maze for a short period of time. We applaud Knott’s for trying to do something new but this maze seemed like it was thrown together at the last minute. While the glass was very clean and the frames were pretty, it was too small inside and the finale is disappointingly anti-climatic. **SPOILER** There really is no exit. You just wander around with a couple masked monsters in chase until they eventually open the maze’s backdoor. This maze had the potential to be better but it would need a much larger footprint, more monsters, and lighting tricks.  The way this maze is setup, it will have the longest lines of all so we highly recommend going to it right at the beginning of the night, using Fright Lane, or skipping it all together.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 2 Skulls
  • Theming: 2 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: .5 Skulls
  • Overall Rating: 1.5 Skulls

The Gunslinger’s Grave

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Yeehaw! This maze is the epitome of the Knott’s legacy. In Gunslinger’s we’re taken through the haunted labyrinths of mine shafts, corrals, and salons. The layout of this maze is mostly outdoors with trails winding in and out of the Ghost Town buildings making it really feel as if we are out in the old wild west amid the Silver Bullet and Jaguar coasters rolling by overhead. The soundtrack was solid with frenetic Bon Jovi stylized guitar riffs. It was obvious that the “residents” of this town are less than happy to see us and it wasn’t fully clear but we assume we’re looking for refuge from alive or dead outlaws and towns folks. This maze had a few good startle scares but it wasn’t overly frightening. The talent was convincing in their roles as they were fully costumed in western attire,  but for scares they just did a lot of yelling “get outta here” and kept cattle prodding  us through the scenes. With a few more characters in more horrific makeup and a slower pace, this maze will be able to hit it the bullseye and we can see it becoming increasingly scary in the coming years.  

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 5 Skulls
  • Theming: 4 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 2 Skulls
  • Overall Rating: 4 Skulls

Dominion of the Damned

This is a new maze? It looked so similar to last year’s Dominion of the Dead to us. This is another maze with a cool soundtrack and superb set design but here the talent was weak and tired. Among the beautiful set pieces we encountered vampires who looked in desperate need of a blood transfusion. There were so many opportunities for big scares but after you walk by them and they’ve said their “boos” it seems that they simply go back to thinking about what they did or didn’t have for dinner. One of the missed opportunities in this maze was to have some of the lavish paintings used for drop panel scares or transparency images (an effect well used at HHN and Dark Harbor this year) , which would of brought about some good and memorable scares.  Dominion is a nice showcase the different reiterations of vampires from the Nosferatu to the Anne Rice versions but it was hard to track the story line, which seemed to be like we were on a tour of The Natural Museum of Vampire History (hmmm that could next year’s vampire maze) . It seems that we’re Dammed to always have a vampire maze at haunt we just want to see one with the energetic and scary kind.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 5 Skulls
  • Theming: 3 Skulls 
  • Scare Factor: 1 Skull
  • Overall Rating: 2 Skulls

RETURNING MAZES

Pinocchio Unstrung 

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Last year this maze set a new bar for all preceding mazes at Knott’s Scary Farm. While it’s the same as last year, this maze  is still one of our favorites. The entire setting feels like walking through a bloody, after hours, version of Disneyland’s Pinocchio ride. Pinocchio successfully twists the popular children’s story in a way that makes its feel as if we were trapped inside a dark storybook nightmare. What’s unsettling about the maze is how the once innocent characters are now placed into scenes of distress, gore, and horror. It’s rather tragic to see Gepetto, Stromboli, and the Blue Fairy meet their fates at the hands of a torturous wooden puppet who instead of becoming a real boy now wants to be a real killer. The monsters in this maze were consistently scary and high energy. In some scenes they even team up on victims. This is a now a haunt classic and we don’t see Pinocchio getting strung up anytime soon.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 5 Skulls
  • Theming: 5 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 4 Skulls
  • Overall Rating: 4.5 Skulls

Trick or Treat 

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This maze recreates a night of Trick O Treating gone bad. Once we enter the front door of the Green Witch’s house the journey cascades through a haunted mansion packed with sinister Halloween decorations and ghostly effects. The infamous Tricksters are also back creating mayhem in the various rooms along the way. This maze is shorter than the others, but it’s also has some of the strongest atmospheric environments and an interestingly theatrical finale. The scares were turned up slightly over last year but the focus of this maze is more on the fun of Halloween versus the scares.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 5 Skulls
  • Theming: 4 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 2 Skulls
  • Overall Rating: 4 Skulls 

Endgames

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What does it look like when you combine The Running Man, Mad Max, UFC and the Hunger Games? You get a standard post-apocalyptic, industrial maze with some cool animatronics and an infusion of technical glitz. The fun of this maze comes from the video screens placed throughout showing live feeds of people walking through other parts of the mazes. It’s really hard to know what’s going on in this maze. Even the monsters seemed confused. At one point we were cornered and chased  by characters talking with fake British accents. Did we stumble back into The Terror of London?  We still don’t find this maze to be scary, but the sets are detailed and interesting. We do hope that the end of this game is coming soon.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 2.5 Skulls
  • Theming: 1 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 1 Skull
  • Overall Rating: 1.5 Skulls

Delirium 

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The Delirium continues in the maze that is credited for setting a standard for Scary Farm mazes. This maze features some very disturbing scenes completely emerging us inside the minds of the former Asylum maze’s demented patients. Inside, you can expect to encounter people spewing cockroaches, monstrously large flesh-eating maggots, and hideously bloody monsters hiding under the beds. This maze also features some of most interesting lighting effects and large scale props at Scary Farm. We love how the nightmare/dementia theme gets progressively more twisted as we venture further into the maze. This maze has the potential to bring out more craziness for a few more years, and we only hope that in doing so they continue to push the boundaries of Delirium even further.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 5 Skulls
  • Theming: 5 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 3 Skulls
  • Overall Rating: 4 Skulls

Uncle Willy’s Slaughterhouse

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The meat at Uncle Willy’s continues to stay fresh! The balance of comical and dark horror is sustained throughout the trip through this slaughterhouse. This maze seems like it’s a subtle homage to the campy 80’s horror flick Motel Hell.  Beginning with a fun romp through the local diner soon enough we discover that we’re the secret ingredients to Willy’s popular meat (not sure that was written right).  This was our first maze of the night as it opened earlier than the rest and even with some daylight still creeping in the sets were still suspenseful to walk through with all the heavy machinery grinding around us. The actors here are some of the most menacing of all the Scary Farm mazes and created the kind of scare we’d expected for the rest of the night. It seemed that this is the maze were a lot of the veteran talent works. After going through this maze it’s hard not to think about the fact that there are two Pink’s Hot Dog Stands at Knott’s…mmmmm.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 4 Skulls
  • Theming: 5 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 4 Skulls
  • Overall Rating: 4 Skulls

EXPERIENCES & SHOWS

Trapped: The New Experiment

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Unfortunately we paid $60 for this maze. Fortunately we were able to get a group of 5 to go in and split the costs. A disappointment compared to last year’s Trapped maze, this year’s version focused more on puzzle solving vs. suspense and scares.  It’s really a scripted scavenger hunt. The sets weren’t very dark and they relied on B-level talent to unnerve us by yelling profanities as loud as they can. In the end we were more unnerved by the feelings of dissatisfaction  from the experience. The designers of this maze need to watch less Fear Factor and see more Scare Tactics.  While the experience has some uniqueness to it, overall we think the only thing that gets trapped here, is your wallet.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 2 Skulls
  • Theming: 2 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 1 Skull
  • Overall Rating: 1.5 Skull

The Witch’s Keep (Calico Mine Train)

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The Evil of CAL-OSHA has forever cursed Knott’s once great haunted rides. The log ride was a victim and now the Calico Mine Train is hanging on for dear life. This used to be a very scary attraction but ever since they haven’t been allowed to have live actors inside it’s become a place where you just sit there and see spooky stuff. There are just a couple of interesting animatronic and visual effects but unfortunately there’s nothing much to see here compared to the regular ride. It really is just as they say, a haunt experience. It’s also good place to sit and rest your legs for 10 minutes but not worth a waiting in a long line for especially if you’re looking for a scare.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 2 Skulls
  • Theming: 2 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 0 Skull
  • Overall Rating: 2 Skulls

Elvira’s Sinema Seance 

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This show is two handfuls of fun. Of course everyone’s favorite ride at Knott’s Scary Farm is Elvira. Her big… return keeps the crowd alive with musical numbers, tongue in cleavge  jokes, and some high grade stage effects. This time around our Mistress of the Dark gets sucked (or is it the other way around) into scenes from classic and contemporary horror movies such as Blair Witch Project, The Birds, and Paranormal Activity. Also, not to ruin the fun but you can only imagine the kind of  booby trap she winds up in during a scene from Saw. Sinema Seance is a good as it gets when it come to Theme Park Halloween shows.  It’s a spooky and kooky Vegas style variety show that fully mounds, er rounds out Knott’s Haunt experience. We also have to give a hand to Elvira as she’s looking great and is back where she belongs during Halloween Season.

  • Overall Rating: 5 Skulls (racked… ranked by Elvira Fans)

 

Knott’s Scary Farm Overall Fright Value: 5 Skulls

Overall Rating of Knott’s Scary Farm 2013: 4 Skulls

Check our ratings guide for further details

Haunt Profiles: Haunted Hayrides

With the Season of the Witch only days away, we’ll start taking a  look at the popular culture and history behind some of our favorite halloween traditions and haunt themes. Tonight’s Haunt profile takes a look at a classic fall tradition and  haunt favorite, the haunted hayride.

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A hayride is a pleasure ride in an open truck, wagon or sleigh which has been decorated with hay or straw and similar farm life paraphernalia. In modern times it is usually organized commercially and takes place at night.In colloquial English, the term “hayride” has taken on connotations of “good, clean fun” but also of nostalgia, hence the popular expressions “… is no hayride” or “… ain’t no hayride”. The peak time for hayrides is between September and December. While the history of how hayrides started is uncertain, it’s easy to guess that it had something to do with harvesting the hay during fall.

An autumn tradition for centuries, countless kids and adults look forward with great anticipation to the coming of fall so they can participate in this time-honored activity. Why? Because hayrides are more than just sitting atop dried grass while you’re pulled along a dusty, dirt road. Like a country version of a New York City carriage ride through Central Park, hayrides offer a time to snuggle close, enjoy the outdoor scenery, chat and have some fun.

As Haunt Season approaches hayrides take on a more sinister type of nostalgia as they become vehicles to transport hapless victims into dark woods filled with maniacs and ghouls. The experience of vulnerability is amplified as your confined space gets invaded by the creatures of the night. Riding on the open wagon, there’s nowhere to hide as scares descend upon you and your fellow riders from every possible angle, they can even come from up above.

In our Haunt Stalking we’ve found that some of the most elaborate and intense Haunted Hayrides are based on the east coast, in Pennsylvania and New York in particular. Here’s a look at what we’ve found – some we’ve even experienced can truthfully testify that they are the best Haunted Hayrides in America.

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America’s Best Haunted Hayrides

1. Headless Horseman, Ulster, New York *SZ Review*

2. Bates Motel, Glenn Mills, Pennsylvania

3. Shocktoberfest, Reading, Pennsylvania

4. Field of Screams, Mountville, Pennsylvania

5. Jason’s Woods, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

 

 

Scare Zone is looking forward to our upcoming East Coast Haunt tour where we plan to experience one of our all time favorites Headless Horseman, and for the first time ever, Bates Motel. Look for our Haunt Review… if we survive.

Hayride Terror Tips:

1) Take an allergy pill if you’re allergic to grass, straw, hay, etc. – it’s real.

2) Don’t wear your Sunday’s best as you’ll inevitability be covered in hay

3) Check the weather forecast and dress warmly as the air can be deathly chill on autumn evenings

4) For the best experience and scares try to sit on the back edge of the wagon. Chickens can find minimal comfort sitting up closer to the tractor

5) Arrive when they open as lines for hayrides can get long and move slowly as they typically only send out wagons every 5-10 minutes apart.

Haunt Review: Knott’s Scary Farm 40th Haunt

For the past few years, we’ve been “a little critical” of Knott’s Scary Farm, which seemed to be falling behind as newer and more innovative haunts have populated the Southern California area. However, this year, there’s no mistaking that the venerable Haunt is back and ready to prove that there’s still more to fear inside the Scary Farm. We won’t call it a comeback because they’ve been haunting for 40 years, but this year Knott’s Scary Farm presents one of the most fun, nostalgic, and most importantly, scary Halloween Haunts we’ve experienced there in years.

In addition to being Knott’s 40th, this year marked the 20th anniversary of when the Scare Zone crew started haunt stalking together, and Knott’s was the first haunt we went to, beginning our obsession. So, on this trip, we went with a sense of nostalgia, reminiscing about mazes such as Uncle Ernie’s Madhouse, Lair of the Vampire, Terror Mountain, Toxichem, and Mother Noose’s Scary Tales, all of which  frightened us and haunted our imaginations.

Knott’s Scary Farm 1992 Map

Looking back to 1992, admission cost us $28, they had 8 mazes and attractions, Elvira was headlining her own show (“Red, White, and Boo Revue”), and Haunt ran for “only” 11 nights.  Now, 20 years later, admission “only” cost us $36 (Sunday night early in the season), they have 13 mazes, 3 scare zones, and Magician Ed Alonzo is the headliner.

To further help us reminisce, this year also features the 40th haunt Museum which offers a satisfying tribute to Haunt for the fans. Inside, there’s pictures and memorabilia highlighting some of haunt’s most memorable and scare-breaking moments. We were lucky enough to stop in during a signing by Ted Dougherty of his new book, Knott’s Scary Farm Halloween Haunt: A Picture History. As a side note, this book is must have for all Haunt Fans as it includes accounts and pictures from all the mazes, monsters and shows from Scary Farm’s 40 years.

Another cool addition for 2012 is an opening “scare-amony” featuring the Green Witch just outside the Haunt front gates. Because we followed our terror tips and arrived early, we were there to see the Green Witch rise up out of the fog and curse us all before the gates opened. It was really cool and prepared us for the new “theatrical” tone Haunt has adopted this year.

After the exciting opening act we ventured into the Scary Farm for the 20th time…

NEW MAZES

We do our best not to spoil the mazes for those who’ve yet to experience them, so we won’t provide scare-by-scare reviews, but we will share highlights and our overall opinions from our own experiences in the mazes.

Trick Or Treat

It’s strange when you think about it, but mazes themed to the actual holiday of Halloween are pretty rare. So we were very excited when the theme of this maze was revealed earlier this summer. And it did not disappoint: This maze was chock full of Halloween spirit.

The maze begins at the front door of the Green Witch’s house, where we were told to ring the doorbell and yell “Trick or Treat!” The door opens, and the Green Witch is there to greet us. Jack-O-Lanterns line the staircase, and the front rooms have special ghostly effects. The maze has a “haunted mansion” feel to it, and the Tricksters show up in various rooms along the way. You may recognize many of the sets from 13 Axe Murder Manor, but they fit in very well with the new theme.

This maze was much more theatrical than any other maze at Haunt. The Green Witch is a true character, and the Tricksters stop you in the end scene so you can be cursed by the Witch herself. Overall, the scares were a little weak, but we loved the atmosphere and story line.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 5 skulls
  • Theming: 5 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 3 skulls
  • Overall Rating: 4.5 skulls

Pinocchio: Unstrung

He has no strings to hold him down, so you better watch out… This maze is on a new level for Knott’s Scary Farm. This is the kind of maze we’ve been screaming for, no lie! It has beautifully detailed sets, a full and understandable story line, and some new scare tactics. Past haunters will notice that the layout is the same as the former Doll Factory and there’s the similar scene of marionette girls moving in an disjointed fashion; however, the rest of the maze is an entirely new experience. The entire setting feels like walking through a bloody, after hours, version of Disneyland’s Pinocchio ride.

Just as Mother Noose’s Scary Tales did 20 years ago, Pinocchio successfully twists the popular children’s story in a way that makes its feel as if we were trapped inside a dark storybook nightmare. What’s unsettling about the maze is how the once innocent characters are now placed into scenes of distress, gore, and horror. It’s rather tragic to see Gepetto, Stromboli, and the Blue Fairy meet their fates at the hands of a torturous wooden puppet who instead of becoming a real boy now wants to be a real killer.

This maze is not to be missed. We think it’s an instant Haunt classic. You really should go through it at least twice, in order to be able to fully take in all the scenes and first-class set and prop designs. We look forward to being terrorized by Pinocchio in the years to come.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 5 skulls
  • Theming: 5 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 4 skulls 
  • Overall Rating: 4.5 skulls

Dominion of the Dead

After the demise of Club Blood and a brief respite from vampire mazes, Knott’s has brought back this “beloved” maze from the 90s. Unfortunately, we have fonder memories of 1992’s Lair of the Vampire. This maze has nothing fresh to offer, and the concept is as dead and tired as the fiddle-playing vampires lazily wandering around the halls inside.

This maze has all the old cliches about vampires: frilly shirts with ruffles, dying flowers in fancy vases, decadent furniture covered in velvet, paintings of vampires lying around on said furniture, etc., etc. The vampires stand around playing string instruments that are partly composed of human body parts. Before Haunt opened, we kept hearing how “detailed” this maze was going to be. However, it did not live up to this hype. Many of the walls were bare, with only a couple of vampire paintings thrown on for scenery.

If you’re a 12-year-old who loves Anne Rice novels or Twilight, this maze is probably for you. For the rest of us, it’s a boring trek through scenes we’ve experienced countless times in other vampire mazes.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 2.5 skulls
  • Theming: 3 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 1 skull
  • Overall Rating: 2 skulls

The Evil Dead

Twenty years ago, the Timber Mountain Log ride was transformed into Terror Mountain. The mountain was filled with monsters and scenes of carnage throughout. It was a very scary ride as riders felt vulnerable sitting the the open logs with monsters attacking from every direction. In recent years, the log ride hasn’t been nearly as scary. You could count all of the monsters on one hand, and the haunt props were scarce. Early in the year, we had heard that the ride wasn’t getting a haunt layover; however, at the end of the summer, there was a surprise announcement that it was being themed as The Evil Dead for haunt.

We were excited to see the Evil Dead being featured at Knott’s, and believed the log ride was the perfect setting for this theme. To our disappointment, this ride ended up not featuring much in terms of a haunt layover. There was a slight increase in the number of monsters and a few new props such as the infamous “Book of the Dead.” But it’s obvious that the CAL-OSHA crackdown on monsters being stationed along the flume and management’s push to keep haunt from interfering with the experience of day-time guests have taken their toll. Outside of the soundtrack and a few nods to some iconic scenes in the movie, the ride really could of been any haunted cabin in the woods type of theme. It also didn’t have any kind of consistent story line as they just made the scenes fit wherever they could along the flume and in the mountain.

Furthermore, we were a little disappointed that this ride wasn’t really based on the classic Evil Dead movies. Instead, it promoted the upcoming 2013 remake. It really seems that this was a last-minute addition made to secure some sponsorship dollars. We still like think the log ride is a fun attraction–just don’t go on it expecting an intense or elaborate haunt experience  We also recommend that you get on it early in the evening before the lines get too long.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design:2 
  • Theming: 2
  • Scare Factor: 2
  • Overall Rating:2

Trapped

This was Knott’s first VIP/up-charge maze and a complete departure from their standard conga-line maze format. This maze costs $60 (for up to 6 people) and requires a reservation in advance. When we arrived at our reservation time, we were asked to read and sign a waiver. After we signed, we were ushered into a holding room, where we received more warnings from a personable hostess. We really didn’t know what to expect from this new “experience,” so we were a bit nervous.

Of course, we’re not actually going to tell you what goes on inside; after all, if you’re going to pay $60, you should get the full experience and be surprised. We can tell you that you’ll have to solve puzzles to progress through the maze, and there will be some uncomfortable experiences along the way. The actors inside are much different from other actors in the regular mazes: they are playing actual speaking roles and do a great job of staying in character as they interact with you. They’re there to help you figure out what to do in order to move onto the next room. Some of the puzzles were harder to solve than others, but the whole experience ended up taking us only 15 minutes to get through. Unfortunately, we didn’t find it to be very scary, but it was a very fun experience. We wished it were just a tiny bit longer–maybe just 2 more rooms would’ve made the $60 seem a bit more of a value. Nevertheless, we applaud their innovation with this concept and really hope they bring this back next year.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 4 skulls
  • Theming: 3.5 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 3.5 skulls
  • Overall Rating: 3.5 skulls

RETURNING MAZES

Delirium

Back for its second year, Delirium is an indirect sequel to the past Asylum mazes, where now we’re going inside the mind of one of the demented patients. The entrance is amazingly elaborate where we have to enter the “mouth of madness” and then pass through the stomach of the bloody beast.  This opening scene features enlarged animated eyes, teeth and claws reaching for you, and it really draws you into Delirium’s nightmarish dimensions.

Once inside, we encountered many disturbing scenes, which included people spewing cockroaches, monstrously large flesh-eating maggots, and hideously bloody monsters hiding under the beds. This maze also featured some of most interesting lighting effects and props.

Delirium was once again one of the better mazes at Haunt. We love the nightmare/dementia theme that gets progressively more twisted as the maze progresses. This one will likely be around for a few more years, so we hope they can change up or add a few more scenes next year.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 4 skulls
  • Theming: 4 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 4 skulls
  • Overall Rating: 4 skulls

 Terror of London

This maze has a good mix of monsters who are there to scare and those who’s presence is simply to add to the eerie atmosphere. Our favorite moment was in the outdoor graveyard where we encountered a surprisingly new and loud scare.  We liked the extended brothel and sewer scenes. And per our review last year, we like that in the final scene they switched out the Dr. Frankenstein laboratory for a dark and bloody torture chamber, which better fits with the proceeding scenes. We believe that maze may have a couple more years of “death” left in it at KSF.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 4 Skulls
  • Theming: 4 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 2.5 Skulls
  • Overall Rating:3.5 Skulls

Uncle Willy’s Slaughterhouse

Last year, our review of Slaughterhouse had this advice: “If Knott’s decides to continue Farmer Willy’s mayhem, which they probably will, they should redesign the layout, improve the lighting effects and props, and bring in more real-life victims.” This year, Knott’s has completely fulfilled all our requests. This maze was totally redesigned, and even though it’s shorter than before, we feel that it’s a vast improvement on an old theme. The maze has a much darker tone, and although the opening scene in the diner is a bit comical, the laughs end there. Inside the “Slaughterhouse” portion of the maze, the sets and actors are much more menacing than in previous years, and the monsters were able to scare us many times. Overall, this maze was one of the highlights of our night as it reminded us of another Scary Farm uncle named Ernie, who terrorized us 20 years ago.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 4.5 skulls
  • Theming: 4.5 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 4.5 skulls
  • Overall Rating: 4.5 skulls

Dia De Los Muertos in 3D

This maze has been changed a bit this year, although the changes are not very major. They did add some street scenes with a more enclosed feeling, but unfortunately the monsters (and hence scares) were once again absent. For most fans, this is one of the least favorite mazes of Haunt, and nothing much has improved in 2012. The colors and 3D effects are interesting, and there are also some very cool looking scenes, like the church, graveyard, Amazon jungle, and Aztec sacrifice temple. However, there’s just something about this maze that prevents the monsters from ever really scaring anyone. We hope the Dead can rest next year and something new can take the place of this maze.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 2.5 Skulls 
  • Theming: 3.5 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 1 Skull
  • Overall Rating: 2 Skulls

Uncle Bobo’s Big Top of the Bizarre in 3D

It’s time for Uncle Bobo to pack up his Big Top and move onto the next town! This maze has worn out its welcome.  There have been a few changes since last year, but nothing worth writing about. As the years go on, Uncle Bobo’s has become almost entirely overtaken by toilet humor. We didn’t think they could put MORE flatulence and excrement into this maze, but it appears they have. It seems the clowns have completely given up on attempting to scare anyone and now merely shake their asses in sync with the farting soundtrack all night. Please, Knott’s, we beg you to flush this one!

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 2 skulls
  • Theming: 2 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 1 skull
  • Overall Rating: 1.5  skulls

Virus Z (Featuring Carrie)

When this maze debuted in 2010, it was notable for its more elaborate sets and the sense of place it created. The maze had a coherent story, and it lacked the black walls and empty spaces that filled some of Knott’s other mazes. Creating more detailed and interesting mazes has been Knott’s new direction for the past few years (most likely in response to competition from Halloween Horror Nights), and we love to see them taking that route. And that is why we were completely baffled by the half-assed tie-in with the Carrie remake they tacked on at the very end of this maze.

We have no idea why or how Carrie White has come to be in a town infected with a zombie-creating virus in the 1960s. They did attempt to expand the school scenes to perhaps create more of a flow with the Carrie story, but it just doesn’t work. It’s so obviously a marketing gimmick–and for that reason it distracts from an otherwise interesting maze. Whoever came up with this lame promotional deal should have a bucket of pig’s blood dumped on his head.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 3 skulls
  • Theming: 1 skull (for nonsensical Carrie tie-in)
  • Scare Factor: 3 skulls
  • Overall Rating: 2.5 skulls

Fallout Shelter

This maze bares some resemblance to the 1992 Toxichem maze, which featured radiated and toxic mutant monsters. There was a slight improvement to this maze over last year’s version. Once again, we were the only ones inside, so we received the monsters’ full attention. This maze does have some extraordinary animatronic props, and it’s very claustrophobic in sections. The problem with Fallout Shelter is that the story isn’t coherent and the theme is hard to get. In addition, it’s considered a 3D maze, but the 3D effects are minimal, so it’s hard to tell if there was anything that was really supposed to be in 3D. If anything, the 3D glasses merely cause a sense of disorientation, which makes everything a bit fuzzy and actually does contribute to the fear. But if this maze does return next year, we’d like to see some more props and a bit more 3D effects.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 4 Skulls
  • Theming: 3.5 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 4 Skulls
  • Overall Rating: 4 Skulls

Endgames: Warriors of the Apocalypse  

A new maze for 2011, Endgames was inspired (loosely) by the Hunger Games book series. Most of the maze has a standard post-apocalyptic, industrial feel with a bit of gore mixed in, but the twist to this maze is the addition of video screens throughout. The screens show live feeds of people walking through other parts of the mazes, which would be a great way to heighten the suspense…if those other people were getting scared. Crowds were light on the night we attended, so there wasn’t much action on the video screens. The feed is also streamed live on the Internet, but the live feed is filled with commercials, so if you have friends watching for you in the maze, they might miss you. But we do appreciate the addition of the interactive video effect. We see some potential in this maze as the years progress. Overall, we didn’t find it to be too scary, but the sets were pretty detailed and interesting.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 4 Skulls
  • Theming: 3 Skulls
  • Scare Factor: 1 Skulls
  • Overall Rating: 2.5 Skulls

SCARE ZONES

Ghost Town: This is a Knott’s classic, and after 20 years, walking through the fog-filled streets doesn’t stop being a nerve-wracking  good time!

  • Scare Factor: 5 Skulls

Carnevil: Some disturbing antics from the Crazy Killer Clowns who are on the loose in the streets. These guys are fun and not very scary, but they are engaging with guests and full of pranks. These are also some of the biggest hams and will eagerly pose for your pictures.

  • Scare Factor: 1.5 Skulls

The Necropols: This is scare zone features Victorian Steampunk vampires in the most elaborate costumes of all the scare zones. Due to changes in Knott’s haunt operating policies the settings in this area were more sparse but the the monsters were still aggressively scary. They were even scaring people who dared to look down to text or who were walking out of the bathrooms (then having to go back in).

  • Scare Factor: 4 Skulls

Calico Mine Train – Curse of the Green Witch: This isn’t a scare zone, and it’s not a maze/attraction…we don’t really know where to classify this one. It didn’t even make it onto the park map this year, and we heard that there were no effects in the ride on opening weekend. However, we were glad to see that they have added a few Haunt elements to this attraction. Similar to the log ride, recent regulations from CAL-OSHA have now prevented actors from working in this attraction, so everything inside is just props or special effects. As you proceed through the ride, the driver of the mine cart tells the story of how the Green Witch was exiled from the town of Timber Mountain and took up residence inside the mine, where she cast her spell over the miners to do her bidding. The animatronic miners wear strange masks (e.g., a bunny mask, a bird mask), and there are a couple of Green Witch and skeleton props as well. The open cavern scene includes the return of the spinning ghosts and a pretty cool shadow effect of the Green Witch. While it’s sad that the Calico Mine Train, which housed some of the scariest mazes in years long past, will no longer be able to contain live actors, we’re glad that Knott’s still did something with this ride. And the story tie-in with the Green Witch was actually pretty cool. We recommend checking this out if the line is short.

  • Scare Factor: 1 skull

REPASS

There’s no question that Knott’s is still the “worlds largest and scariest Halloween party.” What differentiates Knott’s from Universal is that it creates a complete feeling of Halloween throughout the park. Where else can you actually get a mask and go trick or treating inside the haunt? They also offer the most variety of themes, shows, and attractions, where you’ll find everything from traditional Halloween ghouls to modern-day, adrenaline-pumping blood and gore, and everything in between.

This year, we may have been more nostalgic, but we can honestly say that we found the mazes to be scarier and more elaborate. There’s still some improvements that can be made, but Knott’s Scary Farm really is a cultural phenomenon, and we’re glad to see it coming back with a vengeance to retain its crown as the granddaddy of all haunts. There’s no longer a question that they’ll continue to reign over Halloween for 40 more years and beyond.

 Knott’s Scary Farm Fright Value: 5 Skulls 

Overall Rating of Knott’s Scary Farm 2012: 4.5 Skulls

Check our ratings guide for further details

Haunt Review: 13 Nights of Terror

After being evicted from the Queen Mary, Shipwreck Productions migrated to an out-of-the way location in Simi Valley, California, that hopefully no one could find them in. Unfortunately for us, we did. Not using our better judgment, and since we were already planning to visit some haunts in Ventura County, we decided that we’d check out 13 Nights of Terror. Given our previous experience with Shipwreck Productions, weren’t sure if it was worth attending, but after some contemplation, we went with the naive hope that maybe a new location would mean a new experience and that they might be able to offer a better haunt in a smaller location. Our Scare Zone photographer knew better and decided to sit this one out. So sorry, no pictures. Although there wasn’t anything to take pictures of anyway.

On our way there, we became more hopeful, as the setting was somewhat eerie in a desolate location down a dark and foggy road, just past a neighborhood that looked like the set from Poltergeist (and actually, Poltergeist was filmed very close to this area). However, as soon as we pulled into the parking lot, our hope started to fade, as there were just two families waiting outside the gate, both with very young children. The Web site said that they opened at 6 p.m., but when we arrived at 6:50, they said they “weren’t ready yet.” When they finally opened the gate, they let the families in. We were stopped by some low-budget-rent-a-racist-cop “security” to check our purses and thoroughly frisk down the only person of color within a 20-mile radius. The pat down was so through we were expecting a tip from the security guy afterward. We didn’t really pay attention to the family in front of us, so maybe they were checked too (we doubt it). A few minutes later, another group of adults arrived who were of the “non-ethnic” variety, and they just strolled right into the gates. This was infuriating! We debated leaving right then, but we decided that we’d stay just to see how bad the situation was at this place.

By 7:15 ,the haunted house still wasn’t open, and the few vendors they had were still setting themselves up. There was a “DJ” who was having his own private party, as no one else could care less about him. We were on the verge of walking out and asking for a refund when they told us they had just decided to change some things around in the haunted house and that they would be opening “in a couple more minutes.” The families with the kids asked for refunds and left. When they finally opened the doors, we were the first ones in line, all of 8 people. Terror Tip never be the first one to go into a haunt when it opens.

We entered the maze, and this is the shortest part of the report, as there’s nothing to see here. Once again, Shipwreck Productions (which is a apropos name) delivered a low-budget maze with mediocore talent and no scares. Terror Tip – don’t go to a maze that has “looking for volunteers” posted on their Web site. It’s sad that they are charging an entrance fee for this “attraction” but still try to take advanatge of young local kids by getting them to “volunteer.” [EDITORS’ NOTE: According to the organizers, some of the actors in the maze are paid, and some are volunteers.] You get what you pay for, and the talent in this place is the worse we’ve seen in any haunt this season.

Essentially, the maze is just a stack of plywood walls with some blacklight paintings and random props scattered about. We’ve seen Halloween stores with better displays. It’s obvious that they’re trying to take advantage of being in a local community, perhaps in an attempt to get money from locals who don’t know any better and who don’t know what to expect from a decent haunt experience. Then again, the locals might know, as there were probably fewer than 20 people in attendance.

Overall, we found this haunt to be nothing short of a scam and a big waste of time and money, from their racist security practices to the below-amateur-level haunted house.

Our rating: BURIED SKULL (this is below our scale of 1-5 skulls). YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!

Universal Hollywood HNN has SOLD OUT!

Reports state that once again Hollywood’s HHN was packed over the weekend, with both Friday and Saturday nights selling out. Not only are they sold out, but it also feels as if they’ve sold out their haunt fans, as this year’s haunt seems to have really missed the mark by exchanging a once-great haunt experience for a quest of higher profits. It appears that Universal’s goal for 2010 is to squeeze as much money (and life) as it can out of its visitors, without caring if they have a satisfactory experience or not. In fact, on their Facebook page, Universal even boasted about being “Sold Out” as if it’s a good thing. However, what it really means is long lines, crowded walkways, and fewer scares. Many fans agree and have posted their disdain on Facebook about the overcrowded experience at this year’s haunt.

One obvious problem is that Universal has been open only two nights of the weekend. What’s up with that? They won’t add Thursday or Sunday nights to the schedule until later in the month. With haunt season in full swing and the three-day Columbus Day holiday weekend coming up, it would’ve been smart to at least be open this coming Sunday (October 10) as all other So Cal haunts, large and small, are.

It also doesn’t help that Universal has fewer than half the number of the mazes as Knott’s but similar-sized crowds, so everyone is packed into the five mazes (and Terror Tram). The only way to enjoy Universal’s haunt is to pay a surcharge for the Front of the Line Pass (FOLP). So essentially, if you want to enjoy it all, you have to pay! Perhaps if Universal Hollywood followed the procedures of Orlando and allowed only one trip through the maze with the FOLP, that would help, as the FOLP is a contributor to backing up the lines.

While we know that John Murdy and the creative team are very passionate about and good at producing innovative mazes with fully immersed environments, these efforts are long lost after one has to endure an evening battling the crowds. Perhaps they should raise ticket prices slightly and have a lower threshold for admittance and also add Sundays to their schedule to mirror their competition. In addition, they can pull back on the discount offers, which seem overly generous this year.

So if you’re planning to go/return next weekend, plan to arrived early (can’t stress this enough) and cough up the money (maybe with a lung) for a FOLP or be prepared to wait in some excruciating long lines, which is really what “Fear Fears Most”.

In case you don’t want to wait in line, here’s a video of a partial walk through of this year’s Friday the 13th: Kill, Jason, Kill maze.

2010 Haunt Profile: Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor

We’re looking forward to checking out the reVamped Queen Scary:Dark Harbor this weekend to see what the sirens have in store for us. After our visits to Knott’s and Universal, we still haven’t experienced any paralyzing terrors so, Queen Mary has a chance to obtain the 2010 title.

The illustrated images of Queen Mary’s nightmarish hostesses “the trio of She-demons that prey on all mortals who dare enter their realm after sunset”, have now been released.

In addition, the list of mazes is now posted and there are some interesting themes. 2 mazes will be located on the harbor around the ship and 3 will be on board for a total of 5 mazes.

Submerged
Feel your spirit sink.

Containment
A trail of torture.

Hellfire
Your fears ablaze.

Village of the Damned
Mutation, mutilation, and mayhem.

The Cage
Escape . . . if you can.

We set sail into the new terrors on Friday!

General Admission – $35.00

Fast Fright Pass (Cut to the front of the line) – $55.00

Parking and Transportation – Available at THE QUEEN MARY $15 per car. Early arrival is suggested, parking may fill up quickly and overflow into nearby lots. The Passport (Long Beach Transit) will be running through midnight.

Knott’s Scary Farm VIP Day & Night

For our fellow Haunt Stalkers who want to spend 15+ hours riding coasters, taking in behind the scenes tours, eating, and of course, going through mazes, Knott’s has the perfect deal for you. On Sunday, Oct 3rd. the park is hosting an exclusive Coaster Enthusiast day (and night) featuring ‘exclusive ride time’ (ERT) on 3 of their most popular coasters, a “Pre-Scare All You Can Eat Dinner” and early entry to Haunt, all for $99.

This is a good deal but probably only necessary for those with the endurance to spend all day at Knott’s. Of course, you don’t have to spend all day and can arrive when you want, but to enjoy the ERTyou’ll need to be there by 9 a.m. The reality is, for it’s theme park offerings Knott’s doesn’t take all day to see, so this may be a little ‘overkill’ in our opinion. In addition, if you plan properly and go on a less crowded night, it’s pretty feasible to get on all of their main rides and still experience all the mazes during the Scary Farm hours. The VIP event does include front of the line access for the mazes, but again, the first few Haunt Sundays tend to be slower nights and the waits are usally pretty short.

Nonetheless, this is a cool offer by Knott’s for enthusiasts and haunt fans. It’s also a very worthwhile option for stalkers coming from farther away… why not make a day of it. There’s also hotel deals available so you can “stay and scream”, which would allow one to go to their room for a brief nap and maybe even have a day-mare or two.

Click here to see the registration info (*must register by Friday, Sept 24th at 1pm (PT)).  

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