The Scare Zone crew took a trip to Northern California and checked out the Halloween Haunt at California’s Great America (CGA). Given that this was the third haunt we went to in one evening, we ended up arriving in the later part of the night. So, we did get to get see everything but missed all the shows (which we’re never big on any way). We did catch a glimpse and listen to the talented Blood Drums as we left the park at the end of the night.
This was our first visit to their haunt, and we were very curious about it given that it’s a spin-off of Knott’s Scary Farm. The fun part for us was looking for the similarities and being able to compare the two haunts as they have quite a few mazes that are similar to current and past ones at Knott’s. We’re also glad we went because Cedar Fair has recently sold the park to private investors. So, unless they decide to continue, this could possibly be the last year that CGA offers a haunt. We hope they do continue as the new ownership will also give them the opportunity to offer even more with this emerging and high-potential haunt.
We liked CGA’s haunt and thought it was a substantial them park haunt offering. It is obvious that this is a young haunt, which has both its pros and cons. For the positive, the monsters in the scare zones and mazes had some of the highest energy levels that we’ve seen at a haunt. They really cared if they scared. The mazes also seemed fairly long, which is also a good thing. In addition, the staff let only small groups enter the mazes at a time, allowing more opportunities for individuals to get scared. The downside was that the set designs of the mazes weren’t very elaborate and, minus a few new designs, they looked more like mazes that we went to in the late 90’s or early 2000’s. The wait times were also longer, but we guess that’s the tradeoff for being able to go into the mazes in small groups.
One our ‘Terror-spondents” wore a heart rate monitor to measure how scary the mazes really were by seeing how much their pulse increased. We’ll include these new pulse ratings along with our traditional 1-5 skull rating system. 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 on the effectiveness of the mazes.
Cornstalkers – Scarecrows ready for the new harvest of flesh.
This had to be one of the longest mazes at CGA and is about double the length of the Knott’s version. This is an outdoor maze, and it has some very tight walkways along with areas where you can pick a path around different obstacles. If you don’t (or do) choose wisely, you could end up in the direct path of one of the monsters. In one section, we tried to be slick by zig-zagging through the haystack,s only to be apprehended by a monster who was sneakily waiting in between the two paths.
Compared to Knott’s, this version also features a larger variety of monsters such as pitchfork-wielding farmers and maniacal moonshiners. However, Knott’s has more mini-houses to pass through and higher-end special effects. Like Knott’s, CGA’s Cornstalkers relies heavily on the monster-around-the corner scares, but with its length and many dark areas, it was slightly more suspenseful, with the monsters blending well into the cornstalks and haystacks.
- Haunt Design: 2 Skulls
- Scare Factor: 3 Skulls
- Pulse Rating: +24
Club Blood– The infamous vampire night club ”takes another bite” out of your nightlife!
We were not fans of Club Blood when it was at Knott’s, as we didn’t find vampires dancing to techno music to be very frightening (well, maybe the techno music was). This incarnation of Club Blood was surprisingly good, and we experienced some of our biggest scares of the night inside this maze.
The sets were slightly more elaborate than the other ones at CGA. We liked how the story started with a journey through the vampires’ lair, saving the actual club scene for the maze’s finale. We also liked the use of doors and curtains to divide the scenes, which was a common feature of many of the CGA mazes. Having to push doors and curtains open added the scare factor and anxiety of not knowing what’s coming next. There also was a disorienting room that used fog and bright lights to hide what was waiting inside. Some of the other highlights included a nice opening scare, before we even got inside the maze, and without giving it away, an intense final scare that really took us off guard. It was far from the usual “boo” scare!
- Haunt Design: 3.5 Skulls
- Scare Factor: 4 Skulls
- Pulse Rating: +37
Slaughterhouse Annihilation (*New for 2011) – A one of a kind factory tour to see how your favorite meats make it on to the table.
While this is a longer version compared to Knott’s, the sets aren’t nearly was interesting or elaborate as those found at Knott’s. We also thought that this maze felt somewhat generic, with each scene looking similar to the other, a few monsters wearing Leatherface masks, and the very predictable monster-around-the corner scares. This felt like the typical cannibal-chainsaw-slaughterhouse haunt you’d find anywhere.
We heard that the finale of this maze was supposed to have a big surprise, but it didn’t seem to work when we went through. We tried to wait for it, but nothing happened. This maze could be improved if they made it darker, like the Knott’s version, and utilized some the unique scare tactics we saw in CarnEvil and Club Blood. We also suggest they take a close look at the staging of their sets and props as we got banged up a few times by the protruding edges. It would be really scary if someone got startled and fell against some of the sharp edges we saw on the table tops and butchers’ counters.
- Haunt Design: 1.5 Skulls
- Scare Factor: 1.5 Skulls
- Pulse Rating: +18
Toy Factory –Buyers beware as your favorite toys have now been turned against you)
This is different from The Doll Factory at Knott’s, where not only the dolls, but all of our favorite childhood toys and games, have turned mean and deadly. This maze had a slightly humorous tone with bloody versions of Operation, Monopoly, and Hungry Hungry Hippo.
The number of actual surprise scares were minimal in this factory but the monsters in this maze really did a good job acting like the toys they represented with dramatic mechanical movements. We do have to say that the GI Joe and Raggedy Anne monsters stood out for their aggressive terrorizing, which made Chucky look like . . . Child’s Play. The sets were just average in quality with a few elaborate props, but the winding layout made it fun to go through.
- Haunt Design: 3 Skulls
- Scare Factor: 2.5 Skulls
- Pulse Rating: +28
This maze is located in the queue for the Rip Roaring Rapids ride, which provides the ideal setting for this theme with its thick folliage, tall trees, rock walls, and dirt walkways. The maze begins by going through a cabin that has obviously been ransacked by the wolves. These sets were highly detailed, and they have a look similar to Universal’s Friday the 13th mazes.
As we walked through the mostly outdoor maze, we were expecting to encounter some big scares and nasty werewolves, but that rarely happened. The scariness of the maze ended up being more from our own anticipation than any actual scares (we’re not sure what it is about banjo music, but it does add to the suspense). Most of the maze felt empty, and there seemed to be less than 10 werewolves in the entire “canyon.” We also could see them hiding along the pathway as the outside lights illuminated their shadows standing behind the temporary bushes.
After waiting for over 30 minutes for this maze, we were disappointed! Being the longest wait of the night, the end result was less than satisfying. They shouldn’t have been keeping the distance between groups so big as it made the wait even more frustrating to endure, and it seemed the monsters’ timing was off, with instances of us taking them by surprise.
- Haunt Design: 2.5 Skulls
- Scare Factor: 1.5 Skulls
- Pulse Rating: +13
CarnEvil 3D – Step back up as the killer clowns, freaks, and demented animals have returned to town.
This maze was staged indoors, which provides a greater ability for elaborate layout, set, and lighting designs, especially for 3D effects. The line for CarnEvil is fun, with a deranged ape-man roaming around and the CarnEvil rap song (where can we get it?). The employees had the timing between groups at the right length as we didn’t have to wait long but we never encountered other “victims” inside the maze. Similar to Club Blood, the use of curtains and doors added to the suspense; no one wants to be the first to find out what’s hididng behind these things.
What we really liked was the creative use of all the possible scary elements of a carnival theme. Going beyond clowns, the addition of animals and other sideshow freaks increased the variety of scares and made the maze much more fun and interesting than Uncle’s Bobo’s Big Top of the Bizarre at Knott’s. We also liked the unique scares they had, such as the cotton candy cart, cobra lair, and the animal cages.
From our experience, this maze was the highlight of the night. Everything was effectively executed, and they made clowns scary again. After going through this maze, we could only hope that Knott’s takes a few cues (if they insist on keeping the clown theme) and get their clown maze up to par with this twisted circus of freaks.
- Haunt Design: 4.5 Skulls
- Scare Factor: 4.5 Skulls
- Pulse Rating: +43
Black Widow’s Cavern – Dare to enter the old, abandoned loggers run, now overrun by deadly spiders.
This is a haunt layover on the park’s log ride. We were uncertain if it was even worth going on because unlike Knott’s, this ride doesn’t have a mountain or much cover around the flume to hide any monsters. However, we’re glad we did go on it, as they did an impressive job with the limited setting they had.
The line for this ride could provide some good opportunities for scares, but it was only covered in cobwebs and featured a few large inflatable and animatronic spiders. The first half of the ride takes place close to ground level, so they added some additional cover to the existing mill tunnels and filled them up with monsters. With the limited space, they still had more monsters per square foot than any other haunt we’ve been in. One of our issues with Knott’s is how they don’t have nearly enough monsters inside their log ride haunt. While most of the scares in Black Widow’s Cavern are redundant “pop-up” scares, they’re effective as some of the monsters work to distract riders so others can pop out of unexpected places, and they keep coming nonstop. They also use some “loud” props to accent their scares.
After the ride ascends to the top of the flume, there are no more haunt elements, but the finale drop on this ride is intense as it’s steep and features a bump that gives the log some great speed and air time. Fortunately, riders don’t get soaked, so it’s still tolerable to ride on cool nights.
- Haunt Design: 2 Skulls
- Scare Factor: 3 Skulls
- Pulse Rating: +28
Dead Man’s Cove: This was the foggiest of the scare zones and the monsters did a great job at interacting with the guests, but they weren’t very scary. 2 Skulls
The Gauntlet: The monsters in this zone had some every elaborate makeup and costumes and were stalking guests in full force. 3 Skulls
Underworld Alley: This was a very fun scare zone featuring a long covered fog tunnel. There were many screams coming from victims walking through this zone, including our own. 3 Skulls