Welcome to The Pulse, your lifeline on media and pop culture. This is part 4 of a multi-part series ranking over 60 Knott’s Scary Farm mazes spanning 16 years. For the full introduction, please click here: https://www.thegrandgeekgathering.com/the-pulse-knotts-scary-farm-0
For previous entries in this multi-part special, see here:
Continuing where we left off last week, today we will be breaking down mazes 20-11, and believe me there are some absolute gems this time around. From fairy tales gone bad (again?) to VIP experiences and classic Halloween fun. Join me as we break into the top 20 on this journey through the fog.
The Definitive Ranking of Knott’s Scary Farm’s Halloween Haunt Mazes (2002-2018) #20-11
20. Pumpkin Eater (2017-Present)
Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater, had a wife but couldn’t keep her. Scary Farm 2017 introduced two brand new mazes, the other of which we’ll get to shortly, and both were absolute bangers. In classic Knott’s fashion, Pumpkin Eater puts a dark spin on a classic children’s tale and delivered absolutely gorgeous, well detailed sets, great gore and some really awesome effects. In particular, the one that stood out most to me occurs as you make your way through the interior of a massive pumpkin. Hanging from the ceiling, as one would expect, are strands of guts (of the pumpkin variety) and seeds, pushing through them they are noticeably wet to the touch. It’s a really simple thing, but it was incredibly effective and added just that little extra layer of realism and attention to detail that I absolutely loved. There’s some brilliant makeup work with various damsels in various states of having their faces carved like jack-o-lanterns. The design of the titular antagonist is great and menacing. Just all in all a really solid experience. Knott’s has really been knocking it out of the park the last few years. We’ve been getting less new mazes overall, but I think the higher quality we’ve been seeing is absolutely worth it.
19. Black Magic (2013-2015)
I remember absolutely loving just the idea of this maze from its announcement. A burned down theater hosts the seance of the late, great Houdini and his vengeful spirit returns to sow havoc and terror. It was just an awesome and really creative concept and I felt it had a ton of potential to go down as one of the classics. Set out backstage from Xcelerator, Black Magic felt right at home on the same grounds that saw several carnival themed mazes before it. In what I believe was a first for Knott’s, Black Magic featured an elaborate facade with digital mapping that showcased the burning and decaying of the theater hosting the seance that would bring back the spirit of the master magician. Now I do want to briefly touch on the skeleton key gimmick that Knott’s ran with for a few years. There was a period were Knott’s was getting into more upcharge options, such as premium mazes (we’ll get to them), front of the line passes and unique experiences. The skeleton key was one such upcharge, for a fee you would use a special entrance and be given an additional room or scene that adds backstory or some other special content to the maze you otherwise would miss out on. Now, I never actually did any of the skeleton key rooms so I’ve no firsthand experience with them. Several mazes we have talked about before have used this gimmick, such as Pinnochio Unstrung and Voodoo. There were times that those scenes were later incorporated into the maze proper and no longer required the skeleton key (Voodoo for instance had you walk through the previous skeleton key room as part of its normal walkthrough later in its life cycle). In the case of Black Magic, you were given an extra show scene featuring a magic trick as well as, from what I have heard, the resurrection of Houdini to set the scene for the rest of the maze. I’m not the biggest fan of locking this sort of content out from normal guests, especially if it can add to the backstory of the maze or give better context to things, so I am glad that they eventually dropped the gimmick in recent years. Anyways, tangent aside, Black Magic was a lot of fun. It almost reminds me of what Lost Vegas could have been (because magic..) if it wasn’t a terrible concept that was executed incredibly poorly. Sets were elaborate and well detailed, the actors were great, there were some really big performances (in particular the maze’s finale with a high flying Houdini crossing the room to scare guests). It was a dark theme in a spooky setting and I remember always looking forward to going through this one, even if the line did tend to get pretty long.
18. The Red Barn (2016-2018)
The Red Barn is a maze I probably give more credit to than most seem to. In fact, when I was first drafting this out it had placed a good bit higher in my rankings than it ultimately ended up. I’ve mentioned before the merits of simplicity being well executed. Far from the ambitious concepts of many of its peers, The Red Barn places guests, well, in a red barn. And in this red barn they are subjected to torment from hillbillies gone mad, carnivorous livestock and honestly some absolutely incredible atmosphere. By far one of the most “realistic” mazes I can think of in my own Knott’s history, the designers did an outstanding job of making you feel like you’re working your way through an old barn. From the use of lighting and heavy smoke effects to just the general layout and simple set design, it was so incredibly immersive and it just fired on all cylinders for me. The talent was top notch, great energy, very aggressive, it fit the mood and setting perfectly. Most complaints I’ve seen mostly fault the maze for that simplicity, it’s a retread of ground walked numerous times by Knott’s in the past and it doesn’t strive to really do anything big or new with it, but to me that was honestly the maze’s biggest strength. It didn’t try and be anything more than it was, and when it eventually did in its last couple of years it suffered for it. That first year was absolutely phenomenal, it was borderline my maze of the year for 2016, it really knocked it out of the park. It was intense, it felt dangerous, it felt like a real situation some unlucky folks could find themselves in. It also saw the return of chainsaws to Haunt and my God did I miss them.
17. The Tooth Fairy (2014-2017)
Not for the faint of heart, 2014 ushered in one of the most excruciating experiences in Haunt history. The Tooth Fairy was dark, it was disturbing and it was almost painful to walk through. From the constant whir of dental drills to the absolute focus on the very common fear of horrible things being done to one’s mouth parts and the mouth parts of young children. This maze absolutely pushed the limits of good taste and what was acceptable in these sort of attractions and it did a phenomenal job of it. From the start, entering into the room of a child as they are abducted by the maze’s namesake, you plunge into a world of darkness and terror. There is a palpable griminess that makes you feel genuinely discomforted as you witness children locked in cages, blood, gold coins and teeth everywhere, that constant, earsplitting whir playing over the background music, the chattering of teeth, gruesome depictions of dentistry gone awry, mouths ripped off or otherwise mutilated, this was among the most gruesome mazes the park has ever done. The actual depiction of the tooth fairy was also a really interesting take, featuring insect-like motifs and a heavy emphasis on moths, there’s some great mythology here and I applaud the designers for their work. Tooth Fairy had a very strong run and while I was sad to see it go, I was thankful it never had the chance to get too run down and lose its effectiveness.
16. Trapped: The New Experiment (2013)
Well, I mentioned upcharged experiences and VIP mazes when I was talking about Black Magic so..here we are. Back in 2012 Knott’s gave the whole “extreme Haunt” craze of the time a shot and brought us “Trapped”, a much more hands on maze experience that was an additional charge that also required a reservation made in advance. These reservations regularly sold out and the maze was a pretty big hit, big enough that it would continue for another two years with each experience being something entirely different from the year before. We’re not talking about the original incarnation of “Trapped” here, don’t worry we’ll get to it, Trapped: The New Experiment was the extreme house’s second incarnation and was..honestly the weakest take on it. Moving away from the more, well, experimental extremes of the first, The New Experiment moved more towards what would be seen in traditional escape rooms that have become more and more popular these days. It definitely had its moments, one particularly memorable scene required guests lock their hands together as another pulled a sparking electrical lever while they stood in a flooded room surrounded by metal and wires. Earlier you had to crawl through a glass tube and stare down at various creepy crawlies below you. Certain elements of the mazes definitely blurred together and given the lack of any major documentation on them (Knott’s was incredibly secretive about the mazes and their content) I don’t really know for certain what other scenes I’m remembering are from this maze versus the others (primarily the one that followed as I do have pretty good recollection of the major sequences from the first), but I do recall it overall just not having as much of a wow factor as what came before or what came after it. Now I’ll touch a bit more on the logistics and cost and everything when I get to the original, but I did feel that both the need for an upcharge and the cost breakdown was entirely fair for these mazes and is an entirely separate thing from the skeleton key rooms and why I felt that locking that sort of content to a premium price was not ok.
15. Trapped: Lock and Key (2014)
Moving even more towards the escape room craze rather than the extreme haunt angle, Trapped: Lock and Key was a definite improvement over the previous year’s premium maze experience. From the get-go they moved back towards the advantages of the waiver stating actors are allowed to make physical contact with you, as a very fine dominatrix bends guests over and gives them a quick spank with her switch. After some handcuffs get involved you and a partner had to slide yourselves along a wall and find keys in order to free yourself and move on to the next room. This sort of scenario would play out over the remainder of the experience, again going back more towards escape rooms than extreme haunts it made for a more challenging and interesting experience with a bit of puzzle solving, good interactions with cast members and it honestly had a really solid finale that sees guests wearing sack hoods, being led to a stage, then having a noose placed around their neck and the floor “dropped” from beneath them to simulate a hanging. It was a really fun experience and given Knott’s would no longer be pursuing these sort of attractions in the future it was a good sendoff to Trapped. I’d love for them to bring this back in the future, if they can push some boundaries with it again all the better.
14. Dark Ride (2017-Present)
I’m just gonna start off by saying it, Dark Ride is absolutely brilliant. It is such a perfect theme for a haunted house I’m honestly surprised it hadn’t happened before now. 2017 saw the return of the clown maze to Haunt after a pretty decent hiatus (the last proper clown maze being Uncle Bobo’s quite some years before) and it was a really welcome addition to the lineup. Making your way through an old, abandoned dark ride, you weave in and out of the sort of lavishly cartoony sets, plywood props and cheap animatronics you’d expect from any fairground and the much more grimy, realistic backstage areas featuring grinding gears, digitally mapped bugs and rats, security stations and concept art and it just gives this fantastic juxtaposition as you work your way to a kind of bizarre finale that I’m still not sure I quite understand even after having gone through the maze a few times. There’s some really solid scares, the sets are absolutely phenomenal (it really does feel like you’re working your way through a dark ride), the lighting takes me back to the days of “3D” mazes without the need for cheap 3D glasses, this maze was an instant classic and I look forward to at least another year or two with it before moving on to something new.
13. Trick or Treat (2012-2016)/Trick or Treat: Lights Out (2017-2018)
While Scary Farm definitely delivers on the horror side of things, it’s actually pretty rare that it ever really delves into the Halloween side of Haunt. 2012 marked the 40th anniversary of the event and the return of the iconic green witch who haunted Knott’s many moons ago. Her and her tricksters invite guests to her front door, daring them to ring the bell and say…Trick or Treat. Let me tell you, what a treat this was. Ranking among some of the longest running mazes in event history (at least to my knowledge, 7 years is a long time for a maze to stick around), Trick or Treat was the quintessential Halloween maze and it just felt so right at the event. The facade was fantastic, a recreation of the witch’s house, groups of guests literally ring the doorbell and say trick or treat to be let into the attraction. Once inside a lavishing display of jack-o-lantern’s, Halloween masks and dead children really set the mood. This is Halloween. The tricksters, the witch’s loyal trick or treating minions, made for some great scare actors as they hid under beds, around corners, even sometimes scaring from plain sight (my personal favorite memory was an actor in a classic sheet ghost getup simply saying “boo”). The theming was so strong and on-point I was actually somewhat worried when they introduced a new gimmick for the maze’s final two years. Trick or Treat: Lights Out did little to change the layout of the attraction, instead it added an infrared flashlight that the crew could turn off and on at will and set guests into the house to explore with the lights off. The flashlight would trigger certain gags and moments and it actually did work out fairly well. It did feel like they were trying to artificially lengthen the lifespan of a maze that, while a fantastic experience, was passed its prime and ready to go. So while I am glad that Trick or Treat won’t be back this year, I will look back on it fondly as one of the single most fitting mazes in Halloween Haunt history.
12. The Underground (1996-2003)
A post-apocalyptic maze done right. The Underground is the followup to classic mazes such as Industrial Evil and Toxic Terror, mixing it elements of toxic ooze with cyberpunk, heavy industrial sort of carnage and it was just a lot of fun. From the banging soundtrack (gotta love any attraction that uses Rob Zombie as background music) to beautifully detailed sets and props, great talent, high energy, The Underground was just a really fun experience that I don’t have too many specific memories of, just given how early in my Haunt career the maze was, but I do look back on fondly. I know my dad really enjoyed this maze, I’m sure part of my nostalgia for it is from that aspect, but what I do remember of The Underground was all top notch.
11. Lore of the Vampire (2001-2007)
We’re finishing this week off with far and away the best vampire maze that I can recall in Haunt’s history. Maybe one of the older ones did it better, I do see a lot of praise for the original version of Dominion of the Dead from fans online, but to me Lore of the Vampire was THE vampire maze at Knott’s. It made great use of its location, with guests having to walk up and into the castle the maze took place in. This was your classic Bella Lugosi Dracula, your ‘the vampire Lestat’, your real Victorian, Gothic vampire that just had this class and beauty to it. The costumes were lavish, the set design was breathtaking, the scares were on point, the women were BEAUTIFUL, Lore of the Vampire was there for me from the start and it had a long run as I grew into the Haunt fanatic that I am today, and mazes like this are what keep me coming back. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve had vampires at Haunt, maybe we can get something on par with this again in the near future. I know I’d love to revisit the castle again, for old times sake.