Welcome to The Pulse, your lifeline on media and pop culture. This is the final part 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:
It has been a long road, but we are finally at the home stretch ladies and gents. We started from the bottom, and what a bottom that was (yes Lost Vegas, I still hate you), and worked our way through many great and not so great mazes and attractions and it has all led to this. The absolute cream of the crop. We’ve had some real gems over the last few weeks, but this week, oh this week is special. At long last, with more than 50 mazes under our belt, it is time, it is finally time to kick off the first proper Top 10 of The Pulse.
Top 10 Knott’s Scary Farm Halloween Haunt Mazes (2002-2018)
10. Trapped (2012)
Last week I discussed both Trapped: The New Experiment and Trapped: Lock and Key, a pair of VIP mazes that required guests make a reservation, pay an upcharge in addition to standard entry to the park and also to sign a waiver saying that it was ok for the talent to touch or put you in situations you may find less than comfortable. They were solid experiences that justified their cost and offered something more akin to the now popular escape room type experience you see advertised all over Facebook nowadays. 2012’s Trapped, the original VIP experience, took more inspiration from the then growing “extreme haunt” maze where guests would be subjected to various forms of cruelty with live actors allowed to actually touch, manipulate or otherwise have you do things that you probably didn’t want to be doing. This being a multi-million dollar theme park with a team of lawyers and frequented by families (be it Haunt season or not) they obviously don’t go to the extremes of some of the more intense independent haunts because how could they really, but for a mass market attempt at the concept I honestly have to give Trapped major kudos for what it was able to accomplish. I kind of glossed over the premium nature of these mazes when first discussing them, promising to detail it more later and since it is now later I suppose there’s no time like the present. Trapped required an online reservation be made in advance of the event, you and a group of up to 5 others (for a total of 6) could split the cost however you wished, the more people in your group the less it would end up costing individually though I do think a full group of 6 would dilute the horror of the experience at least a touch. If memory serves it was $60, which factors out to about $10 per person. This was, however, a flat fee so whether you were flying solo (you brave soul) or going in with all your buddies, it was still going to cost $60. As I said before, I think that something like the skeleton key rooms was pushing the limits of acceptability as it cut out scenes and backstory information from general guests and required a payment to get the full experience of a maze. So why didn’t I have an issue with it for the Trapped mazes? They were marketed entirely as a VIP experience, something you needed to pay extra for and given the logistics behind them and the higher risk of something going wrong in such an experience (also that it’s its own separate maze rather than part of another) it just never gave me that same gross feeling that bad DLC and microtransactions do in retail games. You also got admission to a swag VIP lounge that served alcohol, at a price of course (there’s the microtransactions for ya), plus a souvenir picture of you and your guests to fight over who gets to keep it (for the record, I did). So, Trapped. As I said, this was more of an attempt to emulate the extreme haunt craze and it pushed the limits of what was acceptable to ask of guests, perhaps too far given that certain elements were not given a repeat attempt in subsequent years. Before entering you were given a waiver to read through and sign, now how legitimate said waiver actually was I can’t really say, but you were also given a code word, “boysenberry” (because of course it would be), that if uttered (even in jest) would see you and your group taken out of the experience no refund offered. It was meant for if things got to be too much for you and they pretty much had to take that approach in using it. Guests would be tasked with doing things such as reaching into “rat” infested cages to open doors, crawl through air vents, be shut inside of a coffin or on the slab in a morgue, it definitely played on genuine fear and immersion in a way no standard Haunt maze could. Perhaps the most memorable moment (save for maybe the morgue and finale) saw guests in a dirty, disgusting and infested kitchen. Here the talent would, well, prepare something delicious for guests to sample before they were allowed to continue. Refusal to do so would end your trip through Trapped then and there so bon apetit! Just what were you tasked with ingesting? I have heard that there were two variations to this, I can only verify the one that we personally experienced when we went through Trapped as the other is just hearsay about a maze that details were not commonly divulged on. Allegedly, the other item offered to guests was a cup of soured milk. Again, I can’t say for sure the authenticity of this claim, but if it is true I’m honestly glad we got the other one because I’ve a bad history with spoiled milk. So what was it that we were offered the chance to sample and enjoy (well, required to sample and enjoy)? A handful of dried crickets and meal worms (yes, real ones). Crunchy. Sadly Trapped would only run for three years, the original in 2012, The New Experiment in 2013 and finally Lock and Key in 2014. I can understand why Knott’s opted to not continue the extreme maze experience, but damn am I glad to have had the opportunity to experience each incarnation of it. Here’s hoping for a return in the future.
9. Carnival of Carnivorous Clowns in 3D (2000-2003)/Carnival of Carnivorous Clowns from Outer Space in 3D (2004-2005)
While not THE original clown maze, Carnival of Carnivorous Clowns in 3D was my original clown maze and to me it perfectly encapsulates everything I love about Scary Farm clowns. The sets are bright and vibrant with a ton of great sight gags and dark humor. The scare actors are among the best in the park, the clowns always seem to be having the best of times and absolutely love what they do. I don’t have a ton to add here that I haven’t already really said about previous clown mazes, just a lot of what those got right this did first and either did better or left a bigger impact on me. I remember stuff like the wall of stuffed animals with a scare actor hiding in it, the room full of farting elephant butts with excrement everywhere, the animatronic barker outside the maze calling for guests one and all to enter, the crash scene with a clown car, this really was THE clown maze. Its final couple of years saw the addition of a new finale featuring a spaceship that gave the maze a sort of Killer Klowns from Outer Space motif that felt tacked on but in a way that was pretty innocent and forgivable.
8. Shadow Lands (2016-2019)
Once again part of the sort of modern renaissance that Haunt has been going through with high concept, big budget mazes we’ve been seeing these last few years, Shadowlands was an absolutely gorgeous, well detailed maze just oozing with atmosphere and it carries its traditional Japanese influences well. Telling the story of what happens to those that fall in battle, Shadow Lands taps heavily into Japanese culture and folklore. From samurai to oni and the often bizarre entities present throughout Japanese horror, bathhouses, dark forests and shrines, creature and set design were by far the mazes strongest elements. The talent was all very strong, the finale sequence depicting dueling warriors was always a treat.
7. Army of the Underworld (2000-2004)
One of my earliest Haunt experiences, we’ll get to my first momentarily, Army of the Underworld was the quintessential overlay for the Calico Mine Ride. While not necessarily as simple in concept as something like Black Widow’s Cavern, a mine train to Hell and back is still far from the more extreme end of things as we had with Invasion Beneath and its underground alien vs army theme, and it worked. I still remember that feeling of dread as we slowly left the station and pulled into the fog filled caverns before us. Where years later spiders would leap from the darkness we were greeted by glowing eyes, a horrible roar, and the lunging face of a dragon. One of several large scale dragon animatronics Army of the Underworld utilized, they’re one of the major standouts to me and what I still look back on and remember most about this overlay. Monsters would jump from the darkness, tap on the sides of the passing train cars, thread dangled from the cavern above, skeletons and demonic forces stood watch from the shadows and fog filled cave system. First impressions are worth a lot and this and our next entry really did leave a big first impression on me.
6. Elvira’s Red Moon Massacre (2001)/Red Moon Massacre (2002-2006)
Now, I missed Red Moon Massacre’s first year when it was hosted by the mistress of the dark herself, so I can’t really speak to that version of the iconic overlay for the Timber Mountain Log Ride and any differences it may or may not have had to the version I have experienced. Red Moon Massacre has a special place in my heart. Let me go ahead and set the scene. I’m 12 years old, after finally working up the courage and so much anticipation I’m finally at Knott’s Scary Farm with my dad, getting to experience something that he has always seen as sort of his Christmas, the thing he looks forward to most every year. Our bellies full of food, having of course done the pre-Haunt boofet, we’re waiting to be let in (and because we were smart enough to do the pre-Haunt boofet, we get in earlier than general admission guests do). The chain drops and I am given my first taste of Haunt. Working our way through the legendary Ghost Town streets we come to the Timber Mountain Log Ride, this time of year known as Red Moon Massacre. This particular overlay will always be special to me because Red Moon Massacre was my first, before any other maze before any other attraction, Red Moon Massacre was my first true Halloween Haunt experience. I remember waiting in line, the anticipation building. Talking with my dad, watching people getting scared, hearing screams from the people on the ride before us. Nothing tells me more that I am at home at last than this, which is a big part of why I am so disappointed that the log ride just isn’t used the way it used to be, not to talk down too much on Halloween Hootenany, it just isn’t the same. So sure, part of my placing this so high is entirely personal bias and damn near the heaviest nostalgia imaginable, but ya know, it’s my list and I’ll factor in whatever I want to when ranking these. That said though I do genuinely feel that Red Moon Massacre has stood out as the best overlay the log ride’s ever had (at least in my time going to Haunt) and it was honestly just a great attraction overall, so don’t think it placing so high is entirely my attachment to the overlay (plenty of my first mazes are much lower on the list afterall). Mixing werewolves with Little Red Riding Hood is just a great mashup for a horror themed event and it fits in fantastically with the wooded setting of the attraction as is. The scares were effective, plenty of classic tricks used, there were great props and animatronics, the themeing was of course on point and flowed well. Very few things are more classic Haunt to me than this and I look back on that first ride more fondly than just about anything else on this list, this was my initiation and I absolutely loved every moment of it.
5. Terror of London (2009-2012)
Walk the fog-laden streets of London in pursuit of the notorious Jack the Ripper, delve into the sewers and discover the lair of Victor Frankenstein and his grotesque experiments. I’ve mentioned before the are near the Mystery Lodge has held some truly classic mazes (Blood Bayou, 13 Axe Murder Manor, Forevermore), but Terror of London by far takes the cake. This maze truly immerses you into the seedy underbelly of Victorian era London, walking the dark alleys where you come across wanted posters along with the grisly remains of the Ripper’s latest victims, detouring through an old pub manned by a gruff barkeep, finishing in the sewers and lair of what may or may not be Frankenstein or the Ripper himself (this was never made quite clear) and a slew of ghastly experiments including a woman with her chest pulled open and her still beating heart being operated on. Just the mood and atmosphere alone carried this maze, it was dark and cold, it was so immersive with a story that flowed well from beginning to end, truly grisly imagery, a great villain in Jack the Ripper, gorgeous set design that perfectly captured the look and feel of the era. It never felt overly long despite sharing the same footprint as the aforementioned mazes that tended to have a great deal of wasted space. Terror of London was truly one of the greats, it’s a maze that honestly speaks for itself and nothing that has shared that space before or since could ever truly compare.
4. The Depths (2018-Present)
The most recent maze to breach the top 10, this thing must have made one hell of an impression on me last year right? Set within an abandoned mine shaft, The Depths manages to weave in a theme (undersea life) I have always wanted to see Haunt tackle along with some great scares and one of the most creative and innovative effects I have ever seen utilized in a haunt maze before. The facade gets the job done well enough, as of 2018 we’ve mostly moved passed the years of truly great facades (not to say that they are completely absent, especially backstage), but I do like elements such as the lighthouse so again, it gets the job done. What truly shines here though, is what is on the inside. As a near lifelong Lovecraft fan (my first collection of his stories being read back when I was in elementary school), the incorporation of ocean inspired horrors really tickled my fancy and the monster designs and makeup here is absolutely fantastic. The movement from an old, abandoned mine into a flooded cave system full of eldritch horrors flowed really well and is a perfect setting for a maze. There are a few really memorable animatronics including a shark that lunges out at guests for a great scare and, at long last (seriously you have no idea how long I have wanted this) we get a giant squid (well, technically it’s an octopus but I am not going to be picky on this one) complete with multiple twitching tentacles, gorgeously hypnotic eyes and just, they finally actually did it and you have no idea how happy I was to see this thing in person for the first time. What truly elevated this maze for me though, what sealed it as a top 10 maze of all time was a single room and a single effect. As I said, you’re supposed to be making your way through a flooded cave. So how do they manage to get this idea across to guests? By combining lasers and fog in such a way that it looks as though you are wading through waist high water. It is such a simple effect, a laser beam set horizontally along the topside of where the fog settles, but the results cannot be argued with, it is so damn convincing, so impressive, major kudos to whoever came up with that one as it is easily, easily my favorite effect out of any maze ever. The effect alone wasn’t enough though, it’s what they did with it that secured this maze a top 5 spot. As you “wade” through the cavern you’ll notice fins, claws, etc. just breaching the surface. There are scare actors down low, hiding “under the water” and waiting to scare you as you make your way through. Hiding in plain sight, but brilliantly camouflaged. Seriously guys, this maze is on a whole different level and I am looking forward to several more years with it.
3. Paranormal Inc. (2015-Present)
Paranormal Inc.: The Haunting of Hayden Hill was the first maze in a long time to truly WOW me. Knott’s had been ambitious in the past, but there was nothing quite like the reality show inspired investigation of Hayden Hill Sanitarium. From the gorgeous facade that reminds me of something else we’ll be getting to very soon, to the elaborate pre-show, the recorded footage of the Paranormal Inc. “series” the maze is tied to and use of live actors and at the time revolutionary (at least for Knott’s) effects. Paranormal Inc. was the first time it felt like Knott’s really had a big budget for a maze and they ran with it. Before I go further though I do want to mark the distinction between Paranormal Inc. in its first year as compared to the years that would follow. Obviously Knott’s puts the most into a maze in its debut year, Paranormal Inc. as I said had recorded segments to replicate the in-universe series the maze gets its name from and the same actors used for those were present in both the pre-show and the maze itself. There also more elaborate stunts involved and the pre-show ran a touch longer. Many of these elements were shortened or removed entirely because, well, as nice as it is it doesn’t make sense to budget for them when that money could go to new and even more elaborate mazes. So no, I don’t really blame Knott’s for the, I don’t want to say deterioration, but the noticeable differences between Paranormal Inc. 2015 and Paranormal Inc. 2019 or even 2016. They’ve actually shown a lot of love and care for the maze, even completely redoing the ending, though I’m almost positive the maze runs shorter because of it, it did make for a cool and surreal moment before a final “gotcha” at the end. This maze and another one we’re yet to get to, have one major thing in common (well a couple other things, but let’s focus on the major one here) and that is energy. Once the pre-show wraps up and the maze proper starts you can just FEEL it. Paranormal Inc. is an intense maze, the effects are incredible and impressive, visually striking and haunting (I’m talking stuff like the doors to beds in the morgue pounding and trying to open themselves, typewriters typing on their own, a wheelchair moving back and forth while a camera records and shows what the eye can’t see in front of it), the scare actors were absolutely ferocious, the sets were so intricate and well detailed, the lighting was spot on perfect and worked well with the fog and other effects as you work your way towards literal oblivion. Paranormal Inc. is a long maze and it doesn’t remotely feel it, it is just nonstop, heart pumping action, it is scary, it is frenetic, there’s this kinetic energy that carries through the maze, everything is moving, the monsters are all over the place (even above you), this is far and away the most intense, most visceral and easily the scariest ghost house Knott’s has ever done (again, as I said with 13 Axe Murder Manor, I do specifically mean GHOST house). It was damn near just as good this year as it was its first year. I can’t wait to go through it again in 2020 and dammit I am going to miss it when it leaves in 2021.
2. Delirium (2011-2013)
Where do I even begin with Delirium. So, something that Knott’s did over the course of a decade was weave together a trilogy of mazes. It began with The Asylum in 2003, it then continued with Lockdown: The Asylum. Delirium was the grand finale, a trip into the twisted mind of one of the patients of the titular asylum. One part fever dream and about five parts waking nightmare, Delirium was a surreal walk through the shattered psyche of a mind long gone. From the moment you step through the fleshy, organic and absolutely revolting facade you just know you are in for something completely unique that only the minds of Scary Farm could deliver. It’s hard to truly quantify Delirium. It was a genuinely surreal experience, Knott’s has never done a maze like it before or since. It was erratic, disjointed, the visuals like nothing else you’ve seen before. Some of it was absolutely terrifying, some of it just bizarre and otherworldly. One scene in particular has always stood out to me, these strange insectoid figures sitting around a dinner table and having this..feast, strands of something or perhaps the extended mouthparts of one of the figures between the plate and the creature it was just..it’s left such a big impression on me, and the use of color or lack of color in some cases, the contrast and nightmarish visuals. Knott’s set out to walk you, literally, through a nightmare and that’s exactly what Delirium was, a hauntingly beautiful nightmare. Lockdown may have been a subpar and disappointing followup to The Asylum, but Delirium was absolutely the finale it deserved.
1. The Asylum (2003-2008)
Far beyond the fog laden streets of Ghost Town, passed the looming Ghostrider sits The Mangler Asylum. The infamous and chilling score from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining echoes around you as you slowly approach the gates, ignoring the condemned sign hanging on the wrought iron fence. Ignoring your better judgment you step foot into madness. Paranormal Inc. focused on the haunted side of the abandoned asylum trope, Delirium took you into the mind of one of the patients, The Asylum took you into the madhouse itself, into a world where the patients have broken loose and the doctor’s are just as dangerous and insane as them. Atmosphere is such a big part of what makes a maze truly effective and everything about The Asylum just oozed with it. From that initial approach with the theme from The Shining playing, walking right up and through the gates, both things that were sadly not an element of the maze after its first year (it was moved to a different location backstage and you instead walked through the side of the gate and the music was no longer played) to the dark and foreboding mood of the maze itself, the intensity of the talent and scareactors, there’s never been anything like it. The Asylum was firing on all cylinders, it had the energy of Paranormal Inc., the atmosphere and immersion of Terror of London, but it was just such a raw and intense experience. Lightning struck with The Asylum, there’s reason that this maze and this maze alone won Maze of the Year at Ultimate Haunt back to back years, a feat no other maze has ever done (sadly Ultimate Haunt doesn’t really update anymore, RIP). I’m struggling to truly put into words, just everything about this maze. I mentioned Red Moon Massacre being my first real Haunt experience and how that is a big part of why I look back on that overlay so fondly. The Asylum was new my second year and it was the last maze we did that night, so while far from the veteran I am today, I had already begun to understand Haunt and to have experienced Haunt, but nothing left me so awestruck, nothing has left an impression on me the way The Asylum did. Yeah, the change to the approach of the maze in subsequent years was a bit of a bummer and it did detract from the experience a little bit, but the talent on display inside, the horrifyingly realistic setting, the high octane energy of the performers, the grisly imagery (ever wanted to see a bulimia ward?), moments like walking into the morgue and just how utterly terrifying that felt. I have been doing Haunt for 17 years now as of this passed Saturday and nothing, and I mean nothing, has even remotely come close to The Asylum. There’s been some great mazes, I just listed at least 50 that I’d say fall under good if not great, but The Asylum has always stuck with me, it is the maze I think of when I think of Haunt. You know what my all time favorite Haunt moment was? Approaching the brilliant and detailed facade, hearing that truly haunting score from The Shining, walking through those rusted iron gates, and stepping into The Asylum for the first time.
Thank you all so much for going on this journey with me. I cannot begin to express how much it has meant to me to get to share this with you all. It wasn’t easy, from ranking the mazes themselves to digging through over a decade and a half of memories and experiences, going back to when I was still basically a kid back in junior high and trying to find the words to describe those experiences and memories or why I felt this maze or that maze should be ranked where it is. I know some entries were a bit sparse on content, some I just kinda rambled on, others I absolutely gushed on, and some I just couldn’t find the words even if it was for something like The Asylum that truly represents everything I think of when I think of what makes for a great Haunt maze. And even then, while yes I do, quite obviously, love those intense and heavy mazes, I also really do enjoy some of the more lighthearted ones or more comedic themes, so it may not even be fair to hold The Asylum as the ultimate representation of all that Haunt is because Haunt is so much more than just that. I said when I started this that a big part of what makes Knott’s Scary Farm so important to me is that connection I shared with my dad over it. It was the one thing we both looked forward to every single year more than anything else, more than birthdays, more than Thanksgiving, more than Christmas. It was where we would go and pig out at the buffet (sorry, boofet) and then stand around shooting the shit with other guests while we waited out in Ghost Town to be let in to Haunt proper (and earlier than general admission at that), even to the point that we’d end up with other groups of people tagging along with us because we knew what we were doing and we got things done, it was really cool making friends like that for the night, to share in that experience with them. Waiting around for the first showing of The Hanging and watching people get scared or the sliders performing and doing tricks. Listing to the music or things like “Real Monsters of Genius: Sponsored by Bloodlight”, hats off to you Mr. Stand at the Back of the Line Holding a Sign Guy. Just this weekend when I was there for my 17th year in a row I was talking with some people while we waited to get into the boofet, one of them was a mother and her son. She had gone before once back when she was a teenager and it was his first time, he looked to be probably around 11 or 12 (I’m not so great at ages, so sorry if I’m off on that) and he just had so many questions for me and I could just see how excited he was. We met up again after the buffet while we were waiting to get into the backlot to hit the mazes there before general admission was let in and talked some more. While that was going on I ended up talking with a gal that was there for her birthday, and she had her younger (10) sister with her and it was her first time at Haunt. The mother and son went off on their own once the gate open, but the two girls ended up tagging along with me because, as they said, “he knows what he’s doing” and we hit the first four mazes of the night together, the older sister apologizing for their screaming, me telling them “it’s ok, that’s part of the fun”. Then it hit me, this is what my dad must have felt like taking me for the first time all those years ago, making these memories. That is what Knott’s Scary Farm is all about.
Apologies, that got kind of tangential and ran a bit long, again thank you all so much for sticking with me through this. I hope you all have enjoyed this inaugural iteration of The Pulse, we will be back next Monday with one last horror themed top 10 to close out October and ring in Halloween the way I like to celebrate it best. Until then, I’ll see you in the fog.