It is that time of year folks, I have braved the fog laden streets of Calico, crossed the threshold of death and survived another season at Knott’s Scary Farm. It’s always a bit of a bittersweet experience as I walk through the turnstiles at the end of the night, wanting so badly to just stay a little bit longer because man is that wait for the next Haunt brutal. 2019 saw two new mazes, a brand new show presented by the Jim Henson Company and an iteration of The Hanging that damn near broke my heart. Being a Saturday night I wasn’t able to hit all of the returning mazes, but stick around and find out what I thought of what I was able to experience in this edition of the Trip Report.
Once a long standing tradition of my Knott’s Scary Farm visits, it’s actually been quite a few years since I last did the Pre-Scare Boofet at Knott’s. I have heard the last couple of years it had declined in quality, so I’m pretty happy to say that whatever issues the buffet had in the recent past were certainly not present when I stormed Knott’s famous chicken dinner restaurant. There was a bit of miscommunication and lack of proper organization so far as getting us in line and checked in, and while traditionally the buffet has been held at Spurs within the park itself, this year they split guests up between Spurs and the chicken dinner restaurant (I went to the latter). Once inside you’re taken to your seat, given your souvenir cup (with free refills throughout the park for the night, at the cost of having to lug the thing around through mazes all night) and set loose upon the veritable smorgasbord set before you. Everything from a carving station to cheddar mashed potatoes with country gravy, loaded mac and cheese, chili with all the fixins, salads, fruit, a dessert bar with world class boysenberry pie (a Knott’s original) and of course that famous fried chicken, there was no lack of tastes and sensations for the discerning palate to partake upon.
Doing myself quite proud, I was actually fairly reserved with my selection, finishing off but only a few plates of modest portion size. From the carving station I had sliced sirloin and pork loin paired with au jus, sadly the meats were on the dry side and I did miss the prime rib I used to savor greedily in boofets passed. Otherwise though, the meal was fantastic. The potatoes were rich and creamy, the gravy a perfect accompaniment. The chili, honestly tasted a bit like something you’d get out of a can, but it was still quite delicious with cheese, sour cream and green onions sprinkled atop and the cornbread I had with it was good if a bit on the crumbly side. The mac and cheese loaded with bacon bits hit the spot and, alongside the always perfect fried chicken, was a highlight of the meal. My second course was a small plate of mixed fruit (I stuck with the berries and grapes) along with some Halloween themed deviled eggs (got a chuckle out of a younger guest questioning their odd coloring) and of course the sinfully delicious boysenberry pie, the true winner of the meal. Oddly enough, I finished off my three course meal with a salad, but quite possibly one of the best wedge salads I have ever had. Topped with blue cheese crumbles and an absolutely decadent dressing to match, it was creamy and just the right amount of funky that I almost went back for seconds…on a salad! And of course it wouldn’t be a pre-scare boofet without the monsters. It was, as always, an absolute joy watching them walk around and interact with eager guests, scaring them between bites (don’t want anyone choking now) and getting some laughs in.
Another major benefit to the boofet is early entry, this year done a bit different than in the past. Rather than the old tried and true, in an hour before everyone else, this time around we were given access to Ghostrider at 6pm (pass, remember folks, you’re here for the mazes, the rides are available all year long) and at 6:30pm we were granted access to the four mazes backstage, and that half hour head start was just enough time to get through all four of them right before general entry was allowed in at 7pm. The cost of the buffet is a touch on the steep side at $34.99, but the souvenir cup is a decent value add and getting to hit what are generally the longest waits in the park early was a huge boon, plus the food is pretty damn good and you can really fill up for the long night ahead so I think it’s certainly worth it.
Wax Works (New for 2019)
Channeling past mazes such as The Doll Factory and The Tooth Fairy, Wax Works is certainly the most gruesome maze on offer this year at Knott’s Scary Farm. Set within an old, abandoned wax museum (none too dissimilar to the now torn down wax museum that used to sit just up the street from Knott’s itself, coincidence?), Haunt goers find themselves surrounded by the grotesque creations of one Dr. Augustus Scratch (and ain’t that just the kinda name a serial killer would have?). The level of disturbing creativity on display here is on, well, a whole different level. The amalgamations of flesh and wax are intricate, beautiful, absolutely revolting, there is just so much detail to soak in and just not enough time (because there is never enough time) to soak it all in. Wax Works (and this year’s other new maze, Origins) is a fantastic example of why I so badly want to just have the opportunity to slowly walk through these mazes and take my time pouring over them and really get a good look at everything, it’s a damn shame you have to miss so much of them in a single walkthrough and most nights you’re not really going to get the chance to go through a maze a second time without sacrificing something else somewhere. One of the more memorable moments was a room full of bees, wax (duh) and the unmistakable smell of scented candles, it added a level of realism and just really popped, it was a great touch. While not one for the squeamish, Wax Works is a fantastic addition to the lineup as Knott’s really has gotten its shit together and put together an event full of nothing but top tier mazes, kudos to them.
Featuring a new opening sequence with a pretty neat trick, The Depths returns for its sophomore year and is just as impressive as it was in its 2018 debut. I don’t really have a whole lot to say here that I haven’t already over on The Pulse, and that’s going to hold true for (most of) the returning mazes for this year. I can certainly see this one aging well, the most effective elements aren’t likely to deteriorate much over time save for maybe the two main animatronics and I can see them probably dropping the opening gimmick in the mazes final year or so, but for now The Depths is still easily one of the best mazes in Haunt history and absolutely worth a trip back passed Ghostrider for all on its own (thankfully there’s three other fantastic mazes back there to accompany it so it’s even more worth checking out).
Paranormal Inc. is definitely starting to show its age. I believe this is the oldest maze in the park currently and while I am definitely glad it will be back for one last season in 2020, I am ready to say goodbye to it after that. The maze does still hold up, many of the effects are just as impressive now as they were when the maze first wowed me several years ago. The energy is still, mostly, there. All the good I had to say about it still applies here; the atmosphere is phenomenal, the flow through is great and there’s still some effectively disturbing and haunting imagery. It doesn’t feel like Knott’s has completely abandoned it as other mazes had as they began to run their course, but you can tell the priority lies elsewhere now and I rather say goodbye than see it fall into complete neglect and overstay its welcome. Paranormal Inc. really ushered in a new era of maze for Knott’s and just looking around the park and experiencing the offerings in the years since its debut you can really feel the lasting impact it had. Paranormal Inc. used to be a standout because it was on such a different level from anything else Knott’s was offering, but now every maze is of the same quality and sophistication of Paranormal Inc. We really are in a new renaissance for Haunt and it’s all thanks to this maze’s success. If you’re looking to get scared, then it’s really hard to go wrong with Paranormal Inc., it’s still far and away one of the most intense houses Knott’s has ever done.
Talk about an improvement. I don’t know what it is, but going through Dark Entities this year the maze just worked for me in a way it didn’t back in 2018. It could have been the new lighting package or maybe just a better group of scare actors or something, this is easily one of the most improved mazes I can think of in recent history. I do have one little nitpick though. I mentioned back in the countdown that the maze used a not quite reliable effect for these teleporters to send you “to and from” the space craft the bulk of the maze is set on, apparently Knott’s thought they weren’t reliable enough as well, but rather than refining the effect they more or less scrapped it and just have you walk through hanging flaps of plastic in the teleporter doorways instead and I just have to say bad form on that, I rather have had the old effect not working properly over that cop-out. Still, that aside I actually do think Dark Entities is worth your time this year and I am genuinely looking forward to seeing it again in 2020.
Origins: The Curse of Calico (New for 2019)
To say I was excited for Origins would be a bit of an understatement. Sarah Marshall, also known as The Green Witch, has come back to prominence within the lore of Knott’s Scary Farm over the years since the event’s 40th anniversary and The Curse of Calico delves ever deeper into that lore and delivers one of the most perfectly fitting mazes in Haunt history. The Ghost Town streets were the OG Scary Farm experience, they are really where the event first came alive and have been a mainstay since Haunt’s early years. You have other scare zones such as Carnevil, The Hollow, the Forsaken Lake, and others that have come and gone in the event’s history, but it all ultimately comes back to Calico. So to set a maze truly within Calico Ghost Town and make it about Haunt itself, it just felt right and so much of the event ties into it from the opening ceremony at rope drop to the theme of this year’s Hanging, it is all so woven together and builds this growing and cohesive narrative that really sets Knott’s apart from its contemporaries. Origins may not be my favorite maze of all time, but damn does it deserve to get mentioned in the same breath. This was a truly special experience. Even just waiting in line for it I was thoroughly entertained thanks in no small part to the actor portraying the lawman calling for guests to assist in doing their civic duty to bring Sarah Marshall to justice. His interactions with Haunt goers, the great improv, it all helped the time fly by while waiting that I honestly didn’t mind the line much at all. Once inside though, I was just blown away. The first scene or two were simple enough, featuring the trial of Sarah Marshall and her sisters, but it’s what follows that truly blew me away. There are moments here that make you feel as though you have genuinely stepped outside and back into Ghost Town, it’s unreal. That they were able to make me feel like I was walking alongside the actual Ghost Town streets on a rainy night completely dumbfounded me. The scares were honestly pretty light, there certainly were some effective ones, but I felt like this maze was about so much more than that, and more than most usually are. This was telling the story of Haunt, this truly was, roll credits, the Origins. There were so many great nods and easter eggs as well, including one of the greatest moments in Haunt history, something that just pulled at my heart strings in all the right ways and I couldn’t help but crack a smile, a God damn Catawampus monster, I mean..how perfect is that? Knott’s fans will know exactly what I’m talking about, and those not so familiar with the park, sorry you’re kinda left out on that one. I’d honestly be all over this being a year long attraction or something they open early to build hype up for Haunt. Origins: The Curse of Calico was easily, easily the best maze of the night and one of the strongest mazes in Knott’s history, because this maze IS Knott’s history.
The Hanging: Revenge of the Witch
I never thought that The Hanging of all things would damn near bring me to tears. Another mainstay of the event, for the longest time The Hanging was the only show I’d ever stop to watch at Scary Farm (I did ultimately make an exception for Elvira during the years she returned to Haunt, because duh it’s Elvira). I have so many wonderful memories of absolutely busting a gut laughing at this uproarious send up of pop culture and American society. Those early years of my Haunt history followed a very specific formula. We’d hit the log ride, hit the mine ride and then grab our spots at the front and center of the stage in Calico square and wait for the first showing of the Hanging. We of course did early entry so it was still a bit light out, but it would start getting dark as 8pm would approach. My dad and I would get a kick out of watching passersby getting scared by the ever talented Ghost Town Streets monsters, we’d watch the sliders as they performed exhibitions or slid at high speeds towards people at crotch level. There was always some really bangin’ music playing while we waited. Then the show would begin, “kill, death, hang ’em, murder” and the lawman would make his entrance and ask the crowd, “Good citizens of Calico, are you ready for a hanging?!?” and we would respond with a great cheer. The chaos and carnage and adult humor that followed were often some of the biggest highlights of the entire night. I always looked forward to the Hanging. Much like the log ride, it truly ushered in Haunt for me, it was the bridge between the two haunted attractions and the mazes that would follow. Over the years I have not missed a single hanging and while the last couple of years were a bit lackluster in comparison to past shows, I still was always there, right near the front to watch. So imagine my heart breaking when this year’s Hanging came to its incredibly somber close and the words RIP The Hanging were projected across the stage. Today’s social and political climate just can’t take a damn joke, everyone is so easily offended, America lost its damn sense of humor and something that has been a part of my life, a long running tradition, something so nostalgic to me had to die because of it. I was choked up, I almost cried, I’m not ashamed of it. 2019 is the last year that Knott’s will be showing The Hanging, and it was a solid show to go out on, but Haunt just isn’t going to ever feel truly complete without it. Maybe fan outcry will give Knott’s the cojones to try again next year, but given the rumor mill saying that a new, different show is in the works for 2020 I think it’s safe to say we’ll have at least one year without a Hanging and that is a damn shame.
While still largely the same maze and layout, something definitely felt different about Dark Ride this year. New elements and show scenes aside, I feel like the ride “broke down” more often when I went through it than it did the last two years. The music seemed to play far less, which is a shame because I loved the music for Dark Ride, with it being more disjointed and cutting off far more often, the lights seemed to go out more too. I don’t know if that was the intent, maybe trying to make the attraction seem more on the fritz, or maybe in the passed I just went through at a time where those elements were either toned down or spaced apart more, I dunno. I do prefer hearing the music playing a bit more than it cutting in and out so much, so that actually is gonna be a mark against it for me this year. That said, I did like the new scenes added including a very FNAF security desk with interactive buttons! I pressed the big red one, because of course I would, and an alarm blared. Am curious what the others do if anything different. Additionally, the exit through the gift shop scene was a nice touch that felt right at home, and I loved seeing the screen showing a picture taken of you as you walked through the maze (couldn’t quite pick out where it was taken, nor could I find if there was actually a place you could check it out or buy it at) with the caption that absolutely sold me on it “I shit my pants on Dark Ride”.
Puppet Up Uncensored
It’s kinda funny that in the year The Hanging gets hung for being too offensive for today’s overly sensitive culture that we get a show like Puppet Up Uncensored that doesn’t hold anything back. From f-bombs to some very adult humor and *gasp* naked puppets, they aren’t kidding when they say that Puppet Up is intended for mature audiences only. Part Whose Line is it Anyway, part puppet show gone wrong, the incredibly talented folks from The Jim Henson Company (yes, THAT Jim Henson) deliver a nonstop stream of jokes, laughs and impressive puppetry. It’s actually really cool seeing both what the camera shows you on the screens as well as the performers themselves on the stage, like getting a backstage, behind the scenes look and really giving you an appreciation for the craft. The show was absolutely hilarious too, they really mean it when they say “Uncensored”, I can’t think of another show that went all out like this, even The Hanging refrained from dropping the f-bomb and they use it in their opening song and dance number. Had an absolute blast watching these guys and I really hope the show comes back next year, the audience reception seems to have been pretty positive so I think it’s safe to say that they will. With the Hanging saying its farewell, this may just be a good replacement if you do want to get at least one show in during the night, though I suppose we’ll see what they have in store to replace The Hanging.
After Puppet Up the lines were getting to be a bit much, it was getting late, so I opted to skip out on Shadow Lands and Special Ops: Infected (both in their final year) as well as Pumpkin Eater and the log ride (Halloween Hootenany), I did however pick up the new Legends pins Knott’s has started releasing with this year’s Scary Farm. Each year Knott’s will be releasing new pins commemorating the mazes that are leaving that year, this year being Shadow Lands and Special Ops (as I mentioned). It’s a cool way to see them off and memorialize them, they’re only like $10 each, definitely planning to be collecting these things each year, probably put together one of those Disney pin trader binders with them or something.
So yeah, Knott’s Scary Farm 2019, pretty damn good year all things considered. We had two awesome new mazes, a great and hilarious new show and a very somber and heartbreaking farewell to a true Haunt tradition. As I said, walking out the gates is always a bit of a bittersweet moment (no reentry afterall), I don’t want it to end but the memories I made will always stick with me. Pleasant screams folks, I’ll see you all in the fog.
Be sure to check out The Pulse’s inaugural special covering 16 years of Halloween Haunt history!