Knott's Berry Farm will add three new haunted mazes for Halloween Haunt 2014 and introduce an interactive zombie-killing experience that arms visitors with simulated military assault weapons.
The 42nd annual Knott's Scary Farm will start Sept. 25 and run on select nights through Nov. 1.
The granddaddy of Halloween events will feature 10 mazes, four scare zones and two shows scattered throughout the Buena Park theme park. Elvira Mistress of the Dark will return as the face of the perennial event.
Gone are the woeful Delirium and Uncle Willy's BBQ Slaughterhouse mazes that came to define the low-water mark in Haunt quality.
The addition of three new mazes for Haunt 2014, along with the introduction of six mazes last year, effectively erases the mistakes of the past and allows for a complete reboot of Halloween Haunt as Knott's continues to compete with Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Since 2010, Knott's has made a consistent effort to focus more attention on richly detailed mazes with fully envisioned back stories while shying away from paint-on-plywood mazes with rubber-masked monsters.
The Skeleton Key rooms introduced last year by Knott's will return for Haunt 2014. The all-new pre-maze scenes will offer intimate explanations of the backstories in five mazes for visitors who opt to pay extra for the Fright Lane front-of-line upgrade.
Haunt has severely pared back its show offerings as well with only the perennial pop culture evisceration of “The Hanging” and the campy song and dance of “Elvira’s Big Top" returning for 2014.
In another surprising twist, Knott’s will offer a Scary Farm season pass good for unlimited visits with no blackout dates for $65. The limited number online-only offer will be made available first to theme park annual passholders and then opened up to the general public for $75 as long as supplies last.
The biggest highlight of Haunt 2014 is sure to be the new Special Ops: Infected zombie apocalypse attraction taking over six acres of Camp Snoopy.
Visitors will be armed with infrared laser simulated assault rifles similar to the mock guns used by military and police training academies.
Guided by squad commanders, teams of 12 Haunt visitors will set off into an infected zone swarming with zombies. The mission: Kill as many zombies as possible.
New Knott's mazes for 2014:
The new Voodoo maze for 2014 travels into the swampy backwoods of a Louisiana bayou brimming with witch doctors and zombies.
After being “buried alive” in the Skeleton Key room scene, visitors will be forced choose between multiple paths that will make each journey through the maze different. (Backstage near Ghostrider)
The Tooth Fairy
This mash-up of two rites of passage pairs the agony of a trip to the dentist’s office with the somewhat creepy notion of a legendary creature that sneaks into children’s bedrooms in the middle of the night.
Equal parts dark, brooding and gritty, the Tooth Fairy maze features a number of scenes with children in peril. The maze’s twisted backstory establishes that any child awake after bedtime becomes the unwilling minion of the evil tooth fairy. (Backstage near Ghostrider)
Trapped: Lock & Key
Back for a third year, the completely revamped reservation-only maze sold out every night last year and significantly raised the bar for quality at Knott's. This year's version of Trapped promises a whole new set of doorless rooms you have to puzzle your way out of.
At $60 for up to six people, Trapped is an amazing maze well worth the up-charge fee if you and your friends are game for a terrifying one-of-a-kind experience. At least one member of the party must be 17 or older. Visitors will be issued a specific start time for the maze and access to a VIP waiting area.
Unfortunately, the 2013 version of Trapped was only half as good as the 2012 original. That said, Trapped was still the head-and-shoulders best Haunt maze of 2013. Hopefully Haunt's maze makers will come up with new and improved rooms this year that are more creative, intense and difficult to escape.
This year’s 20-minute maze experience promises more suffering, misery and disgusting stomach-churning challenges. (Boardwalk Ballroom)
Reviews of returning mazes from best to worst:
Last year’s experience began outside the Black Magic maze with a spectacular digital paint job on the facade that intermittently built brick by brick, caught on fire and flowed with blood.
Black Magic offered the best Skeleton Key room of 2013 with a handful of visitors sitting around a séance table as the spirit of Harry Houdini was summoned.
Once inside the maze, Black Magic recounted a number of the famed magician's escapes with some supernatural twists. From the water tank escape to the knife-throwing gag to the manic room full of rabbits, Black Magic was a disturbing delight throughout.
This year’s maze will add several new scenes, including a Hall of Illusions and an all-new version of the Skeleton Key room. (Under the Xcelerator coaster)
The storytelling possibilities seem endless for this maze based on a modern-day serial killer who re-creates murders from the blood-soaked and terror-filled tales of Edgar Allan Poe.
Among my favorite scenes from 2013: A winged woman wallowing outside "The Raven" room, the pulsing red lights and thumping heartbeat under the floorboards in "The Tell-Tale Heart" and the swooshing ax swinging a few inches above my head in "The Pit and the Pendulum."
"The Fall of the House of Usher" featured the best practical effect of 2013: Corrugated steel walls that squeezed in on both sides of the shrinking room. (Behind the Mystery Lodge)
The Gunslinger's Grave
This Wild West-themed maze offered a well-conceived backstory and impressive sets in 2013, but the gunslinger's tale of revenge ultimately didn't translate to many scares -- probably because the cowboys were after somebody else other than me.
Like many of the Skeleton Key rooms from 2013, the pre-story scene in the Gunslinger's Grave maze involved visitors watching a story unfold on a cleverly disguised video screen (this one made to look like a cabin window). Hopefully Knott's does a better job this year of integrating this type of video technology in an atmospheric way throughout the maze rather than as mandatory viewing. (Near Reflection Lake)
Trick or Treat
Hopefully Knott's comes up with a more compelling backstory for this beautiful haunted house maze.
Theoretically owned by Haunt's iconic Green Witch, the 2013 Trick or Treat House was filled with a bunch of random tricksters aimlessly milling around. This could be such an amazing annual workhouse maze for Knott's. (Backstage near Ghostrider)
In this twisted take on the classic tale, the puppet who longs to become a boy embarks on a wild killing spree after the Blue Fairy denies him his final wish.
This aging maze has held up well through the years with an army of revenge-minded marionettes delivering energetic in-your-face scares amid well-dressed sets.
Along with a Skeleton Key room, this year’s maze will add several new horrifying and disgusting scenes drawn from the original fairy tale. (Wilderness Dance Hall)
Dominion of the Damned
Over the last few years, Knott's has tried to resurrect this classic Halloween Haunt vampire maze from the late 1990s with limited success.
The 2013 version of Dominion of the Damned explored a convoluted storyline involving art-loving vampires in a creepy but sleepy maze filled with aimlessly plodding monsters.
Along with the addition of a Skeleton Key room, a ghostlike wraith and a domineering queen will join this year’s cast of characters. (Backstage near Ghostrider)
The Witch's Keep
Knott’s used a very light touch on this Calico Mine Ride overlay last year, adding only a few wispy ghosts and static skeletons with no live monsters inside the attraction.
Following an extensive rehab of the ride, this year Knott’s will essentially be able to flip a switch that will change the mine ride from daytime operation to Haunt mode, complete with spooky lighting, audio and special effects.
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