Knott’s Berry Farm celebrates the 40th anniversary of Halloween Haunt with a crosstown rival threatening to tear the middle-aged monster limb from limb.
But rather than cower and hide, Knott’s Scary Farm has fought back against the resurgent Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood, refusing to go quietly into the fog-filled night.
Change takes time, though. The granddaddy of theme park events has grown to 13 mazes, nine shows and four scare zones with 1,000 monsters during its four decade reign of terror.
Over the last couple of years, Haunt has responded to the success of Horror Nights by greatly improving its maze quality and attention to detail. But Knott’s only swaps out two or three mazes each year, meaning this season’s Haunt is a grab bag of newer attractions that meet or exceed the higher quality standards and an equal amount that fall far below the new bar.
Here’s my review of each of the haunted mazes at Halloween Haunt 2012, ranked from best to worst:
Trapped - Visitors must puzzle their way out of a series of locked rooms in this new up-charge maze. At $60 a pop for up to six people, the reservation-only maze sold out by 10 p.m. the first two nights of Haunt. I don’t want to give too much away other than to say this amazing maze is well worth the $10 fee if you and your friends are up for a terrifying one-of-a-kind experience.
Endgames - A bloody and gory trek through a post-apocalyptic dystopia with inspired costumes, excellent sets and a death metal soundtrack. The best traditional Haunt maze I’ve ever seen and the new standard for quality at Knott’s. The only fault: a dismal scare quotient among the low-energy monsters.
Pinocchio Unstrung - Plenty of well-dressed sets and good scares in this twisted take on the puppet who longs to become a boy. I loved the long-nosed masks on the revenge-minded marionettes. The highlight: An obstacle course of hinge-jointed mannequins hanging by strings from the ceiling with a bungee-bouncing puppet as the payoff.
Terror of London - This wonderful maze that helped revive Haunt’s fortunes in 2009 has lost some of its luster over the years but still holds up as a benchmark for quality. It looked like a few of Jack the Ripper’s murder scenes had been scrapped in order to appease the PG-13 crowd. My vote is always for more gore, not less.
Virus Z - Another one of my favorite returning mazes, this well-themed small town overrun by zombies and cannibals helped mark the turnaround for Knott’s when it debuted in 2010. Lots of standing around and very few scares when I walked through this time. Maybe the monsters were on a break. The movie tie-in for the upcoming reboot of “Carrie” seemed tacked on to the end of this maze, wasting an opportunity to show Universal that Knott’s can deliver the goods with brand-name intellectual properties.
Dominion of the Dead - A creepy and a little too sleepy trip through an art museum where the portraits and statues come to life. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to respond to classical musician monsters that play violin and cello. Should I be afraid or inspired? A well-executed attempt at a bad idea for a maze.
Delirium - I didn’t understand this one last year and still didn’t get it this time around. Something about nightmares and insanity. The maze looks great but the back story remains a bit fuzzy for me. My favorite part is still the inflatable walls you have to squeeze between.
Trick or Treat - This new maze for 2012 through a well-decorated witch’s house was notable for its abundance of missed opportunities. You’d expect something to be happening in the kitchen, bedroom, dining room and bathroom. But nothing. The weakest scare of the night: A ghost in a sheet who said, “Boo.” The best effect of the night: The wicked witch flying on a broomstick through the maze’s final room.
Fallout Shelter - A candidate for retirement in the off season, this tired old maze would have fallen further down the list if not for the screamer walking in front of us. The hard-working monsters must have made her shriek 100 times. Some people just have a target on their back.
Evil Dead - Knott’s seems to have a difficult time translating horror movie properties into good mazes. For some reason, the Haunt creative department decided to slap “Evil Dead” on the log ride. It makes no sense at all. What could have been a great movie maze is nothing more than five monsters jumping out of the dark along the flume ride. What a waste.
Uncle Willy’s Slaughterhouse - Haunt’s creative team seemed to have dressed up this old relic a little bit, but nothing kills a maze experience more than monsters twiddling their thumbs until their next break. It’s time to put this barbecue restaurant run by a deranged butcher on the chopping block.
Uncle Bobo’s Bigtop of the Bizarre - A scatological clown maze filled with toilets, porta-potties and flatulent elephants. Knott’s can do so much better than this. It’s time to flush this mess.
Dia de los Muertos - The cheesiest neon paint and black light maze I’ve ever seen made worse by the lowest of production values and a dearth of scares. Old, tired and in the way. Please, put this dying maze out of its misery now.