Knott’s Scary Farm has kicked off for the 2021 season welcoming every Halloween lover back into the moldering tangle of fog-shrouded streets to scream once again and it’s never felt so good. the Farm returns with the familiar scares of 7 returning mazes, a spectacular new surprise with the GORE-ing 20’s Scare Zone, and plenty of pent-up energy to delight young and old with heaps of horror fun. The birthplace of the theme park haunt, Knott’s Scary Farm will run for 27 terrifying nights from September 16 – October 31.
Previous years would normally see the addition of two to three mazes with the enhancement or alteration of existing mazes. This year there are seven returning mazes in Wax Works, The Depths, Paranormal Inc. Dark Entities, Pumpkin Eater, Dark Ride, and Origins: The Curse of Calico, and one new creation, MESMER: The Sideshow of the Mind not to mention a few changes here and there. Contrary to what you would expect, the mazes continue to feel vibrant and fresh thanks to the beautiful design work done by Gus Krueger, Jon Cooke, Ted Dougherty, and Daniel Miller who enjoys a banner year of frightful creations.
Ah yes, Wax Works. Daniel Miller’s gloriously sick visit to a wax museum returns to uncanny life for 2021. Visiting the smoldering remnants of a wax museum is never a smart thing, but here we are. What’s more, the museum is an active horror scene crawling with victims of the artist known as The Master. We first make our way past the box office, then through to the exhibit itself that is still functioning… mostly. Parading about are The Master’s creations and a few of his henchmen along the way. But what makes this genius tick? Where does he get all of his wax? and what will be his next masterpiece?
Wax Works shines slightly brighter for me than it did in its initial year. The talent here was starving to scare and everyone was on their game. That is of course not to mention the impeccable design by Miller and the extent to which every inch of the maze is themed and themed beautifully. This is goopy, Baroque horror with a hint of Vincent Price’s hamminess.
A Jon Cooke creation, The Depths has always been interesting to me. Visitors investigate the caves of an abandoned seaside village where rumors swirl of danger lurking below. Clearly, this is an invite and we head in. The night watch crew attempts to stop us but we proceed. Soon we discover the wreckage of a submarine? Huh? Then we arrive at a subterranean lair populated by all manner of maritime monsters before coming face to face with the Kraken and jumping aboard a pirate ship? Wait, what?
Unlike other Cooke mazes, The Depths tends to stick with a theme rather than logic by hitting us with a tidal wave of nautical nightmares even if it doesn’t really make the sense that we expect from his work. No question this is a beautiful maze. No question this is a clever maze with delightful scares throughout. I will also say that the monsters in this maze we bloodthirsty and starving for screams. They came for us so hard, in such relentless fashion, that I was on edge. Yes, that’s a good thing. Everything here was hitting the mark. Scares were well-timed, hair and makeup were on fleek, and the energy when we went through was in through stratosphere.
Oh, Dark Entities with its muddled throughline and high-tech wizardry. Thankfully, the night we went through, the attraction was firing on all main thrusters. The story of volunteers “Visitors, aka Us” who are recruited to be teleported to a space station in order to stabilize it only to discover that an alien lifeform has infected the existing crew is a well-tread one. Here, this space-themed nightmare, complete with malfunctioning robots, panicked crew and invading aliens jumped to lightspeed with a combination of good crowd management and pacing, brutal talent, and effects that delivered.
This is the best that this maze has ever looked or performed.
The final year for Paranormal Inc. had to come. After 6 great years of investigating the Hayden Hill Sanitarium and watching Barry trigger a paranormal crisis, we get to venture through one final time. Easily one of my favorite mazes of all time, and not just at Scary Farm, Paranormal Inc. sends guests into the middle of a ghost hunting series that goes horribly wrong. The inhabitants of the asylum run amok and after a jaw-dropping opener, we are forced into one of two paths before reconnecting with the rest of the group and finding our way out.
The concept still works, the scares still hit, and the effects wow. Admittedly we’ve gotten enough of Hayden Hill, but this is just such a groundbreaking maze. Cooke really knocked it out of the park with this one and I will be sad to see it go. On our visit, the talent was fired up and all positions were staffed making this one hell of a fun walk-through. Still one of the absolute best.
Daniel Miller’s Pumpkin Eater maze is a nasty piece of work. situated in The Hallows area of the park, we foolishly venture forth to follow the trail of carnage left by Peter Pumpkin Eater. A gelatinous mix of blood and pumpkin membrane, the monster lays waste to all in his path. A quintessential Miller concept, we revisit something innocent, in this case, a children’s rhyme, to reveal ghastly origins.
The night we went through all was solid. The Talent was still eager to scare and all effects were popping. There is a new rat room scene that comes off both creepy as well as comical. Trademark Miller moments include water, gloopy sound effects, and disorienting lighting. Smells would be a great touch in this maze with the pumpkins, or the burning homes, but it still works beutifully.
Timber Mountain Log Ride: Halloween Hootenanny
It really isn’t Halloween Haunt, or Knotts Scary Farm for that matter, unless the Log Ride is themed. The Halloween Hootenany returns for another charming adventure through the mountain on our way to the big party. This doesn’t scare, there are no live actors here, but it is beyond charming and laden with fun effects like the projected spiders or the oddball U.F.O. crash landing scene. In the end everyone comes together to celebrate the best holiday of all, Halloween. Really I can’t argue with that.
What I CAN argue with is the lack of live actors during Haunt. This is a very family-friendly ride through, but it would be awesome to spike the proverbial punch with a few nasty scares after the kiddies have left. Even if Live actors are totally off the table, what about some startling projections ala Disneyland’s final jump scare in Ghost Galaxy? I mean, if Disney can deal with the complaints at City Hall during normal hours, surely we can get a few projected jumpscares in here to amp things up for those hoping to scream.
Another wonderful Jon Cooke creation, Dark Ride invites us into the leftovers of a malfunctioning spooky dark ride only to come face to face with its inhabitants. I think what I love the most about this particular attraction is the flawless execution of the concept. We enter the maze in a load/unload section of a ride that is clearly not operating. We follow tracks on the floor through a tangle of cheesy scenery and nasty encounters. When the passageway is blocked, we divert “backstage” through utility and workrooms.
This one is still great but it is showing its age. Most notably, the gear room, where menacing machinery twirls away just looked like a wonky, dilapidated foam sculpture. The merlin room with the dragon didn’t seem to be working either. The talent here works hard, but there arent’ enough of them to overcome the care that this one needs. Still fun but in need of a refurbishment.
Origins: The Curse of Calico
The best maze of 2019, Origins: The Curse of Calico comes back strong and hard. The story of how an entire town pounced on the wrong witch, Origins takes us from the moment Sarah Marshall is convicted to the second that she curses the town as the Green Witch in revenge. Telling the story of an entire scare zone, this maze plays well whether or not you are paying attention to the throughline. Yes, park fans will spot references to The Haunted Shack, the Catawumpus, and even the schoolhouse, but those just attempting to survive the scares will have a great time too.
All talent, inside and out of the maze is to be commended. A stellar job is done by all. However, in its sophomore slump, this walkthrough seemed virtually untouched. The rain effect in the town reveal scene was not operating and needs to be. Regardless, this is an experience that seems to transport you to another time and place and it needs to be treated with the same care that the rest of the town gets.
Mesmer: Sideshow of the Mind
The one new maze for 2021 is Mesmer: Sideshow of the Mind. A Daniel Miller creation, Mesmer lures guests into a sideshow in which their minds are the maze. Guided by Mesmers voice we take a journey through the terrifying and absurd. There’s the woman that plays violin with her tendons, the snake charmer and her snake, the tightrope walk seemingly hundreds of feet in the air, and of course our own inner demons.
To me, Mesmer was not scary per se. It was however haunting. Layered with thought, and exquisite design, Miller aims at something deep in the psyche. The images this maze creates are still floating in my mind, not to mention the carefully layered details and production design. Next to Delerium, this might be my favorite Miller maze for its opulent design and haunting feel.
Ghost Town, Forbidden Lake, The Hallows, CarnEVIL all come back thirsty for blood. But it is the new GOR-ing 20’s scare zone that seems like a prototype for a new kind of immersive horror entertainment. Taking cues from the THEA Award-winning Ghost Town Alive, GORE-ing 20’s mixed layered storytelling with surface scares to deliver an experience that must not be missed.
If you hit this area at the right times you will see a 20’s band playing atop the Charles M. Schultz theatre landing with flappers and gangsters dancing up a storm. If you miss that there are multiple chances to interact with the various characters populating the area. This is a next-level scare zone that invites guests to stay and immerse themselves. Of course, Knott’s, the birthplace of the theme park haunt, would develop something new and exciting. Of course.
There are a whopping 5 shows being offered at Knott’s Scary Farm this year. Two of them returning, three brand new and only two that we can recommend with the caveat that we did not see Conjurers.
Puppet Up! Uncensored (Show) – The Walter Knott Theater
Ribald and dirty, Puppet Up! is easily one of the best shows ever to grace the stage of the Walter Knott/Charles M. Schultz/Good Time/ Ghoul Time Theater (and we remember the Wolfman Jack days.) Puppet Up! is improv puppetry at its silliest and you would be doing yourself a grave disservice if you missed this during your visit to Haunt. It was about the time that tears were streaming down my face from laughter that I decided to recommend this show.
Invitation to Terror (Show) – Mystery Lodge
Featuring the sardonic wit of show creator Jeff Tucker, Invitation to Terror invites guests to Ghost Town 1986 for a tech demonstration. Of course, things go horribly wrong, spirits are released, and there is no amount of Aussie Sprunch Spray that can save you. The cast here sells the utterly silly concept, that we won’t reveal, then things go crazy.
We loved this show for its sheer silliness and use of technology in the Mystery Lodge attraction. The only downside is that there are no notable showtimes and visitors have to check in with the line attendant to see where they are landing in the 30-minute intervals that the show performs. Our advice, if you are in Ghost Town, check the next show here and give it a shot.
Conjurers (Show) – Bird Cage Theater
We are bad reviewers. We have not seen Conjurers since it debuted in 2019 and we are sorry. The official description of the show goes as such: “You won’t believe your eyes when our skilled Illusionist takes the stage in the heart of Calico. Get there early as seats have been known to vanish.”
Carnaval du Grotesque (Show) – Calico Mine Stage
This is not The Hanging. It’s not even a proper haunt show. No, Carnaval du Grotesque is filler, it is placemaking. Situated at the venerated spot where The Hanging once took place (making audiences groan in the process) we have Carnaval du Grotesque. What is it? Great question. When we saw it on two separate nights, it was a cover band. We were assured from multiple sources that the acts rotated. We really hope so.
Wicked Drums (Show) – Camp Snoopy Theater
Another show that we did not catch this year. The official description is
“Deep within The Hollow, The Witches summon you to a percussion ritual to awaken the dead. Hosted by the evil Hag of the Hollows, Wicked Drums, high energy drumming collides with ancient witchcraft in a sensory overload sure to raise your spirits. It’s a Halloween activity worth witnessing.”
Doce de la Noche (Show) – Fiesta Plaza
Doce de la Noche is a group of ferociously talented kids dancing their tailbones off to Latin rhythms. Short, sweet, and entertaining, this isn’t a polished performance but it is a lot of fun. Grab a taco and catch this show if you are nearby.
Knott’s Scary Farm is back to lead the way into the fog. We have all been through what can arguably be described as a difficult time for everyone. After a season off, Knott’s Scary Farm returns to savagely grip its crown as the undisputed leader of theme park haunts. This is not a normal year. While there are only eight mazes total and one new maze, things are leveraged with a new, amped-up scare zone and a host of entertainment offerings.
Our advice? GO! Get front of the line. The fog has never smelt so good.
Norm(an) Gidney is a nearly lifelong horror fan. Beginning his love for the scare at the age of 5 by watching John Carpenter's Halloween, he set out on a quest to share his passion for all things spooky with the rest of the world.