CLICK HERE TO VIEW OUR FIRST BATCH OF PICTURES FROM THE 2009 KNOTT'S HALLOWEEN HAUNT!
From Mike -
"After an impressive showing last year with something like six all new mazes, Knott’s has definitely taken their foot off the gas a bit for the ’09 season. We get four new mazes, which sounds like a lot, but upon further inspection we find that two of these newbies are really just glorified remakes (or reimaginings if you will) of mazes from last year. While it is not uncommon for Knott’s to reuse themes and even resurrect older mazes entirely, it seems a little underwhelming to rework attractions from the previous year and then present them as brand spankin’ new. What we end up with is a Haunt event that is solid enough but isn’t offering us anything new or exciting. But let’s get into the nitty gritty details and take a long look at the maze offerings for 2009.
LOCKDOWN: THE ASYLUM
THE DOLL FACTORY
DIA DE LOS MUERTOS
Uncle Bobo’s Big Top of the Bizarre
Much like 3-D mazes, I tend to believe that the evil clown theme so popular for years at haunted attractions, has more or less run its course. This is clearly not the attitude of the people behind Knott’s Halloween Haunt as they bring the clowns back year after year, recycling gags and props with reckless abandon. Fans of the older Knott’s clown mazes though, have reason to rejoice as Uncle Bobo’s is basically an amped-up remake of the original Carnival of Carnivorous Clowns with better jokes and music.
A marked improvement over the previous clown affair, Killer Klown Kollege, Uncle Bobo’s is thematically less original but executed much better than the maze it replaced. Amounting to a tour through a demented side show, the narrative is not particularly fresh or interesting but the less-is-more approach works in this capacity and the posters throughout the queue and the early parts of the maze supply ample foreshadowing of the sights to come including a flea circus (hilarious), a freak show (disappointing) and the infamous “thingy” (a rare case in which an anti-climax totally works). The flow from scene to scene doesn’t seem particularly well thought out and the inclusion of a sewer scene was perplexing but the pacing is good enough throughout.
Much like the theming itself, the set design is completely predictable but not without merit. There is heavy reliance on 3-D artwork in lieu of detailed environments or any sense of realism but the theme is well conveyed and the return of clown classics like the toy room and the elephant fart gag (reproduced much bigger and more effectively) still work. As previously mentioned, a scene taking place in a sewer seems out of place but other than that the sets are serviceable if obvious and perhaps a bit lazy. The sound design is exceedingly simplistic but the choice to replace the old music (which was a little too whimsical) with various loops lifted from the Mr. Bungle song Travolta is a solid one as the track retains the needed carnival feel with an added dose of menace. As the maze progresses the sound design remains stripped down and though there could be a lot more going on, the audio leaves little to actually complain about.
The talent within the maze was extremely hit and miss, with many performers really hamming it up (in a good way), displaying good monster fundamentals and even pulling off a couple of impressive bait and switch bits. Unfortunately these high points were marred by just as many lazy actors that seemed complacent sitting in their respective rooms not really doing much at all. By the end of the maze most of the tension supplied by the energetic performers at the outset had warm off due to the lackluster talent in the final stretches. While Uncle Bobo certainly brings a better show to town than the clowns of recent years, the whole deal just seems done to death and if the theme is destined to stick around Knott’s needs to implement a serious overhaul.
Last year this maze based on the film of the same name (which is itself a remake of a foreign film called Rec.) admirably took over for the aging Grudge maze, filling the Haunt niche of recent years – the relentlessly hit and miss movie themed maze. The first of the crop appeared three years ago as The Grudge maze opened at the Haunt in correspondence with the opening of The Grudge 2. The maze was impressive – sporting an arsenal of super creepy animatronic props, effective design and top-notch talent but stuck around for a subsequent season and lost a lot of its edge the second time around. That year also saw the opening of a new movie maze, this one based on the CGI Beowulf film. This maze featured some nice set design but proved ultimately underwhelming (not to mention somewhat out of place at the Haunt) and did not return. The Quarantine maze was introduced the following season and proved a return to the intensity and quality of the original incarnation of The Grudge, standing out as the best of the 2008 mazes. So what happened this year?
Quarantine (the film) turned out to be a raging bomb at the box office, even garnering unfavorable reviews from the horror community. Its DVD release has come and gone without much fanfare and the film has already faded into relative obscurity, which leads to this maze feeling like an afterthought. Adding to the problem is the fact that the maze has been stripped down significantly – the ceiling has been removed, exposing the tent structure that houses it (a problem not present in other mazes), the hordes of energetic actors that once inhabited the maze have mostly been axed, leaving only a handful of ghouls and a bad space to monster ratio (i.e. lots of empty space) and many of the cool animatronic gags have fallen on hard times, appearing now as static props (for the most part). The set and sound design remain nicely done but are of little consequence when everything else about the maze seems left over and uncared for.
The talent wasn’t bad but was so sparse and pulled-back from last year that it seemed anemic and inconsequential. The whole experience reeks of apathy and fails to justify its own existence which is a shame because this was originally a very well done maze. Instead of a new full-on attraction we are treated to a one-room walk-through tied in with the upcoming release of The Stepfather remake and a returning maze that has aged badly.
Another returning maze that failed to strike any real chords last season, Corn Stalkers is back with a partially improved layout but still falls just short of being a compelling maze experience.
The maze begins and ends strong with impressive sets depicting a giant malevolent jack-o-lantern (whose mouth serves as the entrance) and a nightmarish barn respectively, but the long stretch in between is nothing short of dull. Like last year, the majority of the maze is made up of rotting corn stalks but the whole thing has been changed from a twisting claustrophobic path to more of a wide open straight shot that doesn’t work well for the aesthetic feel of the maze. There also don’t seem to be nearly as many scarecrows stationed throughout the proceedings this time around and thus the inability to execute a quality dummy gag falls upon the shoulders of the designers just as much as the talent. There is no real thematic narrative or sense of story with Corn Stalkers falling back on a rather generic haunt concept. The same strategy is implemented with Lockdown but while the execution of that maze elevates it above monotony, the same cannot be said of Corn Stalkers. This lack of commitment to originality or continuity comes through in the uninspired set design, most obviously exemplified by a significant stretch of the maze taking place in a non-descript black box.
The sound design is rather sparse and mimics the layout by opening and closing strong (the maniacal laughter echoing through the sinister entryway sets a great tone) but disappearing completely or being reduced to clunky sound effect tracks within the maze proper. The talent on hand is adequate despite not being given much to work with in terms of maze design, yet most actors on hand missed a lot of opportunities and failed to really add anything to the whole affair. Unfortunately the resulting experience is flat and underwhelming.
The Labyrinth, returning for a second season, remains an odd duck at the Haunt. Forgoing both the traditional gore and kitschy humor found in most of the Knott’s mazes in favor of a sort of gothic fantasy setting and quasi-serious tone, the Labyrinth can be viewed as both a welcome respite and a bit of an odd duck.
Thematically, this maze is about as confusing as they come. We travel through a bit of forest populated by malevolent fairies, then into a castle where we are treated to various scenes that seem (very) loosely inspired by the film Pan’s Labyrinth, the 80s fantasy film titled simply Labyrinth and any number of mildly creepy fantasy outings in between. Aside from these allusions, the maze seems to have no real story of its own and ends up seeming rather aimless. The vagueness of the theme at hand lends itself to nearly limitless possibilities and yet we get a whole lot of nothing. The scenic transitions add to the confusion, making geographical sense but possessing no real meaning or narrative progression.
The set design is clearly the star here, with many large, impressive animated props on display and a relentless attention to detail. The only downside is that unlike some returning mazes (the Doll Factory comes to mind) the Labyrinth’s sets are not aging well. Most every room is in need of a fresh paint job and the dummies (particularly in the creepy banquet room) have lost much of their previous luster. It stands mentioning that the room in question is perfectly set up for a classic dummy gag that is evidently not to be. Taking all of this into consideration the sets are still top notch in this maze and demand a walk through on their merits alone. The sound design strikes me as a bit unrefined and generally underused as this is another situation where great audio could really bump the experience up a notch or two. There are some instances of haunting music that work well (entering the castle section is a good example of this) but too many missed opportunities to really warrant mention.
The talent on hand was actually fairly impressive but their tactics feel out of place in a maze of this ilk. Something about the characters executing traditional jump-scares and pounding on walls seems wrong within the thematic confines of the Labyrinth, which is a shame since the actors’ aggressive nature would have fit well in almost any other maze. At the end of the day, this maze is solid but confused and really should be treated differently than its peers.
Please know that this information is simply our opinions and definitely do not reflect Knott’s Berry Farm. We do make predictions but these are truly guesses. If the happen…cool….if not, oh well!
Shall we get started with the NEW mazes for this year? The text in RED is the official description, the text in WHITE are our previews and the text in BLUE are our reviews. Enjoy!
LOCKDOWN: THE ASYLUM New for 2009 – The GhostRider 1
Well, the name pretty much says it all. What can we expect from Lockdown? That’s a good question – let’s take a look and see what the possibilities are: It’s probably safe to presume that some of the crazy energy that was present in the prior incarnations of the Asylum should be present in Lockdown. However, there is the very real possibility that certain aspects of the maze could a little more focused on a prison aspect, which would include solitary confinement and perhaps even death penalty rooms/sections: Gas Chamber (can’t you picture the fog-filled room now?), Electric Chair (perhaps even like the one that was located out near the queue line in 2008) or Lethal Injection. Another safe bet would be that this maze is going to consist of amazing twists and turns and close quarters that should really be a blast!
**REVIEW: Truth be told, we were not REALLY looking THAT forward to Lockdown: The Asylum. We thought that it was going to simply be a variation of The Asylum with some jail cells and that was about it. We were wrong.
We were right about one thing though: The crazy energy from prior incarnations of The Asylum was DEFINITELY present when we went through Lockdown. This maze is absolutely unique in almost every aspect from The Asylum. In fact, it’s a wonder why “The Asylum” was even part of the title. Lockdown appears to have NOTHING to do with the Asylum (except seeing a nurse or two) and is seriously KICK BUTT!
This maze as it stands right now, was miles above any of the other mazes we went through. The convict characters in Lockdown were actually REALLY scary because of the energy, anger and intensity they carried was just mind-blowing! It truly feels as if you’re going through some turned-upside-down prison where the convicts are undead and seeking revenge on anyone and everyone.
Another aspect of Lockdown that we loved was the music. It was definitely a throw-back to the good ol’ days of the Underground and Industrial Evil.
We’ll spare you with a ton of gushing and just say this: Lockdown (we’ll just leave “The Asylum” part out of it from now on, because it's not really necessary)) is only filled with jail cells and fences for sets but was the best maze we went through. In other words, a bunch of eye candy with beautiful sets is only one half of the story – sometimes less is more to make a great maze.
TERROR OF LONDON New for 2009 – Mystery Lodge
Now, TERROR OF LONDON sounds like a maze we may fall in love with! It has been since 1982 since “The Terrifying Trail of Jack the Ripper” maze was present at Knott’s Halloween Haunt. In 1997, during the 25th anniversary of the Haunt, the “25 YEARS OF FEARS” maze featured a couple of rooms in tribute to Jack the Ripper. For years, a “Mr. Hyde” character roamed Ghost Town and now it all comes together in one maze.
We know from prior photographs and interviews several of the scenes in the original “Terrifying Trail of Jack the Ripper”. Scenes of an underground sewer system (complete with the talent standing in water while the guests walked on bridge walkways) and graphic murder scenes were present in the original maze. What will this new variation bring??
Terror of London is replacing 13 Axe Murder Manor. The backstage area of “Mystery Lodge” is a very large space and has housed classics like “Voodoo Witch Project” and “Blood Bayou”. The possibilities on what the Knott’s Maze Designers do with this maze in this particular space would seem endless.
This maze has SO much potential that we are going to make this our prediction for the fan vote of Maze of the Year. Dark, fog-filled London streets with townsfolk, Ripper and Hyde victims – who knows? It definitely should be a VERY cool maze. This maze is our prediction of your pick for the Ultimatehaunt.com 2009 Maze of the Year.
***REVIEW: There are some AMAZING aspects of this maze and then there are some aspects that well….quite frankly, left us feeling bored and confused. Allow us to explain:
It’s our feeling that one of the issues with this maze is it feels as if it’s constantly building up to…..something. Unfortunately, that “something” is the biggest disappointment we have seen at the event: A failed and VERY amateurish-looking Frankenstein laboratory? The entire maze feels as if we’re watching a Jack the Ripper movie and it ends with Frankenstein? Sorry to be critical, but this is what we saw. PROVE US WRONG! Hopefully you have a better experience than we did and we will, of course, go through this maze again later in the month to see how it may have improved. Sorry Knott’s, but Terror of London didn’t really cut it for us. There was no connection for us. You can have beautiful sets but it’s our opinion that the sets are only one half of the story to bring a maze to life.
***PLEASE NOTE: Later visits through this maze showed VAST improvements within the "scare" and startle factors within Terror of London. The monsters appear to have found their groove and provide a hybrid between theatrics and scares. The scare elements conducted by the monsters are VERY tasteful and have a definite level of tact and class not present in any other maze of the event. It's incredible to witness the incredible and drastic change!!
DIA DE LOS MUERTOS in 3D New for 2009 – Bumper Cars
This is by far, the most original-sounding maze that we have heard of, not only at Knott’s but in the haunted attraction industry as a whole. Many mazes and haunted attractions across the country have featured dolls, clowns, zombies, post-apocolyptic creeps, werewolves, movie monsters, asylums, hospitals, haunted houses, dungeons, etc., etc. However, we are really unaware of a maze theme based upon Dia de los Muertos.
For starters, with such a large Hispanic culture in the Southern California area, the influence of Dia de los Muertos can be seen all over the place at stores on clothing, jewelry, etc. This maze has the potential of doing well for a variety of reasons…
The idea of combining Hispanic folklore into this maze sounds like a wonderful idea! We can imagine the “Lady in White” of La Llorona as well as El Chupacabra! How fun this should be! This should be a lot of eye candy and the theme actually has the capability of lending itself to some beautiful murals and artwork!
REVIEW: Talk about eye-candy!! You need to go through this maze more than once (perhaps several times!) just to see and soak in the beautiful artwork! It’s simply some of the best artwork we have seen at Knott’s Halloween Haunt!
UNCLE BOBO’S BIG TOP OF THE BIZARRE in 3D New for 2009 – Xcelerator
Here we go again with another clown theme! Way back when, we had Uncle Ernie’s Madhouse and later we had Carnival of Death. From there, the Haunt revolutionized itself with its first 3D maze with Carnival of Carnivorous Clowns in 3D. After a few variations of C3 we ended up seeing Killer Clown Kollege. Now we have Uncle Bobo’s Big Top of the Bizarre in 3D. What can we expect to see in Uncle Bobo’s?
Well – based upon the description of “…a villainous variety of vaudevillian visages” almost makes us believe that we will see more of a darker-themed maze compared to that of C3. The reason we believe that at this point in time it certainly sounds like we may go back to the days of Carnival of Death – perhaps more items with belly dancing clown zombies, more dapper costumes and or something within that line…who knows? We have a sneaky suspicion that it will be more impressive than Killer Clown Kollege.
REVIEW: We were a little off with our prediction thinking this maze was going to be a “darker” version of clowns. It really isn’t.
BUT – we feel that Uncle Bobo’s is THE BEST clown maze at Knott’s since the original Carnival of Carnivorous Clowns in 3D in 2000! This maze is INCREDIBLE!! The sets, the monsters, the jokes and gags…were all VERY COOL!
Furthermore, this maze is much longer than we anticipated! Going from one room/scene to the next just kept going and going! It is a lot of gruesome entertainment jammed into this maze. For you C3 fans out there, there are plenty of scenes present in Uncle Bobo’s that pay homage to the original. We think you will find this maze TOTALLY cool (well….unless you’re not into clowns, of course). Enjoy!
THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE – Main Gate Area
This maze was really fantastic in its debut year of 2008. Some of the scenes were a little difficult to understand the first couple of times through, but eventually the story of Farmer Willy’s BBQ was understood and was a fantastic blast.
Well, historically speaking, unless changes are made to this maze (which is probably unlikely) this maze may begin to decline in popularity pretty quick. One of two things will happen – this maze holds a timeless aspect and will continue to entertain visitors or in the alternative, it will get old pretty quick. A maze that relies heavily on gore and special fx typically doesn’t hold much longevity (this is true with the entire haunted attraction industry – not just Knott’s). It will be interesting to see what happens with Slaughterhouse….it has at least one good year in it left!
REVIEW: Surprisingly enough, this maze was VERY good when we went through it. The props, gore and gags were still put together very well. The monsters were fantastic and this maze was truly rockin’! If you did not go through Slaughterhouse in 2008, then here is your chance to go through (and what has turned out to be) a fantastic maze!! We were VERY impressed! Maybe we were wrong in thinking that Slaughterhouse lacks in longevity! At this point, it certainly appears we may have been incorrect in our guess! Go visit Farmer Willy with confidence that he and his crazed crew of freaks will give you quite the show!
CORN STALKERS – Stage Coach Trail
Unlike Slaughterhouse, we think Corn Stalkers is going to be fantastic! Will it be as popular as last year and win your vote for the Ultimatehaunt.com Maze of the Year? Probably not – but that’s okay! We predict this maze is going to be great once again.
REVIEW: Okay, at least one thing is true: The Wizard of Oz references have been eliminated. Unfortunately, what we thought might happen to Slaughterhouse (with respect to the whether or not the repeatability would work this year) happened to Cornstalkers. This maze fell very short for us and much of the "creepiness" factor that was present in 2008 seemed to have been altered in someway. The maze appeared to somehow be shorter (although, technically it probably wasn’t) than it was in 2008 and it appeared to us as though any storyline whatsoever was tossed out the window. The monsters were definitely doing their job, but something….was missing that we can’t quite place our finger on. Maybe you’ll feel the same way and define it better for us.
ALIEN ANNIHILATION in 3D – The Lake (3D Laser Tag)
Oh right you Alien Annihilation fans out there – what is to become of your maze in 2009? Several aspects for this maze were pretty cool last year…the length of the maze was cool and the talent were very good as well. However, this maze was not very “scary” as much as it was somewhat thrilling. The monsters did not appear to scare visitors as much as they were just shooting their guns at you. That wouldn’t be so bad if you participated in the laser tag, but if you didn’t well, you felt sort of left out. Perhaps this year the monsters will find ways to entertain/scare the guests whether or not they are participating in the laser tag. On the flip side, if the monsters stick to just the laser tag and if you are not playing, it will give you an opportunity to check out some of the cool details in the design of the maze.
REVIEW: Alien Annihilation was pretty much the same this year compared to its debut year in 2008. The maze is filled with astronauts and aliens with their laser guns. Many of the monsters in 2009 seemed to be really involved with entertaining/scaring us compared to last year. In other words, the monsters seemed to have picked it up several notches! It was fun (and HOT in there!) and for that extra element of entertainment, rent a laser gun to play tag with the monsters!
THE LABYRINTH – Balloon Race
We do not expect much to change this year for Labyrinth – but that’s okay! The costumes and sets were so intricate and detailed last year that we will once again be able to try and soak all of that in. Is Labyrinth scary? No. However, Labyrinth is very cool looking and has some mild thrilling moments. You will see some of the coolest costumes and characters at the Haunt inside this maze, so definitely check it out!
REVIEW: Hooray for Labyrinth! This maze appeared to be exactly the same as it was in 2008 and is still kicking serious butt! The themeing, mythical monsters, props and artwork really bring this maze to life. We had a great time going through this maze and well….there isn’t really too much more to say about it other than we recommend going in and having a great time! Let us know if you had the same experience as we did!
QUARANTINE – Fiesta Plaza
Okay – Quarantine. We were just as surprised as you were when we found out this maze was returning in 2009. Remember that the Grudge 2 maze was present at the Haunt for two years as well (same exact scenario – movie premiere in 2006 and returned in 2007). You may recall that the Grudge 2 maze during its second year was not really well received. It was sort of just....there.
Now we have Quarantine back for a second year. All we have to go by is how the Grudge 2 did its second year. Quarantine the movie had mild success in the theatre and was released on DVD in February 2009. Unfortunately, the movie is almost forgotten by most. It would have been great if at least the DVD release was taking place in October to promote....something. Seeing the maze at Haunt will certainly remind folks, “Oh yeah! I remember that movie!” Will it be enough to make this the really exciting/mind-blowing maze it was in 2008? No, probably not. However, go through it early and enjoy the characters. We think it should still be entertaining, but the buzz has probably worn off.
REVIEW: Unfortunately, we appear to have been correct in our prediction for Quarantine. Wow…this maze is NOT what it once was and really should not have come back. It’s a mystery as to what its place is at Knott’s Haunt in 2009 and just like the movie, the maze appears to have drifted off into the fog. The best aspects of this maze in 2008 (i.e., the intensity, chaos, props and scares) have pretty much disappeared in 2009. The intense firefighter introductions were not present and the feel of being pushed through a true emergency is simply lost. It is our opinion that without the urgency present in a maze like Quarantine, the entertainment value falls downward. On the bright side of things, there are DEFINITELY monsters in Quarantine that help to breathe some sort of life into the maze. We recommend going through Quarantine early in the evening…it won’t be worth a long wait.
CLUB BLOOD – GhostRider 2
You can refer to our preview/review of Club Blood from 2008 to see what we thought last year. You will see that we were pleasantly surprised with how this entire maze came together. We expect pretty much the same thing this year – in fact, we will be surprised if there are any real changes whatsoever. Be that as it may, we feel that the theme and overall presentation of Club Blood is strong enough to repeat itself for a little bit and still hold strong. The vampire craze continues with the movies and the current cable television shows, so we believe Club Blood will once again be a crowd pleaser. Enjoy!
REVIEW: Well, Club Blood is basically the same as it was in 2008. There were not really any major changes that we noticed in 2009. As we know, vampires are big right now in pop-culture, so this maze fits perfectly at the event. There is not too much that we can say about this maze that hasn't already been said. The vampires were great and those nurses toward the end are VERY creepy still - so all is well in Club Blood and if you like vampires, you should have a great time!
THE DOLL FACTORY – Wilderness Dance Hall
Relying on history, the Doll Factory is past its prime. It was your vote for the Ultimatehaunt.com Maze of the Year in 2007 and basically repeated itself in 2008 with respect to the elements that brought the maze to life: The maze still kicked butt but could not really contend with the introduction of so many new mazes in 2008. The theme continues to be impressive and that’s the most important thing. The Doll Factory will definitely scare and entertain thousands of folks in 2009 and we are looking forward to visiting the "Marionette Murderer" once again!
REVIEW: You know what? Doll Factory is AWESOME in 2009! There were monsters everywhere, the maze was dark and creepier than ever and REALLY worked for us! In many ways, we feel it is better in 2009 than it was in 2008. The continued energy of the monsters is simply impressive and actually shocking. We can't say enough about this maze! Much like the glory years of the old "Asylum", the Doll Factory continues to pack a serious punch! Double thumbs up!!
PYROMANIAX – Log Ride
No. No. No. We’re sorry, but this theme should NOT be back at Halloween Haunt in 2009. Unfortunately Pyromaniax was weak in 2007 and was pretty much just as bad in 2008. Perhaps something special will be added to Pyromaniax to spice it up, but we doubt it. It pains us to share these opinions with you because we LOVE the Log Ride at Knott’s Haunt. With so many incredible themes over the years (i.e., Terror Mountain, Santa Claws Mountain, Camp Gonnagetcha, Red Moon Massacre, etc.), the Log Ride used to be a main event. Will the Log Ride EVER be brought back to its glory years as a major attraction at Knott’s Haunt?? Who knows – but we sure do hope so. If you go through Pyromaniax this year, do it EARLY – we do not believe it will be worth a long wait. Sorry!
REVIEW: Again the same as it's been for 3 years straight, seems that some of the talent located through the mountain could use more noise makers( shaker cans ), and a little more energy then just waving a flash light and low mumbling sounds.
On a positive note, waiting in line are a few roaming monsters that had enough high energy that made waiting in line shorter. All we can suggest is visit early to avoid the lines that gather later in the evening.
BLACK WIDOW’S CAVERN– Mine Ride
Unlike the Log Ride, the Mine Ride has improved the past couple of years…and we are excited about it! The theme of spiders definitely lends itself to the Mine Ride and for right now, is a perfect fit! Again, go on the Mine Ride early – the lines are HORRIBLE once the crowds fill in the park!
REVIEW: The theme of spiders again fits the mine ride, though this year a lot more fog and darker lighting in the sections made it feel more abandon, and really couldn't see what's around the next turn or next to your mine car. This type of element is perfect for the Mine Ride and it appears fine-tuning this attraction for the past couple of the years is paying off!
That's it for now, folks! Let us know if you agree/disagree with our opinions and why! We would love to hear from you! Email us!