Knott’s Scary Farm Haunt

Most people don’t like autumn. For most people, autumn is the gateway to winter; it means the end of summer as well as signifying the beginning of the school year. The air gets colder, the days get shorter and the work gets harder. But I love the fall. It’s my favorite season. For me, autumn means falling leaves, cooler evenings and most of all, Halloween. And Halloween means “Halloween Haunt.”

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Knott’s Berry Farm’s annual “Halloween Haunt,” when the whole park transforms into Knott’s Scary Farm and the park becomes a host of horrors. Regular hours are suspended, and from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., thousands of Southern California residents are ushered into the darkened theme park to trudge through horrifying mazes, hide from enthusiastic monsters and have a screaming good time.

To honor 40 years of frightening delights, Knott’s erected 12 mazes — warehouses converted into themed horror factories, chock full of props, hidden monsters and vaguely distinguishable plots. Granted, the stories for these mazes aren’t the best, nor are they always well determined; in fact, I don’t think anybody has a clue what the theme of “Dominion of the Dead” is, but the actors and volunteers dressed as vampires popping out of trapdoors are sure to delight.

Other new mazes include “Pinocchio Unstrung,” which houses some of the least enthusiastic monsters, but the best props; “Evil Dead,” a reworking of the log ride that didn’t much stick to theme but brought revels nonetheless; and the most disappointing “Trick or Treat.”

“Trick or Treat” is Knott’s “park-theme” maze, a maze designed to evoke the overall feel of this year’s “Haunt.” It is, unfortunately, the only real letdown of the night. “Trick or Treat” attempts to shove an overly complicated plot (something about a witch) down the throats of visitors, all of which are crammed too tight into the haunted “house” to see or hear a thing, unless they’re at the front of the line.

Thankfully, the other 11 mazes are an absolute riot, the old ones invigorated with new layouts and monsters, and the new sure to bring pleasant shocks and surprises. Additionally, this year, Knott’s has introduced its first interactive maze, dubbed “Trapped.” Visitors are required to pay $60 to reserve a group spot — a maximum of six people — and enter the maze alone, where their group is required to solve puzzles and evade monsters to escape a more traditional sort of maze.

Anyone desiring to enter “Trapped” is required to sign a safety waiver — yikes! This writer would’ve given anything to tackle the macabre puzzle, but the entire first weekend of reservations is already sold out. And as this article is being written, no reviews are available online. Everyone must still be out of breath … or still trapped inside. Either way, “Trapped” is a hit.

But one of the most famous staples of “Halloween Haunt” isn’t even intended to frighten. Since 1979, each year, actors and improvisers come together at Knott’s to put together a raucous comedy show spoofing the year in pop culture — a show famed worldwide as “The Hanging.”

The format of the show is the same each year: the Lawman and Hangman gather together citizens of the fictional town of Calico, wherein some supernatural force or other deus ex machina requires them to battle pop culture icons and make politically incorrect jokes, all culminating in a final scene. After all the jokes and faux battles, the Lawman draws forth the greatest pop culture offender to be “hanged” for their crimes against humanity. Previous victims include Justin Bieber, Robert Pattinson and last year’s Rebecca Black, who was promptly upstaged by Charlie Sheen, who hung himself instead. Without giving away any spoilers, this year’s event is titled “The Hanging Games,” and won’t disappoint “Haunt” fans, new or old.

That’s the overall impression of this year’s Knott’s Scary Farm. After 40 years of delivering theatrical frights, “Halloween Haunt” is still undead and kicking, with fun and fear to please even the most scrupulous of die-hard horror fans, new or old.