Knott's Berry Farm (56531752.jpg )
After 38 consecutive Halloween Haunts, little changes year in and year out at Knott's Berry Farm. To be certain, Knott's remains the king of the Halloween mountaintop until another theme park knocks it off.
The annual event in Buena Park has grown so large — with 13 mazes, seven shows, three scare zones and 1,000 monsters — that you simply can't see everything in one evening. By comparison, Universal Studios Hollywood offers only five movie-studio-quality mazes at Halloween Horror Nights.
And though Knott’s dutifully adds new elements every year, the themes become increasingly redundant: zombies, vampires, mutants, monsters, repeat, recycle.
During my recent visit on a relatively quiet midweek evening, I was impressed by the massive undertaking of Haunt and dismayed by the going-through-the-motions complacency of the talent. It felt like they'd done it all before — or, at least, I'd seen it all before.
Let's be clear. I love Halloween, and I anxiously await Haunt every year. And although there was plenty to like about the 2010 edition of Haunt, I wasn't blown away. And I wanted to be blown away. Maybe that's the problem with being great for such a long time. People expect you always to remain great. This year was only good.
Here are my impressions of Knott's 13 Halloween Haunt mazes, ranked in order from best to worst:
Virus Z — New for 2010, the zombie maze had good scares, a great soundtrack and the best theming I've ever seen in a Knott's maze. Now they just need to work on the lighting to raise the execution level to Universal Studios-quality levels.
Terror of London — This Jack the Ripper-themed maze had great scenery, a solid back story and plenty of atmospheric talent even if the overall result wasn't that scary. The returning maze was my favorite from 2009 and demonstrates Knott's newfound attention to detail in response to the resurgent Universal Studios.
Uncle Bobo's Big Top of the Bizarre — The crazed-clown maze was mercifully light on 3-D effects and heavy on startle scares with a high energy level. The much-improved maze ranked near the bottom for me in 2009.
Doll Factory —By far the best bang for the buck on my visit, with the monsters scaring me eight straight times at one point in the maze. While the theming remains weak, the maze improved greatly over its dismal showing in 2009.
Fallout Shelter — This mutant maze, new for 2010, was light on scares but well themed, with a vibrating floor in the missile silo and glow-in-the-dark bubbles among the highlights. The advertised 3-D effects were virtually nonexistent.
Black Widow's Cavern —Several great scares emerged out of the thick fog on the haunted mine train. Spiders remain a perfect theme for the ride.
Cornstalkers —The much-improved cornfield maze contained several good scares and a solid creep factor throughout. The highlight: an awesome audio-animatronic skeleton that towered over terrified visitors.
Sleepy Hollow Mountain — New for 2010, the legend of the headless horseman takes over the haunted log ride with a few audio-animatronic characters and even fewer scares. The jack-o'-lantern cave was the lone highlight. One wish: If only a scuba diver could pop out of the water after the big drop at the end of the ride.
Club Blood —This uninspiring returning maze with the sexy vampire theme continued to wallow in mediocrity. The maze would have fallen further to the bottom of the list except for the alien leaping out of a woman's womb (which you know is coming but is still scary) and the towering monster on stilts in the final scene (which offered the best scare of night).
Slaughterhouse — One of my favorite mazes from 2009 fell hard this year. The deranged-butcher-runs-a-barbecue-restaurant maze sorely lacked sound (meat grinder), smell (barbecue sauce) and scares (maybe the monsters were on a break).
Lockdown: The Asylum —Another of my favorite mazes from 2009 drops from the top to the cellar. Long stretches of inactivity had us looking for the insane inmates rather than trying to avoid them. One question: Why were there so many nurses in the jail?
Dia de los Muertos: Day of the Dead — No monsters, no scares, no más. Another favorite from 2009 suffers a serious drop-off. The crowded roomful of skeletons showed promise but produced no payoff.
Labyrinth — The pointless and endless cursed castle and haunted forest maze was filled with fairies and gypsies that stared but didn't scare. A head-scratcher of a long walk.