September 22, 2023, 3:04 AM ·

Knott’s Berry Farm Thursday night kicked off the 50th anniversary edition of its annual after-hours Halloween event, Knott’s Scary Farm.

The former Halloween Haunt spawned an industry after it opened in 1973, inspiring parks all over the world to extend their seasons with Halloween events. Today, when it is at its best, Knott’s Scary Farm remains the top theme park Halloween event in America. But when it’s not at its best… well, yeah.Let’s start with the good stuff. Knott’s debuted three new mazes for its 50th anniversary this year, and two of them impressed immediately as potential all-time greats. Cinema Slasher takes the space formerly occupied by the beloved Dark Ride maze, and this is more than a worthy replacement. Knott’s doesn’t have access to a bunch of movie IP like its competition up the 5, but Knott’s nevertheless has crafted a love letter to horror films that is both heart-felt and heart-ripping at the same time.You enter this cinema’s lobby to the smell of popcorn, only for lightning effects to foreshadow the troubles within. From there, you walk from theater to theater in this multiplex, where you literally will walk into each movie. Again, these are not specific franchises, but when you see a slasher jump from behind the curtain in a tub shower or a possessed young woman floating above her bed, you’ll probably get the references. The Halloween and Friday the 13th references are about as subtle as the weapons coming at you in scene after scene of Cinema Slasher.Cinema Slasher should appeal to a wide range of horror fans, but for long-time Scary Farm devotees, The Chilling Chambers is the maze that will get them in the heart. A tribute to 50 years of Knott’s halloween events, The Keeper welcomes visitors into a cathedral that pays homage to notable mazes and monsters from Scary Farm’s past, culminating in a graveyard of past Scary Farm mazes.Name-checking Knott’s original Halloween maze, The Chilling Chambers is another masterpiece of a haunt attraction. Yes, it’s pure fan service for devoted Scary Farm visitors, but it works perfectly well as a stand-alone experience for a first-timer, too. Room after room hit, with a wide variety of scares and characters.

Next to these two powerhouses (powermazes?), Knott’s third new maze this year, Room 13 suffers a bit in comparison. An extension of the surrounding Gore-ing 20s scare zone, Room 13 tells the backstory of The Devil’s Elixir, concocted in Argive Hotel and its mysterious Room 13. But the story doesn’t come through to pull the experience together, even though the maze offers some engaging scenes.Knott’s returning mazes (follow the links for reviews and walk-through videos) are:Knott’s also is offering four shows this year: Carnaval du Grotesque on the Calico Mine Stage, Dr. Cleaver Returns in the Bird Cage, Music, Monsters and Mayhem in the Walter Knott Theater… and the return of The Hanging in the Wagon Camp.Against my better judgment, I figured I should try The Hanging (“Uncancelled,” the subtitle says) since it’s back after a four-year absence. For 25 minutes, the show convinced me that I need not have worried. Teasing potential self-awareness for the problems the show has had in the past, this year’s Hanging delivered strong laughs – punching up rather than down – getting its biggest cheers for a bit that included Disneyland’s Fantasmic! dragon catching fire.It all sets up a hanging at the end, of the year’s biggest villain. This time, the villain appeared to be Elon Musk – an appropriate choice, given the mess he’s made of the former Twitter. (Which wasn’t all that great before he bought it, to be fair.) Rather than putting him in a historically (and racially) charged noose, the show instead opted to have him “rebranded” with a red-hot X applied to his rear end. It would have been the perfect end to a satisfying 25-minute production. Alas, The Hanging Uncancelled runs for 30 minutes, and in those final five minutes, it snatched yet another defeat from the jaws of victory. Just as Musk is to meet his, uh, end, a trio of “Karens” comes to complain. Yes, these are Knott’s true villains of the year – the women who complain about everything.Okay, except that in listing the Karens’ alleged crimes, the Sheriff and the Hangman accuse them of being “social justice warriors.” Huh? The whole point of the Karen stereotype is to portray a person so selfish that they demand that everyone and everything else in the world accommodate their every whim. That’s pretty much the antithesis of someone making a scene on behalf of social justice, isn’t it?When the show carelessly conflates several types of complainers like that, it seems that The Hanging’s real villain is… anyone who complains about The Hanging. Given that the show opened with a bit about fake victims – people who suffer no real harm while complaining when something does not go exactly their way – The Hanging’s conclusion seems a bit hypocritical, doesn’t it? Who’s really the thin-skinned one here?I’ll give Knott’s credit for retiring the noose from the show, but in choosing to “hang” the lead Karen with Knott’s own “No Boo Necklace” – the new merch item Knott’s is selling this year to people who won’t want to be scared in scare zones – Knott’s just leveled up the hypocrisy. I should have gone to the Bird Cage, instead.To keep up to date with more theme park news, please sign up for Theme Park Insider’s weekly newsletter. For discounts on admission to Knott’s Scary Farm as well as Knott’s Berry Farm, please visit our partner’s Knott’s Berry Farm tickets page.

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