Knott’s Halloween Haunt 2009: All You Fear Is Here

Thursday marked our annual return to Knott’s Halloween Haunt, our way of kicking the season off with a bang. I gave a pretty detailed review of last year’s shenanigans here, and quite a bit of it still applies.

We always go on the first day, which is always the last Thursday in September. This is a great time to take kids, because it’s not very crowded, and you don’t have to worry about them getting trampled.

This year I tried to take a few pictures to add to the review, but some of them are quite bad. Bear with me: I really wasn’t there to take pictures, and my camera is awkwardly big, so I rushed more than a few.

The fun started before we even entered the park. We had dinner at the hotel the beforehand (which entitles you to get into the park early) and a couple of ghouls came into the dining area to say “Hi”. They were named Hollywood and Smiley and they told us to come look for us in the Ghost Town.

Since there’s about an hour-and-a-half between the time we finish dinner and when we enter the park (Dad likes food to be well digested before kids embark on stomach-upending adventures), we chilled in our “apartment"—as the Flower styled it—while she drew a picture of Hollywood and Smiley to give to them later.

They started out with this new villainous zombie guy hosting, yelling nasty things from the top of the entrance to the Ghost Rider coaster. I used to think that Knott’s, which was hosted by The Crypt Keeper and/or Elvira back the first time I went, and has been visited over the years by Jason, Freddie and Michael, had chopped these characters out as a way of saving cash. And perhaps that’s true.

But now I can see that those characters weren’t perennials, or I can at least see how they might not seem that way to the execs who run the park, aiming for the teen audience. I mean, the kids who were there this year would probably say "Crypt Keeper who?” Er, maybe “What Keeper?”

I, myself, am a lover of the classics. They could rock the Edgar Allan Poe and I’d dig it. I’d be in geek heaven if they did an H.P. Lovecraft theme.

As I always, we made a beeline through the Ghost Town and headed for the mine ride. I explained why in last year’s post, but another reason not mentioned then is that about five of the mazes are right up front and easy targets for people looking to score a quick maze fix.

I kind of like this picture I took, from the waist, with the setting sun, and the monster’s starting to run hither-and-yon to get to their destinations.

I was expecting a little more from the Mine Ride this year: It’s still the Black Widow’s Cavern, a spider theme, and the only maze that The Flower hides her eyes for.They flooded the ride with fog this time; you literally couldn’t see much of anything. The giant animatronic spider wasn’t there. They really haven’t gotten anywhere near the coolness of the previous undead army theme. We were on the very first car, though, so perhaps this will improve with later evenings.

The other ride The Flower will not do—and I never push this sort of thing—is the log flume (Pyromaniax). So The Boy rode it alone while we accosted various monsters. He said they didn’t do much on the fire front.

The Flower would get into these great situations with monsters but by the time I got the camera ready, she’d have moved on. There were some later opportunities, however.

From the two rides, I always head to the far end of the park. This has been Killer Klown Kollege for years now, but they changed it to Uncle Bobo’s Big Top of the Bizarre.

Honestly, this didn’t seem like a new maze at all. I guess it wasn’t 3D (which never really does anything for my experience, so I never get the glasses), but otherwise it seemed like the same maze as always. Minus last year’s bungee-cord powered killer klown.

I’m a big advocate of going the first day—not too big, lest the idea catch on and ruin it—but I stopped on the way in to Uncle Bobo’s to take a couple pictures to illustrate why I’m such a big advocate.

The following constitutes a small fraction of the queue, which on a later day would be all filled up.
It’s all asses-to-elbows, the closer you get to Halloween. You can’t hardly breathe. Especially in weather like we’re having: warm, until late at night.

And, yeah, I just made up that phrase, “asses-to-elbows”. I like it, even though it makes no damn sense.

Anyway, on the first day, you can get winded from running from one end of the queue to the actual maze entrance.

From there, we swooped ‘round the north end of the park, where Lost Vegas had been replaced with the new Mexican-themed Dia De Los Muertos.
This was where we first encountered the heavy hand of the “No Flash Photography” police. I mean, they mention it on all the rides, but me having my camera out seemed to put the security guys on alert.

This maze was really great, especially for a first year. The colors were a little more festive—lots more greens and reds—and had a really nice thematic shift from the usual grays and browns, which was good because it replaced the garish “Lost Vegas”. It was definitely one of my favorites this year.

It had a very different feel, with a little marketplace, a cemetery, and surprisingly few Mexican clichés. No “hat dance”, e.g. It reminded me vaguely of all those Mexican-themed horror stories Ray Bradbury wrote.

From there we went to another new maze: Terror of London.

This was in the spot of the previous classics “Blood Bayou” and “13 Axe Murder Manor”, and so had some big shoes to fill.

This was my favorite maze of the night. Often new mazes are a little sketchy, not quite fully realized, but Terror really was, as was Dia. (Uncle Bobo, sort of ironically, really wasn’t.)

When you step into this maze, you step into 19th century London. Well, at least a movie-set rendition of 19th century London, which is good enough. This maze is quiet. Fog puffs up artfully as you navigate the alleyways, coming across more and more gruesome murders.

For good measure, they threw in a meat-pie shop and a Frankensteinian reference—I also thought a little Jekyll & Hyde. It’s a mishmash in that sense, but fairly thematically constant for a mishmash.

From there, it was off to The Doll Factory.

And there’s a creepy doll!
That always follows you!
It’s got a ruined eye
That’s always open!

And there’s a creepy doll!
That always follows you!
It’s got a pretty mouth
To swallow you whole!

This is always a favorite of The Flower. And it amuses me how her basic principles of “dolls = good”, “faeries = good” override the obvious intended terror. It applies here, to Labyrinth and to Club Blood.

Well, by this time, we’d done six of the attractions and it was…7:40?

Holy crap.

The Hanging was at 8:00PM, and possibly the first time we’d ever seen the very first hanging on the very first day. So we settled in right up front and sat on the fence.
You have to watch out when you’re this close, as they do splash blood on you a bit.

The hangings are always interesting on a number of levels. For example, we used to do very similar “stunt routines” in Karate, but we were way, way better. At first, that seems sort of shocking—after all, these guys are professionals—but then you realize we spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours practicing over the course of many years, where these guys can’t possibly invest that kind of time.

But we made contact with our routines.

They’re also always interesting because they’re basically pop-culture fests. A lot of the references are very hit-and-miss. They started by trying to hang Susan Boyle, then the crew of the Enterprise (rent-a-car) intervened, the Octomom showed up, etc. But this year, unlike last, was completely apolitical. I prefer that.

And this year was hilarious, because they hung the vampire from the Twilight series. (I guess it must really annoy the crap out of people.) It’s not that they hung him for being annoying, it’s that the show didn’t end there (though people walked away). And they actually ended with a big dance number.

Now, the other thing about this year in particular, was that they screwed up. Royally. All over the place. (First show, right?) Some people missed their marks, I think. But mostly, the tape playing was all over the map. You see, part of the show is live talking, but the imitations and singing are recorded. (Of course, where are you going to find stuntmen who can imitate Austin Power and Arnold Schwarzeneggar?)

And all these tapes have to be synched up with the action, and the special sound effects have to match the punches (that’s always hit-and-miss, as it were), and the music has to come at the right time. At one point, they were playing two tapes at once. (One right, one wrong.) A few cues were completely missed. And they even had to stop the whole show for a minute to get set up again.

We loved it.

For one thing, the show really was better material than in past years. The usual misfires, crudities and badly timed jokes notwithstanding, it was better written overall. And for us, as longtime goers, it was kind of cool to see how they handled the screw-ups, big and small.

After this, we would head to the front of the park, where everyone usually rushes at the beginning of the night. I actually dislike moving around in this area, as I haven’t been there during the day in years, and it’s full of little cul-de-sacs and dead ends (in the form of rides, shops and a clubby-type restaurant). I swear they made this area hard to get through to make the park seem bigger.

And so we came to Quarantine:
I talked about this movie-based ride last year; movie rides are a bit iffy in general, but this was a pretty good one, and this year it was actually fleshed out a bit more, though they dropped the opening effect where they kill the fireman.

From there we went to the still exceedingly weak Corn Stalkers, to which was added the fresh scent of manure. Well, yeah, disgust is kin to horror. Seriously, what the hell were they thinking? (No picture.)

Then from there, we went to Alien Annihilation (no picture), but this year The Flower didn’t want to rent a gun to shoot the aliens with. So she used her finger, and the monsters were quite accommodating.

Everyone was super-nice this year, actually. Monsters, refreshment stand folk, security. Helpful, even, knowing where rides were and so on.
This guy, for example. Stopped to talk with us, as did a werewolf whom The Flower gave some cookies to. (She was prepared this year. After being accosted every year by a wolf thinking she was Red Riding Hood, she decided to bring cookies in her backpack.)

Anyway, Alien Annihilation was a bit weak. I’m not sure what it was, exactly. Sometimes mazes aren’t quite there on the first day, I think. Other times, older mazes can sort of peter out. Nobody’s excited to work in them or on them, I suspect.

Another one I think may have been understaffed was Labyrinth. It’s a cool maze, and The Flower loves the faeries. But it seemed like there were a lot of stretches of not much to look at.

I also got that feeling from The Slaughterhouse (sorry for the crappy pic). Just a lot of empty space. The Slaughterhouse is kind of funny because there wasn’t even anyone out there with a sign indicating it was a ride.

From here, we started the long trek across the park to Club Blood and Lockdown, but as we passed the Wagon Camp theater, Inferno was starting up. We saw them last year and liked them so we stopped in to see the scantily clad performers twirl flaming weapons and light themselves on fire.
The Flower was on an autograph kick this year. She brought her book and wanted Snoopy to sign it. But I pointed out he couldn’t hold a pen.

The Inferno guys (and gals) were better this year than last. The above-pictured girl had a flaming staff she was spinning like crazy. Adding to the excitement is the several people hiding behind strategically placed stage decorations with blankets and fire extinguishers.

Yikes. Show business.

As we trekked to the far end of the park, there was a new little thing based on the upcoming movie Stepfather. I guess this isn’t a remake of the old Terry O’Quinn series—and I would’ve sworn Corbin Bernsen had a movie like it—and I can’t figure out if this “scene” was a good thing or not. I wouldn’t want to stand in line to see it.Basically, you pile into a room, they play a bit from the movie. There are a few startling things and some monsters come at you. It’s, like, 30 seconds.

The last new maze of the night was Lockdown. This was previously the Asylum, a long-running insane asylum theme, and this is even listed as “The Asylum: Lockdown” in some places, but they’ve really gone full prison theme.

And this was another good one, too. It’s derivative of the old asylum, but different enough. (Nice minor touch: A picture of Rita Hayworth pinned up on one of the walls.)

This feeds pretty directly into Club Blood, the inevitable vampire-themed maze, which The Flower loves and which has some very cool effects. It was here, though, that we had our biggest clash with the “flash photography gestapo”.

You see, the maze is at the very edge of the park, and beyond the gate was a visible warehouse. Well, The Boy and I have a running debate going:

In every video game ever made, there are wooden crates. But in real life, you never see crates. He pointed to the warehouse and said, “Crates!”

I said, “No, boxes on pallets. There’s a difference.” So I decided to take a picture, and this female security guard came up and said, “What are you taking a picture of!”

Well, so then I had to explain. Heh. And the picture came out lousy, too, but I still maintain they were boxes on pallets.

At this point, we’d done all the mazes and seen two of the shows. It was 10:30PM. The Boy wanted to do them all again while The Flower wanted to see the shows. There’s always one marginally inappropriate dance number (in the Charles Schultz theater, heh) so I was hemming and hawing on that a bit. But I did take a couple more pictures to demonstrate why Knott’s was superior to Disney in important ways:

There were many such lasses with similar signs throughout the park, and while I don’t drink, if I did, I probably would drink it during the Haunt.

No violence broke out, apparently. And people were generally not belligerent.

Well, we compromised a bit. We did The Doll Factory and the Terror of London again, caught the show at the Birdcage Theater, then did a couple of laps on Bigfoot Rapids, which is not done up for the Haunt, but which is a popular ride for the kids.

They got soaked, while I didn’t, so we did the ride again—and they got even more soaked, while once again I remained dry. That’ll show them whippersnappers.

The show at The Birdcage was really quite good this year: The theme was a take off on “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” so the material was new. The Twilight series was another whipping boy, only they had zombie romance instead. Cute and funny.

In between the last few rides we ran into our pals Smiley and Hollywood again, but the Flower couldn’t find the pictures she had drawn of them.

We moseyed on out of the park just a little early—our energy was a bit low this year for some reason—stopping at a few shops here and there, and finally limping our way back to the hotel room, satisfied with another job well done.

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