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.

Knott’s Halloween Haunt

I’ve already blogged about The Hanging at this year’s Halloween Haunt, so I thought I’d take a look at the rest of the event.

We stayed at the Knott’s Resort Hotel, which used to be a Radisson, and was actually better when it was, though only in mostly minor ways. First being, no free Internet. $6 for an hour, $10 for a night. I was fine without the ‘net, but that sort of thing annoys me.

Far worse, though is that they’ve messed with the water flow to the rooms, so that there’s very little pleasure in taking a shower and it takes forever to fill a bath. That’s a pet peeve of mine.

Unlike most amusement parks, Knott’s takes some care with their food. (The food inside the park is varied and while not exactly good and of course outrageously priced, it beats most of the other parks by a mile. They have a Johnny Rocket’s and a Panda Express, for example.) Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Kitchen, just outside the park, is rather good, on the other hand. But they don’t take reservations and the lines are just enormous around Haunt time. Since we were at the hotel, a buffet is part of the deal, which is not quite up to Mrs. Knott’s level.

Anyway, the big deal about the Haunt is the mazes and monsters. Lots of monsters wandering around the park trying to scare you. These guys are fun and good at spotting victims, whether screamy teen girls or people who are focused on other things. (They love coming up to me when I’m looking at the map.)

They have 13 mazes and a bunch of shows. On the first night, not all the shows are playing, but we managed to pack in four shows and see all the mazes (except for “Pyromaniax”, which is the log flume, and my kids are weird about log flumes).

Besides the log flume, the other ride that gets converted to Halloween-style is the mine ride. If you’ve never been to Knott’s, or its sister park Calico (out in the desert), the mine ride is one of those ’50s era throwbacks where a slow-moving mine car takes you through some representations of historical mining practices. It’s as thrilling as it sounds!

For years, this was turned into an Army of Darkness-themed ride called “Army of the Underworld”, one of our favorites. Last year, I think it was, they changed it to become “The Lair of the Black Widow”, a spider-themed ride. It was pretty thin, last year, as if often the case with the new mazes. This year, they had added a bunch of cool stuff, though they are quite constrained–as with the log flume–because of the structure of the ride itself. So, there’s always a guy in this one box, and always an animatronic dealy-bob over there, etc. This year they had the animatronic dealy-bob lunge at you (as always), but then it spit out some slightly moist air, which was pretty effective.

By far the dinkiest maze in the park (due, as I say, to structural issues), and yet the only one that The Flower would absolutely not look at. The other mazes were gorier, disgusting, loud–and she was fine through them all. But apparently she draws the line at giant spiders.

Anyway, we always do the mine ride first, before the park opens to the general public, because no matter how light a day it is, there can be lines. (Because you do get to sit down for a few minutes, I’m quite positive.)

From there I work the park in a counter-clockwise direction. The trick is to get the heavy-walking done up front. Although I know The Boy is good for the whole time, this was only The Flower’s third trip, and she wasn’t sure she was going to come. (Last year we did the log flume, and–well, I told you my kids were weird about the log flume.) We actually hit all the mazes except one by 9:30.

Lost Vegas was the first maze we did. This is a potpourri (that’s SO not an appropriate word here) of buffet gluttony, zombie strippers and Elvis impersonators.

13 Axe Murder Manor is the scariest maze on the lot. In non-Halloween times, it’s the “ride” where the old Indian tells you a story and they make it look like the smoke from his campfire is making little cartoons. Before it was “13 Axe Murder Manor” it was a cajun-themed, mutant hillbilly deal–and still was the scariest maze on the lot. One year, they had a Leatherface-style chainsaw weilding maniac–cleverly using a real chainsaw without the chain, so it had the real sounds and smells–and my mom has never gone back to the park.

Heh.

Part of this ride is a parody of The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, done in very grisly form. The one year we brought one of The Flower’s peers, he freaked out.

The park gives you lots of warnings about not bringing kids, which is smart. Now, in practice, 95% of the monsters are going to respond in a friendly way to a child, if they respond at all. But there’s always at least one who wants to scare the kids. Those seem to gravitate toward this ride.

Last year, they made The Flower very nervous, but she’ll take The Boy’s hand on one side and mine on the other, and she didn’t even flinch.

Meanwhile, she loves The Doll Factory, because, you know: Dolls! This is another one of those rides that has its share of hot chicks in short skirts and stockings. (Hey, it’s hard to be a guy sometimes: You’re supposed to be scared, not leering.)

Although only in its second year, this has a nice, spooky theme and some great visuals. It’s interesting how “anomalous imagery” (as HP Lovecraft might have styled it) can be created just by oversizing something a bit. The park can’t be overly subtle when it need to move huge crowds through, but you can linger a bit on the first day and appreciate some of the finer points. (The Boy and I tend to be a little clinical in that regard: We like the special effects and aesthetics of the mazes.)

Two of the mazes are parked at the far west end of the lot, and are often pretty weak. They’re good ones to get out of the way early on before you get too tired. If you come in the side gate “VIP” entrance (as we do), you’re actually right there, and it’d probably be smarter to do those first than it is to run to the mine ride. (But, if you haven’t gathered, I hate lines.)

The Asylum is, you know, what you’d expect. Crazy people and lobotomies, overenthusiastic shock therapy and the like. And this year it feeds into Club Blood. They retired the aged, highly-polished “Lair of the Vampires” (which was interesting if for no other reason than it was a kind of “vampire through the ages”, besides being the repository for most of the hot-chick-type “monsters”–I mean, what self-respecting girl doesn’t want to be a vampire these days?), and recycled bits of it for this dance-club themed vampire maze.

In a weird turn, the theme is more “morning after” vampire: You basically follow the story of women seduced by vampires who then get pregnant and give birth to demon babies.

Surprisingly strong for a first year maze. I wonder if it’s related to that “True Blood” series on HBO that I haven’ t looked at.

In The Slaughterhouse–the very theme makes me think of Motel Hell with Rory Calhoun–I discovered I do have a “rule” of sorts about mazes: I have my doubts about being made complicit in evil activities.

I’ve talked about this before, but the phrase “torture porn” gets thrown around a lot with regard to movies, without any sense of what means, or what it should mean. I like, for example, the Saw movies, the first Hostel movie, and a lot of other movies and stories that feature graphic violence.

But what they have in common is that you’re not supposed to enjoy the violence. That is, you’re not supposed to be a sadist. You’re supposed to empathize–especially in the early Saw movies–with, “Wow, what would I do in that situation.”

In the ’70s, there were quite a few movies where the violence was sexualized, and these movies are nearly unwatchable.

So, in this maze, the idea is supposed to be that you’re trapped by sausage-making madman who want to auction you off and make you into the daily special, but in fact, you’re treated more as a knowing customer.

As I said, a little uncomfortable. But if horror isn’t about some discomfort, what it is about? It’s all in good fun? Right? This is the first time I can recall having this at the park–and it happened in a later maze, too.

Alien Annihiliation and Corn Stalkers: For years, Knott’s–to get their thirteen mazes in–has tried to do something with this narrow stretch at the east end of the park. Since they first opened it has been a generic sort of maze called “Dark Passage”, and they spiced it up a bit by making it a laser-tag game.

This year, they took the laser tag game in-doors and placed it on a spaceship full of aliens you could blow away. The Flower got herself a gun and shot them all–and most of them actually fell down, which was pretty cool given how long a night these guys have. The Flower was a little Ripley and even blasted the giant alien at the end.

Meanwhile, the area that used to be “Dark Passage” had been given a sort of evil-Wizard of Oz feel, complete with Tin Man and an assortment of scarecrows. The problem, though, is that the area is so small that even on the first night, you end up bunched up with a crowd trying to navigate through the tight turns. Plus it’s just not quite “there” yet. It has a very generic feel still.

The other ride where they controlled entry–not because of crowds but because they were trying to get a particular effect in the opening room, was Quarantine. Movie-based mazes are usually lame: First of all, it seems to take a while to develop a good maze. “The Grudge 2” maze was quite bad the first year, and really excellent the second year, when it was no longer relevant. Second of all, there’s often not that much in a movie that constitutes good maze material. Last years “Beowulf” maze was just sad.

Happily, this maze was quite effective, even if a little light. The opening room is large-ish and has story elements and a creepy atmosphere with a surprise effect. And what was particularly effective was that most mazes funnel you in a particular direction. You know where the side-pockets are, and the “scares” (such as they are) tend to come from this focusing of your attention in one place while coming at you from a different direction.

A room in “Quarantine” had you in the center of a room, with zombie-ish infected creatures all around you, slowly encroaching on your personal space. I don’t know if they’ll be able to keep it up when the park reaches “Mark of Gideon” crowd densities but it was definitely a worthy addition to the catalogue.

Also, I’m gonna hafta go see the movie just to figure out what the demon-baby thing is. I’ve not been paying much attention to the commercials but now that I’ve been through the maze, I’ve noticed a flash of the demon-baby image in the commercial.

“Quarantine” was the other ride where you were made to feel as an outsider who was not helping the victims. This wasn’t so bad because the implication was that you were gonna be a victim, versus being a customer in “The Slaughterhouse”.

Right around here, The Flower saw a show going on, so we sat down and watched Zamora do his thing. I’m not a sideshow guy, not since I was a kid. (I don’t like the circus, either.) But the kids seemed to like the whole laying-on-bed-of-nails, arm-skewering and the like. Fire-eating is always fun. And at the end they had a bit where a woman sits on a tesla-coil-ish thing and shoots lighting out of her fingers. (They did a thing on that on the Discovery channel, but it’s fun to see it live.) I have some pix of this that didn’t come out well.

Replacing the old “Lair of the Vampire” was The Labyrinth, inspired by Pan’s Labyrinth more than the muppet movie. This is the one maze we went through twice, because The Flower liked it so much. It’s not really scary, but it’s very cool: Lots of cute girls as faeries, with a bunch of guys dressed as satyrs. The Flower practiced her curtsey with the faerie queen, and it looked liked they stole Grendel’s animatronic machinery to make a keen rock golem-thingy, reminiscient of Hellboy 2. It sort of petered out a bit at the end but was still enjoyable.

At that point, it was 9:30 and we had done all the maze but one, so we went to see The Hanging.

After the Hanging we ran over to Killer Klown Kollege, which seemed remarkably subdued this year. They did have bungee guy, which is cool: One of the effects they have is to make a big recessed area with a guy at the far end, 5-10 feet off the ground, and hooked to a bungee. They fill the area up with fog and the guy leaps at you.

So what you see is this guy flying out of the fog at you. Very nice. They also did this very effectively on “13 Axe Murder Manor”, but everything’s freakier with clowns.

We tried to see the Chipper Lowell experience after this, but he didn’t show up (he was supposed to). But we did catch “Inferno”, an apparently local group of 2 girls and three guys, plus a third gal with a fire-extinguisher. They did what’s known as “fire dancing”, which is sort of like rhythmic gymnastics if you set all the implements on fire.

The funny thing, to me, was the way the girls were smiling. I couldn’t tell if they were doing a straight “pageant-smile”–that freaky, frozen thing that beauty pageant contestants do–or whether they had juiced it up with a little Jack Nicholson, pyromanic-type thing. (The fact that their faces were very close to fire may have added a certain demonic quality.)

They seemed like nice young, fire-eating kids. The Flower got her picture taken with them.

The Boy got hungry so he had a bit to eat and The Flower rode the nearby carousel a couple of times. You know, it’s a bit of a challenge to take a picture of someone on a carousel at midnight, while it’s moving? Just in case you were wondering.

We didn’t have an opportunity to see the vampire show “Fangs”. Those tend to be a bit racy, but–you know, it’s funny. I took The Boy, in one of his first visits, to see Elvira’s last show at the park, or possibly the one right after he last show, which was even racier. Kids ignore this stuff; I mean, it’s tamer than what’s on TV, and (at least my kids) are pretty content to stay in the Nick/Toon/Disney band.

Which is good, because the Bird Cage performance was basically “ball jokes”. There was a little ball bath on stage and they went “South Park”. The Bird Cage is usually so-so. If I were to bitch, though, I’d probably just complain that initially, audience participation and improvisation was a bigger part, and I’ve noticed they’ve gone almost totally scripted.

Still, it’s cool to see where Steve Martin honed his chops.

The Boy discovered the knife and gun store and the Flower wanted, for her souvenir, a cigar box with John Wayne’s picture on it. $40 seemed a bit steep, though, especially since she has no idea who John Wayne is. (She just like boxes.)

Then we mosied on out to the strains of “God Bless America”, satisfied with the days shenanigans. All-in-all a good year and good job to the Knott’s folk.

Knott Political: The Hanging.

So, Thursday was the first day of the Halloween Haunt. And as always, it’s the best day to go. Although, I guess if you could know the traffic beforehand, a later day might be better, especially if you were willing to spring the extra $200/person for the VIP access to the mazes. You skip right to the front of the line. And if there’s anything better than no lines, it’s taking cuts in front of everyone else. Heh.

I’ll put up more of a review later, but I wanted to get this down: Every year, the Halloween Haunt turns its stunt show in to “The Hanging”. Basically, it’s the regular stunt show without the western motif, and with lots more fake blood. Also, instead of cowboys, the prime players are dressed up as cultural icons. It’s usually tasteless, borderline amateurish–fake punches really look fake–and it’s more than a little crude. And I don’t mean that, necessarily, in a good way.

The idea is that they hang the most offensive person in society. Since it’s meant to be funny, this is usually a pop-culture icon. I consider myself lucky if I’m aware of who the person is. I do get the movie references, or most of them (it took me a while to process the “Zohan” reference, so quickly had I forgotten that movie even came out–was it Sacha Cohen or Adam Sandler?).

I don’t really get the music references. I’m sort of, like, “Is that Amy Winehouse?”, “No, wait, that’s Amy Winehouse!”, “Well, who was that person five minutes ago?” Since I seldom go with anyone who’s more up on pop-stuff than I am, I can’t ask. The Boy seems to shun that sort of thing and The Flower is still too young. I did recognize Hannah Montana, I think. (The other thing is that it’s the same dozen stunt-folk changing in-and-out of costumes, and some of the impressions are very weak. Has anyone else noticed that there’s this recycling of Clinton wigs for McCain? What hell? McCain’s hair is a wispy combover!)

The whole thing is like a gross-out comedy movie, where some of the jokes land and some don’t, but the next one’s along pretty soon so you aren’t bored.

This year, expectedly, was political themed. And, actually, given the recent market meltdown, it was almost quaint. They had Javier Bardem fighting alongside of Santa Ana Smith (Indy), which felt odd because No Country For Old Men feels like it was a lifetime ago. (And I just re-watched it on cable a couple of times.)

But they hung…oil company executives. These were represented by people wearing the logos of Chevron, Texaco, etc. This was accompanied by the (admittedly funny) line “You really wanted to go to Universal Studios, but you couldn’t afford to fill up the gas tank!” (Of course, we drove past Universal Studios to get to Knott’s.)

Meh. I’m usually underwhelmed by the ultimate victim. And I guess people really believe that it’s all those mean old oil company guys are to blame for it all. The ultimate oil guy, by the way, was represented during the actual hanging part by Daniel Plainview. That was both odd and old. (But I kept wondering if that’s what I missed about the movie: Maybe you have to assume from the get-go that Plainview is pure evil, and that his actions are evil, and the very process of drilling for oil is evil.)

The political figure who got the most stage time was none other than John McCain. He did a lot of fighting, mostly with Hillary Clinton (who was the butt of most of the jokes in the first 5-10 minutes of the 30 minutes show). At one point, they had McCain and Clinton fighting, with Iron Man taking McCain’s side. (Hillary kept turning Iron Man off, though.)

Sarah Palin got a walk on. This actually underscores one of the weaknesses of the hanging. Right next to “clap humor” at the bottom of the humor scale is “referential humor”. Where they cross is right at the bottom when some late-night hack refers to a partisan talking point. Referential can be funny, of course, either through scale (think Tom Cruise being Austin Powers, or Orson Welles in The Muppet Movie), through accuracy (this involes the joker saying just exactly what you’re thinking, which can overlap into “clap humor”), or through sheer randomity. (During an episode of MST3K, Catalina Caper, a typical ‘60s beach dance scene ends with the camera panning up into a starless night sky, and Crow says, “Meanwhile, deep in the impenetrable void, John Paul Sartre is a-movin’ and a-groovin’.”)

Bush and Cheney also got a walk-on. No sign of Biden.

Anyway, McCain couldn’t kill Hillary; Obama showed up to finally do her in. Then McCain and Obama duked it out for a while. Neither was shown as a clear winner, and neither was killed.

Which I suppose is a sort of cruel neutrality.