Growing up in northern Orange County, Knott’s annual Halloween Haunt isn’t just something fun to do in October, it’s an institution. You didn’t just go to Haunt, you went with friends, you made plans around it, when you were older you would work there, or you would at least know a bunch of people that worked there, then eventually, like all teenage obsessions, you would get over it, then not go for a few years until nostalgia began nipping at your heels and some friend of yours says “Hey, you know what we should do? We should go to Haunt!” And filled with memories of your glory days, you figure out babysitting for the kids, realize you are stuck going on a Saturday because you don’t want to leave early from work for haunt, but you don’t want to go to work after being up until 2am either. Or maybe that’s just us. But it WAS us, and for the first time in a decade we made our return to the land of mazes and mayhem.
First off, it may have been worth it to try to pull off Haunt on a weekday. We dropped off our daughter with my parents at Beach and Main at 6:45. Knott’s, for those unfamiliar with OC, is about a 15 minute drive up Beach from there. Usually. Or it might be 8:30pm before we are FINALLY pulling into the parking lot. And it might then be another half hour braving a line to get in the gates and searching through wall to wall obnoxious teenagers to find our friends. (Cell service, at least for us, was quite spotty throughout the night.)
Once that nightmare was over we were more than ready to hit the mazes. Killer clowns have nothing on a gaggle of teen girls looking like they got lost on the way to a Ke$ha concert and squealing about every roving monster they come across. (Must… restrain… fist of death.)
*Ahem* So, the mazes. Lines were pretty long here, unsurprising at this point, so we didn’t get to hit every maze. We visited Dia De Los Muertos (in 3D!!! Which is weird because isn’t EVERY maze in 3D? WTH Knott’s?), which was pretty fun, if not particularly scary. The sets were drenched in every color of glow in the dark paint, and the halls were actually really roomy, so the whole thing had more the effect of visiting a Hispanic museum in October while seriously tripping on acid than a frightening maze. The sugar skull decorated pole dancer in the “cantina” set was more hot than fright inducing, although she didn’t seem to appreciate this assessment. (Dude, I didn’t put the pole there. I’m just calling them as I see them.)
Working our way clockwise around the park, we next visited the Big Top maze. Apparently the killer clowns did not get the memo they are supposed to be IN the maze. More clowns seemed to be running around outside menacing people around the “Carnevil” scare zone than were actually working the maze. My sister, who once upon a time worked Haunt tells me this is unusual, but it seriously undermined the maze when it became just walking from one goofy room to another, constantly seeing spots where, clearly, someone was supposed to be pretending to be scenery before jumping out at us. Not cool guys. We waited freakin’ 45 minutes to get into the maze, I expect more than just some attempts at off color humor of the circus variety. And again – HUGE hallways. Where were the claustrophobia inducing mazes I remembered from my ill spent youth?
We wandered over towards the Necropolis scare zone, lured by tales of vampire steampunk monsters, and discover some of the best mazes of the night – Virus Z and Fallout Shelter were both very well done, and very old school mazes. Lots of monsters, some surprisingly good special effect, and really detailed set pieces. While most of the monsters so far had managed to do little more than be boring or downright piss me off, the guys and gals working the two zombie themed mazes got us good more than once and by the time I was near the end of the Fallout maze I was getting that fun but creepy paranoid feeling any good maze should give you. Honestly, there were some moments in the Fallout shelter maze that actually felt like some kind of Resident Evil LARP (so much so I had to remind myself that if you punch these zombies, it gets you kicked out of the park), and I consider that high praise . If there was any downside, it was that we were shuffled along so fast by the crowd we didn’t get as good a look at the awesome sets as we wanted to.
Rounding out the night – Cornstalkers was fun, although a couple of the monsters were a little too aggressive, and our friends had high praise for Dollhouse and Delirium, although we did not get to experience them ourselves. Invasion (in the mine ride) was just… lame. Just skip that one.
Highlight of the night was not actually a maze at all – if you go to Haunt, you MUST check out Ed Alonzo’s Psycho Circus show in the far corner of the park – it was a ton of fun. Great magic, funny jokes, and some neat dance numbers with hottie girls, topped off by a topless (male) fire dancer. Really awesome show. Much higher production values than I was expecting after wandering the mazes. (Some of which are populated by costumes that appear to be nothing more than thrift store clothing and a cheap mask.) Very Vegas-ish. Well worth checking out and not a bad way to get off your feet after walking what must be miles of mazes.
So, there you go. Haunt from a middle aged perspective. It was fun, but maybe aimed at a younger audience than me. But, you know, it’s TRADITION!
(I’ll fix this later, but for now, visit their pretty awesome website here: http://haunt.knotts.com/
and if you are going to go, I’d recommend getting discount tix from AAA online if you have a membership – it was the best deal going when we got ours.)