October is in full swing and that means digging out those sweaters, buying pumpkin spice crap (basic witches be damned) and seeking the best spooky spots and attractions to get scary and merry (as in bloody mary, merry). Last week, we explored L.A.'s studio offerings, both steeped in movie magic and mayhem, but this week, we feature two of the amusement/tourist spots that are best known in terms of mazes, effects and overall atmosphere: Knott's Scary Farm and Queen Mary's Dark Harbor. But who will win the Friday Frights fight to the death? Read on, kiddies, and be afraid, very afraid.
Knott's Scary Farm is always a ghoulish good time, but this year they made a few changes that were eerily evident. More scare actors throughout the park, more scare zones and, from what we could see when actors were in our faces (which was often), much better makeup and way fewer (too easy) masks.
Now in its 46th year, the terror-transformed farm has become the most immersive as well. New mazes for 2018 include The Depths, a fog-covered experience featuring ancient sea creatures and dark cavernous corners and creeps; and Dark Entities, an intergalactic journey taking place on a space station where an extraterrestrial mutant has dismembered the crew and maybe you (next).
Returning mazes seemed to get little improvements and makeovers that really impressed, including Dark Ride, inside an abandoned carnival ride filled with killer clowns; Trick-or-Treat: Lights Out, in which you enter the home of a very green kinda badass-looking old hag, and it just happens to have an electricity problem. But don't worry because they give you (faulty) flashlights. Yay!
Shadow Lands is some kind of Asian harikari nightmare and Pumpkin Eater is our absolute favorite at Knott's! Sinister scarecrows, evil jack-o-lanterns and an actual corn maze make this one a real treat to complete. What we love about this maze, and most of the mazes at Knotts, are the layouts and attention to details, plus the mixture of mannequins and real people that catch you off-guard when you least expect it. They also have some pretty cool animatronics in almost every walk-through in the park.
Knott's Scary Farm's fun and freaky stage shows (though no more Elvira; heartbreak) and ghost town amusements are made for murky madness. When you add all that with its thrill ride selection, Scary Farm is the best all-around haunt for your devilish dollar. And as always, splurge for the Fast Pass and you won't regret it. Your feet might kill you next day but it'll be worth it.
First things first: Queen Mary's Dark Harbor has the swing ride from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch this year. That's kinda weird, but it does fit in nicely with the outdoor part of the event. We rode and enjoyed it but also felt sad that its presence there (unintentionally or not) evoked creepiness. In any case, Haunted Harbor has its share of jump scare zones and loud noisy weirdos startling throughout the grounds. There's also entertainment, live music and creepy concessions.
But of course, it's the mazes people come for and our favorite maze (so far) from any attraction in Los Angeles happens to be here. It's called Intrepid, and it's an atmospheric Gothic-style immersion that feels very real and very dreamlike, with dark umbrella-wielding figures that come to life and a church scene filled with ghosts — some of whom come alive — that patrons gotta zigzag through to exit (just pray!). We won't reveal too much from this one or Queen Mary's other mazes but we will say that the setups on the ship are our least favorite, thanks to grossness and lack of breathing room (claustrophobics need not board), though Lullaby had some unsettling little Courtney Love–looking creeps. The "circus" maze (in a tent on the grounds) is memorable, too, as it re-creates a funhouse that you can't escape ... because the sneaky employees pull movable walls to block your walk-through!
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Queen Mary is not clowning around this year, and grown-ups will be feeling no pain when the monsters attack: There are four bars on the premises, so those who enjoy being possessed by spirits (that you drink) will be both thrilled and chilled all night.
Knotts Scary Farm, 8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park. Open nightly. Ticket info at knotts.com/play/scary-farm
Queen Mary Dark Harbor, 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach. Open Thursday-Sundays. Ticket info at queenmary.com/calendar-of-events/dark-harbor/home/
Next week's Friday Frights: What it's like to be a scarer-for-hire at the Haunted Hayride.