By Brady MacDonald
10:45 AM EDT, September 30, 2013
Every year at Knott's Halloween Haunt, I spend the whole night visiting the dozen or so haunted mazes at the Buena Park theme park.
Photos: Halloween Haunt 2013 Shows | Mazes
With only six to seven hours to hit all the Knott's Scary Farm mazes, there's never enough time to catch any of the shows — except for maybe "The Hanging" if I'm lucky.
Review: Knott’s Halloween Haunt 2013 focuses on quality over quantity
It really takes two full nights to see everything Haunt has to offer. So this year I decided to swing by Knott's for a second night on opening weekend to see what I've been missing.
Even with multiple performance times for each of the six stages, it takes a scheduling spreadsheet to make it to every show in a single night.
Here's my review of the Halloween Haunt 2013 shows from best to worst:
This short one-act play tells the tale of a murderous ghost that likes to play deadly games.
"Possessed" makes spectacular use of Knott's Mystery Lodge theater by ingeniously combining live actors with visual effects to produce a show filled with numerous how-did-they-do-that moments.
A hologram-like Pepper's Ghost effect employing angled glass and lighting techniques makes performers and objects on the stage seemingly disappear, appear, morph and become transparent throughout the show.
I won't spoil the surprise finale that I simply did not see coming. Get here early for a seat in this small theater, as lines will quickly grow as word spreads of this fantastic show.
2) "Carny Trash"
Los Angeles-based entertainer Aye Jaye, one of the original Ronald McDonald clowns for the fast-food chain, offers up a history lesson on carnival midway sideshows with stories, comedy and magic.
The amusing and talented Jaye gives the inside lowdown on carnival life and explains how unscrupulous carnies used simple trickery to mystify and cheat audiences during the height of the sideshow era.
You'll want to arrive early to the Birdcage Theater for a pre-show busker act that combines comedy, juggling and interactive gags with the audience.
3) "The Hanging"
A Knott's institution since 1979, "The Hanging" in Calico Square mercilessly lampoons celebrities for their foibles over the preceding year and unceremoniously kills them off in a variety of increasingly vile ways.
This year's edition takes scatological pot shots at a pop-culture freak show of ignobility that includes former Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o, television chef Paula Deen and (of course) teenage singing sensation Justin Bieber.
In the hilarious highlight of the show, a host of Disney characters skewer the company's recent acquisition of the "Star Wars" franchise to the tune of "Under the Sea" from "The Little Mermaid."
I won't give away the show’s ending, but it shouldn't take too much effort to figure out which overexposed and underdressed celebrity is going to get hung on a nightly basis during Haunt 2013.
4) "Elvira's Sinema Seance"
The Mistress of the Dark returns to Knott's after a 12-year absence with the campy and innuendo-filled comedy-and-dance show that made her a Haunt favorite in the 1980s and '90s.
Based on the boisterous response from the audience in the Charles M. Schulz Theatre, the cleavage-prone sexagenarian has obviously been missed, even if her material hasn't changed much in the ensuing decades.
"What's your favorite ride here at Knott’s?" asked the horror hostess in her opening monologue. On cue, the crowd responded with a rafter-rattling "Elvira!"
For my taste, the show was overstuffed with pre-taped comedy skits poking fun at Hollywood horror films and hapless attempts by Elvira to lip-sync and strut along to musical numbers anchored by the Academy of Villains hip-hop dancers from "America's Got Talent."
In the early days of Haunt, Knott's typically employed well-known horror hosts like Wolfman Jack, Dr. Demento and most notably Elvira as the face of the annual Halloween event.
I suspect Knott's believes it once again needs a brand name like Elvira to compete with the resurgent Universal Studios Hollywood's marquee horror movie lineup. If that's what it takes for the original Halloween theme-park event to reclaim its swagger, then I'm a big fan of Elvira.
The Red Moon Dance Company belly-dancing collective presents a modern take on the ancient art form with an Arabian-inspired electronica soundtrack.
The mesmerizing show includes sword, fan and tribal dances in the backstage area near the Ghostrider coaster on the Gypsy Camp Stage.
6) "Blood Drums"
This high-energy drumming troupe shows off its theatrical percussion skills on series of improvised instruments in the Camp Snoopy Theatre.
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