Review: Knott's Halloween Haunt focuses on quality over quantity

This telling of a modern-day serial killer who re-creates murders from Edgar Allan Poe's tales offers endless storytelling possibilities for years to come.

Among my favorite scenes: A winged woman wallowing outside "The Raven" room, the pulsing red lights and thumping heartbeat under the floorboards in "The Tell-Tale Heart" and the swooshing ax swinging a few inches above my head in "The Pit and the Pendulum."

"The Fall of the House of Usher" featured the best practical effect of the night: Corrugated steel walls that squeezed in on both sides of the shrinking room.

What didn't work as well were the bird beaks worn by many of the monsters, who too often were just aimlessly milling around.

4) Mirror Mirror

What could have been a throwaway maze turned out to be a fun and confusing experience suitable for repeated visits.

Rather than going for scares, the monsters focused on disorientation, misdirection and misinformation while surreptitiously opening and closing passageways in the perfectly lighted labyrinth of mirrored halls.

My favorite part: The monster who said, "Come this way, I can get you out" and then proceeded to lead us in circles and separate us from our party. The message: Don't trust anyone in Mirror Mirror.

My only wish: The maze with one of the biggest lines of the night could have been larger.

5) The Gunslinger's Grave

This Wild West-themed maze offered a well conceived back story and impressive sets, but the gunslinger's tale of revenge just didn't translate to many scares -- probably because the cowboys were after somebody else other than me. It didn't help that the talent was mostly just milling around once again.

The Skeleton Key room in Gunslinger's Grave was very well done but ultimately unsatisfying. Too many of these pre-story rooms involved visitors watching a story unfold on a cleverly disguised video screen (this time made to look like a cabin window). This type of video technology is a great addition to Knott's toolbox of tricks, but it would be better employed in an atmospheric way throughout the maze rather than as mandatory viewing.

6) Endgames: Warriors of the Apocalypse

One of my favorite mazes from a few years ago, it says volumes about the uptick in quality at Halloween Haunt that so many other mazes have surpassed this chaotic opus.

While I could do without the excruciatingly loud speed metal soundtrack, the apocalyptic story and dystopian sets of Endgames still hold up over time.

I love the two enormous animatronic beasts that each take up entire rooms.

7) Trick or Treat

This beautiful haunted house maze could be an annual workhorse if only Knott's could come up with a compelling back story.

My suggestion: Take Haunt's iconic Green Witch, who theoretically lives in the house, and have her stalk you from room to room, popping out of every door, window and picture frame.

The Green Witches I ran into were fantastic -- from the one who nearly karate-kicked me in the face to the other who flew down on broomstick in the finale. I only wish there were Green Witches hiding in every room. What we got instead were a bunch of random tricksters milling around rather than focusing on scares.