Short Horror Film Reviews

I am going through the two lists posted by Deburke321 listing the scariest horror films before checking out some other lists.

I’ve already finished:

I watched all all of the films in their entirety.

These movies included:

  1. Don’t Move (2013, UK)–13:56
  2. Alexia (2013, Argentina)–8:55
  3. Bedfellows (2008, USA)–2:31
  4. Play Time (2013, USA)–3:06
  5. Snap (2015, France)–4:31
  6. Cam Closer (2013, Sweden)–2:23
  7. Bedtime (2015, UK)–2:19
  8. 2AM: The Smiling Man (2013, USA)–4:09
  9. Skypemare (2013, USA)–7:12
  10. Playing With the Devil (2014, USA)–7:10

Now I’m working on the second list:

After which, I’ll rewatch the films one more time and offer some reviews. Most of them are pretty short, so I’ll also try to note run time and embed the films.

Knott’s Scary Farm: Tooth Fairy

Going into this ride, I was really having trouble not thinking about some of the horror movies about tooth fairies, such as 2003’s Darkness Falls and 2006’s The Tooth Fairy. I honestly feel like I’m remembering a more recent film that is based on some sort of mythical entity that bestows fun things on kids (but clearly not the Easter Bunny or Santa) but can’t remember. I remember that it wasn’t good though.

Also, those other two films look awful. Maybe Darkness Falls was scarier back then because I was youngish but I really feel like there must be some other scary tooth fairy movie out there. I re-watched the short film that it’s based on because it honestly seemed more thematically similar (a real tooth fairy vs. someone just called that). It’s creepy despite the bad acting, so I’m including it here:

If you know another scary tooth fairy film, please share in the comments!

Anyway, I had a vague notion of the tooth fairy as something scary. And, if you look at the advertising for this maze, it also looks pretty terrifying:

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I liked the idea of an evil tooth-obsessed monster. I’m only human.

When I entered the maze, it immediately became clear that the theming was more “evil dentist”-oriented. Theoretically, I understand why dentists might be scary. After all, they have tiny sharp instruments that they can cut you with while you are unconscious (waking up to tiny cuts all over–HORRENDOUS). I thought of Joshua Malina as a rapist/murderer dentist in the first season of American Horror Story.

But, like that episode (ep. 9: “Spooky Little Girl”), I just wasn’t really scared by it. I guess maybe that says something good about my overall dental experiences.

If you want to see more of what I’d been imagining, just Google “scary tooth fairy” and look at the top images. Spooky.

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The description says that the maze includes a “black out room,” which I frankly don’t remember–even watching the walkthrough, I don’t know what they are talking about:

I just don’t see it–maybe that slightly darker section about two minutes in? It looks darker in the video but was really easy to navigate at the time. Also, I don’t remember the strobe light they promised. I didn’t have to feel my way out through anything… And the other element that the description focuses on is the tooth fairy at the end who just kinda reminded me of Ash in Evil Dead 2.

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But, despite that, there were some fun ideas in this maze that probably made it my second favorite.

Sound Effects

Even if you just listen to the video above, you will probably be creeped out. The sound effects were pretty great overall–there was the constant sound of drilling (which is hard to place until you see the drills) combined with an eerie, children’s music–like a jack in the box or merry-go-round, and what sound like moans or screams. It was just really creepy.

And loud. The noise was loud enough to make the experience unpleasant, which, I felt, actually made the horror easier to feel as well.

Kind of like Artaud’s theatre of cruelty–you assault and heighten the senses and subconscious feelings and fears emerge.

An example of Artaud’s work (okay, I warned you–it is creepy!):

Use of Space

Firstly, I really liked the retro look of the wallpaper in the fake house where all this was going down. It felt very The Shining-esque in terms of being all 70s-y and repetitive. That, with the long hallways, really made me think of that film (okay, they were mazes, so I was thinking of Kubrick’s adaptation all night).

Then there was a kid’s bedroom leading out through a door surrounding by blood and teeth.

Good transition. Like we are literally at the “mouth of hell.”

Plus, there was this one space that made us crouch down to get through. There was a wire cage around us and the sound of teeth clacking together, again attacking the senses to creepy effect. I would have suggested someone climbing over the cages and grabbing at us or something else visually but I still enjoyed the effect.

Very claustrophobic! Though, what did it mean thematically? I think the dentist was supposed to have a hamster or something…? There’s another cage earlier on in the waiting room that’s just lying on its side open.

But I still don’t get it.

Theming

So, it kept switching between people dressed as children (I get it-some of you find them scary, but I tend not to be creeped out by kids unless they are meowing), dentists with assistants, people with gas masks on (doesn’t Novocaine just make you happy? like…laughing gas so… not scary?) and what appear to be people in masks with blood near the mouth. I just didn’t find any of them scary at all. None of the actors really scared me except one little girl, whose lines were great–but she wasn’t there the second time I went nor is she in the video, so clearly she was a ghost.

Ghosts are always scary (more on this in my review of “Paranormal Inc.”)

Again, I was more impressed by the decorations and sounds than anything else. The corpses bleeding from their mouths and the piles of teeth were awesome both thematically and in terms of creeping me out.

Mostly though, pick a theme. Either it’s an evil dentist or an evil tooth fairy. And, if it’s an evil dentist, don’t expect us to have forgotten Little Shop of Horrors and, most likely, laugh:

And, why butterfly pinning? That just seemed out of nowhere if the tooth fairy wasn’t an actual winged creature…

The Final Scare

So, the tooth fairy at the end was just not scary. He looked like a muscular dude with a large drill for an arm. Like Ash or the Big Daddy from Bioshock:

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Who, incidentally, is far scarier in context than in that picture…

I just looked through the end of the video I posted, and that was apparently the maze in 2014, which was similar enough for me not to have noticed until the end. Apparently, the jump scare at the end wasn’t working when I was there–I just looked at a 2016 video and there was a whole thing that wasn’t some random guy with a drill. I’ll try to find what I saw but will plan on recording next year.

Conclusions

There were two points that really worked for me–I loved the child’s room with the actor warning me about the tooth fairy, and the part where you crouch down. The second time I went through this maze, there was an error in the child’s room but I really enjoyed the different size of the spaces nonetheless. You definitely felt very cramped at times, such as when you are forced to crouch down.

I definitely enjoyed this maze but that may have just been because the line was so short. Also, the line was probably short because it was really, really hard to find. I kept ending up in the “Voodoo” line.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5–confusing but still scary. Work on theming and improve it for next year?

Knott’s Scary Farm: Shadow Lands

I had a lot of concerns going into this maze because the posters really look like they depend on a lot of tropes about Japanese culture. You see a zombie woman in a kimono and stereotypical “geisha” make up, along with what appears to be a “demon” samurai.

shadow-lands-headerWhile the background looks great, the characters and the subheading, “LIVE BY THE SWORD DIE BY THE SWORD” are just cheesy. Honestly, the samurai also looks a bit chthulhu-esque and, given that the Lovecraftian mythos seems to seep into multiple rides (see my review for “The Dead of Winter” later in the week), which made me think that the theming would include people in Yellow Face, fake Japanese (Disneyland, I’m looking at you), and random monsters.

Even the description sounds lousy:

A fulfilling life ensures a soul safe passage into eternity, but what happens to the souls of soldiers slain in battle? Enter the hair-raising Shadow Lands maze and fight off demon samurais whose souls are cursed to rot within the depths of purgatory. Guests will embark on a quest through a sacred shrine, an ancient Japanese temple and into the midst of the shadow lands.

–I was particularly concerned about the mix of religions here, including the idea of “purgatory,” a Christian notion, despite the fact that Christianity wasn’t really prevalent in Japan until the 19th century. Also, temples suggest Buddhism while a shrine is more Shintoist, so this description is just a jumble.

With demon “samurais” (note–in Japanese, all nouns are both singular and plural, so “samurai” refers to both a single warrior and multiple warriors).

This ride, however, is far better than its bad marketing. In fact, I would say that this is the scariest haunted maze at Knott’s. If you can handle waiting in line for an hour or so, I’d highly recommend trying “Shadow Lands” next year. Below, I’ll talk about some of the main elements that make this experience a success, but I’d suggest starting with this walkthrough by Inside the Magic (if you don’t mind spoilers):

Non-Asian Actors

Going in, I was pretty sure that Knott’s wouldn’t be going to the trouble to hire an all-Asian much less an all-Japanese cast to play Japanese characters. While I totally get the logistics of that, I’d honestly expected to see some Yellow face, which is when a White person adopts stereotypical and often demeaning make up in order to “appear” Asian. Like this classic example of Mickey Rooney from Breakfast at Tiffany‘s:

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It’s a pretty offensive practice that still, unfortunately, exists today but which is far more openly condemned (see Master of None‘s “Indians on TV” episode for an astute analysis).

So, how did Knott’s manage to have a ride that portrayed dozens of Japanese characters without depending on Yellow face or clearly non-Asian actors portraying Japanese parts? They put ghost make up and masks on them–to amazing effect!

No, not Cthulhu masks. But what appeared to be mempo or facial armor worn by samurai, in addition to ghost masks from noh and kabuki makeup. Mempo are particularly relevant to this maze because they are often pretty darn scary!

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The noh mask…

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and kabuki makeup…

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are also very terrifying. These options feel both respectful to Japanese culture and scary as hell–well done!

Acrobatics

While “Paranormal, Inc.” was advertised as having “high flying aerial stunts,” I was actually far more impressed by the lower flying of the samurai and ghosts throughout this maze. They seemed like they were charging me, and the actors likely had to work pretty hard in order to ensure that they didn’t touch us with their weapons!

They also seemingly came out of nowhere and you could literally feel the rush of wind as they came by. They also did a great job mimicking actual kendo swordplay and poses from ukiyo-e Japanese prints.

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All this to say there weren’t just ghosts and they weren’t just armed but they could also MOVE.

Set Design

The sets are also fabulous, often utilizing cramped spaces and corners extremely effectively. Even in the open spaces, due to the “flying samurai” I felt completely claustrophobic. But then there are also the hallways with sliding shoji (Japanese screen doors) that open in these long, narrow hallways so that ghosts can pop out at you. Each “room” (we only saw the outside and those peeking out!) seemed to have a unique theme and a different ghost–a truly haunted house!

shoji

And, when you did reach the end, the corners were also filled with monsters–including the ghost lady (below) who terrified me.

The red and white lights also made it seem particularly eerie and hellish while also making it easier for the ghosts to sneak up on us. The lanterns added a particularly nuanced touch, making–along with the forest (which reminded me so much of Aokigahara!), the atmosphere really just felt like it could have been in a Japanese serial drama set in feudal Japan.

The Ghost Lady

Jump to 2:10 in the video above to see the SCARIEST part of the maze. The designers utilized blinking lights (not really strobe–not that bright but a dim flickering) to make the image of the ghost approaching you disappear and reappear–and she got close FAST.

With long black hair and a dirty white dress, along with the flickering lights, she really reminded me of Samara from The Ring (Sadako and Ringu for the Japanese version, which notably didn’t have the light flicker and static used in the remake):

 

So, I was pretty terrified by her as a whole and really impressed with how quietly she moved when the lights were out (I guess it was loud but still).

I only wish that my friends had been able to see her–I guess your timing has to be just right to enjoy this terrifying aspect of a scary as hell maze.

Conclusions

Overall, if you visit Knott’s Scary Farm, I highly recommend waiting in line for this maze–five out of five stars! Or, if you don’t like waiting, do what we did–wait until just before closing. Anyone in line when the park closes gets to do the maze! Hopefully, this maze comes back next year so I can enjoy the experience again.

Rating: 5 out of 5–nearly perfect!

Knott’s Scary Farm

I actually ended up going to Knott’s Scary Farm twice this year. Somehow, between the two passes, I still didn’t end up visiting all of the mazes! I really enjoyed the atmosphere more than anything else–I felt that the actors jumping out at folks across the park combined with the fog and screaming teenagers really made the whole experience an absolute delight for the horror enthusiast!

At first, I thought that one of the actors had simply fallen and hurt himself, but it turned out that they had been dressed in knee, shin, and elbow guards so that they could fall on the ground and spark without injury. I had initially been asking folks if they were alright–so embarrassing!

Over the course of the week, I will try to review one “maze” per day. I don’t really like the term “maze” as applied to the experiences at Knott’s because you really can’t get lost (clearly marked employees lead you in the right direction—kind of destroying the effect but useful nonetheless). It would be amazing if there was an actual maze—I keep imagining The Shining and actually think they should just adopt that theme for the “Wendigo’s Revenge” experience, as that maze started out really well but then got thematically confusing.

Overall, I would suggest focusing more on theming—some of the mazes really just did not make sense thematically. While I enjoyed them, I felt that some, especially “Paranormal, Inc.” and “Voodoo: Order of the Serpent” really jumped all over in terms of content. It seemed like people in wolf masks were all over, even when it didn’t make sense—take note, “The Gunslinger’s Grave: A Blood Moon Rises” (long title much?).

My partner will kindly be offering a review of the only maze that had too long of a line/my friends had too little an interest in for me to have visited, namely “Special Ops: Infected.” Given that my partner and I are still sticking with The Walking Dead, chances are pretty good that we are both predisposed to love it, but I’m watching the walkthrough video just in case.

Stay tuned.