Last Friday marked the opening night for Busch Gardens Tampa’s Howl-O-Scream event. The annual Halloween event is scheduled to run on select nights from September 22 to October 29.
I had the distinct pleasure of being invited to the event’s media night last Thursday for a sneak preview of one of the new haunted houses available this year. You can see a video of my complete walk-through of the house at the end of this article, as well as a short interview with one of the event’s creative managers. But before you jump straight to the video, I thought I’d give you an overview of the different houses and various other elements that make up the event. The theme for this year’s event is “Nowhere To Hide,” and that becomes pretty obvious as even the tram ride from the parking lot to the front gate is full of ghouls and various other unsavory characters. But come on, you’re not going to this kind of event for the tram ride, are you?
The haunted houses at Howl-O-Scream are really the main course of the event. This year, Busch Gardens is offering up 7 different houses, each with its own distinct theme and set of thrills. The wait times for the houses weren’t too bad on opening night, but you can assume that the event will get busier as we close in on Halloween this year. Not to worry, though–Busch Gardens offers Front Line Fear passes that will allow you to skip the lines at 6 of the houses. PRO TIP: Double check the wait time in the regular line first. If it’s not that long I’d save one of your front line punches for later in the night; you can use the pass for a house more than once… You can also pick up an extreme Fear Pass that will not only get you front line access to the houses, but also all of the roller coasters that are running that night.
With that, here’s a rundown on each of the houses at this year’s Howl-O-Scream event:
Demented Dimensions is the house I got to preview Thursday night and I have to be honest–it’s not easy to describe. But I think that’s the point.
Sterling Manor was allegedly constructed above a vortex of evil energy. As a result, each room in the house offers up a different, twisted element. What I loved about this house is that I had absolutely no idea what I was walking into from one room to the next (you’ll be able to see that on the video below). By far my favorite room was what I lovingly refer to as “the Pumpkinhead hallway.” It’s essentially a hall constructed of giant intestines and surgical tubing, with a demon holding sentry who happens to look like a favorite Earth demon from a certain 1988 horror flick starring Lance Henriksen…
What do you get when you cross Romero’s Land of the Dead, The Running Man and Death Race 2000? You get Howl-O-Scream’s second new house this year, Undead Arena: LIVE.
In this house, you’re a contestant on a post-apocalyptic gameshow. The rules are simple: you run through a gauntlet while hordes of zombies try to kill you. Meanwhile, folks make bets on your survival. I liked this house because it does something many other haunts don’t do. It breaks up your group, which for some is terrifying! Other elements could result in your going through portions of the house completely alone, so this one gets extra points for creativity.
The Black Spot is a fantastic house in terms of theming. Venue-wise, it’s probably the best location in the park. You really get a sense that you’re being stalked through a deserted pirate holdout. This one really makes me wish we had more pirate horror in the world….
We’ve all thought about running through a horde of zombies, Rick Grimes-style, blasting away at the undead bastards, right? Well, with Zombie Containment Unit 15 you’ll get your chance. The zombies have targets on their chest, and when “hit” they’ll remain stunned for approximately 5 seconds, giving you just enough time to make an escape. PRO TIP: Break your group into smaller batches, say 2-3, and don’t get stuck in the back. Otherwise you won’t get to shoot at much…
Death Water Bayou was my second favorite house of the night. The theming here is absolutely top notch. You enter the decrepit old shack of a Voodoo priestess and proceed through her swampy lair, dodging all sorts of wicked swamp folk along the way. Fight the urge to close your eyes in this one because the set pieces are amazing!
Unearthed has a pretty bitchin’ backstory. A crew is doing some excavating at the park and they uncover a centuries-old house buried in the ground. Unfortunately for all who enter, the house is still occupied by an evil demon that likes to collect eyes. This is another one where the set decoration really shines, but what impressed me most was the soundtrack and use of audio effects throughout the house. It’s loud, scary and in your face!
In my opinion, I’ve saved the best for last. Motel Hell was my favorite house of the entire event. First off, the house only shares the name with the 80’s cult horror flick. Sorry kids, you won’t be getting any of Farmer Vincent’s fritters on this one. However, what you do get is a truly badass haunted house experience. It really captures the look and feel of an old-school, seedy, Route 66 like road side motel. I loved everything about this house! Each room is a twisted take on cheap motel staples, but what’s really unnerving is the soundtrack and the smell! You read that right, this house actually pumps scents throughout the attraction, and let me tell you–they aren’t pleasant!
The Scare Zones
There truly is Nowhere To Hide at Howl-O-Scream, so if you were thinking you’d only be preyed upon when walking through the 7 haunted houses you’re wrong. To navigate the park you’ll have to walk through several “Scare Zones,” a gauntlet of themed stretches of walkway, chock-full of all kinds of twisted (and awesome) characters. Here are the individual experiences:
Insane students turn on their headmaster at this schoolhouse themed scare zone. Busch Gardens Facebook fans voted on the name of this particular element.
Pretty much exactly what you think. A bunch of dirty carnies chasing you through the back area of an abandoned carnival. Kinda wish they were hiring….
This scare zone is full of a bunch of big (and I mean BIG–see the photo of me above…) dudes chasing you through a bunch of severed bodies with chainsaws. Truth be told, though, they’re really sweet people….
The theming throughout this scare zone is spot on if you’re looking for a post-apocalyptic, rusty, Mad Max kind of feel….
This one is seriously creepy. Empty swings and merry-go-rounds dot the landscape as you dodge missing ghost kids and toys that look as if they came straight out of a Full Moon production…
Busch Gardens will have most of their major roller coasters running on the nights that Howl-O-Scream is open, and as you can see, you can’t even hide at 100+ feet!
If you’re looking for a creepy mentalist and show full of psychological illusion, Howl-O-Scream has you covered!
The “Fiends” show is a long-running staple at Howl-O-Scream. Thanks to the folks that come back year after year to see it, the show has achieved an almost cult following now, akin to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This one is full of off-color jokes, on every topic from cocks to Donald Trump (see what I did there?!?). Oh, and you get a whole heaping helping of naughty nurses, both male and female! If you’re bringing younger horror fans with you, you might want to skip this one, unless you feel like doing a lot of “explaining”…
I had a blast at Howl-O-Scream this year, and I’m glad I have the opportunity to share some EXCLUSIVE insight with you all here on horrofuel.com. You can find more information on the event and purchase tickets at www.howloscream.com. Also, follow them on social media: #NowhereToHide
So with that, here’s my interview with Ben DeWitt, one of the creative minds behind Howl-O-Scream, followed by my solo, never before seen walkthrough of Demented Dimensions.