Busch Gardens Howl-O-Scream 2009 Review, Photos and Videos

Following last week’s scare-by-scare review of this year’s Halloween Horror Nights 19 event at Universal Studios, here is a review of a Howl-O-Scream 10 at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Like Horror Nights, Howl-O-Scream is packed with haunted houses, scare zones, and stage shows. However, unlike Horror Nights, you won’t find a lot of well-known characters or movie licenses. Instead, Howl-O-Scream features all original creations throughout the event.

Last year was my first time attending Howl-O-Scream and, as I posted in my 2008 review, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the event that I had anticipated to be mediocre turned out to be extremely fun, original, and full of unexpected scares. So this year, in visiting Howl-O-Scream for its tenth year in existence, I was expecting a whole lot more and, for the most part, the event fulfilled my expectations.

Here’s a quick look at this year’s Howl-O-Scream event from Busch Gardens:

Howl-O-Scream 10 2009 haunted houses and scare zones

Now, here are my spoiler-free thoughts on the haunted houses, scare zones, and stage shows of Howl-O-Scream 10 (each ranked in order):

Howl-O-Scream 10 Haunted Houses

1. Nightshade Toys
Scare Factor: 8/10
Entertainment Factor: 9/10

By far, the best experience at Howl-O-Scream this year is one of its two all-new houses: Nightshade Toys. The story behind the house is simply that toys in a factory have become possessed. When I first heard this concept from Scott Swenson, creative director for Howl-O-Scream, I immediately thought there would be an obvious comparison between Nightshade Toys and the Chucky house that is featured in this year’s Halloween Horror Nights event at Universal Studios. Still retaining some of my past biases, I assumed that Howl-O-Scream’s version of a creepy toy factory would somehow be inferior to the one found at Horror Nights. But I was dead wrong.

Nightshade Toys is one of the best haunted houses I have visited this year and far more interesting and unique than the Chucky maze. Every scene throughout Nightshade is different from the previous ones, but still well within the toy factory theme. I don’t want to spoil any of the surprises, but among the usual assortment of slamming wall panels are plenty of unexpected elements that have the potential of startling and scaring you from all angles. Nightshade Toys is sure to entertain anyone who has ever owned a doll, stuffed animal or any plastic toy.

2. Death Row Vengeance
Scare Factor: 6/10
Entertainment Factor: 8/10

Last year, Death Row Vengeance topped my ranking of the Howl-O-Scream houses and it remains near the top of this year’s list for all the same reasons. I’m a sucker for a good ghost story and this house is packed with inmates-turned-spooks. While not a whole lot has changed in this house since last year, I still thoroughly enjoyed having a chance to wander through the house that continues to use common effects and techniques in creative ways. Even though I had been through this house before and knew what to expect, I still got a startle or two.

3. Trapped in the Walls
Scare Factor: 7/10
Entertainment Factor: 6/10

Despite some moving around of the top two houses on this year’s list, Trapped in the Walls remains at number three. As you move through this house, you feel like you’re traveling deeper and deeper into the walls, becoming surrounded by a bizarre cast of characters who intend on keeping you there. Like last year, the scares from above are fantastic in this house. Even if you know they’re coming, they’ll still get you.

4. DED Pledge Week
Scare Factor: 4/10
Entertainment Factor: 7/10

After recently watching our two “victims” participate in the Howl-O-Scream Scream Cam event by screaming their way through half of the DED Pledge Week house, I was excited to get a chance to experience it for myself. Unfortunately, it didn’t entirely live up to my expectations. While the house was very entertaining (and what house filled with scantily clad sorority girls wouldn’t be?), it really wasn’t scary. Near the beginning, there are a couple of decent startles, but overall the house is more amusing than anything. The latter half (not seen in the Scream Cam videos) definitely takes a dark turn away from the happy sorority environment, but it still didn’t give me any good scares.

5. Taste of Blood
Scare Factor: 6/10
Entertainment Factor: 6/10

Last year, I left Taste of Blood disappointed and confused. I’m not sure if the house has changed since then, but I enjoyed it considerably more this year. The environment, as a whole, seemed a lot more eerie this time through with the actors doing a much better job at going after the scare. I still didn’t get an overwhelming sense of vampires being present. The icon for Howl-O-Scream 10, Ms. Vayne, is inside Taste of Blood, but I have to say her appearance is rather anti-climactic. The actors surrounding her were far more interesting and the effect associated with her simply didn’t work.

6. Reconstruction: The Doctor Is In
Scare Factor: 5/10
Entertainment Factor: 4/10

For me, Reconstruction was the biggest disappointment at Howl-O-Scream 10. Last year, this house was my second favorite and now it has dropped to nearly my least favorite. So what changed? Everything. Last year, I was excited to be walking through a house that was quite possibly the most gruesome and gory experience I had ever visited. This year, the house was so dark that I really couldn’t see any of those elements that seemed to still be present, just not visible. The actors this year didn’t seem to scare as much as just stand and stare. Moreover, my favorite element from last year appeared to be missing or maybe it was too dark for me to see it (a flattened body pinned to a wall with an anguished face screaming out for help).

7. 13
Scare Factor: 4/10
Entertainment Factor: 4/10

I’m still not a fan of 13. The fake motorcycles and overused chainsaws are back again and still aren’t scary. This year’s fantastic Nightshade Toys house took over for the lackluster After Hours house and I hope that 13 is the next to be replaced by something better next year.

Howl-O-Scream 10 Scare Zones

1. Unearthed
Scare Factor: 5/10
Entertainment Factor: 5/10

I’ll be honest. None of the scare zones at Howl-O-Scream 10 particularly impressed me. I saw very little scaring going on in any of them. Unearthed is supposed to be an Egyptian dig site but it is so tiny that you’re out of it before you even realize what you saw. Out of the four, I think this zone is the only one I actually saw one or two people get a startle, so it makes the top of the list.

2. Werewolves
Scare Factor: 6/10
Entertainment Factor: 4/10

Werewolves gets a second place for having some pretty gruesome characters running around. While the werewolves aren’t particularly scary, they are rather gnarly if you get an up-close look at them while they’re wandering the area.

3. Banshees
Scare Factor: 4/10
Entertainment Factor: 4/10

Banshees is an excellent concept that just falls flat. Take a bunch of female actors, dress them in sheets and cloaks, have them ride around on roller-skates, and add an abundance of loud screeching sounds. While the loud sounds are somewhat unnerving (mostly due to their ear-piercing nature), the gliding girls don’t offer any scares.

Howl-O-Scream 2009

4. El Carnival del Muerto
Scare Factor: 3/10
Entertainment Factor: 5/10

I felt sorry for the actors in this brightly-lit scare zone. The mishmash of characters inspired by Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations were pleasing to the eye but definitely not scary. The actors really try hard to startle guests walking through but the area is so brightly-lit that you can see them coming a mile away.

Howl-O-Scream 10 Stage Shows and Other Experiences

1. House of Vayne Fashion Show
Entertainment Factor: 6/10

Before reading my thoughts on the front gate show for Howl-O-Scream 10, you can watch it for yourself here:

Howl-O-Scream House of Vayne front gate show Busch Gardens

I have mixed thoughts on this show featuring the event icon, Ms. Vayne, and her group of House of Vayne models. I can’t say it was bad, as it was well put-together, but it didn’t entirely fit in with Howl-O-Scream either. But then again, everyone watching seemed to really enjoy it.

Last year, the Raven Twins put on a series of different sinister acts – all ending with their date being tortured and/or killed on stage (you can see one of them in the middle of this video summary from last year). The House of Vayne show, on the other hand, seems to repeat all night, non-stop, with no changes each time it is performed. The actors are swapped out every two or three shows but the content of the show is identical each time. While this allows nearly every guest to see the show, it also limits the amount of times you can be entertained by it. We watched it four times (to shoot it from different angles) and had more than enough of it by the end of the fourth time.

Like the DED Pledge Week house, there is plenty of eye candy in this show to entertain most people but less catwalking and more vampiring would have been preferred.

But the show did result in a ton of really excellent photos which you can see in the gallery at the bottom of this post.

2. Fiends
Entertainment Factor: 5/10

Last year was the first time I had seen Fiends, so it was amusing to me. But it appears that the show doesn’t really change – at all – from year to year, so the show was rather boring the second time around. Sure the naughty nurses are pretty, but that only goes so far. If you’ve never seen Fiends before, you’ll likely find it somewhat entertaining, but I wouldn’t bother going back for a second time. You can always visit the naughty nurses in their photo opportunity. Here’s a look at that and two of the other photo ops from this year’s event:

Howl-O-Scream 2009 Photo Opportunities and Shop of Horrors

3. Club enVy
Entertainment Factor: 4/10

I didn’t actually go inside Club enVy for a number of reasons. One was that I don’t drink and this nightclub of sorts is essentially there for people to dance and drink the night away (between haunted houses). Another reason for not entering is the $10 cover charge to get in. But most of all, the reason I didn’t go inside was the fact that I was able to peer through the plastic windows of the club and see that it is really nothing more than an open area with loud dance music, a dance floor with moving colored lights, and a bar. If you’re a fan of nightclubs and/or getting drunk, then perhaps Club enVy would be for you. But it’s not for me.

4. Full Moon Cabaret: The Magic of Jason Byrne
Entertainment Factor: 1/10

Despite the fact that I didn’t even go inside Club enVy, it still looked more entertaining than the magic show presented at Howl-O-Scream 10. If you’ve ever seen a magic show at a child’s birthday party, then you’ve more or less seen what Jason Byrne has to offer. Out of the crowd of around 100 people watching the show, maybe four or five actually applauded after each store-bought trick was performed. From making colored birds appear to sawing a female assistant in half, this show was filled with nothing but the most unoriginal, overdone magic “tricks” that you’ve already seen a million times. The good news is that the show is located inside a restaurant that has good food so at least you can pay attention to what you’re eating instead of the show.


I had a lot of fun visiting Howl-O-Scream 10 and do recommend it for any fan of Halloween events. While a couple of the houses are not great and the magic show is completely skippable, the rest of the event is entertaining when it’s not scary. We went on Thursday, Oct. 1, which was the first official night of the event, and the lines were almost non-existent. I assume the lines will be much longer on Friday and Saturday nights, and every night as Halloween gets closer, but if you have a chance, go on a Thursday and you shouldn’t have to wait very long for any of the houses. Plus, you can walk onto just about any of Busch Gardens’ excellent roller coasters, if you have time. Just going through the houses and seeing the shows took up almost the entire night for us.

In the end, Howl-O-Scream 10 has built upon its successes of the past and learned from some failures they may have had, leaving a sense of a very strong future for this event. If next year’s new haunted houses are of the same high quality and level of creativity as Nightshade Toys, I will definitely continue to return to this event for many years to come.

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  1. Hi! This was a great website! I went this past saturday and it was amazing! It was the first time i have been and i was really pleased with the content of it. I just have one question. Would you by chance know the 1st male vampire that was in the show once you walked in? He was gorgeous! hehe! Well thank you!

  2. This is in regards to your review of “Full Moon Cabaret…The Magic Of Jason Byrne”. Your statement; “If you’ve ever seen a magic show at a child’s birthday party, then you’ve more or less seen what Jason Byrne has to offer. ” Yes, nothing says happy birthday like eating razor blades, sawing through a woman with a buzz saw, or shoving a sword through the neck of an audience member until they bleed from the mouth. What kind of freaky magician did your mother hire for your birthday parties? No wonder you hate magic so much. I don’t mind you hating magic. I don’t mind you hating the show. It’s the fact that you aren’t honest with your readers. Your next statement; “Out of the crowd of around 100 people watching the show, maybe four or five actually applauded after each store-bought trick was performed.” Well, there wasn’t one show in the entire run that had that type of audience reaction (I know…I watched each and everyone). Again, no sour grapes over someone hating the show. But there’s reviewing and then there’s just plain misleading the readers. Oh, if you’re wondering why I would watch each show, I’m the producer. By the way, if you can give me the date you watched the show I’ll be glad to show you the DVD of the performance (each show is video taped). This way you can count just how many people really applauded for all those “Store Bought Tricks”.

    Loren Christopher Michaels
    Producer “Full Moon Cabaret”

  3. Loren – Thanks for the comment. Let me reply…

    I don’t hate magic. I always enjoy a good, original magic show. Perhaps it’s that fact that shaped my opinion of your show. I have grown accustomed to seeing increasingly unique magic acts that change our notion of what “magic” is. (I’m a big Penn and Teller fan.) Unfortunately, with the exception of the sword-through-the-throat finale, Byrne’s show was filled with tricks I had seen many times before. Yes, that includes eating razor blades and sawing a woman in half (the type of saw is irrelevant).

    With the scary tone set by the rest of the Howl-O-Scream event, I expected much more out of Full Moon Cabaret. I remember commenting after the bloody finale that I had wished there was more of that throughout the performance. Until that point, there was really nothing sinister about it. I definitely did not expect brightly-colored birds being featured in a show put on during a Halloween event aimed at teenagers and adults. While I agree that buzz saws are not found at a child’s birthday party, the first few tricks of the show certainly could be.

    During the show, it was very clear to me that a large group of people sitting close to the stage were friends and/or family of the show’s cast. From my perspective, it seemed like they were doing most of the cheering. So when I wrote that only 4 or 5 people were applauding, I meant that it was 4 or 5 park guests (okay, maybe 9 or 10) who weren’t somehow affiliated with the show or its cast. It was also from that group that the “audience member” (conveniently wearing a Howl-O-Scream t-shirt) was selected for the final sword-through-the-neck trick.

    In the end, perhaps my opinion of Full Moon Cabaret was swayed by my appreciation for magicians who don’t hide their tricks behind scarves, curtains, or complicated props. For a show taking place within a fantastic, scare-filled Halloween event, this magic show left me wanting more entertainment, more gore, and less Las Vegas side act.

  4. Ricky,

    Aside from the comment; “it was very clear to me that a large group of people sitting
    close to the stage were friends and/or family of the show’s cast” (which was not the case) I thank you for a real critique/review of the show. Penn and Teller are a great example of a different style of magic. Teller does Sewing Needles ( so did Houdini) and Jason does Razor Blades. But these are the instruments being played…not the song being heard. If I said ” Last night I saw a band and they were playing on Store Bought guitars so don’t go see them.” That’s hardly a review of their skill level or the entertainment value of a show. Now, “…I expected much more out of Full Moon Cabaret. I remember commenting after the bloody finale that I had wished there was more of that throughout the performance. Until that point, there was really nothing sinister about it.” that’s a honest opinion and a valued review for your dedicated readers. I am by no means trying to tell you how to write a review (you are the one with the readership), I am just saying, if you felt like the show was a bad fit…say so. Don’t assume because others enjoyed the show (and didn’t share your opinion) they must be friends or family. As far as your review, “For a show taking place within a fantastic, scare-filled Halloween event, this magic show left me wanting more entertainment, more gore, and less Las Vegas side act.” Now that’s a review I can respect! More, I’m a respected reviewer who people depend on to guide them in making decisions, and less hey look at me…see how I turned that phrase! I’m a writer…no really I am! Thank you for your time.

    Loren Christopher Michaels

    Producer “Full Moon Cabaret”

  5. Loren,
    I agree wholeheartedly. I think the show looks fantastic. Where can I obtain a copy of a DVD of Mr. Byrne’s performance?
    Thanks Much!

  6. Bill,
    Thank you much for your reply. As far as getting a DVD, there is a site currently in construction where you may get the DVD, Tee Shirt, and Poster of the show. You can reach me at: [email protected] and I will be sure to let you klnow when these will be available. Thank you again.


  7. I’m not associated with anyone but I’m afraid I find it hard to believe that Loren and Bill aren’t somehow connected and this review is just a cheap way to advertise products for the performer.
    This is exactly the kind of cheap trick you’d expect from a magician who performs at events for children!

  8. Gary,
    Thanks for giving me that kind of credit. I guess if I was a genus at marketing, I would of course pick some obscure place to market something like a Magic DVD. I will be sure to let you know how my master plan works out.