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Busch Gardens Howl-O-Scream 9 2008 Review, Pictures, and Video

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While we tend to focus on Orlando happenings (after all, we are Orlando Attractions Magazine), there are some events that we just can’t pass up covering. One such event is Howl-O-Scream (pronounced like Halloween) at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, roughly one to one-and-a-half hours from Orlando. While I have been to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios this year and many years prior, I’ve never attended Howl-O-Scream before. After seeing the TV commercials featuring the Raven Twins, the icons for Howl-O-Scream this year, I figured it was finally time to give it a shot.

I went into the event with middle-of-the-road expectations. I wasn’t expecting to be as thrilled as during Halloween Horror Nights, as that event has consistently set the bar pretty high over the last 18 years, but also wasn’t expecting to be let down either, as Busch Gardens is a great theme park for thrill rides. Howl-O-Scream not only met my expectations, but far surpassed them. I had a wonderful time in all of the haunted houses and many of the street scares showed refreshing originality.

Before I give you my scare-by-scare review of Howl-O-Scream 2008, here’s a video summary of the event, including some scare zone shots, clips from their three shows, and an interview Howl-O-Scream creative director Scott Swenson:

You can also download a high-resolution version of this video on our videos page.

Haunted Houses

The houses of Howl-O-Scream are very well executed, especially the newer ones. Many are gore-filled and all are packed with actors ready to scare. Here’s how I rank them (spoiler-free):

1. Death Row Vengeance
Scare Factor: 7/10
Entertainment Factor: 9/10

Death Row Vengeance is one of Howl-O-Scream’s two new houses this year and I can tell they’ve really stepped it up when compared to the older houses. This one was easily my favorite as it was one of the few that actually gave me a few startles. Plus, the concept is a lot of fun to walk through as it lends itself to a wide variety of visuals, sounds, and special effects. The first half of the house is devoted to depicting various execution styles within a death row prison and each one is more creative than the previous. From the electric chair to a firing range, every scene features a few unexpected surprises that I won’t ruin here. The house’s slogan, “The guilty shall never leave,” comes into play in the second half where the previously-executed inmates are back as ghosts to haunt guests through an appropriate (for once) use of blacklight. Top notch all the way through. Only a top-notch haunted house can evoke a guest reaction like this (yes, we had permission to take this flash photo):

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2. Reconstruction: The Doctor Is In
Scare Factor: 7/10
Entertainment Factor: 8/10

Reconstruction is the other of the two new houses for 2008 and, again, it is leaps and bounds beyond the rest in detail, creativity, and scares. This is also the goriest house I’ve ever seen anywhere. Body parts, mutilated corpses, and other gruesome details fill this house nearly from beginning to end. I may have chosen this house as my favorite if it weren’t for an unnecessarily long “hospital hallway” somewhere near the middle that, for some reason, features a strobe light and thumping techno music, temporarily turning a scary psycho-filled hospital into a dance party. Other than that, the theme is extremely effective and really messes with your head.

From this point forward, the houses decreased a bit in quality. They weren’t bad by any means, but the remaining four houses are simply not as inventive and original as two above.

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

This house really has three things going for it that puts it ahead of the other three older houses. First, the wall textures and heavy items hanging throughout walkways truly do create an atmosphere of being trapped inside walls with no escape. Second, this house features several actors leaping out from over the tops of walls, which is an unexpected twist. Lastly, this is the only house that features the 2008 icon Raven Twins, albeit only in a single (but entertaining) scene. They make a great icon and I wish they had been used more often.

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4. After Hours – Last Call
Scare Factor: 4/10
Entertainment Factor: 6/10

Not too many scares to be found here. The evil night club theme is not terribly original and the actors didn’t seem very interested in scaring anyone. I did, however, have the honor of having a green glow stick thrown within what seemed like inches in front of my face only to watch it snap back via a string to the actor who threw it. It surprised me, but didn’t scare me. The most fun part of this house was near the end, where guests travel through a multi-colored “spinning” tunnel that throws everyone off-balance… more of a fun house trick than that of a haunted house, but fun nonetheless.

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5. 13: Eat Your Heart Out
Scare Factor: 4/10
Entertainment Factor: 4/10

I don’t really remember much about this house, which is not a good sign. What I do remember involves loud banging of metal drums, not-so-realistic motorcycles that don’t scare anyone (you can see them coming a mile away), and too many chainsaws. I normally love the chainsaw-wielding actors but when there’s one around every other corner, it gets old fast. The best part about this house comes at the end, as the house continues outside where you can catch a glimpse of some nearby roller coasters while finishing up.

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6. Taste of Blood
Scare Factor: 2/10
Entertainment Factor: 2/10

If you have to skip a house, make it Taste of Blood. From what I understand, this house is supposed to feature vampires. Unfortunately, I don’t remember seeing any. Instead, I remember coming out thinking, “huh?” While I do enjoy any haunted house-type environment, I’m not sure I’d return to this house in the future without vast improvements.

A final note regarding these rankings and reviews: The houses at Howl-O-Scream are very long… sometimes too long. Generally, the back halves of the houses tends to lose their theme for a while, resorting to startles via long hallways with strobe lights and actors hiding behind multitudes of hanging body bags. So, in thinking back, it’s a bit tough to sort out which house was which. Please let me know if you think I mixed up any of the details.

Scare Zones

Howl-O-Scream features some of the longest scare zones I’ve encountered. Scares include old favorites as well as some new to me. All of the zones have their own styles, making it difficult to compare them. Here’s my ranking anyway:

1. Roaming Hordes
Scare Factor: 7/10
Entertainment Factor: 9/10

Technically, the roaming hordes aren’t a specific scare zone but rather various actors roaming all of Busch Gardens looking for “victims.” However, the wide variety of these actors makes them my top choice for street-based scares. From the white-faced teenagers who slide along the pavement on metal shin guards (my personal favorite) to the actors dressed as guests – well, I won’t spoil it all for you. The best part about the roaming hordes is that they can show up anywhere, at any time and create a quick and amusing scare wherever they go.

2. Wicked Woods
Scare Factor: 8/10
Entertainment Factor: 5/10

This lengthy foliage-filled pathway is the perfect environment for a huge scare zone. Once you enter the area, your only options are to walk all the way through or turn around and leave the way you came in, as there are no side streets. The path is surrounded by bushes and trees that, along with green costumes, hide many actors. In addition, the area is pumped with fog dense enough to allow for only one or two feet of visibility. All in all, it makes for an excellent scare zone, even without much added decor.

3. Eternal Midnight
Scare Factor: 6/10
Entertainment Factor: 6/10

The highlight of this zone is the covered bridge that is only lit by revolving rainbow-colors with a hint of blacklight… just enough to illuminate the painted faces of actors ready to scare. Unbeknownst to me, I was closely followed for most of the length of the bridge by a short female actor, who finally snapped in my right ear to get my attention and quickly moved to my left when I turned right, confusing the heck out of me.

4. Zombie Junction
Scare Factor: 7/10
Entertainment Factor: 6/10

Sparks on the pavement are always fun, especially when created by shovel-wielding zombies. Add to that packed clothes lines and fog set up to block your view, and there are plenty of scares to be found here. I only wish the zone had been longer.

Shows

Howl-O-Scream features four very different stage shows. While parts of the shows were cleverly written and choreographed, most of the performers never rose above a typical theme park level of acting or singing, making the acts a bit painful to watch at times. The saving grace was the show featuring the Raven Twins at the front of the park, which was fairly entertaining.

I won’t rank the shows here, but I will give you my thoughts on each:

One Wild Night takes place on a stage inside a restaurant, which makes for an odd place for a show. It’s hard to eat on picnic tables facing away from the stage and pay attention at the same time. Fortunately, there’s not much to pay attention to. The show is a strange mix of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Grease, with the addition of random songs spanning the last two decades (how does a mix of Amy Winehouse, The Doors, Billy Idol, and Katy Perry sound?). The plot places a young couple among a band of demons who ultimately transform them into more sexual beings. My advice is to skip it unless you have absolutely nothing else to do.

Killer Klownz is quite the sadistic show, focusing on a band of clowns who pride themselves on torture. Their violent acts, which all play out fully on stage, include tearing out a tongue and stabbing someone with an extra-large syringe. Oh, did I mention that their victims are supposed to be park guests? The show is filled with out-of-tune songs (on purpose, I hope) that often feel endless. It’s not a pretty sight… but then again, it’s not supposed to be.

Fiends is a show for all of the men attending Howl-O-Scream. This year’s variation on the popular show boasts more naughty nurses than ever before. The show tells the classic tale of Dr. “Freakenstein”, Igor, and Freakenstein’s monster, with special guest appearances by a few other classic Halloween monsters. Songs once again span decades, some dating all the way back to the doo-wop era. But who am I kidding? The plot is really secondary to the nurses, as they are referenced and flaunted regularly throughout. If you’re offended by small, tight clothing, this is not the show for you… but don’t tell that to the 10-year-old boy that was sitting in front of me.

The Raven Twins dominate the small stage at the front of the park. Their show is quite entertaining and has four variations (you can see one in the video above). In all four, a victim is seemingly chosen from the crowd, pulled up on stage, and murdered, all the while the sisters show no emotion beyond a small, sinister smirk.

Overall
Howl-O-Scream blew away my mediocre expectations and offered enough of a different experience from Halloween Horror Nights for me to recommend visiting both if you get the chance. The experience of enjoying eight top-quality haunted houses in Halloween Horror Nights on Friday followed by six more at Busch Gardens on Saturday truly made for the ultimate weekend for any Halloween fan.

For more photos from Howl-O-Scream, check out our photo gallery.

12 comments

Paul Bathrick October 6, 2008 - 12:35 am

Hmm.. You went on a Saturday.. We went on a Thursday. You may have had a long line of people ahead of you in some or all of the houses. We went through most of them virtually alone, and I think that may have made all the differance. We rated Eat Your Heart Out number one, amongst ourselves, due mainly to the “thirteenth victim.” SPOILER ALERT……………………………………………

There was a girl ahead of us for much of the house who suddenly got picked off by one of the Messengers. He came out of the shadows and dragged her, screaming and reaching out for me (she was walking about a foot in front of me and seemed nervous as any guest.) into the shadows. Obviously she was a plant, but it startled me and made us stop in the middle of the house to wonder what just happened. There were other houses that were scarier, but we thought that one, based mostly on that gag alone… (and I think they had toned down the chainsaws.. I’m only remembering two, we love chainsaws) a solid number 1 for sheer innovation.
Also, we LOOOVED the Klownz.

Reply
Barb Smithers October 9, 2008 - 10:24 pm

We went on a Saturday. All the haunted houses had over an hour wait. We enjoyed all the scare zones and the shows. We looooved the Klownz, too!!! Saw that show twice!

Reply
Chris October 11, 2008 - 12:22 pm

My friends and I went on a Friday. The lines weren’t long at all for anything. In my opinion though, Death Row Venegeance was the most creative, Reconstruction was the dumbest, and Trapped In The Walls scared me the most. Not to mention the roaming clowns, of which I’m deathly afraid of.

Reply
PatiM October 20, 2008 - 6:54 pm

We had a blast!! We went on Sat night, not overly crowded, which was a shock, but great!! The lines were not real long…under 3 min. Reconstruction and Trapped in the walls were, by far the best! Both got me to scream…..loudly! The “scare zones” were pretty good too…..one ghoul got me, he/she told me “eyes forward missy” and I yelped “yes sir!”…..of course friends laughed. Overall MUCH better than Universal’s Halloween Horror!! It was actually my first trip to Busch Gardens and we went back the next day for the rides. Hall O Scream was fun, mostly scary, and I’d return next year. Definitely a recommendation to anyone.

Reply
Eddie November 5, 2008 - 8:57 am

Okay,
I went to this on Halloween Night, it surprised me that not many people were there. In my opinion, Taste Of Blood was the best haunted house next to Trapped in the Walls, and Death Row. I went into every single haunted house, and I liked them but Lucky 13…that one absolutely sucked.
Anyways, Taste Of Blood, made me have a combination of a spazz attack and siezures standing up. It was really dark, and the beginning was scary as hell. The guys in the booths scared me. The Strobelight areas made me scream so much i got out of there and had no voice. The only thing that I didn’t like was the way it ended, if it were to have been a little longer, it would’ve been the most amazing haunted house. ALSO, my opinion might only be this because I was the lead, and there was no one else infront of me.
🙂

Reply
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