By Banks Lee
This year’s Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa has introduced not one, not two, but 13 frightful icons to the annual Halloween event. With two new houses among five returning ones, new scare zones, a new premium house and an updated Fiends, this year’s Howl-O-Scream is definitely one not to miss.
This house ended up being my favorite house of the event. It’s a lengthy experience with great details, scares, and visuals. One of two new houses this year, I really hope to see this one make a return in the future. Without spoiling too much, there is an area laid out like a little maze that I actually ended up missing a turn at, since there weren’t any guests around me my first time through. And don’t think the scares are done once you escape Momma and #4 The Butcher …
A returning house, I actually only went through half of it last year thanks to my Scream Cam experience, so I was anxious to see the rest. I love houses that set up a good story before entering, and this is one does thanks to a video playing in the queue. This is the goriest house at Howl-O-Scream, with lots and lots of nasty visuals inside an asylum where a psychotic serial killer has escaped. As a fan of over-the-top gore, I loved it, but this may not be a good place for those who are squeamish or easily disturbed.
Circus of Superstition 3-D
The 3D houses have never been my thing. While the visuals are mesmerizing, I’m usually too invested in the look to be scared. This was not the case here. A fun look at 13 different superstitions brought to life by amazing 3D effects and great scares. The way the makeup seems to come off the clowns throughout the house kept me from looking away from the scareactors, thus getting scared more often. The effect in the finale was also one I couldn’t look away from. The #13 Clown and his friends are definitely a sight to see.
Death Water Bayou
Even though The Basement was my favorite house, this one was a very close second. I went through half of the house last week with a Scream Cam, so I was ready to see what the rest had to offer, and boy did it deliver. Since I grew up near Louisiana, I was already very familiar with the Bayou-type atmosphere, and they recreated it with great detail. There were two scares in the house that got me good – the biggest scream I had all night. Part of this house continues outside, so it’s worth going through both while it’s still daylight and at night to see the difference. #6 Voodoo Queen has an amazing experience that must be seen.
This house is based off the works of Edgar Allen Poe, and I feel it would be more enjoyable to those who are very familiar with his stories. I’ve read some of them, and definitely recognized things from them throughout the house, which was pretty neat. It felt like it was just a bunch of set pieces with no coherent story to tie them together. The strobe in one scene was a bit too much as it was hard to find my way through, which can be a great effect, but here was just frustrating. Again, I feel the more you are familiar with the works of Poe, the more you will enjoy this returning house.
Ultimate Gamble: Reversal of Fortune
This ended up being my least favorite house. To be fair, I had not been in any of the previous incarnations of this concept, but I feel that made my experience even more confusing. I didn’t really understand why we were having to enter from the back. If I didn’t know the name or theme, I wouldn’t have ever guessed it was a casino until about three-fourths of the way through. I felt the path should have been reversed. The makeup for the werewolves looked good, but the scares were few and far between.
This was another house I wasn’t too impressed by. It was a fun concept, but it felt like the actual zombies were lacking during the first part of the house. I didn’t really find the screaming mourners very scary. There were some good visuals for gore fans like me, and the zombies at the end were a nice surprise, but the #9 Zombie and his undead friends failed to interest me much.
This is the premium house experience this year, replacing “Alone” from previous events. This house is a test of your fear tolerance and mental endurance as you’re put through a series of exams that may see you dealing with cockroaches, snakes and killing a human being. Sometimes the scientists conducting each experiment can be more intimidating than what’s in front of you, adding more to the tense environment. The final experiment is very reminiscent of the film Saw and may require you to stick your hand somewhere unpleasant. When you think it’s over, just remember, this is still a house experience and things may take a turn for the worst. I really enjoyed my time inside.
The Experiment is $50 for one, and you can bring in up to three others for an additional $10 per person. Reservations are required in advance and tickets can be purchased here.
This is the first zone you encounter when entering Howl-O-Scream. Doors for each other 13 evils are scattered around the area, providing fun photo ops and some good scares. From #1 Possessed to #10 Cannibal, these evils are frightfully fun to watch and interact with. I loved standing to the side and watching them scare other guests. They’ll even pose for a photo if you’re lucky. It’s a great zone to start off and end your night.
This scare zone feels a bit out of the way from the other houses with its placement near the Sesame Street area. I didn’t get any good scares here myself, but the potential is there thanks to scareactors with farm tools.
This is the smallest scare zone of the event, and even though it features #2 Torturer and #12 Hangman, it didn’t really impress me other than some cool visuals of unfortunate guests being tortured. It felt like there were more victims in the zone than actual scareactors.
Even though it’s not listed on the map or website, there are several roaming zombies and stilt walkers around the park, adding a bit of fear. I felt this worked beautifully for a park like Busch Gardens with narrow pathways full of bushes. They got me several times.
A tradition for Howl-O-Scream, Fiends is back with an updated show that takes place at Freakenstein University. They’ve added more pop culture references than past years which makes this fan favorite show feel new while still retaining the show we know and love. Don’t forget to get a picture with the Naughty Nurses after the show.
I had an absolute blast at Howl-O-Scream this year! Here’s a tip to help you see everything in one night. Purchase the Fright Feast upgrade. With it, you can get into the park early and enjoy a buffet at the Desert Grill from 6 to 7 p.m., which includes a private showing of Fiends. Afterwards, from 7 to 7:30 p.m., you get early access to all the houses, then you’ll get front of the line access until 8:30 p.m. Thanks to the early access and it being a slow night, we went through The Basement and Death Water Bayou by ourselves, which really added a level of fear to our experience. By 9 p.m. we had finished all the houses and scare zones at the park, and could return to our favorites. I highly recommend Fright Feast at only $26 per person and $23 for pass members. Regular admission to Howl-O-Scream is required too. Purchase your Fright Feast tickets here.
Tickets for Howl-O-Scream can be bought in advance on their website. Below are some highlights from the event, including the houses, scare zones, Fiends, and the gift shop.
See me go through Death Water Bayou with the Scream Cam on the Oct. 3, 2013 episode below (starts at 16:01)