Howl O Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa has been Unearthed this year, and with it a new brand of evil. The annual Halloween event is always full of gore, futs, and insane characters, but this year something else has been Unearthed, and it’s plain and its simple evil. We had the chance to check out the opening night of Howl O Scream, and we’ll run you down what works, what doesnt, and give you some tips on how to best enjoy the event.
The night started off with a special meet up with Scarlett, and her creator Robin Cowie. The character is a demon that is several hundreds of years old, who was buried alive in her house. Being the supernatural being that she is, of course she didn’t die. Instead she took the eyes of anyone who might be foolish enough to wonder close enough. Why? It’s all in the story, somewhere.
But Scarlett and Evil Unearthed is just the beginning. There are a total of seven houses at Howl O Scream this year, and while they are all repeats (except Evil Unearthed), Busch Gardens seems to be trying to amp up the fun in each house this year.
Here’s what you need to know going in. If you’ve never been to Howl O Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa, you’re going to absolutely love it. It’s a much bigger park than other local haunts, which spread out the crowds immensely. They also do not use huge IP’s, instead relying on their own creative brands. With that said, the park recycles houses year after year. This year, all but one house has been recycled. I’ve personally been to the event every year since 2003, and while it’s a fun event, it tends to get repetitive for people like me who have seen them all before. Instead of telling you what’s changed, and what hasn’t, how about we tell you just what to expect?
The Basement tells the story of Mama’s Meats, a very popular meat brand that is known for their stew….and you see where this is going. Mama’s Meats is peoples! Yeah, the house uses the grotesque as the backbone for this house, and it works to a degree. It’s fun, gross, and has some really cool effects, including a huge rat that lives in the sewer pipes.
Circus of Superstition is a typical 3D blacklight house, where everything pops out at you. Unlike other haunted houses, this one doesn’t go for the scare, but instead it plays on your fears. So many people hate clowns, and for good reason. They’re murderous, and hide killers behind that paint. This house uses that to it’s full advantage, while playing on the superstitions. Honestly, the scenes make little to no sense, but the clowns are what pull it off…they are flat out terrifying to people who hate clowns. We had a group behind us, who ended up in front of us, because the lady was so scared of clowns. And these aren’t the creepy clowns either, these are bloody, demented, freakish clowns. The lady was so scared that she froze, used me as a shield, peed (and managed to get it on my foot), and then ran before almost passing out. That’s the kind of terror you want in a house, even if it’s not your own.
This is the big daddy of the year. Scarlett’s Revenge is new territory for Busch Gardens Tampa. They have constructed a Hollywood style story, with a big name in Hollywood. The influence of Robin Cowie, who produced Blair Witch Project, is definitely felt here. Like Blair Witch, we have a legend of a lady who was good, but because of outside influence became evil…or maybe she was evil all along, she just hid it…whatever the case, that’s the story in Unearthed.
Unearthed takes us, legitimately, 25 feet below. That’s done by taking you up to the now closed coaster, Gwazi, and pushing you through the loading platform and underneath the station. Never has there been a better place to create a haunted house. The wood has been sitting in the Florida sun for almost a year, rotting, with no use at all. The smell alone gives a lot to the experience. Then you have the fact that it’s under a rotting wooden coaster…sure, it’s structurally sound, but damn that thought gets into your head.
The house itself is all about the eyes. Again, we’re not to sure about why the eyes, but there’s people looking to steal yours. There’s also death everywhere. There are live maggots, and worms all over the place, and the entire place stinks of rotting death. Scarlett herself is pretty badass, as she’s the massive horned demon, who happens to have the body of a very attractive woman.
We actually had the chance to get into the house the day before for a short preview:
The house itself used all kinds of cool trickery and effects. At one point, the damn walls and ceiling are falling in, and collapsing. Again, you’re under a rotting wooden coaster, so the effect comes off amazingly well, even though you can see it reset. This house gets an amazingly long line, so make a beeline for it first.
Death Water Bayou is another very high concept house for Howl O Scream. While they aren’t at the level of some of the bigger haunts, this house proves that they can be there if the company allows it. A lot of really cool sets, all set in the swamps of Louisiana, with voodoo leaking out of every angle. The house has you looking for a voodoo priestess, and even takes you into the streets of New Orleans.
Deadfall is another high concept house, with very elaborate sets. Guests are taken into a haunted greenhouse, and have to navigate all the souls who have died there. A lot of use of puppetry and very special scenery, including a boat, makes Deadfall stand out.
Zombie Mortuary is definitely for lovers of the zombie genre, as it takes you through a mortuary that has been infected. At one point, you even travel “underground” as you’re buried.
Zombie Containment Unit is one of those houses that you must try and hit first, otherwise the line for it gets insanely long. This year the house tries some new tricks, as you blast your way through the madness. It’s a fun concept, as you’re armed with laser tag guns, and have to hit targets on the chest of the zombies. There are no scoring systems in play, and honestly this might work better as a free running scare zone, much like Knott’s has with their “Special Ops: Infected” scare zone. It’s a great idea that still needs to be tweaked a bit.
Every year Howl O Scream makes a statement with their entrance area. This year, it’s all about Unearthed, and Scarlett’s followers. There are tons of ladies roaming around with glowing red eyes, and those who have fallen victim. Unlike the years past, there doesn’t seem to be any kind of mini show to go along with it, but it’s still a fun thing to walk through, as the scares are abundant.
Video-Get Unearthed in the all new Scare Zone at Howl O Scream
Howl O Scream has opted out of having defined scare zones, instead choosing to have hordes of different characters roam the park, and stop…in certain designated areas…okay. So instead of areas with a story, you have just random groups of characters that can show up at anytime. This, for us, is a weak point of the event. The park is just so big that it seemed as when we were walking in, the characters were walking out. If it rains, it makes it all the harder to encounter any actors in the scare zones.
We did manage to catch some old favorites, however, as the toys from the old Nightshade Toy Factory were spotted roaming the streets. Old demented toys, broken dolls and a pissed off rabbit smoking a cigar all made for interesting scares.
Speaking of old characters, Howl O Scream had a vote on Facebook, as to which characters you would like to see in a photo op. The fans spoke loud and clear and they were treated to The Raven Twins. The characters are the icons from 2008, and were conjoined twins, who were joined at the face. They were otherwise very hot, but had a bit of a jealous streak between each other.
They weren’t the only characters roaming around, as guests could also see Death Jockey from 2007 spinning records in the first scene of Zombie Containment Unit and The Trickster roaming around with the clowns from Circus of Superstition.
This year Busch Gardens only has one show, and if Busch Gardens is only going to have one show, it better be Fiends. The show went a long time without changing much over the course of the event, until recently. Now the show has gone through a massive revamp, and has changed quite a bit from year to year, while still staying the same.
If you’ve never seen the show, or haven’t in a very long time, you need to know that there is a lot of skin. Sexy nurses, both male and female, provide eye candy for the crowd. This year, the story takes on the IRS as Freakenstein University (good ole FU) is slapped with over a million dollars in back taxes. The show makes fun of pop culture, and uses that premise to set up the dance numbers of the monsters.
Video-Check out the sexy fun of Fiends!
The show really works this year, for some damn reason. It’s hilarious, and crude without being too vulgar…though at a PG-13 event like Howl O Scream, vulgar is perfectly acceptable. The male nurses play a much larger role this year, much to the delight of the crowd, and the jokes are pretty on point….with a lot of references to Donald Trump. If you’re a long time fan, it’s a vast improvement over the past years.
Slideshow-Check out a lot more pictures from Howl O Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa!
The event is a separate ticket, which means the park closes, and it’s not included in your daytime theme park admission. There are also tons of great options for line skipping, from VIP tickets, to punch cards which get you through once, to even Fright Feast. Fright Feast gives you a buffet dinner, and the chance to enter the houses early, and at the front of the line for over an hour. It’s plenty of time to see most, if not all of the houses.
This year definitely felt like Howl O Scream wanted to stand out on it’s own, and it has. The only problem is for those of us who have come every year, the event still tends to feel tired after seeing the houses for five or six years in a row. The event is massively fun, and is made even more so by coasters and rides in the dark. Falcon’s Fury at night is a whole new level of terror.
Stay tuned for more from Howl O Scream, and be sure to get social with us on Facebook and follow along with us on Twitter @BehindThrills for the latest updates!
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