It can't really be said that I am a Halloween-event enthusiast. I'm not into horror movies at all, I'm the exact opposite of jumpy, I'm not in my mid-twenties, and I don't particularly like being drunk. So when I do attend these things, I'm more interested in the scenic and architectural aspects of it--the theming, if you will--and the way the park puts it together, than in being scared or grossed-out. Over the years, I've been to Knott's Scary Farm, and both USH's and UO's Halloween Horror Nights, but this was my first visit to Busch Gardens Tampa's Howl-O-Scream
Comparing one event to another seems rather pointless to me, though, as they're all (at least, in my view) far more similar than different. Having said that, I will be reviewing each of the houses and scare zones, pointing out what I liked and what I thought could have been better.
The Nairobi Gate is used, for a few hours, to let in Howl-O-Scream guests while the regular day guests exit out. Once all the day guests are out, Howl-O-Scream attendees then enter in through the main gate. Or at least I think that's what was going on. If you're visiting Busch Gardens during the day and attending Howl-O-Scream, you are given a wrist band so that you won't be swept out with the other day guests at 5:00pm.
This year's event theme is some band I've never heard of called My X (or, possibly, Sylvie My X). Honestly, I'm still only about 90% sure that this *is* a real band outside of Howl-O-Scream, but whatever. The point is that references to this not-particularly-evil-seeming rock band are everywhere. Which is good, really, as it did give the event a bit more cohesion than I was expecting.
The main gate. I'm guessing they just use the same Howl-O-Scream sign every year, so no reiteration of the theme here.
Smisty shows off the park/event map. I guess that's Sylvie on there, leader of the possibly-real rock band, My X.
The old label store, which I think was selling stuffed animals and the like of late, has been transformed into a Howl-O-Scream store, which is open all day. Seems like a good idea to me; Event goers get their own store, and it's basically advertising for the event during the day.
This store may be too intense for some shoppers. No nurse is present. Shop at your own risk!
You know what would have been a better band to theme this event around? Dio. (Actually, I'm sure there are lots of better choices, but Dio is clearly the best one.)
"Buy some crap left over from last year, or this guy will bite his own arm!"
Teddy Scares. Yeah....
Now which way?
These guys sat up on the second floor landing of the Katonga building and told bad jokes and insulted people. Which might have been cool if it were live. But it was, instead, obviously just a recording. "Hey, check out that guy in the red shirt. He's so ugly, he got robbed, and the robbers made him wear the mask!"
While I can't say I was terribly impressed with any of the scare zones, this was the stupidest one I've ever seen. "Light of Doom." It consisted of white and blue statues of non-scary things, light, a bit of fog, and slow-moving, non-verbal scare-actors in easy-to-see white robes. Hey, BGT, you know what's scarier than statues of cows and non-threatening humans that I can see? ANYTHING.
This house was called "Death Row Vengeance No Escape." Honestly, it was pretty standard. The best part was a short trip through the cell block near the end, which had me wondering why we didn't do a lot more of that, instead of traipsing around through the prison kitchen and such. There was also a nice electric chair scene, which I expected to be a dummy, but instead was a live actor who mimed being electrocuted, and then jumped out of the chair and chased people.
This scare zone is called "Crazed Love," and was also very odd thematically.
Yes, marriage can be terrifying. Especially if you're still young.
See, it's scary because his head's come off.
And then some droogs slide at you. Actually, these guys were pretty cool. They've gotta be sore as hell by the end of the night, though.
Hey look, a Schwarzkopf!
Games of (s)Kill, get it? Same games as during the day, but harder because of fog.
I think this is my favorite photo in this update, as Sesame Street is transformed into "Trapped In The Walls: Ghostchasers" via the changing of a sign.
In this house, you're chased by a wild mouse. (Actually, that would be really cool.)
An interesting thing that seemed to occur at multiple houses, was that if there was a cool-looking facade, it was probably the exit.
As for the house itself, it was okay, but I think they really missed an opportunity here. It's supposed to be like one of those ghost hunter shows (which are retarded, by the way), and it starts out very clean and scientific. But then, instead of being something modern and unsettling, it quickly degenerates into darkness, scream masks, and funhouse mirrors.
Note to self: Must return here later. [*Spoiler* We never do. Still kicking myself.]
"DEDer: Extreme Rush" is located back behind Tanganyika Tidal Wave, in what my friend Robert informs me was once Orchid Canyon.
This house was themed to evil sorority girls, yet was somehow not that good. I guess they had kidnapped some frat boys and were torturing them or something? I don't know, they sort of lost me when one of the actors shouted, "Help me, they're twisting my nipples!"
This was the best scare zone of a rather weak foursome: "Road Trip."
This one was interesting because there were actual victims asking for our help. Which is a cool idea, although there was nothing you could really do except feel bad for walking away. This also quickly became tiresome as it then started popping up everywhere. "Help me, don't leave me here!" Well, okay, what would you like me to do?
It honestly just became annoying after a while. But it was kind of cool the first time.
Decor near the Bengal Bistro.
I have spliced two photos together here in order to save Robb & Elissa some bandwidth. The top shows the (mostly) re-themed Bengal Bistro menu; The bottom shows the "cups of worms."
"Taste of Blood: A Different Vein" was about vampires in the subway. The first two-thirds were fairly standard, but the last third or so was really good! I think the key to a good "scare" is misdirection. People know there are going to be scary things, so they expect them. So what you need to do is to get them focused on the wrong thing, and then come in from the side. For example, in this house they had a really cool floating 'master of ceremonies' type vampire. And while you were staring at him, trying to figure out how they were making him float, some of his previous victims, who were strewn around on the ground, under his feet, popped up at you.
Our last scare zone is "Spiders & Snakes," and boy is it lame.
This guy's big line was, "I'm a web designer." Really.
There's not much more terrifying than obviously-rubber snakes.
"Hey honey. You wanna get freaky with me and my snake? Five dollars." Okay, she didn't really say that. Instead, the actors here said things like, "Help, there's a snake on me!"
Though the midways often seemed very crowded, we were able to do all the houses, with time to spare, and never waited more than about 20 minutes or so. The one house we didn't do was "Alone," as it was a $35 upcharge. Why? Well, because you go through it alone. Which sounds okay, I guess. Although, aren't these things really more about the shared experience? Or is that just me? (Also, 'Minotaur Storage' is, like, the stupidest name for anything ever.)
I suppose this was the marquee house, "My X: Revenge Rocks." Along the queue, there were fuddy-duddy actors protesting the band, giving this house a themed queue! Of course, I assumed the band itself would be playing here in Gwazi field, but instead they were set up on a little stage in the midway. So maybe they're not that big, after all.
As for the house itself, it had some different sort of sets and some interesting ideas. My favorite was a make-up mirror that revealed a scare-actor behind it. But it was too far away to really be scary. Still, a ghost trapped in a mirror would have been awesome for "Trapped in the Walls." There was also an actor that swung a sandbag over our heads. But, again, that probably would have been more effective if you couldn't see the actor, and the sandbag just came out of nowhere. This house also had a soundtrack, which was the music of My X. Thankfully, it was audible, but not earsplitting. Lots to admire about this one, just not very scary.
Club X was basically just a nightclub. No charge, but you do have to be 21 or older to get in.
Inside, there's a bar, a dance floor, and a stage with some goth types dancing on it.
"Nightshade Toys: Son of Nightshade" was our favorite house of the night.
It's a creepy toy factory! Little dolls pee on you, walls are lined with teddy bears, scare-actors say effed-up things like, "Don't tell daddy," and it ends with a spinning tunnel. Awesomeness.
Nearby--and, really, in the wrong area--is this photo op with girls from the DEDer house. Amusingly enough, the extremely drunk dudes in this photo were reluctant to get their picture taken with the sorority girls because they were afraid it would make them look gay. Well, there's drunk logic for you.
"Deconstruction" was probably my least favorite house, and due to all the construction in the area, the hardest to get to. I guess the theme is, like, a doctor who does horrific surgery or something? It seemed to be mostly a gore house. Which brings me to this: Most of the "monsters" in all of these houses said really stupid things. (With the exception of Nightshade Toys, where it was kind of cool.) "Where's your ticket?" is not scary. The mad doctor wandering around confused saying, "Where are my tools?" is not scary. Just yell and make incoherent noises! The worst was monsters in almost every house saying, "Keep moving." I mean, isn't that the opposite of what a monster should want me to do? Anyway....
I did like this advertisement in the queue. (Which was really just Akbar's queue.)
Yes, it's the terror of not being able to get back in once you leave. (And Robert finally makes his first Oddventure appearance.)
Goodbye, Howl-O-Scream. Despite the lameness of your scare zones, and the drunken idiots that naturally go along with these types of things, we had fun. Lines were manageable, and the houses were pretty good. Plus, the band thing was actually a nice idea. (Except, you know, it should have been more Gwar and less Avril Lavigne.) We look forward to seeing what you come up with next year!