RexandtheBeast.com eagerly arrived in Tampa, Florida to embark on the second weekend of the Festival of Fear Tour 2009. After a delicious meal at the official RATB.com restaurant of choice, Red Lobster, we were prepared for our first experience with Bush Garden’s Howl-O-Scream haunted event. We parked in section “C”, made our way to the trolley station, and in a matter of seconds the “tram was in motion.”
As we made our way through the front gate, our senses were already being bombarded with the theme of Howl-O-Scream: “House of Vayne.” There is a runway set up right smack-dab in the middle of the entrance where models were walking the floor to the sound of pumping techno music. Then, an elegant and somewhat mysterious lady appears followed by all the models. At the wave of her hand, all the models turn into vampires and begin displaying their need for blood. As they make their way backstage, the lone, elegant figure begins lightly clapping, and then disappears backstage with the rest of her brood. This is by far the coolest and most effective entrance to any haunt RATB.com has experienced.
Making our way past the entrance, we immersed ourselves into the atmosphere of the night, and there was plenty of it. Busch Gardens is by nature a somewhat enclosed park, meaning that it feels like a zoo (which it partially is); there are plenty of turns, trees, dark areas, and shadowy corners. Add to that the ambience that is created with smoke, red and green lights, laser lights, and lurking creatures (even outside the scare zones , which was a great idea and really worked well), and you have a park that is chock full of atmosfear.
The first scarezone of the night was “Banshees” and we were a bit concerned that although the atmosphere of the park was terrific, the actual content might not be able to live up to other theme park haunts. Banshees was a small, fairly pointless scarezone with a few girls on rollerskates banging walking sticks into the ground while high pitch shrieks were broadcast over the sound system. We moved on to find the houses and get the party started. Below are quick reviews of the individual houses followed by a few comments on the rest of scarezones, rides, and overall experience.
Our first house of the night ended up being one of our favorites. 13 is a biker/redneck theme house that takes place inside a gas station. The outside of the station looks fantastic with old Patsy Cline songs playing, which was very creepy, and on our second trip through the house a great “grandma” character was sitting in a rocking chair welcoming the unlucky visitors to the haunt. The detail inside rivals any house we have been through. The back end of the house featured a fenced in area where bikers were shining their headlights through the fence, very effective.
RATB.com rating: 9 out of 10 stars.
Delta Epsilon Delta: Pledge Week
If you are into girls abusing and torturing guys, this is the house for you. The general concept being the sorority girls were abusing the guys during pledge week. The most effective parts of the house were the circular reaper room and the opening dragon head statues. There was the classic bathroom scene where you get sprayed from the stall. Not much here to brag about, but still a fun experience.
RATB.com rating: 6.5 out of 10 stars.
Taste of Blood
Flat. That is how we described this house in one word and it was our least favorite house of the night, which is too bad because normally vampire houses are some of our favorites. The two elements that worked fairly well were a strobe and attack scene where a girl gets bitten, as well as some good misdirection from a girl holding a stuffed animal that holds your attention while a vampire jumps out. Other than that, this house left us scratching our heads. The vampire theme was not even clearly discernable.
RATB.com rating: 5 out of 10 stars.
Trapped in the Walls
This was probably second on our least favorite list, closely matching Taste of Blood for lack of activity. The concept was a cool one and the house centered primarily on “blending in” scares where scareactors blend into the background and then jump out at you. The use of mechanical ceiling ghouls was overdone and we just kept waiting for something to happen. We did enjoy the various “scenes” behind plexi-glass, one was of a guy in a bed with his head blown off, the other was a girl on the phone who had been shoved through the wall.
RATB.com rating: 6 out of 10 stars.
Death Row Vengeance
This is a great house! Wonderful detail and some genuine scares, as well as some old school effects make Death Row Vengeance one of the better Howl-O-Scream haunts. This house featured one of Rex’s favorite rooms, the cell block. This was a huge set of a two story cell block where scareactors were looming above you, peering down. There was also a great “pepper’s ghost” effect where a monster head was spinning in a dryer. Pretty much every kind of capital punishment is represented here, including a cool firing squad sequence. Good stuff.
RATB.com rating: 8 out of 10 stars.
Nightshade Toy Factory
Hard to get much better than this. On the creepiness scale, the Toy Factory blows everything else away. Big teddy bears, spooky baby dolls nailed in a row on the wall (called Tiny Tinkle because they “tinkle” at you), and one of the spookiest rooms of the night – an assembly room with blank faced assembly workers piecing together the toys. There is a warehouse scene where one of the boxes literally flies across your head, a great scare! The only aspect of this house that was not effective was the final chainsaw sequence. Other than that, this is a homerun.
RATB.com rating: 9 out of 10 stars.
Reconstruction: The Doctor is In
This house had Dr. VonAngst taking people and “reconstructing” them with metal parts and other body parts. We found this fairly effective, but not overly scary. A classic concept done adequately, but no standout. For full disclosure, this was our last house of the night around 1:30 a.m. and we were pretty exhausted, so this could be grading a little lower because of that!
RATB.com rating: 7 out of 10 stars.
So, the houses themselves at Howl-O-Scream are, for the most part, solid and full of detail. The scarezones were not so effective, save for the werewolves zone which was huge, it took a good while to walk through it. Unearthed and El Carnaval del Muerto were fairly innocuous and didn’t add a great deal to the experience. Nevertheless, one area where Howl-O-Scream really surprised us was by providing great scares even outside the scarezones. During one stretch especially, there were multiple scares coming from dark places and bushes. Very good stuff! Plus, the lighting and the music just made Howl-O-Scream a great place to walk around and take it all in. Add to all the great the incredible fun of being able to ride Busch Garden’s great roller coasters at night and you have one heck of an unforgettable evening.
Therefore, we were blown away with the event, since we were expecting it to come well below the quality of Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando. That is not the case, Howl-O-Scream can hold its own! RexandtheBeast.com highly recommends this haunt for anyone who enjoys the holiday and has an affection for haunted attractions.
Rex’s Howl-O-Scream Event Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars.
The Beast’s Howl-O-Scream Event Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars.
Overall RexandtheBeast.com Festival of Fear Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars.