"Face your Fear" - trip report

Associated parks:
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Monday, September 30, 2002 10:00 AM

I'll try posting this again~

I went to Busch Gardens/Tampa’s 3rd annual Howl O’Scream on Sat the 28th. The “mascot” (if you can call it that) was a zombie-type creature encased in a coffin. The front of the coffin was cut out so that you could see him peering at you with his lips sewn shut. The slogan was “Face your Fear.” Here’s a trip report. The attractions are listed in the order that I did them. Ratings are based on a scale of 5 SHRIEKS, with 5 being the best.

We got there at opening (7:30). The peach sun was setting behind a backdrop of palm trees. It was “Africa Hot”- 93 degrees on Sunday, so I expect it was similar on Saturday. At the top of the entrance plaza, they have 4 X 6 color posters of each of their 6 haunted houses. I like it when a park takes pride in its work. Our strategy was to start at the back of the park and make our way back to the entrance. We proceeded to trek to the NW corner where 2 of the houses were located and got a good scare from a bush (you gotta watch the bushes there- very realistic costumes).

Agony Express (scare zone)- this was located near the train depot and consisted of shirtless guys dragging shovels behind them. The scrape of the shovels was unnerving.

Cursed (scare zone)- this was located at the tunnel to Timbuktu. The music of “Signs” was heard as you approached. I saw people backing up and refusing to enter it. It had some good startles and good actors.

Tortured (haunted house)- This was my first haunted house of the Halloween season. Consequently, I was petrified as a dog being pushed into a veterinarian’s office by its owners. As Busch’s website promised, an actor welcomes you to his house and pushes open a bookcase to let you enter. Cool beginning. The theme is that you’ve been invited to a party. Are you a guest of honor or a victim to be tortured? It’s a long maze and is pretty scary. A vast improvement over the maze that was located here last year. 3 ½ SHRIEKS

Ripper Row (haunted house)- This was located near Tortured and had newsies (boys selling newspapers) in the queue, screaming the headline, “The Ripper has struck again!” I love Busch’s use of actors in the queue! The maze was short, but a lot of fun. You meandered through London’s streets in which the Ripper made several appearances. Favorite scene: a still-alive victim is lying on a table, moaning for help. The Ripper suddenly appears from behind and slits the guy’s throat. I loved that! Interaction between actors is something you rarely see in a house! “Honorable mention” goes to the scene in which the ripper is feasting on a life-size cow in a pasture! A very theatrical and fun house- 4 SHRIEKS

Grisly Gardens (scare zone)- Walking to the southwest corner of the park, staff funnel you into a narrow path bordered by trees and shrubs. I felt like I was in the Blair Witch Project! The trees and statuary come to life in this scare zone. My favorite zone.

Executioners (scare zone)- a post-apocyaltic world dominated by hockey players who use their hockey sticks to scare guests.

Bloody Bayou (haunted house)- So far, all the houses were walk-ons. With this house, we met our first line of the night (waits from here on were 30-60 minutes). A bushy-haired hillbilly talking to the crowd enlivened the wait. There was also a monster with a huge realistic dragon mask on. Instead of doing the usual scare, he just crouched in the bushes and moved his head to and fro, just like a real animal would. Very effective. His clone was on the opposite side of the road and provided some great entertainment. He stood in the bushes and thrust his head toward unsuspecting guests. We would watch the guests come down the road and anticipate the scare. If the monster got a guest good, we’d applaud the actor. If the scare failed, we’d give a lighthearted boo. As far as the house itself, the queue sliced through a huge skull, lit by purple lights and then went past a gas station in which a sign read, “We do chainsaws.” This was the only open-air house. It seemed much shorter than last year’s Bloody Bayou. There didn’t seem to be a single new scene. Worst scene: black walls painted with rats’ eyes and the sounds of scurrying rats. Lame! Favorite scene: walking through clotheslines holding white sheets and Michael Myers lurking between them. 3 SHRIEKS

The Mortuary (haunted house)- Located near the Bayou, the queue went under a white tent, like something you’d see at a funeral, and then along a funeral home enshrouded with latticework. A creepy monster bounced around this area. He looked like those department store elves in “A Christmas Story,” very Phantasm-like. Somehow, it worked. You then enter the mortuary. The first scene instantly reminded me of Disney’s Haunted Mansion, mixed with 6 Feet Under. There was an illusion of long hallways and chandeliers and dead lilies abounded. There were many great ‘gags’ (scares from unexpected places) in this house. Favorite scene: walking through a cold refrigeration room, and then immediately into a hot furnace room. “Honorable mentions” go to the pitch-black hallway (it’s rare to find just simple, pitch black sections in houses these days), and a scene in which you walked through a mortician’s closet of black suits. Ha! The best house by far: 4 ½ SHRIEKS

Demented Dimensions (haunted house)- This was the 3D maze from last year, but only in a different location (now we’re in the southwest corner of the park). The only memorable new scenes were a spiining tunnel that began the maze and a “pink fur” room. This was a twist on the stuffed animal room, in which a stuffed animal leaps out at you from a pile of lifeless animals. This one had a big pink fur ball leaping at you. 3 SHRIEKS.

Escape from Insanity (haunted house)- Located near Dimensions, this had the longest wait. Some bozo staff member let too much time pass before sending in each group of 20. In fact, the heat was so insufferable at this point, that the person behind me fainted. The house began with a spiel by an actress who looked like Betty Davis from “Whatever happened to Baby Jane?” It then went outside the insane asylum in which roaming patients beckoned for help. The house was another virtual retread of last year’s Insanity (that makes 3 duplicate houses, if you’re counting). Worst scene: inmates trapped in their cells wearing “Madonna microphones” (those wrap-around microphones performers use at concerts). Totally killed the effect. It wasn’t like they were saying anything profound, or anything. This house seemed darker and not as colorful as last year’s and was the biggest disappointment of the night (if you’re looking for horror in an insane asylum, I have to digress to recommend a movie on DVD: "Session 9.” It’s about a defunct mental hospital and a crew of hazardous materials guys who are hired to clean it up. Mysteriously, they disappear, one by one. It takes its time, but keeps your attention because it's well-acted and has intriguing characters. The ending was nice and satisfying, too- tied everything together). Anyway, this house gets 3 SHRIEKS.

We left at 10:30 and the crowds at the admission booth were still incredibly long. Even the stream of cars on Busch Boulevard was ½ mile long. Obviously, Busch has a winner on their hands with Howl O’Scream. It’s worthy competition to Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights. My recommendation to Busch is to have all-new houses, like Universal does. At the very least, they should put some new scenes in the old houses. However, I love Busch’s use of the actors in the queues and the interaction of actors in the houses. All of the actors did a great job and obviously had fun doing it (which adds to guests’ fun).

*** This post was edited by Anastasia BeaverHausen on 9/30/2002. ***

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