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Howl-O-Scream's message: come in, if you dare
Busch Gardens ramps up the horror with three new haunted houses, as well as a host of other ghastly delights.
By Chase Shiflet, Special to the Times
Published September 27, 2007
How can Busch Gardens top last year's Howl-O-Scream, which featured severed heads, vanishing characters and hanging body parts? By opening one of the creepiest haunted houses I've ever seen in my 14 years.
It's one of three new haunted houses that will be featured at the theme park's eighth annual Howl-O-Scream, which opens Friday and runs 16 nights through Oct. 28. Along with the three new houses will be three houses from last year and five scare zones. The park also has added two new shows.
During High School Journalism Day at the theme park recently, students were given a behind-the-scenes tour of the attraction. The haunted house that will have everyone talking is called Catch Your Breath. Sitting in the grassy area between Gwazi and SheiKra, it gives you the near-perfect sense of isolation.
The setting is an abandoned service station, where a demented motorcycle gang called the Messengers has set up shop. Every October, the Messengers pick a specific way in which they will kill 13 people. This year's theme: suffocation. And they've only got 12 victims - so far. Look for the sign out front that gives you more than a few clues that you could breathe your last here.
If the outside gives you even the slightest chill, wait until you get inside. It's dimly lit and dilapidated, and a sense of despair hangs around you as you enter the claustrophobic front hallway.
And the designers really paid attention to detail here. In the daytime, you can hardly see where you're going in the house; at night it must be nearly pitch black. Yet the set designers glued tiny, fake flies inside to give the impression of decay and death.
Once you get past the flies, the horror really starts. Bodies start to pile up, as you see a grave filled by a man wrapped in cellophane. A man is tied to a desk chair with his head buried in the dirt. I came out of the house feeling a bit shaken.
Another new house, called Taste for Blood, has a vampire theme set in a subway system. The third new house has 3-D effects, and though I didn't get to tour it, I'm hoping that it is scarier than last year's 3-D house.
Busch Gardens also is adding a face to Howl-O-Scream, the Death Jockey.
"We really thought that it was time to bring back somebody creepy and foul, and D.J. certainly fills that bill," said Scott Swenson, the Howl-O-Scream creative director. You can read all about D.J. in a weekly online comic book. You can find it at www.deathjockey.com. Scroll to the right and click on the rolled-up comic book to access the story. You can also get more information about Howl-O-Scream.
Swenson said Busch Gardens focuses on "the scare" to get people into the park.
"It's the people behind Howl-O-Scream that really make it terrifying," he said. "We really listen to . . . the people who come to Howl-O-Scream and what they want us to do, and we try to bring that more and more each year."
With the new haunted houses, two new scare zones and two new live shows, I think this will be one of the best years for Howl-O-Scream. If the new houses and scare zones are as scary as Catch Your Breath, the attendees will have a fun time. But if you plan to attend and have a younger sibling or child who also wants to go, it's recommended you don't take them. They will quite possibly get scared out of their wits.
Chase Shiflet, 14, is in the ninth grade at Blake High School in Tampa and is a former member of the X-Team.