Friday, October 12, 2012

Guest Review: Busch Gardens Howl-O-Scream 2012

Busch Gardens' Howl-O-Scream: The Dark Side of the Gardens

On Thursday, October 11, 2012 my wife (Mandy), my father-in-law (Bill), and myself (Robert) went to Howl-O-Screams. This is our second time going to the event, the last time being two years ago. We enjoyed it then, liking it much more than Halloween Horror Nights due to, in our opinion, better acted haunted houses and the fact that the longest wait we had was 20 minutes, rather than the 2 hours for one Halloween Horror Nights house the previous year.

This year, at the insistence of a friend, we decided to go early and try their Fright Feast deal, so we'll begin with that.

Fright Feast (A+)
--This is the way to go. For little over $20 per person, you get an all you can eat buffet, 30 minutes in the park early, plus an hour front of line pass. It's a great deal. The food was great. The highlights of the buffet were the chicken nuggets and the pasta, but the real winners were the desserts. I was partial to the pumpkin cheesecake, where as my wife and father-in-law loved the bread pudding. All of us agreed that the desserts were worth the price by themselves.

Fiends (Show) (C)
--As part of the Fright Feast, we also were entertained by their show, Fiends, which featured Dr. Freakenstein and his naughty nurses. It was a musical review with lots of good music. However, we all kind of agree, while the music and dancing was fun, the character Igor was over the top raunchy, and it just took us by surprise at how over the top he would get with his comments and actions. Outside of him, it was a fun show.

Zombie Mortuary (House) (A+)
--The first haunt was basically a funeral home that has become infested with zombies. While the house itself had a few good set pieces, it was the cast that made this house a hard act to follow. All three of us agreed that this was the best house of the entire night. The cast is probably one of the best overall casts I've seen in a haunted house, and I've seen a lot. They were coming out of every angle. Left, right, back, front, top, bottom, and in some areas, all at the same time. There wasn't once single actor in this house that was just calling it in, as their energy level was extremely high. It really was a great overall house, because of that.

Roaming Sliders Hoarde (Scarezone) (A)
--Sliders always impress the hell out of me, because I know, I could never do it. These guys used their environment (at the entrance to Timbuktu) to their advantage, but at the same time, used great teamwork in order to get the maximum scare. One would be the distraction, while another would come from a hiding place on the side. They were getting people left and right. Not to mention, they would slide, and then run, and by the time you turned around, you would have no idea where they went to. They were like sliding ninjas.

Roaming Kids Hoarde (Scarezone) (B)
--Saw them outside of Circus of Superstition. Kids are generally creepy when you do them up for Halloween, so I was looking forward to this group. Some of them did better than others, as about half the group stuck with the menacing scare of people, however, a few of them interacted with people great. For example, one of them literally got in front of me, and would not let me pass. She mimicked everything I did and everything I said. It was a nice little creepy moment that you can't do with a lot of monsters, but a creepy kid works great for such a scare. There was also a kid on a bike that was using it very similarly to how sliders work, except with a bike. He was great at riding it straight at people, only to stop it on a dime and not take them all out in the process.

Circus of Superstition 3-D (B)
--I've never been a fan of 3D houses. I've done two previously, and didn't enjoy them at all, however, the concept of this one, superstitions mixed with clowns, made for a unique experience. The 3-D glasses are also a nice little momento that you can keep, should you choose to. (I chose to) They had some interesting scares in there, but my favorite was opening up a curtain to reveal a room full of clowns. It is probably the first time I've ever taken a step back from a room.

Blood Asylum (B)
--This house definitely had the impression that gore equals great, but unfortunately, I don't agree with that. Gore is ok, in certain aspects, but I much prefer the psychological aspects of a house. I also didn't get the theme for the house. The description said it was basically a serial killer on the loose in an asylum after a big storm happens, but to me, this was almost as much of a zombie house as Zombie Mortuary was. However, the actors made up for the too much gore factor and the theming issue, including my biggest jump of the entire evening, which came from above, when you didn't see it coming at all. I also am not afraid to admit that I plan on stealing some of these ideas for my own haunted house, as they had some interesting ideas as far as hiding places and things of that nature. I also will comment that Mandy got sprayed by the toilet full on, which was funny.

Nightshade Toy Factory: Mutation (C)
--The last time we were at Howl-O-Scream, this was our favorite haunted house, and this time, it was my least favorite. Not that it was bad, but to me, it just didn't live up to the other haunted houses by comparison. The scares didn't happen as much, although I did get peed on by a baby doll, but that was more of a shock factor than a scare factor. I really don't know what it was. The actors did fine, and the decor was good, but I just came out of the house wanting more, and I didn't get it.

Ultimate Gamble: Condemned (B)
--The theme for this one is vampires have taken over a condemned casino. Dumb concept, right? I would probably agree with you, but they did it so well. This would not win for biggest scare factor, but it was probably my second favorite of the night as far as design. They had all the Vegas staples. Slot machines, a buffet, and a wedding chapel, complete with Elvis marrying two people. This room also probably had the two most unique scares of the night, so kudos for the people who came up with the idea. Once again though, I didn't get the scare points in here like I did some of the other ones, but I loved the set design of this one, so that brings it up a bunch in my mind.

Faded Memories (Scarezone) (C)
--This is Howl-O-Screams 13th year, so this was in honor of previous haunts and themes. One of which is played by a friend of mine. It was great seeing her, and she did a great job, but the rest was just kind of ho hum. Maybe we weren't as invested in the themes from past years, as we've only been to one other one (My Ex), but also the actors didn't really do a great job of getting us, as we saw with the other scarezones. Now I will say that it could have had something to do with the fact that our hour was almost up for the Front of Line pass, and we were trying to make it to our final haunt, so maybe we were just in too big of a hurry to really appreciate this zone.

Nevermore (B+)
--This haunt is based on Edgar Allen Poe, and they did a great job. This is one of those houses that I could have just walked through over and over again, without any one trying to scare me, as it was so beautifully done from start to finish. The acting in some parts was great, while in others, there were a few people that seemed tired and weren't giving it their best. Luckily there weren't many of them. They also had some great effects in here. The beating heart from The Tell-Tale Heart, and the swinging pendulum from The Pit and the Pendulum were so well done and provided a creepy effect as you walked through the rooms.

Roaming Monster Hoarde (Scarezone) (C)
--Fun little roaming band of big monsters. They were fun watching them run around scare everyone, but to me, they lacked the personal touch of some of the other roaming hoardes.

ROaming Cleaner Hoardes (Scarezone) (D)
--Probably my least favorite of the hoardes that I saw. They were basically zombied version of the park janitors. They basically just walked through, and weren't doing much in the way of scares.

Roaming Chainsaw Hoardes (Scarezone) (A)
--Chainsaws don't ever scare me, but they sure are fun watching them go after people. I could have followed them all night, just to watch them get people to scream and run at full speed.

Shovels and Coffins (Scarezone) (A+)
--There were a set of coffins stacked up in one scene, and there were a whole bunch of gravediggers running around with shovels, striking them across the ground, making noise and causing sparks. I've seen this done before, but I don't think I've ever seen it done so well. Very similar to how the sliders worked with each other, one would set a group up, only for someone to come from behind and get them. And there were a lot of them too. They were coming at people from all angles, so this was probably my favorite of the scarezones.

The Garden (Scarezone) (A)
--Statue scares are the ones that almost always get me. Even though I can look them straight in the eye, know that it's a real person, and think to myself, it's a real person...then they move, and I'm like..."CRAP!" They had two great ones in the entrance scarezone to greet people. Plus throw in two roaming people here, that seemed to have a job of pushing them toward the statues, and it was great little thing they had going.

Overall: B+
Comments: Howl-O-Scream does not disappoint, and proves once again why we stopped going to Halloween Horror Nights. The crowd was never overwhelming, and the longest we had to wait on any of the haunted houses was 5 minutes thanks to our Front of Line pass from the Fright Feast. We were done with all the haunts at 8:36PM, about an hour and a half after we got started. Not bad, if I do say so myself. It really was a good time by all three of us, and none of us can wait to do it again next year.