Sylvie, the 2010 female rocker face of Busch Gardens’ 11th annual Howl-o-Scream event, is not scary.
However, the same cannot be said of some of the houses that surround her nightly performances.
Howl-o-Scream may be moving backward in its theme choices, but reinvented houses have improved from past years. Because it’s wise to stick with what works, the best houses at Howl-o-Scream this year are repeats, but with new storylines and scares.
A new feature this year is “Alone,” a twisting labyrinth that requires a separate fee, but allows up to four people to brave its maze – or one person to venture through alone for the chance to win a T-shirt.
As far as scare zones go, the event has branched out to more traditional fears like spiders, snakes and breaking down in a forest at night.
“Road Trip” – which allows visitors to follow a trail of blood past several terrified teens and the werewolves attacking them – is the most entertaining scare zone, but “Crazed Love” – a terrifying vision for anyone dealing with an ex – provides laughs and scares as well.
Below, The Oracle breaks down the seven haunted houses Busch Gardens has to offer:
My X: Revenge Rocks
The biggest disappointment among the houses, “My X” provided more annoyances than screams.
It’s possible that the house had frightening scenes, but they were impossible to see through the constantly flashing bulbs.
Scare lines like “You’re on next!” and the ever-original “Look out!” would only startle someone with severe stage fright.
If you’re short on time, skip the house and just see Sylvie’s concert instead. At least there, you might catch some Mardi Gras beads or win a game of limbo.
Taste of Blood: A Different Vein
With enough strobe lights to disorient visitors into going all the wrong directions, “Taste of Blood” offers everything you would expect in a vampire house.
Not straying far from last year’s tricks, the house has coffins that hide scare actors, sharp turns and bloody plastic sheets hanging from the ceiling that blocks visitors’ paths.
It’s not the scariest of houses, but considering the vampire trend is still thriving in popular culture, the house is sure to satisfy fang fans.
Nightshade Toy Factory: Son of Nightshade
One of the scariest houses this year, “Nightshade Toy Factory,” works because it summons physical terror in every way legally possible.
While scare actors are forbidden from touching visitors, “Nightshade” uses dangling teddy bears, bursts of air and moving walls to reach out and brush visitors.
Even if you’re short on time, this is one house you shouldn’t miss. But be prepared for dripping water and dolls with glowing eyes – not to mention demonic creatures that wouldn’t be out of place in “Donnie Darko.”
Death Row Vengeance: No Escape
Another house that hasn’t varied from its past appearance, “Death Row Vengeance,” relies more on visual shock than startling in-your-face scares.
Visitors witness the last moments of prisoners by way of the electric chair, hanging and other brutal execution methods. Better for fans of “Saw” films than for those of genuine horror, the house’s prisoners will still startle guests.
Trapped in the Walls: Ghostchasers
Don’t expect to enjoy this house if you’re tall or claustrophobic – it’s the most cramped and chaotic of the park’s houses.
Upon entering, visitors squeeze through clear white tarps, and then spend much of their time ducking and squeezing through other small spaces. Yet, the house, in which ghost chasers are supposedly hunting for violent spirits, works.
The house does a good job of distracting guests with set-up scenes, and then surprising them from behind with ghostly scare actors.
Delta Epsilon Delta: Extreme Rush (DEDer)
More laughable than terrorizing, “Delta Epsilon Delta” returns for its sophomore year and does its best to follow this year’s theme by inviting Sylvie to be a temporary DED sister.
Unfortunately, there’s something about a group of giggling girls that fails to inspire fear.
However, the tortured men and small jokes – like the cancer-inducing tanning machine – do provide some good laughs if you’re not too scared to stop and take in the scenery.
Deconstruction: The Doctor Is Out of Control
One of the scarier houses of the last three years, “Deconstruction” combines gore with startling moments and, at one point, complete darkness.
The house does a good job of stationing scare actors behind visitors so they remain out of sight until you’ve passed by them.
Overall, “Deconstruction” possessed some of the better, more unexpected scares of the event because of its well-executed lighting effects and simple scare tactics.
For students, Howl-o-Scream once again proves to be a more economical choice than Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights, offering more scares for less money.
With the introduction of $19.95 Thursday night tickets – bought in advance for groups of four or more – the local event offers less travel, fewer crowds and more jump moments. For more information and ticket prices, visit tampa.howl-o-scream.com.