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Scare tactics

Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens is back, Halloween is approaching, and the year is near its end. For anyone who has lived in Tampa for a few years, Howl-O-Scream is nothing new – costumes, makeup, music and loud noises.

As I entered the event, I was presented with belly dancers on platforms and a man on stilts – how scary could this really be? However, as I walked through the dark theme park I constantly wondered what could be creeping up behind me. With one new haunted house and five classics, there was plenty to do and no time to waste. Also, roller coasters deliver thrills throughout the night, which makes the whole experience worthwhile.

Haunted Houses

Nothing sets the mood for Halloween better than haunted houses. As soon as I stepped into one, I had to have someone to hold onto or at least crouch behind. With ghouls and grim reapers behind each corner, something was bound to make me jump as I traipsed through the darkness.

Aimee Jeansonne-Beck, a senior publicist for Busch Gardens, expects this year’s favorite house will be the newest addition, Trapped in the Walls. This haunted house was unique because of narrow hallways that didn’t leave any space between the person and the fright. For me, the biggest scare was in a wired room, which was full of electrocuting sounds.

Returning to Howl-O-Scream this year is After Hours: Club Muse. According to, the official Web site of Howl-O-Scream, “people are dying to be on the V.I.P. list at the hottest club in town.”

While waiting in line for this thrill, expect to be bombarded by tons of loud techno music. Once I entered the dark scene, the flashing strobe lights had me wondering what was going on, which was enough to keep me nervous. The club theme is exciting, but in some parts I was simply reminded of Ybor during Guavaween.

The 3rd Dementia offered something slightly different. After I put on those cheap 3-D glasses, I stumbled through the three-dimensional house wondering what would really pop out at me. The fluorescent paint appears 3-D and makes for a more appealing and artistic haunted house.

Shows and Scare Zones

Busch Gardens features two live shows, Control-Alt-DECEASED and Fiends, for anyone who wants to sit down to be scared. Throughout the park certain areas are set up as “scare zones” – sidewalks with props and actors who jump out and attempt to shock those who pass by. I found myself picking up the pace as I felt someone creeping up behind me, and again when I heard the sounds of a revving chainsaw.

“The scariest part of Howl-O-Scream is when someone jumps out with a scream and a bang at the moment that you least expect it,” sophomore Carl Bivona said.

Roller Coasters

The newest coaster at Busch Gardens is SheiKra. This ride is breathtaking and suspenseful, especially at night. Try to imagine sitting in the front row of SheiKra at midnight, being lifted up into the night sky and given a tour of Tampa. The lights of the city sparkle, and Tampa looks spectacular from this elevated point of view. The experience is brief but noteworthy.

Next thing you know, you are suspended face down in the dark for 7 seconds (it seems like much longer). For the biggest thrill, I found the trick is not to look down into the dark pit, but look straight ahead at the city falling. Within seconds, I went from a spectacular night view into that nightmare where I can’t stop falling. All of a sudden, I was whipped, turned, flipped and dropped again. It’s over so quickly that I made a point to do it again.

Onto Montu, a favorite at Busch Gardens before SheiKra stole the spotlight. The good thing about SheiKra’s new fame is the lack of enthusiasm for Montu, which means waiting in line is hardly an issue. This fast-paced and exciting coaster had me soaring through the night sky, doing flips and flying around fast turns.

Howl-O-Scream was altogether a satisfying experience. It wasn’t pee-in-your-pants scary, but it does the trick with the convenience of being close to campus. My advice is to go with a fun group of friends. That way, you can creep up from behind and see if you can get a scream out of them.

— Ola Alak

Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Orlando offers relief to the otherwise nauseating, neon glow of the plastic Orlando skyline.

The event features seven haunted houses, three “scare zones” and two live shows. Zombies, vampires and monsters roam the streets, while a precision “chainsaw team” stalks unsuspecting guests.

The ambiance is something to behold, and Universal Studios doesn’t skimp on the necessary refreshments to enhance the night’s festivities. Bars are conveniently placed 10 paces from one another, and Jell-O shot girls prowl the night offering syringes full of overly sweet, slightly alcoholic snacks.

As guests enter, they are greeted by a gaudy 40-foot stage at the end of a long avenue of stilt-wearing fiends and chainsaw-wielding ghosts. The open-air playhouse offers the ghosts of Halloween’s past and is frequented by a horned villain that is blatantly reminiscent of the Lord of Darkness from the movie Legend.

Entering the haunted houses with a bit of guarded skepticism is understandable, especially in Orlando, the land of Mickey Mouse and E.T.

The houses, however, don’t disappoint. They offer authentic jump-out-and-scare-you thrills while maintaining a macabre sense of uneasiness. The houses look more like movie sets than the clapboard scare-huts of elementary school parking lots past.

Highlights include an ambiance of the deep South, a backwoods service station turned torture chamber in Dungeon of Terror and planted employees posing as guests who are dragged away screaming only to pop up disemboweled later.

However, the crème de la crème of fear is found in the Psychoscareapy and Psychopath houses.

In Psychoscareapy, guests walk through the Shady Brook Mental Hospital, where the inmates have taken over. Here, all the senses are engaged as guests are forced to walk through the hospital’s bathroom, complete with feces-smeared walls and a horrid stench.

The Psychopath house employs classic Hitchcockian elements to throw the visitor off-kilter before any ghouls or killers have the chance to jump from a trap door. It comes complete with a spinning vertigo walkway that throws guests off balance and resembles the opening credits of the classic thriller which the same title. Before exiting, guests are confronted with a glaringly bright white room that leaves them without depth perception, causing near panic as they rush for the exit.

Anxiety is not left at the door, however. Three scare zones placed throughout the park are equally well done, as guests are transported into the midst of a masquerade of vampires, a zombie-infested city and a haunted forest.

The question isn’t whether Universal Studios offers an effectively scary environment; as far as authentic scares go, Halloween Horror Nights gets an “A.” The question is whether it’s worth the truly harrowing drive up Interstate 4 and price of admission.

To the true haunted house enthusiast, the $32.95 – $49.95 discounted price for Florida residents may be worth it, but Busch Gardens may be the more plausible alternative.

— Joshua Neiderer