For its 2009 Howl-O-Scream event, Busch Gardens joined the vampire bandwagon and centered its theme – “Evil Never Goes out of Style” – around fanged fashionista Ms. Vayne and her blood-sucking models.
Upon admission to the park – which costs a wallet-draining $70 – visitors face a brightly lit runway where models for the House of Vayne, a fictional fashion line by Ms. Vayne, walk back and forth in
goth-inspired outfits while photographers snap photos.
Then, Ms. Vayne makes a personal appearance. The lighting changes, and the models switch into vampire mode and drag one of the photographers backstage to drain his blood.
The short but entertaining show sets the theme for the evening.
However, the opening is one of the only times Ms. Vayne or any of her models appear in the event.
The vampire house, “Taste of Blood,” is a carry-over from last year and barely incorporates the “House of Vayne” theme. Though Ms. Vayne does make an appearance near the end of the house, she merely says some clich lines about having guests for dinner.
But not following its own theme is something Busch Gardens has done for several years and it’s only a small disappointment compared to the things it did right this year for Howl-O-Scream.
Howl-O-Scream has five houses from 2008, including “13” – a gas station where visitors face off against a demented motorcycle gang looking for its final victim, as well as “Reconstruction: The Doctor Is In,” which focuses on a doctor who creates monsters through surgery.
“Delta-Epsilon-Delta: Pledge Week” was a disappointing addition to the event. It’s a good idea, focusing on the “DED” sorority that is looking for new members for a demented sisterhood.
Inside the house, visitors pass scenes of man-hating tortures, including one boy getting his feet burned with a curling iron. However, it’s hard to be scared by a bunch of girls who skip around and giggle.
“Nightshade Toy Factory,” another new house, was creepier and well-designed, featuring everything from baby dolls with glowing eyes to advertisements for future toys like an “evil” teddy bear. The house moves as visitors walk by, and “scare-actors” are around almost every corner.
Busch Gardens also improved its scare zones, areas around the park that act as open-air haunted houses.
The “werewolf zone,” which was unavoidable for guests trying to get to one end of the park, made good use of speakers and had believable costumes that turned scare-actors into animals. Excessive dry ice fog made it hard to breathe and also difficult to see, so visitors never knew what was following them.
The “banshee zone,” where scare-actors glide around on roller skates screeching, gained a lot of attention while some guests asked a 9-foot ghost with glowing eyes if he would take a picture with them.
The open scare
What really gives Howl-O-Scream its appeal this year is that no corner of the park is safe, save maybe the bathrooms. Groups of demonic clowns, horned monsters and other atrocities roam the park scaring visitors and posing for pictures.
Scare-actors also pop out randomly from bushes, trash cans and crowds.
There aren’t just cheap or supernatural scares. Other actors drop fake babies onto the concrete, and one man sitting in a wheelchair jumps out of it, startling anyone passing by. These acts spark genuine fear and the true spirit of Howl-O-Scream.
The park is organized well with plenty of signs. The actors are willing to scare visitors in the right direction should someone get lost.
Actors do an excellent job of remaining in character and, excluding the occasional drunk person, visitors behaved well. Since this year’s event is recommended for 18 years and older, there were only a couple children seen around the park. The shows feature good Halloween music.
Busch Gardens planned a Halloween event that is entertaining for a long night out with friends, though it lacked fright at times. The decorations were believable, as were most of the houses.
Howl-O-Scream is open every Thursday (7:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.), Friday and Saturday (7:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.) in October. For more information, visit HouseofVayne.com.