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Howl-O-Scream scares with ’13 Evils’

Celebrating the 13th anniversary of Howl-O-Scream, Scott Swenson, director of creative services, has unleashed “The 13 Evils” in an effort to bring what he called  tormenting surprises to guests who are brave enough to visit.
“The 13 Evils,” characters the haunted houses are based on, stalk visitors who wander the paths of Busch Gardens into houses, scare zones and roller coasters.
Swenson is one of the founding members of the team that created Howl-O-Scream in 2000. From movies to popular video games and novels, today he, along with a large creative team, tries to create unique ways to scare every year.
“We brain storm a lot of different things every year,” he said. “We don’t necessarily base our themes on certain items, but try to emulate the kinds of things that they do.”
Noticing a trend of entertainment straying from gore to supernatural, Swenson and his team came up with “Death Water Bayou,” in order to explore a more traditional, spiritual scare.
“We wanted to take zombies in another direction,” he said. “Everyone knows about the zombies that chase you down and we have a house that reflects that, but we want a variety whatever direction we go.”
Along with “Death Water Bayou,” the team has created two other new haunted houses for visitors to explore, The Basement and The Experiment.
“In ‘The Basement,’ you get to visit a woman, who we lovingly refer to as Mama,” Swenson said. “She is well known for her award-winning meat products and as you walk through the basement, you realize that her meats are made from something other than the animals we normally might eat.”
Lines tend to be long, and in many haunted houses patrons must walk through the houses while still in line, which may take away from the experience.
In the new house, “The Experiment,” visitors are able to get a more personalized experience in smaller groups with a $50 upgrade for the first person and $10 for each additional.
“‘The Experiment’ is all about testing the limits of fear on the human body and mind,” Swenson said. “It is one of the most interactive houses we have ever done. It is truly personal and if you don’t participate, you don’t finish it. You have to be committed to be involved, and maybe some folks will have to be committed after being involved.”
The house combines horror with one of the things that Busch Gardens is known for – encounters with animals. The house does have live animals including snakes and cockroaches.
Brandon Rosenblatt, a senior majoring in biology, has been to Howl-O-Scream a couple of times during his time at USF and said he has tickets to go again tonight.
“I can’t wait to visit the new haunted houses,” Rosenblatt said. “A couple of years ago the houses were really tame, almost like they were created for kids. I heard that they are a lot scarier this year.”
Though Rosenblatt said he was unimpressed by the haunted houses, he said there was one unique element the event has to offer that cannot be experienced any other time at the theme park.
“The best part was riding all of the roller coasters in the dark,” Rosenblatt said. “It is really cool to listen to the Halloween themed music while riding the rides.”
Howl-O-Scream opened Sept. 27 and runs Thursday through Saturday nights until Oct. 26. On each running night, the park will be open from 7:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Though the general admission is $89 plus tax, students have a variety of options to save, including tickets for $30 per head for groups of four in the “Twisted Thursday 4-Pack.”
There are several upgrade options available in order to enhance the experience including VIP packages that start at $65, which include event admission, a tour guide and choice of a terrifying special treatment, front-of-the-line access for $40 and the personalized scare in “The Experiment.”
 “What we have to make certain is that every guest who comes has the same quality experience as everyone else,” Swenson said. “So we can’t let the quality degrade over the time of the event. So the last night of the event is just as terrifying as the first.”