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Now that October is over and I have a moment to spare to sit down to write another set of reviews, I think it is time for me to look at Howl-O-Scream 2009. After visiting Halloween Horror Nights for three years in a row (this being my third), I felt compelled to give Howl-O-Scream a try, considering all of the rave reviews I had heard over this year's event. I was definitely intrigued by the fact that several of the houses have been in place for several years and are annually plussed to make them even stronger for the coming year. Even more surprising was the fact that (at least the first time around in each of the houses) I was more scared in the Howl-O-Scream houses than I was in most of the Horror Nights houses. Balancing the two events solely on this year's offerings, I found Howl-O-Scream to have more effective first-time scares but seemed to fall short when it came to repeat visits... After one run thru, the fear seemed to be cut sufficiently. Having gone to Horror Nights nine times this season, I had no issue walking back into any of the houses and getting scared again. A second run through any of the Howl-O-Scream houses left me far less in fear and that was more of a disappointment than I expected, but I guess it made the first-time experience more genuine. Breaking into pieces, here is what I thought of Howl-O-Scream 2009: House of Vayne...


Nightshade Toys: An interesting take on the "evil toys" genre. It had a few moments that caught me off guard, but I certainly found this toy factory to be a bit colorless for such a colorful concept. I couldn't help but compare this one to Chucky: Friends til the End, finding the Universal alternative superior in this case. My favorite part of the maze was its location--the maze is set in the former location of the old monorail station and getting to revisit the area for however brief a time brought back a flush of wonderful memories there.


DED Pledge Week: If my pledge semester were anything like this, I think I'd probably have quit after day one... Torturous sorority sisters and a sorority house fit for Frankenstein's bride made for a well themed house that was both visually appealing and frightening all the same. Knowing so little of the history of Howl-O-Scream, I believe it was apparent that half of the house had a different theme in previous years as the sorority house slowly transforms from a modern-ish home on a typical Greek Row to a dungeon burdened by bodies and murdering contraptions. Overall the house was one of our favorites of the night, but I guess I couldn't help but to look into the strange transition that took place halfway through the house, as mentioned above.


Death Row: Vengeance: This house delivered some very good scares, but for me was mostly standard. Taking place in a typical prison riddled with crazy inmates, the plot seems to write itself. Although most of the house was predictable, I found the final two scenes to be highly redeeming with a unique exit and an even better finale that (in my opinion) rivals the finale found in last year's Body Collectors house at Horror Nights.


Reconstruction: The Doctor Is In: This was one of the scariest houses for me just because I had no clue as to what to expect or where to go. Uniquely, the house features a break-away point in which guests can take one of two paths to exit by. Making this choice isn't any easier thanks to an overpowering strobe light that left my friend and I seriously freaking out when half of our group disappeared from sight in seconds. The detail and scares within the house were exemplary and surprising, and the forked exit definitely served as a highlight for the experience. I've only had a few genuine moments of fear before, and this house has certainly delivered on a level I couldn't have expected. It should also be noted that this house makes use of the much-neglected Akbar's Adventure Tours attraction queue, which is a plus considering it has sat unused for years.


Taste of Blood: This was a pretty standard vampire-based house. There wasn't anything too memorable to note, but it had a few good scares. It exists.


13: My first and favorite house of Howl-O-Scream--this thing serious scared the air out of my lungs! From the first scare to the last, I was panicked more than I had been in any other Haunted House I've ever been in. The size, scope and depth of this maze is impressive beyond belief and the simplicity of its scares makes it all the better. We revisited this house three times in the night just because of how much we enjoyed it. This was definitely my favorite experience of the night without a doubt.


Trapped in the Walls: This house was generally freaky, so much so that we only chose to go through once. The house boasted a claustrophobic feel and a well designed environment that emphasizes your being in between the drywall and insulation. You'd be surprised how much they can pull off inside closed spaces--a giant set of sparks flying right by my feet had me worried for my safety, but I can't deny that the effect was impressive. Though not one of my overall favorites, this was probably the third scariest of the seven houses of the year.


Full Moon Cabaret: I'm not a big show person to begin with, nor am I a big fan of magicians, so this guy didn't have much going for him from the start, but I went in with an open mind... But I do have to say that this was one of the worst magicians I've ever seen... The tricks were obvious and the man's act was boringly quiet. I saw no individual trick that truly wowed me, nor did I see any other audience member around me that was truly interested in the "show" that was going on before us. Not anything I'd give up valuable haunt time for again...


Fiends: Too dated for its own good, Igor stole the show with the few references that were recent enough to grab a few chuckles. Eye candy aside, Fiends is need of a serious update to bring it back into the present...


Scarezones: A surprisingly excellent aspect of the event. The amount of scareactors throughout the park and the quality of their scare efforts was astounding. "Bushmen" and other roaming scareactors delivered startling moments that helped me to realize that there are very few areas in the park where you are truly safe from the scare (something I've wished Horror Nights would adopt for quite some time). The few designated scarezones were also impressive, using surroundings and sets flawlessly to make sure you couldn't walk comfortably without worrying even a little.


Overall Howl-O-Scream was an astoundingly impressive event, breaking my expectations with ease and delivering some of the best scares I've ever experienced. While it doesn't have the same fear factor the second time around, the event is absolutely worth at least one visit per season. With a strong lineup of continually-improving houses and an amazing park-wide "scare zone," any visitor has plenty to look forward to when they make their way into Busch Gardens for Howl-O-Scream.

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