The Thread Rises from the Dead: Howl-o-Scream 2011
Busch Gardens planned to kickoff Howl-o-Scream 2001 (“The Dark Side of the Gardens”) with a media event on Friday, September 23, but nature had other plans. There was a monsoon in Williamsburg from noon until a little after 5:30 pm that day, so the park closed at 6:00 pm. But even though the weather was a bit threatening that weekend, the big rain was over, and HOS went on as scheduled on Saturday and Sunday.
So, I ambled over there late Sunday afternoon. The weather was a bit sticky, but not rainy, and the crowd was pretty light, meaning that rides were pretty much walk-ons, and waits for haunted houses, once the event got going, were very short. Works for me!
Overall, HOS seems stronger this year, mainly because last year was pretty much a retread (only with bigger scarezones). BGW is offering three new mazes this year, with only two old ones returning. But how do they stack up? Here they are, from best to worst.Deadline
(Escape from Pompeii)—For some reason, Pompeii decided it needed a subway. Too bad that while they were digging, they unleashed a powerful gas that turns people into homicidal zombies! Not the most original concept ever, but this house is a welcome replacement for the old Curse of Pompeii
(which had a 12-year run, with some embellishments, and was feeling pretty tired). The sets are the best the park has ever done for HOS, with plenty of surprises. The scareactors were doing a good job that night, too (just ask the women who were behind me).13: Your Number’s Up
(Europe in the Air)—This was the site of the very first HOS house 13 years ago, and it’s a big improvement over the Caverns of Darkness
maze that used to be there. Guests are forced to face 13 different phobias, including fear of heights, fear of death, and even fear of going to the dentist or going to bed. It’s a good idea, and the long, narrow “cave” of Europe in the Air’s queue is used very well (which was not the case with Caverns
(Drachen Fire station)—This house of Christopher Lee-style bloodsuckers is now the oldest maze at HOS, but that’s OK. It’s always been solid. The house sets are very good, and there are plenty of places for the legions of the undead to hide and attack.Catacombs
(Palace Royale Threatre)—This tour of the plague-infested catacombs of Paris was a bit weak last year, but is much improved. BGW reconfigured the space, and the mouldering, mummified corpses were using it well. This maze is the shortest one, but it’s long on creepy atmosphere.Fear Fair
(Festa Italia)—Evil clowns are back, which kind of rates a yawn from me. This new house was the weakest of the night, but there are good sets and some interesting ideas (such as the “carnival games” section). It could get better as the scareactors settle into their roles.
The park has been playing with their scarezones, too—usually their weak spot. Here’s how they stack up.Unleashed
(path between France and Ireland)—The werewolves and living bushes are back where they belong, and they have some new scenery and barriers to hide behind when stalking guests. Pretty good, if a bit short.Widowmakers
(Fort New France)—It’s chainsaw-wielding lumberjacks vs. spiders here. This is the largest of the scarezones, and it’s OK.Scavengers
(path from the Loch Ness Monster to Ireland)—Scarecrows and giant crows are scrounging for human body parts. Why? I have no idea, but this scarezone does have the best scenery of them all—the actors just need to use it better.Stitchin’ Time
(Oktoberfest bridge near DarKastle)—This was an interesting idea (a mad scientist sends his stitched-together creations to harvest spare parts), but it doesn’t quite come off. The scareactors really didn’t do much.Grin and Scare It
(Festa Italia bridge)—Again, the scareactors weren’t too active here when I went through, and there’s minimal scenery for them to hide behind. I liked it better during the old Festa Dementia
days when the whole area from the bridge to the Roman Rapids was a scarezone.
All in all, HOS 2011 is pretty solid. There were some problems (such as Fear Fest
and the rather small scarezones), but this event tends to improve as October grinds on.
Join me, won’t you? There’s nothing to be concerned about. Well, at least not from me. But the GRISLY MONTH OF HORROR is upon us—so who knows what will happen?