As the story goes, once every century, in the 13th year, evil comes out to play. 2013 is that fateful year, and to make matters worse, The 13 Evils are waiting for you as soon as you enter the park. Mist shrouds the walkway. Doors leading to who-knows-what stand before you. And then, just as the fear sets in, THEY arrive! In a screeching, screaming, insanity-fueled instant, The Butcher, The Torturer, The Cannibal, The Zombie, The Banshee (seeing a pattern?) and seven of their equally heinous psycho-friends appear from behind the doors or potted plants or seemingly out of nowhere. The Psychopath, his mouth locked wide-open with a metallic instrument of torture, is impossible to ignore. One moment you’re scanning the crowd for The Hangman and the next moment he’s standing behind you, just inches from your ear, whispering some hideous threat he would happily make good on.
Moving from scare house to scare house, victims endure two more scare zones: Harvester’s Haunt, filled with scarecrows that couldn’t care less about the crows, but have a burning interest in chasing YOU; and Pain Lane, where the heinously unlucky endure horrifying torture, beseeching you to end their torment. But it’s a hopeless plea if you don’t want to be the next one on the rack. And that’s just a warm-up for what you’ll face in each of Howl-O-Scream’s seven Haunted Houses. We wandered on our own, taking each house as we came upon them, and then rating them on a 1-10 scale for theme, fear factor, and creativity.
We began in the ramshackle Death Water Bayou, which in hindsight may have been a mistake. The Voodoo Queen’s black magic is all-encompassing, and this was by far the most terrifying house, themed as a decrepit shack in the backwaters of Louisiana, the stand-out highlight being two bungee-freaks who shoot out from the deepest recesses of blackened bayou. We swear they launched just inches above our heads. Our rating: 10!
The criminally insane inmates—and a jacked-up killer known as the Creature—have escaped inside high-security Blood Asylum, among the goriest of the seven houses. As the name suggests, expect blood. Lots and lots and lots of blood. Our rating: 6
What’s a horror event without clowns? Cue Circus of Superstition 3-D, a glow-light romp through a Big Top gone seriously wrong. Worried that the clowns will eat you? The one at the end just might. Even so, this is a good house to start with, as it’s not overly frightening but has a great deal of creativity in its execution of 3-D scares. Our rating: 6
The only thing worse than going to a mortuary is going to a mortuary that’s been taken over by zombies. Zombie Mortuary is a tried-and-true scare house, but the scene with the undertaker with his arm deep in a dismembered body is fairly memorable. Our rating: 7
Nevermore brings Edgar Allan Poe’s twisted tales to life, in all their gruesome glory. Creativity is in high gear here, beginning with the pages of Poe’s prose floating just inside the entry, covered in blood-splatter. The tell-tale heart beats so strongly you can feel it, intense strobe effects add to the terror in the Masque of the Red Death room, and, just when you think you’ve reached the safety of outdoors, you haven’t. Our rating: 8
Once the domain of zombies looking for a good feed, Ultimate Gamble: Reversal of Fortune has been taken over by werewolves. This one is probably overdue for an overhaul, and is a bit on the forgettable side. Great for first-timers who want to work up to the real scares slowly. Our rating: 5
The Basement You never wanted to go down there when you were a child, and you’d be smart to remember that now. Mama—of Mama’s Meats fame—may be winning prizes for her jams and jellies, but that’s not strawberry floating around in those pretty jars, and her tag line isn’t Ingredients You Knew for no reason. There is an undeniably gory factor to what’s happening in Mama’s basement, but there are so many creative visual jokes you really can’t help but laugh your way back to the first floor. Our rating (more for creativity than creepiness): 9
Howl-O-Scream Extra! Each of the haunted houses has a jar from Mama’s Meat’s tucked among the props. If you’re a dedicated chicken, like Susan, it’s a reason to keep your eyes open and look around. Be brave and make a rewarding game of it!
Time for a break? Fiends stage show in the Desert Grill takes freaky to a new level. You’ve enrolled in Phreakenstein University, and today is orientation day. One of your classmates, Igor, is determined to get his diploma, but headmaster Dr. Phreakenstein isn’t so sure. The plot breaks down when the Naughty Nurses and the beefcake Male Nurses arrive, but you’re not likely to notice story-line at that point anyway. Pop culture references abound (with Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus the predictable targets), the music and dancing are fantastic, and there is, of course, a great deal of twerking. It was inevitable, really, wasn’t it?
Many of the park’s attractions are open, as are gift shops specialising in Howl-O-Scream merchandise, several dining locations, and exclusive Fear Photos with the Pin Up Scream Girls and the Naughty Nurses. The Fright Feast dinner offering makes a good extra-cost addition, giving diners entry into the houses 30 minutes before regular Howl-O-Scream opening, and front-of-the-queue access until 8:30pm.
Howl-O-Scream is less intense than its cousin in Orlando, but we think that’s a benefit, especially for teens and first timers. The park’s natural open spaces allow time to catch your breath between houses, but if you’re looking for seriously insane levels of terror, Howl-O-Scream can deliver. For $50 above the cost of your admission ticket, you can enter The Experiment. Researchers in this laboratory of mental endurance take test subjects to the limit, forcing them to face their greatest fears (if their greatest fears are things like snakes and needles and bugs and the dark). And if you choose to go in alone rather than with three of your closest friends, don’t say we didn’t warn you!