Friday was the freaky preview for Howl-O-Scream Tampa. This year, Robin Cowie, producer of The Blair Witch Project created an all new house called Unearthed: Scarlett’s Revenge.
Here’s the synopsis:
When a construction crew digs too far, they unearth a mysterious house buried deep beneath the ground, unleashing the sinister force of Scarlett. Using dark magic, Scarlett resurrects the dead and seeks revenge by collecting the eyes of all who dare to enter the centuries-old house.
This year the event also featured 6 returning houses: The Basement, Circus of Superstitions: The Last Laugh, Deadfall:Thirst For Blood, Zombie Mortuary, Death Water Bayou, and Zombie Containment Unit 15:Moving Targets.
This year also marks the first time in 4 years I’m returning to Howl-O-Scream. Why? Well there are two reasons: Halloween Horror Nights eats up my time/resources and Howl-O-Scream repeats houses.
But, being disenchanted with Universal in general, only going to Halloween Horror Nights once, and Howl-O-Scream having cycled out most of their houses I felt it was prime time to go again. I’m happy to say I was not disappointed.
The new house is great. It had some great effects and a great story. My wife was scared more in Unearthed than any house at Halloween Horror Nights. In fact, I enjoyed all the houses. Even The 3D house was enjoyable and I don’t typically like 3D houses. Deathwater Bayou was a great concept and I truly enjoyed the theme. Zombie Containment Unit needs some tweaking but I really felt it was a unique experience.
At one point, there was a torrential downpour so, unfortunately, we missed most of the street experiences. However, as I was standing under a covering (that was not leak proof), completely soaked, and water soaking into my socks I realized something… I was having a great time. So why? Why was I so miserable at Halloween Horror Nights were most everything went right and yet so happy at Howl-O-Scream when nothing seemed to be going right? The answer is simple: Expectations.
Universal is extremely expensive, the park is crowded, their fast pass is unfairly balanced, their houses are picture perfect sets, and their scare actors are (mostly) very good. With stakes so high it was impossible to enjoy myself. I feel I paid premium prices for an event that didn’t value me as a customer. I noticed all the glaring problems. Couple that with a feeling that I HAD to see everything in one night, with no possible way to do so, I was downright miserable and stressed. Miserable that I wasn’t getting the value out of an event I typically have loved in the past and invested so much time and energy. I felt like I wasn’t welcomed.
Howl-O-Scream is more inviting. The ops weren’t yelling at me to keep moving, the crowds are manageable, and the price made missing something inconsequential. I haven’t kept up with the event over the years so I was going into everything with no expectations. Everything was a surprise and it felt like what I am so nostalgic for at Universal.
I’m not going to say Howl-O-Scream is a prefect event. The sets are inferior to Universal, the scareactors often are not as well-trained, A lot of the themes are muddled while a little confusing, and their outside scare zones aren’t well defined. But none of that really mattered. I was having fun so I could overlook the issues… even laugh them off. I realized I needed to adopt this attitude at Halloween Horror Nights. I don’t need to care about doing everything, I don’t have to spend so much money and time on the event, and I certainly shouldn’t stress over something like a Halloween Event. They are meant to be a fun time. Not something to obsess and stress over.
So the question I’m sure you want to know is which is better? Honestly, all bias aside, they both put out great, but very different products. I have to give the deciding point to Halloween Horror Nights due to the lack of new content at Howl-O-Scream. But the environment is just more enjoyable and laid back at Howl-O-Scream. If Howl-O-Scream were to update more often, they would have my vote.
As always though, it boils down to your personal preference. If you are looking for perfection and the highest quality product while sacrificing scares and price, then Universal’s product will be a better choice. If you aren’t super concerned about set design and all new content but want that laid back, high-end homemade haunt feel then Howl-O-Scream is probably a better choice. Either way, the most important reason to go to a haunted event is because you enjoy it.