Howl-O-Scream is an annual Halloween event that operates at both of the Busch Gardens parks in Tampa and Williamsburg, as well as at SeaWorld San Antonio and San Diego. Usually running from September to the end of October, the event, like most theme park-based ones — is massive. Among the its offerings are haunted houses (indoor walk-throughs with plenty of surprises), scare zones (themed outdoor areas with even more "surprises"), and shows (most notably Fiends — an annual show featuring a much-raunchier take on Dr. Frankenstein and his monster).
The event first began in 1999 at the Williamsburg park, while on the same year the Tampa park ran a Lighter and Softer Halloween event called Spooky Safari, that, while featuring one haunted house (Haunted Jungle Trail), was mostly geared towards families. That all changed the next year, when the Tampa park adopted the Howl-O-Scream title and began phase out the family activities and target teens and adults only. 2000 was also the year that the event began at SeaWorld San Antonio, where it "shares" the park with the family-friendly Halloween Spooktacular event, which operates during the daytime while Howl-O-Scream operates at night. Since the inception of the events, they have all gone on to be among the highest rated haunt experiences in the world.
Thanks to its Central Florida-based location, the Tampa event is often the most talked about, especially due to the fact that it competes with Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando. Both events share close similarities beyond the basic haunt event staples; as like Horror Nights, Howl-O-Scream frequently makes the use of "Icons" — original horror characters that serve as the center of the event's theme and marketing, with a different one usually being created for each year. Where HOS differs from HHN, however, is that it is uses fully original concepts for its attractions, while Halloween Horror Nights dabbles between using original creations and intellectual properties for its offerings.
In addition to the mentioned houses, zones, and shows, Howl-O-Scream has a few smaller offerings, such as dance parties, and on some years an 18+ nightclub. Due to the nature of the parks, all of the animal exhibits and shows are closed for the event, though most of the rides (particularly the roller coasters) remain operational.
Howl-O-Scream provides examples of:
- 13 Is Unlucky: 2013's event had an evil group known as "The 13" that served as the Icons. note
- All Bikers Are Hells Angels: Several houses throughout the years have been based around "The Messengers" — a murderous biker gang that have already claimed twelve lives and are seeking to claim a thirteenth.
- Ancient Tomb: The theme of several houses, such as The Curse of King Tut's Tomb, which was a scarier version of the regular daytime Tut's Tomb walk-through that the Tampa park used to have.
- The Butcher: One of the members of "The 13" group is named "The Butcher".
- The Casino: A sinister vampire-owned one served as the setting for the Ultimate Gamble: Vampire Casino houses.
- Circus of Fear: A very frequent theme that's been used for several haunted houses, scare zones, and shows in the event, such as in the Circus of Superstition 3-D house from 2012.
- Collector of the Strange: In the Alone house, Alexander Daedalus was this, who owned the "Minotaur Storage" facility to house his entire collection of intriguing items.
- Conjoined Twins: The Raven Twins (the Icons of 2008) were born with their faces attached. They later had their faces separated, but with unfortunate results...
- Death Row: The Death Row: Vengeance houses were about inmates waiting to be executed via electric chair seeking revenge on those who sentenced them to this fate.
- Demonic Dummy: 2016's event had this as the theme, with the story being that said puppets were created by a man with sinister intentions, who then had to burn his place to the ground when the authorities began to grow suspicious of him. The puppets survived the fire, and through some means came to life on their own to wreak havoc.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The first year of the event attempted to appeal to teens, adults, and children, by offering family-friendly activities for them to do in certain areas of the park. In 2001, this was dropped and the event re-positioned itself to be just for teens and adults.
- Fashion Model: The theme for the 2009's event was centered around the "House of Vayne" a group of models that were secretly blood-thirsty vampires.
- Fashion Show: In both the commercial and at the front entrance of the event, the House of Vayne models performed a fashion show, where they would reveal their true state and slaughter the spectators.
- Frankenstein's Monster: Every year, the event has the Fiends show, which is about "Dr. Freakenstein" working with his nurses to bring the monster to life.
- Freaky Electronic Music: The icon for 2007's event was the "Death Jockey", an evil DJ that would kill his victims with ear-splitting music and burning lights.
- Fingore: The backstory for 2010's Icon, Sylvie, explains that she would lure men backstage after her rock concerts and rip their index fingers off.
- The Freakshow: 2007 had the Freak Show 2007 show, which of course included these.
- Garden of Evil: The theme for the event in 2011 and 2012 was "The Dark Side of the Gardens" — set in a garden filled with evil plants and zombie hordes.
- Haunted House: The plot of the Trapped in the Walls houses was about a group of demons inhabiting an old house and killing anyone that dared to enter.
- Hell Hotel: 2016 had the Motel Hell house, which was naturally a motel filled with maniacs.
- Hollywood Voodoo: Done with the "Voodoo Queen" that served as a member of The 13 and also as the main character of the Death Water Bayou house, where she used her black magic to turn trespassers into her zombie-like minions.
- Horns of Villainy: Scarlett, a vengeful demon that was the 2015's Icon, possesses goat-like horns.
- Hungry Jungle: The event's first year had a disturbed jungle theme in its Haunted Jungle Trail house.
- Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: The Hunted house was about a crazed hunter that would eventually start preying on humans.
- Ironic Nursery Tune: The 2011 commercial did this by having the creepy "The Dark Side of the Gardens" tune being played while shots of the undead garden were shown.
- Jump Scare: Well, it is a haunt event, after all.
- Living Toys: The Nightshade Toy Factory houses involved an evil version of this trope, with the toys inside the abandoned factory coming to life and seeking revenge against those that abandoned them.
- The Lost Woods: The Wicked Woods scare zone was set in a dark magical forest that evil fairy tale creatures took up residence in.
- Mad Doctor: Dr. Edgar Von Angst from the Reconstruction houses is an evil surgeon that takes his victims apart and then rearranges them in gruesome ways.
- Mad Scientist: The event's first Icon was Dr. Livingsdoom, who was more or less this.
- Monster Clown: Utilized plenty of times in the event, most notably with the 2013 year in how one served as a member of "The 13"; the character in question simply being known as "Clown".
- Mummy: Another common type of monster in the event, being featured in things like the Pharaoh's Revenge scare zone.
- Naughty Nurse Outfit: A staple of all the Fiends shows, as in them Dr. Freakenstein's assistants wear these.
- Nuclear Nasty: 2007's Radiation Alert 3-D house was about a nuclear power plant suffering a leakage, causing staff and civilians alike to be mutated into grotesque monsters.
- Public Domain Character: For several years, the event had the Nevermore house, which was based around the works of Edgar Allan Poe.
- Pun-Based Title: The title of the event itself is play-on of "Halloween".
- The Rival: Tampa's event directly competes with Universal's Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando.
- Safe Word: If one got too scared while going through the Alone house, they only had to say "goldfish" to be safely escorted out.
- Scary Jack-in-the-Box: The mascot of the event in 2005 (which was centered around childhood fears) was a Jack-In-The-Box that would seep out blood from underneath.
- The Smurfette Principle: Inverted with the Icons of 2009, the House of Vayne models. They consisted of three women (Ms. Vayne, Anya and Elsa) and one man (Erik).
- The Taxi: The Icon of the event in 2005 was an evil taxicab driver named "Hack", who would trap his victims in the taxi and torment them.
- Two-Faced: As a result of having their conjoined faces being crudely split apart, both of the Raven Twins are disfigured on one side of their faces.
- Voodoo Zombie: The "Death Spirit" (2003's Icon) is a zombie that was brought back to life via African voodoo means.
- Wendigo: Featured in the Wendigo Woods scare zone, where sightings of the creatures began to increase in a research compound named after them, prompting people to go out and investigate.