Howl-O-Scream 2015 featured seven haunted houses, roaming hordes of scare actors, a special show, and other evil surprises for its 16th season.
- Unearthed: Scarlett’s Revenge (New)
- Dead Fall: Thirst for Blood
- Zombie Containment Unit 15: Moving Targets
- Death Water Bayou
- The BASEMENT
- Circus of Superstition 3D: The Last Laugh
- Zombie Mortuary
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Howl-O-Scream 2015 ran for 19 nights, opening on Friday, September 25, and continuing the next evening for Freaky Preview Weekend where Platinum Pass Members received free entry. The event then took place on each Thursday through Saturday from October 1 through Halloween night, and also on two Sundays, October 18 & 25. Hours each event night were 7:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.
The theme for Howl-O-Scream 2015 was Unearthed, with #EvilUnearthed being used in social media campaigns for the event. Behind the development of the main theme and one of the houses was Robin Cowie, a horror filmmaker and producer of “The Blair Witch Project.” From an article describing the event from the park:
During maintenance at the park, an excavation crew uncovered a centuries-old house buried deep beneath the ground. Upon entering the house, a sinister force is Unearthed. The vengeful demon, Scarlett, summons the creatures of Howl-O-Scream’s past and takes her revenge by collecting the eyes of all who enter the house.
“The Blair Witch Project” producer and legendary horror filmmaker, Robin Cowie, worked with his creative team for over a year forming the dark and twisted story of Unearthed. Cowie explained that the idea sparked from thinking “what is under a theme park?”
According to Cowie, Scarlett’s story is actually a love story. She was a village healer who turned to dark magic to avenge her husband’s killers, and as her powers grew, she was hunted, trapped and buried alive deep beneath the park. Now she is Unearthed and ready to summon death and destruction to anyone that comes in her way.
“One of the reasons why I jumped at this opportunity was because in film you’re constantly thinking of what’s inside the frame. And at Howl-O-Scream a story is built around you,” says Cowie. “In the film world you build tension and scares linearly and here it’s all about surprise and things coming out you from all around.”
A total of seven haunted houses were featured at Howl-O-Scream 2015, with one new house joining six returning ones. The main theme was represented in the new house – Unearthed: Scarlett’s Revenge. Scarlett would serve as the main icon for the event as well.
The other six houses all returned from the previous season, although most with at least some changes. Those houses included Dead Fall: Thirst for Blood; Death Water Bayou; The BASEMENT; Circus of Superstition 3D: The Last Laugh; and Zombie Mortuary. Zombie Containment Unit 15: Moving Targets also returned, but moved from its spot in Nairobi pavilion to a new spot – the former Akbar’s Adventure Tours building near Crown Colony (which was most recently Blood Asylum at Howl-O-Scream 2014).
There were no designated scare zones at Howl-O-Scream 2015, with the park instead advertising hundreds of scare actors swarming the park. One show was presented, the perennial favorite Fiends. The bumper cars became Crash Test Zombies, where scare actors got behind the wheel to terrorize riders. The 21 and over crowd could enjoy a drink and music at Club Unearthed, housed at Marrakesh Theater.
Howl-O-Scream and other Halloween-themed apparel and souvenirs were available at the Shop Of Horrors located near the main entrance of the park.
Beginning June 17, 2015, guests could purchase single-night tickets for as low as $45 as part of a “Summer Deal” promotion. Pass members were able to purchase single-night tickets for $35 as part of the same offer. The sale ran through August 11.
The event also offered 4-Pack Ticket Deals starting at $35 per person, plus tax. In October, pass members and Fun Card holders were able to bring a friend to the event for just $25. On the final three days of the Howl-O-Scream 2015, October 29 – 31, college students were able to purchase up to two tickets for $35 each online, with a school ID required when redeeming them at the park.
Vacation packages were available, including the Overnight Fright or Wild & Wicked Weekend. Packages included special perks like early access to Howl-O-Scream, unlimited admission to Busch Gardens during the day, and free parking.
Several upgrade options were available including VIP tours, Front Line Fear passes, and Fright Feast.
All three of the VIP tours included Howl-O-Scream admission, a commemorative photo, complimentary beverages, and merchandise discounts. The Super experience was a three-hour group tour of haunted houses that included front-of-the-line access except for Zombie Containment Unit: 15, and pricing started at $89 per person. The Mega experience was a five-hour experience that added preferred parking and front-of-the-line access to most of the thrill rides starting at $119 per person. The Ultimate experience included everything in the Super and Mega tours, plus a personal guide for a private tour, and front-of-the-line access to Zombie Containment Unit 15: Moving Targets starting at $209 per person. Pass members were able to save 10% on the VIP tours.
A Front Line Fear pass granting front-of-the-line access to six haunted houses (Zombie Containment Unit: 15 excluded) started at $49. The Front Line Fear Extreme pass also gave guests front-of-the-line access to thrill rides starting at $59. Both passes included merchandise discounts.
Fright Feast also returned, with guests getting a buffet dinner at Dragon Fire Grill, an exclusive performance of Fiends, up to 30 minutes of early access to haunted houses, and front-of-the-line privileges until 8:30 p.m. Pricing was $26 per person, and group and pass member discounts were available. The buffet menu included:
- Ghoulish Garden Greens
- Creepy Caesar Salad
- Monsters Fruit
- Vermin’s Vegetable Medley
- RIP Rosemary Oven Baked Potatoes
- Metamorphic Mac & Cheese
- Chick Chick Chicken Nuggets
- Freaky Fried Rice
- Zombie Baked Fish
- Screaming-Fire Braised Pulled Pork
- Trembling Thai Pepper Steak
- Dinner Rolls
- Delectable Desserts
- Soft Drinks, Iced Tea, Lemonade, Fruit Punch and Icees
Just before Christmas 2014, the park announced the range of dates for Howl-O-Scream 2015, set to run on select nights from September 25 through October 31, 2015. The first teaser for the new season came in early May 2015 on the event’s social media accounts.
On June 17, 2015, the title of the main theme for Howl-O-Scream was announced: Unearthed. A press release also gave the first few details for the event, including the dates and times it would run, that there would be one show, and it would feature hundreds of roaming creatures. The first ticket deal for Howl-O-Scream 2015 was also released on that date.
One haunted house was announced each week for seven weeks, beginning with the returning Circus of Superstition: The Last Laugh 3D on June 30, 2015.
On July 7, The BASEMENT was announced as another returning house.
More of the backstory for the Unearthed theme for Howl-O-Scream 2015 was released on July 10. According to the narrative, after finding a previously unknown structure below the park while doing some excavation for a maintenance project, work halted and the park hired American Underground Research & Archeology (AURA) to assist in uncovering what was there. The park even created a website for AURA at auratec.biz, which included pages on the services offered, team members, and project updates. See the AURA section below for more details on this creative endeavor.
On July 14, 2015, Zombie Mortuary joined the lineup as the third house, also returning from the previous season.
Guest favorite Death Water Bayou was announced for the event on July 21.
Auditions for “Scare Squad” actors and event performers were held on Fridays and Saturdays from July 24 through August 8, 2015.
On July 28, Zombie Containment Unit: 15 was announced as returning for Howl-O-Scream 2015.
The final returning house was Dead Fall: Thirst for Blood announced on August 4, 2015. Unearthed: Scarlett’s Revenge was announced along with other event details including VIP upgrades on August 12.
Having announced all the houses for the event, the following week saw a different sort of release from the park, asking for guests’ input on which former evil icon from past Howl-O-Scream events should be brought back for a photo op during the event. The choices in the Facebook poll were the Death Jockey from Howl-O-Scream 2007, the Raven Twins from Howl-O-Scream 2008, or Trickster from Howl-O-Scream 2012. In early September, the results were in with guests choosing to see the Raven Twins again.
The Shop of Horrors opened for the season in Marrakesh Market on September 2, 2015. This was a new location for the shop, which had previously been located in the Sahara Trading Company store for the past several seasons.
An array of Howl-O-Scream and Halloween themed apparel, souvenirs, and decor were offered at the Shop of Horrors. The park also offered an online exclusive Scarlett’s VIP Scream Box with special extras.
The VIP box contained several exclusive items, including a VIP t-shirt, a limited edition Unearthed pin featuring Scarlett, and a limited edition lanyard. The box also came with a pack of Scarlett’s Revenge Deck of Cards and offers for a free game and photo at Howl-O-Scream. The park advertised the value of the package at over $80, and it was available while supplies lasted for $49.95 plus tax and shipping.
While the VIP box was only available online and came with the aforementioned exclusive items, all guests could purchase packs of Scarlett’s Revenge Deck of Cards in the park at the Shop of Horrors. Both a collector’s item and an actual game, there were a total of 13 different cards sold in packs of five. Guests could trade cards, or play a dueling game using the following rules:
1. Draw a card to duel
2. Red kills yellow, yellow kills purple, and purple kills red
3. If players bleed the same color, the highest card number wins. If two of the same card duel, draw again.
4. Scarlett trumps all unless two Scarletts duel, then draw again.
5. Winner takes the other player’s card and soul.
In an article in the Orlando Sentinel in early October, the comparison between Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights and Howl-O-Scream was made, with each having its stronger and weaker points. In the end, the writer gave the win to Howl-O-Scream 2015, but noted the slight edge “was by the severed finger of a zombie.”
AURA Website & Project Updates
Launched on July 10, 2015, a website for the fictitious American Underground Research & Archaeology (AURA) at auratec.biz followed the story of the two co-founder characters, Bill Waldren and Janice Strect, as they dug deeper into the mysterious structure found below the park.
There would be a total of 26 project updates posted to the AURA website through late September, either from the point of view of one of the co-founders or from an intern character named Howie Love. Many of those updates were short text posts, but several included interesting details about the Howl-O-Scream 2015 theme, photos relating to the new haunted house, or videos furthering the backstory.
Some of those posts included “field reports” that were released over the course of July and August. Along with being on the AURA website, they were also released through the Howl-O-Scream website and social media accounts. The video field reports gave fans a glimpse of what the new house, Unearthed: Scarlett’s Revenge, would hold. The first was released on July 16, 2015:
The second was shared on July 22:
The third installment in the series came on August 4:
In mid-August, more posts shared details and images from inside the uncovered house as AURA team members continued to explore.
The final field report was released on August 26, 2015:
Continuing the story through the AURA website, more posts detailed further developments. Bill decided to leave AURA given his experiences, and the park announced it would open the unearthed house to park guests. Janice at first did not believe the legend of Scarlett or any of the eerie happenings related to the house but eventually realized the warnings from Bill’s experiences are true. In one of the last posts from Janice, she urged people to collect “cards” from around the park, a nod to the Darkheart’s Games of Skills collector card series that was available for purchase.
In a post on September 25, 2015, the day Howl-O-Scream opened at Busch Gardens Tampa, Janice wrote she was stuck inside the house, having become injured and unable to escape. A few days later, Howie posted the final project update on September 28, writing that Janice was now missing.
Images & Videos
As has often been the case throughout the years, several members of local sports teams visited Howl-O-Scream 2015. A couple of members of Tampa Bay Lightning visited one evening, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers Mike Evans visited on October 23.
Some additional photos from the event:
A series of videos looking “Behind the Scares” was also released during September 2015, with a look at details surrounding the theme, new house, and more. The first was shared on September 9:
The second video in the series was released on September 16 and focused on costumes and make-up:
The third installment came on September 23:
The last video in the Behind the Scares series was released on September 30, 2015:
Towards the end of the event, a time-lapse video showing what it takes to turn a scare actor into a zombie was shared:
Some “scream cam” footage showing invited media guests was shared in a tongue-in-cheek video:
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Last update: February 10, 2021