JOURNALISM NEXT: Backstage peek at Howl-O-Scream

Special to the Bradenton HeraldOctober 21, 2013 

As the sun goes down, the monsters come out and invade what used to be known as Busch Gardens.

Behind the scenes Sept. 13 offered a different experience at one of the scariest events in Florida: Busch Garden's Howl-O-Scream.

Each year, Busch Gardens gives young journalists the opportunity to peek behind the scenes at the month-long event.

This year's High School Journalism Day began with creative director, Scott Swenson's introduction paired with an inside look on this year's event.

Blood, guts, and gore are just a few of the words Swenson used to describe HOS. The theme of this season is called "The 13," which represents 13 different cynical icons known by many to be symbols of fear such as No. 5, the Banshee; No. 11, the Psychopath; and No. 13, the Clown.

No. 6, The Voodoo Queen's "Death Water Bayou" haunted house takes place in Pontchartrain Parrish in the evil M.L. Morte's voodoo shop. Journalists were able to enjoy the thrill of the lighting and visual effects without the nervous anticipation of lurking scare actors. This allowed young journalists to take in each individual detail. They passed by tombstones inscribed with the names of various higher-level cast members, including Swenson. In the house, 28 different scare actors are positioned to frighten anyone who dares face what is behind door No. 6. The house features a live snake, performing actors in the queue, and scare performers bouncing out with bungees cords.

"The house I am going to be most excited about is the house the guests are most excited about, because honestly I don't do this for me. I do it for you guys," said Swenson.

Another addition to the HOS family is the new haunted house, the Basement which features icon No. 4, The Butcher. This scenario takes place in what is called "Momma's Meats" where human bodies make up the main ingredient.

Several fan-favorite houses returned as well, including the Circus of Superstition. This 3-D house is back with a "giant surprise," Swenson said.

Other returning houses include Ultimate Gamble: Reversal of Fortune, which comes back with a vampire-versus-werewolf approach, and Nevermore, featuring a serial killer driven mad by Poe's writing, Zombie Mortuary, and Blood Asylum.

HOS also has many returning factors from last year such as Fiends, a popular show which opened 14 years ago, which has a brand new twist this year. Club 13 will also be returning along A new house, unlike any other house held at HOS, is the Experiment, which has interactive variables that test your fears of snakes, roaches, the dark, and more. This special house has an up-charge of $50 for the first victim and an extra $10 for each additional member.

Auditioning for the role of a scare actor for Howl-O-Scream is a physically intense procedure. Alex Crow, entertainment show manager, asks actors to participate in a wide variety of role-playing that includes digging graves as designated characters such as zombies or clowns. The actors are tested for their level of "scare-effect" and ability to complete the task.

"We want to make sure we have the best of the best when it comes to scare actors," Crow said.

Out of 1,700 auditions, only 900 scare actors were hired from different age ranges, reaching up to 84 years old.

Scare actors also have to be dedicated to fit their character, such as No. 4, The Butcher, who shaved his head for the role. The Butcher's Shop doubles as the extra storage room in the Howl-O-Scream Shop of Horrors. Surprisingly, it only takes four days to set up and open the entire Shop of Horrors

with the help of multiple staff and managers.

Photo Ops are set up around the park to take themed pictures with the scare actors.

The event runs through Saturday. Tickets: howloscream.com.

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