OTT: Busch Gardens 'Howl-O-Scream' debuts new haunted houses

By Virginia Johnson, Entertainment Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, September 19, 2017, 5:43 PM EDT

[Editor's note: Our normally intrepid, fearless entertainment reporter Virginia Johnson was left somewhat ... discombobulated by her experience at Busch Gardens earlier today. The following is our best effort at deciphering her terror-tinged tale. It is not for the faint of heart.]

  • Howl-O-Scream's "Sterling Manor" 1 of 2 new houses
  • "Sterling Manor" is gleeful with gore
  • Howl-O-Scream 2017 starts Friday, Sept. 22

Greetings from Coward Cube City.

Well, that’s what I am calling my desk at work.

Once again I fail at foiling the fear of Busch Gardens "Howl-O-Scream."

At this year's event, there are seven haunted houses in total and five “scare zones.”

“There’s really no place that’s safe in the park," said Ben DeWitt, Busch Gardens’ Entertainment Project Manager. "Everywhere, from the moment guests step out of their car in the parking lot, you are going to see monsters and zombies on the trams, on the rollercoasters, in every corner of this park. There's really, truly no place safe."

(Side note: Yes, there is roller coaster riding at night—it’s rad to see the Tampa from on high in the dark.)

Enter Sterling Manor

DeWitt gave us an exclusive first look at "Sterling Manor"—a house of demented dimensions.

"As soon as guests walk in the house, things start to feel off," explained DeWitt.

Here’s the low-down, as best as my scared brain can remember.

The Manor is one of two new houses—the other being a weird game show with zombies that separates you from your friends. No thanks.

The oddness at the Manor begins in the foyer, where the distorted décor confuses the mind.

Next is a library that comes to life—angry books plastering their pages to the walls—you’ll never look at your Nook/iPad/Kindle the same way.

The smoldering eyes of a page-coated lion will MAKE you love your books again.

A kitchen is the heart of the home—well, what happens when you cut a heart in half?

"You find everything in the kitchen was alive and it's bleeding and its guts are coming out and pouring all over you," said DeWitt, gleefully.

Yes, they are gleeful with the gore. DeWitt and his team work on Howl-O-Scream non-stop.

“It’s a year-round gig for us. Every year, it’s a project that doesn’t end,” said DeWitt.

Back to Sterling Manor, there’s a cold storage with a little door oozing a slab of meat, a mirrored hallway and then there’s the alien room.

Alien's not happy to see you

It’s an alien, once captured and subjected to secret government experiments—looking for his or her comeuppance.

"A lot of the dimensions here are trying to get revenge," explained DeWitt.

Apparently revenge for said angry alien comes in the form of innards—human innards hung on the walls of the alien lair.

The next rooms are a dizzying array of strange.

There is an acupuncturist office—where extracted hearts hang like pin cushions—and the patients are “pinned down.”

There is a creepy attic that is completely upside down.

And the flotsam and jetsam of the family’s forgotten storage spot hang above you.

The former Sterling Manor nursery is now the most disturbing of rooms.

"It's really an orphanage and the kids are trapped there," said DeWitt.

Pleas for help are scrawled across the walls in crayons, and partially burnt toys are strewn about.

One of the beds on the left has a little shelf above it with the little wooden bat that reads “Bobby.”

There is a Mad Hatter’s tea room. Tea drinkers at the table on the right keep their hats, but not their heads.

(Watch out for the huge teapot on the left. Something terrible happens around there.)

From Rats to Rippers and back again

And then there is "Ripper Row."

Jack the Ripper gets what’s coming to him: his would-be victims have ripped him apart.

And in this creepy alleyway you’ll find his body parts hanging at the entrance and nailed to the walls.

Make sure you look down and to the left as you walk in—you’ll see a nice detail—a newspaper pile with Ripper headlines.

There is a bakery window to your right and then straight ahead a flower cart.

There are lady’s underpinnings drying on clothes lines strung out from the apartments above you.

Watch out for the women there—apparently revenge creates BLOODLUST!

And if/when you see them, you’ll immediately recognize something about them is off.

Make it past the flower cart and you are mostly good to go ... well, except for the massive rat-infested rotunda.

And when I say 'massive,' I’m talking about an attack rat.

Please look up and be prepared to circle around into a strange black and white room.

Look out for ghouls in the same patterned costuming to seriously freak you out.

That’s all I have.

It’s all I can remember.

It’s all I can take.

Your fear can start as soon as Friday, September 22, and it can continue on select nights through October 29.