When it comes to scaring the ever-lovin' (bleep) out of people, it's tough for Busch Gardens to compete financially and, considering the Hollywood resources, creatively with Universal Orlando.
For instance, this year the creators of The Walking Dead are setting up shop in O-Town. Busch Gardens just doesn't have those terror tent poles.
Thus, in the raging seasonal debate of BG's Howl-O-Scream versus Halloween Horror Nights, the hometown haunters routinely finish a spooky second.
But therein lies a ghoulish secret. That chip on the Gardens' shoulder can often be used to wicked effect, and it has a twisted asset in fiendishly fun idea man Scott Swenson. Case in point: the new Blood Asylum, a haunted house that seriously freaked out a bunch of grizzled journalists recently at a midnight press tour.
Each of us had to go through the thing alone. Some of the more visibly shaken in attendance (cough, Bay News 9's Virginia Johnson, cough) felt that this sucker is one of the theme park's scariest haunts in Howl-O-Scream's 13 years.
I'll tell you this much: Blood Asylum is flat-out relentless.
The backstory is streamlined and smart: Over the decades, the family-run Oglethorpe Asylum has gone from a kinder-gentler approach to maximum-security brutishness, like horror movies growing from black and white to color. There's a looming sense of unease in the joint now, compounded by the fact that Stu Loomis — nicknamed "the Creature" due to his penchant for filleting victims' faces — is a patient there.
Let's hope he doesn't escape.
Oh, wait …
The facade of the haunt, which sits by the park's Crown Colony House restaurant, looks fantastic, all glowing red, with flickering electricity and the Gothic crash of thunder and lightning setting the mood.
After you weave through the queue, you're greeted by a far-too-chirpy nurse:
Your cell is ready.
Again, Busch Gardens doesn't have the special effects budget, but it does have the bodies (and, um, bodies) and it has tireless verve. As you weave through the asylum, the borderline catatonic patients set you up for the far more dangerous ones.
For the press tour, I only had to survive half the haunt, but it was building to a ferocious finish, with the actors screaming, "He's right behind you!" Ah yes, the Creature is coming. Once you see the warning — "FLASHING LIGHT INDICATES ESCAPED RESIDENT" — the chase is on.
It gets incongruously gory in parts, but hey, who doesn't love a good obstacle corpse?
In trying to compete for your Halloween dollar, Busch Gardens has been known to overthink its scares. (See Sylvie, the murderous Taylor Swift, from 2010.) But Blood Asylum, one of seven houses this year, is a brutally fun old-school type of haunt.
And remember what I said:
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.