Finding a place to be scared into a stupor isn't hard for Central Floridians, who can look forward to an embarrassment of haunted riches every October. Everyone knows Halloween is more than a one night affair. You celebrate all month (see this calendar of spooky parties and more), and you might even don multiple costumes by the time it's through. We're here to help you navigate the month ahead in bloody fun fashion.
If your annual tradition lies with Busch Gardens or Universal Studios, we've got info on all the fresh flesh (zombies and scary ladies buried alive!). And we have some milder options for the littlest spooks in your life.
But paying beaucoup bucks or standing in hourslong lines isn't the only way to get your thrills, as smaller haunted attractions pop up in Tampa Bay every year, and we've scoped those out, too. The trouble is letting people know they exist, said Jon Pianki, director of marketing for Scream-A-Geddon, a new six haunt horror park in Dade City.
"There is a lot of competition in the area with (Busch Gardens Tampa's) Howl-O-Scream and (Universal Orlando's) Halloween Horror Nights, but we like to think that we offer something different than those places," Pianki explained.
Scream-A-Geddon isn't the only newcomer. The Vault of Souls, the brainchild of Scott Swenson, one of the architects of Howl-O-Scream, will be serving an 18 and up haunted evening so exclusive it will serve less people in its entire run than one night's crowd of a theme park event.
"That's one of the complaints we used to hear all the time about there being teenagers everywhere and the lines being incredibly long," Swenson said. Vault of Souls remedies that with an age requirement, dress code and reservations to keep groups small and guests flowing.
Keeping it small but also keeping it free is how Hellview Cemetery creator Mark Muncy has been able to keep guests streaming through his yard for nearly two decades, he said.
"There needs to be more than just the big parks for people to turn to for fun on Halloween," Muncy said. "I hope that even more people and companies continue to open up houses. Heck, I'd visit them all."
The area's glut of horror didn't scare off the company behind Indianapolis' Indy Scream Park when picking the location for its next attraction. Scream-A-Geddon follows the company's successful model of using existing buildings in a forested area to create a two-fold haunted experience.
"What really sets us apart is our outdoor haunted trails and a our haunted hayride," marketing director Pianki said. "Our most popular one in Indiana was a corn maze."
Florida's wet summer killed all the corn that organizers planted in March, but the undeterred builders were still able to erect an outdoor haunted maze called Infected. The natural darkness of Pasco County ranch land aids in the atmosphere as performers startle everyone who walks into the maze filled with zombie inhabitants of a town hit by a virus-infected meteor.
Other standout attractions in the six-house park include Bedlam 3D, a fun house filled with neon 3D paint and a cast determined to make you never visit the circus again, and Pandemic, an interactive experience where volunteers who wear glow necklaces can be touched by actors for extra scares.
Much of the land is unpaved and the only shelter is the houses. On clear nights, the brave are rewarded with outdoor attractions such as a haunted hay ride and a haunted trail walk special to this event.
Line pacing is quick.
"We have a team that brainstorms a year in advance about new ideas and goes to conventions to see what new technology we can add to make our park better," Pianki said. "We'll definitely bring something new to Florida."
π Scream-A-Geddon is open select nights from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. or 1 a.m. on weekends through Nov. 1. $34.95-$87.95. 27839 Saint Joe Road, Dade City. screamageddon.com.
The Vault of Souls
Scott Swenson spent 15 years ginning up the things that went bump in SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment's Howl-O-Scream events. He loved it, but yearned to do something even scarier.
"This is more a theatrical performance piece than what I did with Howl-O-Scream," said Swenson, creative director for the Vault of Souls. "It's a completely different type of experience."
For starters, a standard reservation for the Vault of Souls is as pricey as some parks' VIP experiences. But the high dollar entry gets you an adults only evening with complimentary drinks, free valet service, a truly terrifying white face mask and a personalized haunting.
Swenson said the owner of the old National Exchange Bank building on downtown Tampa's Franklin Street told him she'd love to have a Halloween-themed event in her three connected buildings. He looked into the spooky history of bank built in 1923 and found the perfect home for an upscale haunted experience that almost didn't come to fruition.
"We had 27 people walk off the job during construction," said Jason Atwell, technical director of AAG Live.
Weird happenings during construction included tools locked in boxes and props related to children disappearing, random sounds of women giggling and the floor rising and opening up for no reason. Swenson attributes the buildings' probable haunting to the types of people who used to hold their money there, including Prohibition era gangsters and criminals.
The first stop is a cocktail party room with cello music, hors d'oeuvres from Spain Restaurant and psychics and paranormal scientists floating around. You can only get into the vault via an elevator in groups of six to eight.
If you make it out to the other side, Swenson has set up a speakeasy with gelato and other desserts to take the edge off a creepy evening.
π The Vault of Souls is accepting reservations from 6 p.m. to midnight for Friday and Saturday nights through Halloween. $100-$400. 611 N Franklin Street, Tampa. Reservations required. thevaultofsouls.com.
Hellview Cemetery started 19 years ago when Mark Muncy realized how expensive it would be to take his daughter to Halloween Horror Nights.
His north St. Petersburg home sat on a sizable lot, so he enlisted a few friends to help him turn his yard into a haunted maze.
"We take donations to help a local charity but we are not profiting on the event at all," said Muncy, 44, a salesman.
Since the start, Hellview Cemetery has been a family act featuring Muncy's daughters and the original characters they've created over the years. The Fan Grrl, a horror aficionado who can take on the powers of movie killers and Emily, the creepiest little girl ever, make appearances every year.
Muncy and volunteers will be performing as the monsters we all know and some local legends we might not. From Madam Oar, owner of a possible sailor death trap saloon, to Sparrow Scallywag, the daughter of Florida's first governor who turned pirate, there might be just as much to learn in Hellview as there is to run away from. But there are less scary options for kids, too.
"We offer a Scooby Doo version of the house where a guide in a costume carries a torch and leads them through so they see the house without getting nightmares," Muncy said.
This might be Hellview's last year in its current location as Muncy will look to downsize after sending his youngest daughter away to college in 2016.
"I've been hoping some business or other person would step in and take on this thing," he said. "I'll still do it and help run it, but it doesn't make sense to have a house this size when it is just me."
π Hellview Cemetery is free and open to the public from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Oct. 23-25 and Oct. 30-31. Donations benefit the Kind Mouse, a local charity that feeds and aids families. 510 49th Ave. N, St. Petersburg. hellview.net.
>Haunted Angelus House
Situated on 25 acres of land, the PG-13 rated haunt features the Child's Nightmare Haunted House in 3D, Rhett Butler's Haunted Hay Ride, Little Pigs Children's Haunt and fire dancers. It runs from 7-11 p.m. or midnight select nights through Oct. 31. $12, $6 ages 5-10, 4 and younger free. 12413 Hudson Ave., Hudson. (727) 364-2868. 6haunt.com.
Killers overtake Tampa and the streets are flooded with super villains. This is a no holds barred, all about horror and horror lover approved haunted house. Not recommended for anyone under age 18. 8-11 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 31. Benefits Big Cat Rescue. $5. 9048 Hickory Circle, Tampa. (813) 520-0784. murderhousetampa.com.
Sir Henry's Haunted Trail
The dark and suspenseful trail takes you on a 15- to 20-minute walk through eight scare zones that weave in and out of the forest. Not recommended for children ages 12 and younger. Benefits Wounded Warrior Project. $10. (Bring one canned food item to benefit and United Food Bank of Plant City and get $2 off admission.) 7:30-10 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 31. 2837 S Frontage Road, Plant City. (863) 944-0748. sirhenryshauntedtrail.com.