Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Things To Do

Busch Gardens hires 'Blair Witch' producer for Howl-O-Scream scares

RECOMMENDED READING


The producer of The Blair Witch Project has been enlisted by Busch Gardens to produce this year's Howl-O-Scream fright fest, and in a first for the Tampa theme park, he has filmed an elaborate story line already playing out online.

Enlisting a filmmaker is a new move for parent company SeaWorld Entertainment. Blair Witch producer Robin Cowie's vision for this year's Unearthed theme will be put in place at all three Howl-O-Scream parks: in Tampa, Williamsburg, Va., and San Antonio, Texas. In hiring Cowie, the park is juicing up a signature event at a time when the company's ticket sales are sagging.

"This was an opportunity to really broaden the storytelling experience," Cowie said in an interview before today's announcement. "This is full-contact creativity. I was a big Howl-O-Scream fan, and what I tried to do was not change it, but to increase the amount of storytelling."

Adults-only, spare-no-scares haunted houses have become big business in the amusement industry, generating more than $300 million last year, according to the trade group Haunted Attraction Association. Crowds at Howl-O-Scream and at Universal's Halloween Horror Nights have boosted what used to be a slow season in September and October, rivaling attendance seen during spring break.

While the haunted house and roaming scare actor format at Howl-O-Scream will remain largely the same, Cowie is adding new online interactivity and a new front gate experience (he wouldn't divulge details).

Behind the scenes, Cowie and his crew of cinematographers have been laying out the Howl-O-Scream tale on a fake website, auratec.biz, since June.

Here's the story: An excavation company was hired to investigate a mysterious house unearthed by construction crews at Busch Gardens in Tampa. A woman named Scarlett was trapped and buried in the house after being accused of using dark magic to avenge her husband's death. Now she has been unearthed "to summon death and destruction on unsuspecting guests," the park warns.

Cowie is best known for his work on The Blair Witch Project, the 1999 horror flick made by University of Central Florida film school graduates that became one of the most successful independent movies ever — scaring up more than $248 million in theaters worldwide. Since then he has worked on a variety of film and TV projects, including V/H/S/2 and Lovely Molly.

For Howl-O-Scream, he has brought on John Rutland, the cinematographer for the upcoming Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, to film mini movies in Tampa that are running online, and also Jamie Nash, writer of the horror films Altered, EXISTS and Lovely Molly.

Cowie found similarities to the theme park work and making indie films, trying to make more with less and using lighting and sound to create scares. But he also enjoyed economies of scale that allowed him to build effects that could be used for all three parks.

SeaWorld Entertainment has had a horror story of its own since the 2013 documentary Blackfish outraged animal rights activists. Attendance has dropped while other theme parks are seeing record increases, and the company's stock has fallen 50 percent over the past two years.

But Busch Gardens' attendance edged up at least 1 percent last year, according to estimates by the Themed Entertainment Association. And Howl-O-Scream has been one of its more popular attractions.

Theme parks don't release attendance or sales figures, but industry experts estimate Busch Gardens will see some 200,000 to 300,000 line up for gory haunted houses at Howl-O-Scream in October.

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at [email protected] Follow @SharonKWn.

     
Comments
Baron Cohen to pay fine for Czechs sporting Borat mankinis

Baron Cohen to pay fine for Czechs sporting Borat mankinis

PRAGUE — Comic actor Sacha Baron Cohen has offered to pay the fines for six Czech tourists who were reportedly detained by authorities in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana for dressing up as his character Borat. Sporting lime green "mankinis" and black wig...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Nov. 24

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Nov. 24

St. Petersburg Tree Lighting: Mayor Kriseman flips the switch to illuminate the city’s Christmas tree at this celebration with live entertainment. 5 p.m., North Straub Park, Fifth Avenue NE and Bayshore Drive, St. Petersburg. Free. (727) 893-74...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Michael W. Smith talks about Texas shooting, Christmas music and Bono

Michael W. Smith talks about Texas shooting, Christmas music and Bono

On the morning after the mass shooting at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Michael W. Smith had pain in his voice. "It’s awful, it’s just awful," said the Grammy-winning Christian music superstar. "Everybody’s going t...
Updated: 3 hours ago
‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.’ is a sad waste of Denzel Washington

‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.’ is a sad waste of Denzel Washington

Denzel Washington’s labored portrayal of a shambling legal savant named Roman J. Israel, Esq. is the least of the movie’s worries. This is a story of shifting ethics that should be dramatic, but shaky logic prevents that from happening.Dan Gilroy’s f...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Here's where to see Christmas lights in Tampa Bay

Here's where to see Christmas lights in Tampa Bay

Once the Thanksgiving leftovers are put away, you can stop grumbling about it being too early for Christmas lights and decorations. Let the grand illuminations begin! Despite our tropical climate, or maybe because of it, Tampa Bay goes all out when ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Five ideas for easy Thanksgiving appetizers

Five ideas for easy Thanksgiving appetizers

Thanksgiving can put a heavy burden on the host. We’ve assembled five appetizers that are quick and easy to prep. Some, like our risotto balls and goat-cheese figs, cater to vegetarian diets, so you can be sure to please all your guests. Even i...
Updated: 4 hours ago
The Eagles, Jimmy Buffett coming to Camping World Stadium in Orlando

The Eagles, Jimmy Buffett coming to Camping World Stadium in Orlando

Now you know what to get your dad for Christmas.The Eagles are hitting the road in 2018, and they're bringing along one of their best friends from the '70s: Jimmy Buffett. The tour will hit Orlando's Camping World Stadium on April 14 before moving to...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Meet Amazon’s bawdy, opinionated Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Meet Amazon’s bawdy, opinionated Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Miriam "Midge" Maisel seems to have it all.It’s 1958 New York City, Upper West Side, and she’s a quick-witted Jewish housewife with two kids. She and her husband live in a plush apartment just a few floors below her meddling yet endearing parents.He’...
Published: 11/21/17
‘Last Flag Flying’ is kind of a puzzling follow-up to 1973’s ‘The Last Detail’

‘Last Flag Flying’ is kind of a puzzling follow-up to 1973’s ‘The Last Detail’

Richard Linklater called 2016’s Everybody Wants Some!! a "spiritual sequel" to his last-century breakout Dazed and Confused. Different characters, same youthful, life-exploring vibe.Linklater’s latest, Last Flag Flying, can be considered a spiritual ...
Published: 11/21/17
Legendary guitarist John McLaughlin talks about his last tour

Legendary guitarist John McLaughlin talks about his last tour

As you might imagine, quite a lot of thought goes into planning your final tour ever. "It’s not a light decision to not tour again, but that really is the situation," said John McLaughlin, the guitarist behind legendary jazz-rock fusion outfit...
Published: 11/21/17