Haunt people are some of the best people out there. We’ve found this to be true in our seven years of covering local haunted attractions, and thankfully, it is still the case today. From the very first of our Faces Behind the Fear segments, we’ve interviewed a wide range of actors, designers, and make-up artists who help bring these freakishly fun events together. But, have you wondered what sort of person would choose to supervise the chaos that is Halloween and try to make everything work?
Recently, Palm Beach Happening had the pleasure of visiting Howl-O-Scream, and spending a few moments with Ben DeWitt, creative director for the event. He let us know some of the tricks of the trade, a bit of his personal history, and why you too should attend the 17th annual Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.
Do you like scary movies? I do but I’m picky… It has to be a horror/thriller combo. Jump scares aren’t enough; I want to be emotionally tired at the end of it.
What inspired you to work at Howl-O-Scream? A good friend had been a long time performer and invited me to audition one year. I ended up being cast as a daytime performer and worked my way into my role from there. I was performer, performer/trainer, Production Assistant, Manager and now Senior Manager/Producer.
Who is your favorite Hollywood creature creator/make-up artist, and why? Stephen King, hands down favorite creature creator. All of his horror has depth of story behind it. There is metaphor that is a result of him pouring his own soul into his work. It’s truly inspiring. But if I just want a wild ride of horror and mayhem, I have to go with Rob Zombie. What comes out of his mind is truly nightmare material.
Zombies seem to be the No. 1 thing in the haunted world this year. What is the allure of the undead? There are a couple of reasons Zombies are doing so well right now… The first is that I think people like to put themselves in a fantasy of a zombie apocalypse and imagine how well they’d do. They get to navigate the remnants of a world they once knew where the only law is to do what you can to survive. Most people assume they’d do pretty well in the case of a zombie apocalypse.
Secondly, and the reason I like zombies so much, is how great a metaphor for death they are. Think about it! It always starts with one… far away… hardly noticeable… escapable… for now. You just drive on, don’t think about it, live your life! But then there is more… closer, more obvious… then more! And MORE… until you’re entirely surrounded. You’re thinking about what you could have done differently. Should you have just left earlier, gotten more supplies, hid in a different building… then that door you’ve had blocked finally cracks and in pour hundreds of zombies. Fade to black….
Do you like haunted attractions? If so, which is your favorite? Howl O Scream is my favorite! By FAR!! I know it sounds biased (and it might be) but it’s the only event that I get to see so much passion and investment by over 800 members of cast and crew at once. They work so hard to make sure NO place is safe from darkness and fear! I know the work that goes into Howl O Scream and the dedication of the cast and crew is overwhelming! How can it not be my favorite.
There are many different scare techniques used at haunted attractions. How do you do it? Scaring is a science for sure! It’s not just using throwing blood and guts on a wall and screaming at people in the darkness. You have to have distractions, victims, and waves of intensity. When you turn a corner in a house, I want you to be distracted by an actor who is lurking in the corner on the right so I can attack you with a chainsaw from the left
What can fans expect from this year’s event? No place safe from monsters. Seven haunted houses, 5 scare zones, hundreds of monsters on the streets, on coasters, on the trams, and in the parking lots. Howl O Scream is in your face immediately this year. We also have an amazing, revamped culinary menu with some daring cocktails and small plates! Guests already LOVE the VIP tours that get you front of line access to coasters and houses, it’s the only way to be scared in style!
What advice would you give someone interested in working in a haunted attraction? It might sound weird, but you have to be very willing to feel silly. If you’re putting on a mask or make up and full body costume so you can run through a theme park or haunted house and scare people, you better feel a little silly. If you don’t, you’re either not doing it right or you’re not trying hard enough. Push your comfort limits, physically, emotionally, mentally. If you don’t go home exhausted, you didn’t do it right.
We’d like to thank Ben DeWitt for taking the time out of his busy schedule to share his thoughts on what is quickly becoming our favorite Halloween event! We’d also like to than Karen Varga-Sinka and the rest of the public relations team at the park for making this interview possible.
For more information on Howl-O-Scream, which runs select nights between now and Oct. 29, visit the event’s website, https://buschgardens.com/tampa/events/howl-o-scream/tickets/, or follow the event on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/HowlOScream/.
Palm Beach Happening looks forward to bringing you highlights from many of the spookiest spots in South Florida. So far, we have experienced Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, Enigma Haunt, Fright Nights at the South Florida Fairgrounds, X-Scream Halloween at G-Star and Howl-O-Scream. We might also be heading up to the Orlando area to experience the Shallow Grave! If we survive, we’ll let you know all the gory details!
Remember that Halloween is a time for fun and frivolity. It is a time to come out of your shell, and to acknowledge the mischievous spirit that resides within all of us. Be sure to keep following this column for news on other spooky events and more. If you know of another local event that needs additional undead light shone upon it, please let us know!