As Halloween season approaches, the anticipation of new thrills, chills and monsters in the dark intensifies, and nothing delivers them like haunted houses.
Since the birth of Hollywood horror movies and horror fans, the Halloween industry has continued to expand, and bring more options and more scares for fans year after year — and 2014 is no different.
Each fall, Central Florida successfully sheds its sunny, Disney World image and transforms itself into a frightening, demented empire where mortifying movie marathons, petrifying pumpkin patches and scare actors in haunted houses are plentiful.
Everyone is entitled to at least one good scare during the Halloween season, so visit one of the following locations to get yours.
Busch Gardens' Howl-O-Scream
As the lights dim and the fire dwindles, a sinister song in perfect pitch curses all who hear its tormenting tempo. Howl-O-Scream 2014's theme is "Survive the Curse: There is a song. They say you're cursed once you hear it."
Howl-O-Scream features eight haunted houses — some original and some back by popular demand — with new horrifying twists. From ghosts, zombies and cannibals to a Voodoo Queen and a serial killer, Howl-O-Scream 2014 is filled with unexpected terrors around every corner.
The Curse begins the moment you walk through the new Cursed Front Gate Experience. There's no escaping the song seeping out of old music boxes and radios cursing all the guests who hear it. The sidewalks of Howl-O-Scream are also not safe, with slash mobs roaming Busch Garden's 300 acres.
If you need a break from the all the frights, Howl-O-Scream's live stage show, Fiends, features Dr. Frankenstein and his naughty nurses in a dance party. There is also Club Cursed, featuring Halloween-themed cocktails and a live DJ.
But to get the blood pumping again, guests can ride the roller coasters at night.
"Howl-O-Scream is a great alternative to Halloween Horror Nights. The lines are shorter, the tickets are cheaper and I haven't been to Busch Gardens since I was a kid," said UCF alumnus Evan Gregory. "Plus, 'The Cursed' theme is pretty creepy and riding roller coasters in the dark is a whole new experience."
A Petrified Forest
A Petrified Forest returns for the seventh year with not one, but two distinct scare trails, The Barn and The Factory — which means twice the things that go bump in the night. A Petrified Forest is a haunted, outdoor maze located in the suburban woods of Altamonte with no exit doors or climate control.
"This year A Petrified Forest has more than 100 scare actors and tech staff working behind the scenes. New thrills and new chills," said show director Sylvia Viles Vicchiullo. "The Enzian Theater wanted to come play with us so they brought some of their animatronic sets to use on both trails this year."
Scare actors don't touch you unless an accidental bump happens in the darkness, but A Petrified Forest does things a little differently on Total Eclipse nights. Each group is given one glow stick to light its path.
If the monsters take your glow stick, it is not returned, and you must finish the scare trail in the dark. There are two Total Eclipse nights, Oct. 29 and Oct. 30.
Unlike mainstream haunted houses where guests are sent through in a continuous conga line, A Petrified Forest sends its guests through the scare trails in groups of six to give people a more intense thrill.
Spooky Empire: The Ultimate Horror Weekend is an annual horror convention that takes place Oct. 24 to Oct. 26 and encompasses everything horror related. Fans can meet their favorite horror movie and TV celebrities, buy collectibles from more than 200 vendors, take part in a Zombie Walk and get tattooed by artists from all over the world.
Beginning in Fort Lauderdale in 2003, the horror convention has since grown and moved to Orlando.
"Orlando makes a great destination because it's easy to reach," said Spooky Empire's founder, Petey Mongelli. "We have many national and international attendees. They come to our show and hit Universal and the Disney parks all in the same trip."
The Zombie Walk — led by the original "Hare Krishna" zombie, Mike Christopher, from Dawn of the Dead — kicks off the horror con. Zombie participants should gather at the DoubleTree hotel at 4 p.m. Afterward, there will be a zombie costume contest.
Attendees will have the opportunity to do Q&A sessions with cast members from TV shows and movies like The Walking Dead, Rob Zombie's Halloween and A Nightmare Before Christmas. There will also be a Rocky Horror Picture Show performance, scary movies, live bands and costume contests.
Don't like haunted houses, but love a good scary movie? The Enzian Theater offers the perfect outdoor setting for a creepy flick.
The Enzian is a nonprofit organization and home of the Florida Film Festival. Enzian is a single-screen, outdoor cinema whose motto is "Film is art, offering mostly independent and foreign films.
Every movie needs snacks to along with it, so get a beer and some tasty treats at the Eden Bar. Wednesday Night Pitcher Shows are free to the public and valet parking is also now available for $3 per car on Wednesday nights. Save your valet stub and receive free popcorn during your movie.
During the month of October, the Enzian shows some scary Halloween-themed movies. Grab your blanket and your sweetheart, then pick a good spot on the lawn under the gnarled limbs of the Enzian's massive live oak trees, which provide an ominous aura.
Price: Student tickets are $8 with a valid student ID, general admission tickets are $10.
Tickets can be purchased at the Enzian Box Office from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m
Hocus Pocus on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Medea on Saturday at 11 a.m.
Aliens on Saturday at 11:59 p.m.
Ringu on Tuesday at 9:30 p.m.
The Exorcist on Wednesday at 8 p.m.
Freddy vs. Jason on Oct. 31 at 7:30 p.m.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on Oct. 31 at 11:59 p.m.
Location: 1300 S. Orlando Ave., Maitland.
Price: $65 for all three days.
Dates: Begins Friday at 5 p.m. and 11 a.m., Saturday and Sunday.
Friday and Sunday one-day tickets are $40.
Saturday one-day tickets are $45.
Location: The DoubleTree hotel at 5780 Major Blvd., Orlando.
A Petrified Forest
Price: Single-trails tickets:$15
Both trails: $25.
Mutant laser-tag tickets: $10.
Tickets can be purchased at the cash-only ticket booth at 7:30 p.m. or online at www.apetrifiedforest.com/ticketing.html.
Dates: A Petrified Forest runs only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Location: 1360 E. Altamonte Drive, Altamonte Springs.
Price: Single-day tickets: $50 to $65
Four-ticket packs: $35 for Oct. 23, Oct. 30 and Nov. 1
It will be open from 7:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. Tickets can be purchased at the Busch Gardens ticket counter or online at HowlOScream.com.
Dates: Runs through Nov. 1 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Location: 10165 N. McKinley Drive, Tampa.