Howl-o-Scream and Scarlett's Revenge with Blair Witch's Rob Cowie

A Preview of Howl-O-Scream 2015

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With the return of Howl-O-Scream’s Freaky Preview at Busch Gardens Tampa this Friday and Saturday, it seems like the best time to give you the gruesome details of what to expect at Tampa Bay’s best Halloween event, especially because this year, the park has “Unearthed” producer Robin Cowie of the Blair Witch Project to create their newest haunted house, Unearthed: Scarlett’s Revenge, which tells the dark tale of Scarlett, a village healer who is out to avenge her husband’s killers after being buried alive underneath the park.

As Cowie and I are both alumni of the University of Central Florida, I thought it might be cool to catch up on his life since UCF and the success of Blair Witch, with the hopes to also better prepare us for Scarlett so we don’t end up close up to a video camera with snot running out of our noses.

Meredith Myers: Have you been back to UCF? A lot has changed since we went there in the 90’s.

Rob Cowie: “I still have a great relationship with UCF and the film program out there. Actually when Blair kind of hit I became a mentor, and they have been fantastic. Last year, I helped launch the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando. I was the creative director for that, and again, it allowed me to do something different and be home. It is a remarkable school and it is amazing for us to have been there in the early days.”

MM: We are all familiar with your work with the Blair Witch Project, so how is creating a theme park experience different from making a film?

RC: “This is something you are in. Commercials and film are a 2-D experience, something you see on a screen. This is something that you walk through, touch, and it surrounds you. The goal is to be completely immersive. You begin to experience it from the moment you go online or walk in the gate at the park. That’s when we start the story. You will also see the story in culinary, merchandise, and of course the actual house. We carry that story throughout so it’s a full 360 experience.”

MM: I remember the Blair Witch ending well, so any standing up against the wall in this house?

RC: “Hahaha. I’ve been obsessed for a long time with the first person experience and when you think about a haunted house, it truly is a first person experience. Like the cinematographer that worked on this, his name is John Rutland, he is also the cinematographer on the Paranormal Activity movie that is coming out in the fall, and I’ve done two movies with him. I was able to take things that I did in my film experience and really apply those to this experience, so in a way, it is an extension the things that have fascinated me for a long time. Except this time, it is everywhere.”

MM: It’s funny that you mention the Paranormal Activity films, because pretty much with the Blair Witch Project you created a new genre with the horror documentary, and films like Paranormal Activity is a result of your work. How does that make you feel and how do you think they have done so far?

RC: “The whole thing has been surreal for a long time. We had the right idea at the right place at the right time. I think Blair speaks for itself but there was this movement that was going on, regardless of what we were doing, that was this storytelling for the masses so not only do we have Paranormal Activity and things like that, but it was YouTube and reality television, and we were right at the start of all of that, and you know, it’s been great to be a part of that and it’s really one of the reasons I jumped to be involved in Howl-O-Scream. It was kind of the next evolution of that experience.”

MM: There are a lot of remakes happening in the film world so I am curious, have you thought about doing a remake of Blair Witch?

RC: “We have talked a number of times and Lionsgate really controls the property and we’ve talked with them about bringing Blair back and we would love to do that because we have a really cool story that would follow it up, it’s just that the stars haven’t aligned yet. But right from the early days we had an additional story or two that surrounded the mythology, so we would love to.”

MM: How did you decide to partner with Howl-O-Scream? What was it about them that made you said yes?

RC: “They do two things really right. First, they favor original ideas and storytelling. If you look at all of their houses, they are all unique, original content and that’s brave because when you are trying to tell a horror story, it’s ultimately the surprise and the not knowing what’s going to happen so if you walk around the corner and it is something you expected to see, that’s just not as enthralling as original content. And two, they take their scares seriously. It’s intense, it’s scary, and it’s not watered down, and I felt like creatively, I could push it and kind of push the limits, and it has been great. They really embrace that.”

MM: Besides your involvement, what makes this year so different from years past?

RC: “It is a season of firsts. It is the 1st time a filmmaker is involved with the theme of the houses and it’s the 1st time that all three parks are not only doing the same theme but the same villain and same original haunted house. Not only that but the story we have kind of ties in not just from a marketing perspective, but also from an entertaining full contact, scare-the-life-out-of-you experience. ”

MM: Now getting back to Scarlett’s Revenge, can you share more about what we can expect to experience?

RC: “For me when I begin a project, I usually start with what scares me and I’ve always had a aversion to caves and dark places and basements and anything underground. So with the theme park, the first thing that struck me was this opportunity to explore what was there before and what was buried underneath. So we developed this two-part story of this thing that happened two hundred years ago with a very strong female character. She’s a healer. She lost her husband because the town turned on her, and then uses her abilities of the dark arts to seek revenge on the town, and in turn the town buried her alive in her house. This kind of old story, when we dug beneath, has now unearthed this very strong, very powerful woman who is trying to bring her husband back to life and in order to do that needs eye balls and body parts, and those are conveniently being provided by our guests who are visiting the theme park.”

MM: You had me at strong female character. We just don’t see that very often and here we have an entire haunted house dedicated to one so I thank you very much for that. And a love story? Sounds like a perfect place for a first date!

In addition to Cowie’s Scarlett’s Revenge house, you can also experience Dead Fall: Thirst for Blood, featuring a Victorian garden and greenhouse out for blood, the voodoo world of Death Water Bayou, go six-feet under at Zombie Mortuary, experience Mama’s Meat at The Basement, clown around at the Circus of Superstition: The Last Laugh and finally play laser tag with zombies at Zombie Containment Unit 15: Moving Targets. There are also thrill rides in the dark, Slash mobs, the Fiends show, and Club Unearthed pouring alcoholic potions to provide you with some liquid courage to brave all of this.

Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa runs Thurs.–Sat. nights Oct 1-31, and select Sunday nights, Oct. 18 and 25, with Freaky Preview on Sept. 25 and 26th, 7:30 p.m. to 1 a.m., tickets are $90 with discounts available. For more information, visit

Meredith Myers, the "Stand-Up Librarian," has a master's degree in Library & Information Sciences from USF and has been performing stand-up comedy since 2002 after checking out a comedy book from her local library. Binding her experiences in comedy and libraries, she created in 2010 to educate and entertain people about the importance of libraries and literacy through literary comedy shows that she performs at libraries and book events across the country. In 2012, she launched Stand-Up Librarian Designs, creating literary fashions inspired by her favorite books and authors that she sells at her shows and Etsy shop. Meredith also works as a cataloging librarian and is a volunteer for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and a contributing writer for Creative Loafing Tampa.


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