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Busch Gardens - Tampa Bay
"Howl-O-Scream" SFX

This page:

Howl-O-Scream (HOS) is Busch Gardens Tampa Bay's mature Halloween event consisting of five haunted houses and multiple scare zones throughout the park. From May to August 2023, I was in charge of testing and repairing the 30+ pneumatic and animatronic effects in four different haunted houses. In 2023, HOS was ranked the #2 Best Theme Park Halloween Event by USA Today.

Below is a summary of some of my effects and the troubleshooting guide I wrote for the House Technicians to maintain the effects in the future.

Standout Effects

I tested and repaired 30+ effects and these are some of the most notable.

Additional Details:

  • Prebuilt effect from PoisonProps

  • Pneumatically powered

  • Controlled with PicoBooMP3 controller, three 4-way solenoid valves, and break beam sensor

Granny Under the Bed

This effect broke very early in the 2022 event. I found someone had simply stapled the bedsheets to the frame and this inspired me to create my maintenance manual. 


I continued to troubleshoot the effect and optimize the sequence by reprogramming the PicoBoo controller so the Granny jumped out earlier and faster to maximize the effect's impact. I also adjusted the lid to not slam into the bed frame each time it opened.

Additional Details:

  • Door/Wall Pounders from FrightProps

Swinging Light and Wall Knockers

The hanging light was tied to a pneumatic cylinder that was wired to a continuously looping PicoBoo ONE controller. The movement of the pneumatic cylinder would trip a motion sensor which would trigger the two wall knockers through a PicoBoo MP3. The wall knockers were programmed to knock to the tune of Jingle Bells.


The designer wanted the entire sequence to continuously loop but the existing setup did not do this efficiently. However, it was out of scope to redesign the entire control system so I instead focused on optimizing the existing system.

Popup and Shaking Barrels

The barrels are both prebuilt effects from PoisonProps, each on their own PicoBoo Jr controller, and wired to the same motion sensor.


For the popup barrel: I repaired a damaged section of air hose and adjusted its programming so the lid would rise higher, giving the guests a better look at the creepy body inside.


For the shaking barrel: I edited the timing so it wouldn't go off until the guests had turned the corner after being scared by the popup barrel.

Pop-Up Head

A small scary head was attached to a pneumatic cylinder that popped up from behind a fence. However, every time the head came up, it would face away from the guests.

With another coworker, we assembled a counterweight system with tie line, zip ties, and a box of washers that consistently rotated the head when it extended.

Troubleshooting and Maintenance Manuals

My coworkers often told me that when an effect breaks during Howl-O-Scream, no one knows how to fix it and the effect gets shut down for the rest of the season. Some of the haunted houses had tech books, but they only had outdated SFX maps.


In my last week, I took the initiative to create house startup instructions, detailed descriptions and easy to follow troubleshooting guides for all of the effects. My goal was to create a resource that was approachable, informative, easy to understand, and practical so that anyone could find it helpful.

Note: I created these guides for four of five houses in the event. The fifth house was under construction and an outside company was taking care of the SFX. Some new effects were still in development when I left so their pages are partially finished. I asked my supervisors to update the maps and the corresponding pages once final decisions had been made.

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