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Arts & Culture

The Experiment at Busch Gardens Tampa’s Howl-o-Scream gives Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights a run for its money

Live Active Cultures

Photo: Seth Kubersky, License: N/A

Seth Kubersky

But one undeniably original extra-cost experience ameliorates the déjà vu, and may almost be worth the drive all by itself. The Experiment is an intimate, appointment-only interactive adventure for you and up to three friends ($50 for first person, $10 each additional) who want to test their tolerance for terror. The park’s King Tut’s Tomb exhibit has been transformed into a white-tiled research lab where participants are subjected to a series of stresses. To begin, a severe “scientist” (all the actors did a great job of keeping a straight face, even if I couldn’t always) assigns each subject a number and explains that failure to follow all instructions will result in termination of the test and forfeiture of the fee.

After applying a heart-monitoring bandage, you enter the initial test chamber and your Experiment commences. Without spoiling too much, over the next quarter-hour you’re asked to reach into bug-filled boxes, allow fiends to scream centimeters from your face, and risk electric shock. The most compelling scenario involves a restrained patient, poison-filled syringes and a tasteless but titillating recap of the Milgram experiment. I hesitated and was branded a “hippie,” while my companion quickly complied and was approvingly dubbed a sociopath.

The climax comes in a nauseatingly nasty bathroom where you must do the worst thing imaginable in order to escape, followed by a chaotic if conventional chase-out coda; it was the closest I ever want to come to living out a Saw film. While I found The Experiment more theatrical than terrifying, at $20 apiece it’s worth doing with three brave buddies. Busch’s event as a whole might not be in HHN’s league, but on this count, it’s Universal’s turn to play catch-up.

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