Author: Kara Dennison

Kara is an interviewer, host, writer, and anime/game editor from Newport News, VA. In addition to serving as community manager for Onezumi Events' conventions Intervention and (Re)Generation Who, she reviews and interviews for various blogs under the OE banner.
2015, Guest Post, Haunted Attractions

Williamsburg, Virginia Haunted Attractions: Busch Gardens Howl O Scream “Fiends” 2015 Review

IMG_7704_FixedThis is a guest post by Kara Dennison.

To date myself yet again when it comes to Howl-O-Scream experience, I remember “Fiends” being “Fiends in the Festhaus.” Now — as probably the majority of the world knows — it’s at the Abbey Stone Theatre in Killarney, with “Night Beats” having taken up residence at Das Festhaus for this time of year. That said, I’d never even seen it in its previous iteration. The nurse costumes were known to me due to some crossover at a Katsucon event not long ago, but I’d never actually witnessed them on their home turf.

If I had to describe “Fiends” briefly, I’d say that it’s exactly like “Rocky Horror” except when it’s not. It has many of the same elements and a similar approach to bawdy humour, but presented in a way that’s a lot more likely to fly over the heads of anyone not already of a dirty-minded disposition. There’s no denying it is full of scantily clad nurses. They’re not going over anyone’s head (well, except for that one bit early on). Nurse Simplicity herself is a walking double entendre when she’s not lying down.

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The story — again more of a frame for a jukebox musical than anything we should concern ourselves with too hard — follows their preening Frankenstein analogue as he calls together spooky creatures of all kinds to help him build the ultimate Fiend. With the help of the loyal but put-upon Igor, he creates his “monster”… but it’s not quite what he was expecting.

It feels a bit weird to put the words “family friendly” within spitting distance of “Fiends,” but the naughty jokes are good-natured, non-violent, and placed just out of reach. I imagine some out there might have some issues with the scantily-clad nurses, most of whom seem ready to disrobe for any handsome man who takes the stage. (You can practically feel the word “problematic” vibrating below your feet from the direction of Tumblr.) Your mileage may vary on that. If you’re of the sensibility that this should never ever happen, you will be gnawing your arm off during “Fiends.” But rest assured that Nurse Simplicity and her cohorts do end up doing a lot more than posing and throwing their bras. No, I promise, they do.

IMG_7699_FixedHonestly, though, the true hero of the show is Igor. There were a few flubs on the night I went: an occasional mic going dead and one or two blocking slip-ups, certainly nothing indicative of anything more serious than the perils of live theatre. Igor handled any in his vicinity with easy fourth-wall-breaking humour. He was reminiscent to me in many ways of Patsy in “Spamalot” (another show-stealer).

The choice of music was your usual fun mixed bag. Nothing glaringly strange or out of place, a decent spread (much of it expected — you can’t do a show like this and not include “Weird Science”), and well performed. Some of the effects were more on the flashy side, I will say. Fine if you’ve no issues with strobes, but I found myself having to look down and away. They aren’t pervasive, but they are there, and on the bright side it’s pretty easy to tell when they’re going to kick in. I’d like to have seen them do more with the thrust (by which I mean the table poking into the audience, you beasts). The dancers engaged somewhat, but it would have been fun to see them avail themselves of it a bit more, especially considering there was a degree of, if not audience participation, at least audience going-out-into-ing.

I didn’t walk out of this wowed like I did “Monster Stomp,” but this wasn’t meant to wow — it was meant to get giggles, and it definitely did that. It’s a bright, shiny, silly point in a dark and macabre park, and no matter how much you enjoy the terror outside its doors, there’s something rather nice about knowing it’s there when you’d rather laugh than scream.

 

2015, Haunted Attractions

Williamsburg, Virginia Haunted Attractions: Busch Gardens Howl O Scream “Monster Stomp on Ripper Row” 2015 Review

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This is a guest post by Kara Dennison.

The last time I saw “Monster Stomp” in any form was also the first time I saw it — back then it was still in the New France section of Busch Gardens Williamsburg, and it was rated as five pumpkins (indicating that it was up among the hardest-core things going on during Howl-O-Scream). My friend and I asked a park attendant if the show was really that scary. Their response: “It’s not rated that because it’s scary.”

Ah.

So, my memories of “Monster Stomp” have been “lots of banging done by people not wearing much.” (Take that as you will.) And that’s not a criticism. The smaller-stage show I saw back then, I recall being extremely fun and accomplishing exactly what it set out to do: be loud and sexy.

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The move to the Globe isn’t a new one, as I recall, but it’s new to me. Lots more stage space told me already that there would be a great deal more spectacle, and the “Ripper Row” branding told me we might actually see a storyline come through. Which, I suppose, we sort of did. It wasn’t the clearest one, but it’s a theme park jukebox musical. Plots don’t need clarity, they just need to house the music. In this case, it seemed to follow Jack the Ripper as he hacked and slashed his way through Victorian London until he fell in love with a girl? I think? She fell in love with him, I think. He sure seemed to like her, but he also wanted very much to kill her?

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Anyway, that honestly doesn’t matter because, as I said before, this show exists to be loud and sexy. And it most definitely does that, and goes above and beyond the early days of the show in pretty much every respect. The opening is big, boisterous, and gory as all get-out. The Rhythm Chefs (or at least a callback to them) remain toward the middle of the show, doing their knife routine on a coffin. The black light skeletons still do their thing shortly after. Now, tying it all together is the aforementioned plot-shaped thing, allowing for love ballads, aggressive dancing, and a mash-up of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young” that honestly left me wondering if I’d accidentally side-stepped into a high-end performance of Tanz der Vampire.

Speaking of other shows — and the aforementioned claim of gore — I’ve gotta speak up about the lighting design. Because when I say “gore,” I don’t mean actual literal gore. Any blood (and yes, there is blood) is done with video and lighting effects. When a character is taken behind a screen and knifed, the audience’s vision is flooded with a wash of red, rather than any use of practical effects or stage blood. Much appreciated for a weak-stomached individual such as myself, and much more in keeping with the spectacle. It was reminiscent of stagings of Sweeney Todd (unsurprisingly), but also shared a lot of stylistic choices with the recent West End musical adaptation of American Psycho. I was even a bit tickled to see that the theme and choreography of their opening number was reminiscent (homage or coincidence, I don’t know) of the second act opener of American Psycho, with a steadily decreasing chorus of dancers being picked off by our antihero.

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Some of the musical choices did seem a bit off-the-wall (I’m still trying to grok the placement of “Beat It”), but again, injecting common sense into a noisy spectacle defeats the purpose. It was eye-popping, it made you shiver at points, and it was full of gorgeous people in gorgeous costumes doing gorgeous things. I was also pleased to see that, while they advertised that there would be strobes, said strobes were used in a small enclosed space onstage for one specific effect and not directed out toward the audience. Your mileage may vary, of course, but there was nothing overly intense or inescapable.

I mean, truly don’t take kids or people of a sensitive nature to “Monster Stomp.” That’s a given. There are many family events in the park and this is almost certainly not one for the younglings. But if you fancy a macabre Victorian aesthetic with a pounding bass line, come to the Globe and enjoy.

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