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Howl-O-Scream sinks to new depths with Unearthed haunted maze

A new haunted maze from the creators of “The Blair Witch Project” features a paranormal tale set in the woods with an online campaign designed to build buzz for the multimedia project.

But despite the similar setups and some familiar players, the backstory for the new haunted maze bears no resemblance to the 1999 pseudo-documentary film.

The new Unearthed haunted maze at a trio of Howl-O-Scream events this Halloween poses an unusual question: Who buries a house?

The answer is an unruly mob of 18th century townspeople angry at an unorthodox medical healer named Scarlett who dabbled in the dark arts. After the townspeople murdered her husband, Scarlett turned to black magic for revenge and unleashed her evil minions. The townspeople repaid the favor by burying Scarlett’s home with her trapped inside.

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The new haunted maze is the brainchild of “Blair Witch Project” filmmaker Rob Cowie, who is producing and directing Unearthed at Busch Gardens Williamsburg in Virginia, Busch Gardens Tampa in Florida and SeaWorld San Antonio in Texas. All three sister parks will make Unearthed the centerpiece of their Howl-O-Scream haunted events running on select dates in September and October.

“I jumped at the chance to work on this project,” said Cowie, who began developing Unearthed with some of his former “Blair Witch” collaborators last summer. “With Howl-O-Scream, we’re dealing with a crazy convergence of 360-degree storytelling, merging physical experiences and technologies to create a sort of hyper-virtual reality. It’s live, immersive terror and it can take your breath away.”

As portrayed in the maze, Scarlett is a striking figure with curving demon horns, blood-red eyes and a branding scar on her forehead. Dressed in a bustier, lace skirt and fishnet stockings, she wields a menacing-looking curved saber. Her mission: Collect enough body parts to reincarnate her dead husband.

“Scarlett is a tragic figure, but at the same time lethal and merciless,” Cowie said. “She’s very powerful, sort of the quintessentially strong female character.”

As the backstory unfolds, the buried home is discovered by a construction crew, and American Underground Research and Archaeology is brought in to investigate. The backstory is reinforced with a series of field report videos posted online along with a faux website for the AURA archaeological firm.

In the video vignettes, we watch as ground-penetrating radar reveals a 200-year-old house buried underground. Soon a pit is dug to the front door of the perfectly-preserved home, and before long Scarlett is once again unleashing her death and destruction.

“She will definitely be summoning demons from Howl-O-Screams past,” Cowie said.

The maze combines characters from the story involving Scarlett and the townspeople along with the contemporary story involving the home’s excavation and the archaeologists.

“Once you get in the house, we pull the carpet, change it up and it gets intense,” Cowie said.

Video footage was shot at the Tampa park, with the set dressing and props from the short films incorporated into the mazes as artifacts from the story. The subterranean maze was built to create the illusion of descending underground.

“We got a little obsessive with the details,” Cowie said.

Howl-O-Scream will feature seven mazes at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, including four returning mazes: Bitten, Catacombs, Cut Throat Cove and Deadline. In addition to Unearthed, the park is expected to add new mazes code-named Cornered and Lumberhack. The Lumberhack maze will include an elevated walkway through a wooded area of the park, according to the BGW Fans website.

In addition to Unearthed, Busch Gardens Tampa’s haunted houses will include Circus of Superstition, The Basement, Zombie Mortuary, Death Water Bayou, Zombie Containment Unit 15 and Dead Fall.

The mazes joining Unearthed at SeaWorld San Antonio include Prey, Frightmare Forest and Intensive Cursed Unit.

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