Pleased to Meat You
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Anticipation looms in the air like a thick cloud of smog as a group of individuals shuffle through a dark, cramped hallway. Strobe lights flash above but as the hallway winds on, the only indication of the journey ahead is savage screaming. Around the corner, the source of the screams is realized; a man is squirming on the wall, drenched in blood. “Help me! They’ll get you too!” And as the initial smog of anticipation clears, the eyes of the group members’ widen as they realize that the man is not alone. Their hearts begin to race and their palms begin to sweat. There’s another man in the corner, a big, burly man… and he has a knife.
This man, the Butcher, as he is known, is an employee at Mama’s Meats, the business of a people-eating family run out of “The Basement” haunted house at Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream event. And intimidating as the Butcher may be, when he takes off the apron and puts up his knife, this cannibalistic wonder is just an ordinary guy.
About twenty years ago, ordinary guy Jorge Luis scared someone professionally for the first time. Now, by day, Luis is a custodian at Robinson High School, with a car identifiable by its cling-on skeleton head in the back window.
But at night during the Halloween season, he morphs into your favorite worst nightmare.
“It’s kind of like being a fighter pilot and you just shoot your target,” Luis says of scaring others, mimicking the noises of a gun being fired. “And you just get them, get that momentum. It’s like a thrill, an adrenaline rush you get.”
For Luis, involvement in haunted houses and scaring is more of a necessary part of life than a simple pass-time. Growing up, his interests always veered toward the abnormal and paranormal and he found great joy in spooking his brother and sister. As part of a family originating from Cuba and Spain, from an early age Luis and his siblings were constantly surrounded by eerie folklore and what he calls “old world superstitions.” While his siblings could take or leave the Halloween spirit, Luis’ fascination with the subject seems too wholesome to ever wane.
“Everyone has something to give,” he explains. “Everybody has their own style, their own charisma. Scaring is a talent.”
Vampires and “los muertos” (the dead) dominate many of the old Hispanic stories Luis treasures. Tapping into both these stories and his intuition, he has been able to find something that many of us search for and never find: a job he loves. The past few years at Howl-O-Scream have granted Luis access into a spooky subculture that most of America doesn’t know exists.
“A lot of these scare actors,” Luis says, leaning in as if telling a juicy secret,”the people of the night, they get together at the Village Inn off of Busch and eat there and talk about their [scares]. It’s a nightly thing, like a ritual.”
Luis goes on to describe that within the cast, actors tend to form cliques based on the house in which they are posted. Nevertheless, he found his niche in the Howl-O-Scream family before leaving to work for the Chamber of Terror. But no matter his place of employment, the raw thrill he gets from a good fright is an exhilaration he feels rivals most things.
“[The most satisfying thing about scaring people is] their reaction and knowing that they got their money’s worth.”
Luis belts out a hearty chuckle.
“I give it to ’em good.”