Jeff Smith noon, March 8
"Hotel Halcon" Haunted House Harvests Horrified Howls
Local Entrepreneur Defends Gruesome Displays Mimicking Mexican Cartel Massacres: "Hey, Isn't it Time Somebody Made Some Legitimate Money Off of This Whole Scene?"
Critics unable to do much more than cover their mouths and grip their stomachs
Remember when Haunted Houses were nice and sweet, like this?
UNABLE TO AVERT MY GAZE FROM A DISEMBODIED HEAD THAT I AM NOT ENTIRELY CERTAIN IS A FAKE - Unless you are somehow involved in the Mexican drug wars, the odds are that you will not wind up decapitated, dismembered, castrated, hung from a bridge, stuffed into a van already crammed with other dead bodies, or dissolved in acid. And unless you travel to a cartel hotspot such as Ciudad Juarez, the odds are pretty good that you won't see anybody who has suffered those fates, either. Unless, of course, you pay a visit to Chula Vista's Hotel Halcon (the term refers to a cartel informant), a Halloween haunted house that seeks to ratchet up the scream factor by skipping out on the ghosts and goblins and instead re-creating actual scenes from the nightmarish world of torture and execution that the drug war has created.
"I wanted to do something different," explained Joe Serra, who got the idea for the hotel after discovering a trove of broken and discarded mannequins behind the Mission Valley Center Charlotte Russe clothing store. "I mean, everybody has seen the horror movie stuff, you know? There's not a lot of potential for shock any more. Oooh, the torture room from Hostel! Eek! The facesplitter from Saw! But a murdered four-year-old girl in a glass-topped coffin? A dealer's totally hot girlfriend, minus her arms and legs and hair? Sixteen bodies laid side-by-side in a dump, all with mutilated genitals, all either decapitated or suffocated with masks made from packing tape? Now you're talking scary, because that shit is real."
But as with the narco-corridos - Mexican pop songs that adopt the voice and manner of the cartels in their lyrics -- some are questioning whether a haunted house that glorifies violence associated with the Mexican drug war can stoke that same violence.
Serra says he’s just giving the people what they want. “It’s a market, and I’m in the scare industry," he says matter-of-factly. "If I don’t do it, someone else is doing it.” Serra says the "Encintados" display -- the term refers to those who are found bound in packing tape -- represents power. “It’s just an image saying how someone, you know, [who] is dumb enough to mess with the wrong guys can become wrapped in packing tape until he suffocates and stuff."
At the same time, Serra says the violence across the border pains him. “I was born in the United States, but I’m also Mexican, and it hurts me to see people's faces carved off and sewn onto soccer balls," Serra said. "I just think that…it’s just a haunted house. You give people what they need to be scared right now.”