One of the most popular features of Busch Gardens' Howl-O-Scream, the annual scarefest that opens next Friday, is that you never know when a ghoul will show up next to you on the roller coasters. Some will even be on the trams that run from the parking lot to the front gate.
Earlier this summer, the Tampa theme park filmed a commercial for Howl-O-Scream that followed along as a zombie and two actors rode together on SheiKra, one of Florida's most frightening roller coasters.
The footage shows an attractive couple looking terrified as the ride makes its signature 90-degree drop.
Terror turns the man's stomach and he projectile vomits on camera. It is not fake. He tossed his cookies.
You can easily read their lips and the woman pats his shoulder and says, "Are you all right?" The zombie looks over at him with a look of worry in his eyes, which are peering out from behind a mask of decaying flesh and gray straggly hair. The zombie turns toward him a second time and, according to the actor who had just spewed his dinner, the zombie said, "Wait a minute, did he just puke?"
He nods and clearly enunciates a four-letter word.
Busch Gardens didn't use the commercial in its official advertising because of the graphic content but did send it out Aug. 27 on the official Twitter and Facebook accounts of Howl-O-Scream saying, "Riding coasters with zombies is not for the faint of heart (or stomach). WARNING: graphic content." And their YouTube post was titled, "Zombies on Roller Coasters … Gone Wrong." The posts quickly attracted hundreds of comments and thousands of views.
Ben DeWitt, the senior production manager at Busch Gardens who leads the team that produces Howl-O-Scream, said the footage was hilarious but he didn't feel right using it unless the actor gave his approval.
"We called him up because I didn't want him to be embarrassed. But he said. 'No, go ahead, if it goes viral it would only help my career,' " DeWitt said. "He was a really good sport."
The upchucking actor turns out to be Zander Morales, 28, a Tampa resident and graduate of Alonso High School who has appeared on local stages and once toured the country with a production of In the Heights. This was his first major commercial. He does appear in the park's official commercials, released this week, taken from earlier trips on the coaster with a more elaborate zombie. And no hurling.
"I'm waiting to be the spokesman for Pepto-Bismol," Morales said. "I'm a method actor as you can clearly see."
Morales said he normally loves roller coasters but this liquid scream happened after he had to ride SheiKra (one of the fastest coasters in Florida with a top speed of 70 mph) at least four times in a row for the cameras with fellow actor Isabella DeChard trying to keep him calm.
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"Isabella and I were exhausted and on the way up that time I was like, 'Whoa, bro, this is not good,' " Morales said. His other mistake was diving into an extended buffet of food at the shoot's dinner break.
"I'm Puerto Rican and they had roast pork for dinner," he said, adding, "I was so hungry, so I went in for seconds and I had forgotten about the coaster."
He's amused that a lot of the social media comments think it's fake, because few would expect the theme park to show a real heave-ho in one of its commercials.
"In my head I was like, 'Was this the whole plan? To get me to puke? Is this some kind of sadistic director?' " cracked Morales. "I've gotten to bow on stages in front of thousands but for some reason I'm weirdly proud of this because I didn't get any on my clothing. The only people it affected were the people who had to clean that coaster."
He had the coaster's quick brake stop to thank for the projectile. It made him hurl out front, away from his own clothes or seatmate and he instantly felt better.
"It was a gratifying puke," he said.
It turns out the zombie didn't do so well, either.
The scare actor in the zombie mask was Sergio Myers, 23, a University of South Florida student from Tampa. He's not a fan of rough coasters and if you look again at the video, the zombie's hands are shaking and he's huffing and puffing pretty hard at the end.
"That was the first and last time I ever rode SheiKra," Myers said.
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at email@example.com. Follow @SharonKWn.