Spooky Tech Drives 20 Years of Fear at Netherworld

Spooky Tech Drives 20 Years of Fear at Netherworld

By Phoebe Knight

Netherworld Haunted House is more than just a scary Halloween attraction. It’s been an Atlanta favorite for more than 20 years, drawing thousands of visitors from all over the country. The award-winning haunt is not the oldest local scare factory, but it is the most famous. Don’t believe us? Search “Atlanta haunted houses” and almost every list places Netherworld in the top spot.

In a recent interview, co-creator Ben Armstrong talked about what makes Netherworld so special. When Armstrong began work on Netherworld, the most popular haunted house trend involved incorporating iconic figures from horror films like Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Kruger or Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th.

For Armstrong, though, that wasn’t quite enough. “We wanted to be different,” he said.

 

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Say hi to the Mangler.

The Netherworld founders leveraged their combined years of experience in film and television to build unique creatures, sets, masks and styles. Each year, the attraction has presented a different theme, developing an original storyline for each feature. The entire history can be found in a compendium of fright on the Fearworld website.

“The goal is to scare and entertain,” said Armstrong. “What we pride ourselves on is that Netherworld is very shocking and very visceral, but not something you couldn’t take the family to.”

We spoke with Armstrong to learn more about how modern technology has changed the operations of Netherworld. Lighting and projection have become cheaper and more realistic over time, he said, but the biggest impact has been the advent of digital playback devices: “Years ago we were struggling with DVDs and things like that. Digital playback with audio has made that a whole lot easier.”

He went on to describe how remote control has impacted the realism of animatronic creatures. According to Armstrong, modern controllers are less expensive, higher quality and easier to use than they were in the past.

Technology’s influence affects more than the internal operations of Netherworld — it also changes how guests interact with the attraction’s environment. Visitors are not allowed to use their phones inside, but they often do anyway. The ramifications of illicit phone use often includes lost phones or distracted guests who aren’t fully engaged with their surroundings. It’s not all bad, though: Armstrong said the pictures attendees post on social media have had a vast positive effect on Netherworld’s marketing efforts.

We asked Armstrong to share the challenges Netherworld has faced over the years. His answer?“Having a seasonal business.

He explained how all the money for the year must be made in the few weeks the attraction is open. Weather, competing events and even popular TV shows have caused significant dips in attendance.

In part, even unrelated advances in technology benefited the spook house. With DVR, streaming video and the ability to monitor sports games with a smart phone, visitors aren’t limited to choosing between going out or keeping up with their favorite media.

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Photo by Heather Paul

In honor of Netherworld’s 20th anniversary, classic monster favorites such as the Boogeyman, Collector and Harvestman have been reanimated to stalk its darkened halls. This year’s attractions include two creepy houses, titled Monsters and Vault 13: Meltdown.

In the Monster Haunt, the elder abominations are embroiled in a vicious battle for control with the freakish Soul Eater newcomers. (Soul Eaters, Armstrong divulged, are designed to play on an obscure phobia: the fear of holes.)

Perhaps most terrifying is the Meltdown haunt, which drops guests into a secret government underground base where nuclear destruction is imminent. Terrified patrons will face down robots, mutants and some artificially intelligent beings driven to take over the world.

Potential patrons wishing to visit Netherworld over the holiday weekend may face significant crowds. Fortunately, the season doesn’t end with the holiday. Netherworld ghouls return to the stage for the final fright show on the first weekend in November.

Images courtesy of Netherworld. 

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