The Spook-tacular New Netherworld
The popular haunted house attraction scares up a new location
It's October, so that means pumpkin spice lattes, suburban corn mazes, pop-up Halloween accessory stores and most importantly - the return of Netherworld.
Now in a convenient new location with easy access from Atlanta's major thoroughfares and plenty of free parking, the shows are bigger and better than ever. Consistently voted one of the top haunted houses in the nation, the multi-story, multi-attraction haunted event has thrilled patrons since 1997.
From the deceptively normal new location at 2076 West Park Place Boulevard in Stone Mountain, co-owner Billy Messina spoke with INsite about its latest attractions.
What's new at Netherworld?
The biggest news is, we've moved and now we're bigger than ever. After 20 years in the same spot, my concern is that people are going to go back to the old location just on rote memory. But don't go that route. As far as access goes, it's literally less than ten miles away from the old place. If anything, it's easier to get to. There's less traffic on 78 than on 85 and you're still driving on major thoroughfares. Coming from intown, you go down 78, pass Stone Mountain Park, get off on exit nine and there we are. You pull in, drive to the back of the building and it's just so much easier on so many different levels.
Change is good, but it can be a little scary.
People are resistant to change, and we were too. We enjoyed being where we were but we literally were just out of opportunities at the other location. That's what it comes down to, so when it's a change for the better, like here, you just can't resist it. Now we're on almost ten acres with tons of free parking. That could be a problem at the old location, but I don't think that'll be an issue anymore. In the final years at the other location, we were literally chopping down any square foot of backstage space that we could, to kind of morph it back into the show.
The new spot has been over a year in the making.
We had the building last year, but it just wasn't Netherworld yet. It had to be ready. It can't just be another haunted house where you turn the lights off and hope people won't know any different. But they do know and we know, too. It's going to get better and better as we keep building on it and that'll be great. There'll be learning curves, but to start, we just want to let everyone know we're back and as strong and scary as ever. We want to keep it familiar yet at the same time, totally different. And we're still working with VetTix and the anti-bullying campaign Don't Be A Monster.
One holdover is the familiar Netherworld sign.
Yeah, you know we were talking about doing a crazy new sign that's three-dimensional and all the new things you could imagine with signage. But we thought, you know, let's just use the old sign this year. People have been seeing that sign for 15 years. They saw it off the highway. Everybody knows that thing. So it was like let's put it here, just a transition. But more as tradition. There's a sense of familiarity. Even though the place looks different from the outside, once you get inside, it's still very much Netherworld. So it's a way to honor the past, while keeping it an all-new attraction.
The new building is deceptively normal.
It's very non-descript. If you blink you might not even see it at first. It looks like a simple one-story brick office building on almost ten acres of land. It actually has two stories with a very high ceiling and at almost 75,000 square feet, it's more than double than what we had before. But it's much like Netherworld has always been, the magic that happens when you walk through the doors. With the new space, we have the ability to expand, which we really needed. So we've changed the haunts and added three escape games, a monster museum, an amazing gift shop, meeting spaces for corporate events, and even a midway for concessions. There are offices and even a mini-theater for the cast to relax in before and after the shows.
With all the space, there seems to be much more room for lining-up indoors. That could come in handy on rainy fall nights.
A whole lot more and there's now room for indoor box office cuing, and more room to get to the haunts.
So there's a kind of carnival atmosphere about the new Netherworld.
I would say so. I think we always had that, but it was always so contained. We'd had food trucks before, but that was in the parking lot. Here it's inside and there are fun games along the way, like a zombie brain-toss game and now the five-minute escape room is outside.
But you've retained the two main haunted house sections from the other location.
Yes, but they're bigger because we've built the place from the ground up. All the wood is fire-treated and there's an all-new sprinkler system. Everything is rock solid. So that gives us more room for the haunts. Basically before, if you bought a combo ticket, you could go into either show. Now it's more linear in nature, so if you buy a single ticket, you'll go to the first show and then exit out into the midway. Get a drink, spend some time there and then you can cue directly into the second show. A combo ticket is only five dollars more on weeknights, so it's a really good value.
Tell us about the shows. They're new this year, too.
Yes they are and they're in the same formula as before. The first haunt has more of a traditional haunted house storyline. That's the marquee event and it's called The Awakened. It's an incredibly detailed production. We never want to do the same thing twice because we have a lot of return visitors and we always like to present a new story. Both of these are vastly different environments. The Awakened features monsters that have emerged from the depths to basically destroy everything. So that's always fun. There's a cemetery, a mansion and a creepy city deep below the mountain. Just good, traditionally scary stuff.
The other room is a little more of a darker attraction, right?
Well it's definitely more gritty. It's gorier but our type of gore is more fantastical than graphic. It's called Subject: Unknown. It deals with extra-terrestrial life and mutating viruses that infect the facility. The subjects go a little wonky and they get some extreme powers of aggression and become fairly indestructible. It's like going through an industrial facility. There's a lot of machinery, weird experimentation pods and cold metals. Basically it's a good excuse to make some amazingly freaky creatures. When you have a virus that runs rampant, pretty much all the doors are open. We've had a lot of fun creating monsters that are basically running amuck.
You mentioned monsters. Are they officially monsters or creatures or characters?
To a great extent, all of those are interchangeable. It's semantics, but monsters are traditionally more creepy, big things. Creatures, in my book, are something that fall somewhere between a human and a monster. The big ones in the first house are definitely more like monsters in my mind. Characters are more like the human cast that interact with the patrons. But they're monsters too, so there's a lot of overlap, a lot of spooky things.
It must be a blast to design the monsters.
Oh we have so many talented people who bring the show to life. You just kinda give them a rough picture of what we're thinking of, or a bit of the scene. Then they just go crazy.
Walk us through the creation process. For example, you might have an idea for a monster with one eye and then what happens?
Sometimes the ideas aren't even that specific. We'll give general outlines, thematically about what it is. 'Ok here's the environment where it might go and here's the relative size it needs to be.' Just big picture things about what we're thinking of for the scene. It might need to have multiple limbs or tentacles or it needs 50 eyes and it's diseased. After that, there's very little micromanaging at all. It's like, 'Let's just have fun with it.' We like to leave a lot of room for the people who create it to make it their own.
Your enthusiasm about the new version of Netherworld is contagious.
It's just all fun again because it's all new. After 20-something years at the same place, we just wanted to make it bigger and better. We want the patrons to walk away going, 'Now that was awesome. I can't wait to see what they do next year.' And you know what? Neither can we!
Netherworld is open until November 4, 7:30 to midnight on weekends and 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. on weeknights. Visit fearworld.com for more information and tickets.