Behind the Scenes at Atlanta Haunted House Netherworld

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By: Haylee Fisher (@haylee_fisher)

It’s 6 pm on a Wednesday and the chaos has begun at Netherworld. Showtime is in an hour and a half and 120 actors must get in to hair, makeup, and costumes before they can scare an enormous line of people at Atlanta’s premier haunted house.

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Though it’s been open around 19 years, more attention was brought to it when special effects makeup artist Roy Wooley, who has been with the haunt 18 years, competed on two seasons of Syfy’s Face Off. And though he may be higher up on the ladder than the freelance artists Netherworld employs to turn actors into gruesome monsters, Wooley works right alongside them every night, overseeing their work and even giving tips on how they can improve their skills.

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Despite the fact it’s a weeknight, Netherworld is still busy, though not as busy as it usually is on weekends. And leading up to Halloween will only get busier. But as it stands now, at least 200 actors are brought in on weekends to scare the masses of people who wait in extremely long lines just to get a glimpse of the horror.

And just a glimpse is what most will get as they run through the labyrinthine haunt, clutching not only family and friends, but also the strangers they stood in line with just moments prior. With so much terror lurking around every corner, it’s not surprising one makeup artist described it as “the best show you never see.” So much detail is put in to the haunt through set decoration, but as guests rush through, scared for their lives, they don’t get to take it all in.

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The sets are improved upon every year, new aspects are added to fit the theme, and actors fill in the blank parts with the objective of jumping out to scare people. This year, there are two main attractions at Netherworld: The Rotting and Vault 13. I got to tour The Rotting with the lights up, but it was still pretty scary, especially when the technical run-through started and I was still inside with two makeup artists.

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At that time, the actors hadn’t arrived yet, but the set pieces and loud noises were being checked to make sure everything worked, in a similar vein to a dress rehearsal. Because if certain features don’t work, then how could they scare guests? While I was more nervous than flat-out terrified, I can see how visitors would be when everything is up and running with the lights down, loud noises on, and actors hiding behind every corner.

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Since I participated in a behind-the-scenes tour, I was able to experience the haunt for the minutiae that doesn’t necessarily register with people as they hurry through. Elements like flooring are meant to unnerve, some involving loose bricks, shifting floorboards, wobbly bridges, and even crunchy grass. Each corresponds to a different area in the haunt, like a room filled with bugs and spiders, one with taxidermied animals, one that looks like a mad scientist’s lab, a redneck’s backyard complete with a giant pig that pops out at guests, a giant’s hand meant to grab and ensnare, and much more. All of these components – in addition to other frightfully fun qualities like flying actors, flying gargoyles, and even a humongous Abominable Snowman – work together to create sensory overload. The loud noises are perhaps the most unsettling and come from not only actors’ screams, but also set pieces as they move around on their rigs. If your sense of sound is weakened, you can’t use it to figure out what’s coming next – your deafness overtakes you. You can’t use clues you normally would to assess the world around you. It’s overwhelming.

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Actors wouldn’t be as scary as they are without their makeup. And with such an accomplished artist in Wooley working at Netherworld, it’s no surprise the makeup is as amazing as it is. It’s also oddly beautiful, and the fact no artist spends more than seven minutes with an actor to achieve the looks they do is shocking.

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When an actor checks in, they are given the character they will be portraying that night. They then get into costume and afterward are led to the makeup area. Artists are trusted to create the assigned character and don’t have pictures to go off of. They work fast as they have many actors to paint, and the level of specificity attained in such a short amount of time speaks to the efficiency of the artists and the faith Netherworld has in them.

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Because such attention is paid to the details, Netherworld is reminiscent of a movie set. It’s no wonder it’s as popular as it is and is definitely the place to be in Atlanta for those who want to experience over-the-top horror and then leave hoping they don’t have nightmares.

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There are only 13 more nights this season to experience Netherworld for yourself. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to fearworld.com.


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