This is a series of interviews we do with the people who are changing the face of the haunted attractions and horror industry. This week we interview the folks from NETHERWORLD haunted house. They build some of the sickest sets you have ever seen.
Why did you first become interested in the haunted house/horror business?
It seems like I have loved scary stuff all my life. I did a haunted house at my elementary school and got hooked scaring people at a very young age! I had all the classic monster models, read Famous Monsters Magazine — the whole nine yards!
What previous jobs have you had?
After college, I worked at TV stations in Tallahassee, Florida and Atlanta, Georgia for 18 years. During those years I mainly worked on the production of news shows, running camera, audio, directing and such. I also shot and edited commercials, was a lighting and set designer, produced special events like telethons and parades, and eventually moved into management. But the interesting thing that was horror related was my TV show Tales From 6 Feet Under, a local hosted horror show. Every week I would run old horror movies with crazy skits during the commercial breaks.
What job do you do right now? Is the haunted house/horror job your full-time gig?
I still do occasional special event related projects, but NETHERWORLD is my primary focus.
How long have you been in the business?
Since I was ten years old! No, really I would say three years of actually designing and running real charity haunts in conjunction with my TV show, three years with a professional haunted house chain (Silo X) and 11 years of NETHERWORLD, so pretty much about 17 years.
How did you start?
Well, I was doing the hosted horror show as the bizarre Dr. Speculo, and after working closely with the Muscular Dystrophy Association for years on the local telethon coverage we decided that a haunted house would be a great fund raiser. Using my collection of horror props, the TV station, and my actor friends who helped with the show, we hooked up with the charity and did our first show, “Dr. Speculo’s Trail of Terror!” After the memory of how hard it was wore off, I guess I was hooked!
What’s the scariest haunted house you ever attended?
Wow, that’s a tough one! It might have been some of the Jaycee haunts I went to as a kid, probably because I was a kid, but I still remember them as being pretty good. I think the scariest haunt sort of thing I remember is exploring an old abandoned Spanish fort when I was in elementary school. That sort of stuck with me, so haunts or scenes with an dark, old, realistic abandoned feel are the creepiest for me. I can still get startled in haunts, usually by a good actor, or by a falling wall or pit, but that only lasts for a second. Now there are some scary haunts I have seen that look really dangerous from a safety aspect, but that’s another thing entirely!
Do you still find time to attend haunted houses?
Absolutely! I almost never get out during the season, but I travel to as many haunts as I can usually during trade shows and such. I got to see the legendary Rocky Point in depth at their final Fright Nights this year, and I have also seen such great haunts as Burial Chamber, Terror on the Fox, Dreamreapers, Realm of Darkness, and the massive EREBUS in 2007 already.
What inspires you to create?
Personally I find ancient, mythological, historical, and literary elements to be more inspiring than most mass-marketed horror movies. The direction video games have taken with survival horror and complex storylines is much more to my taste than standard slasher fare.
When I visit haunted houses I am impressed by producers who try new things, rather than the same old hockey masks. But on the flip side you always need to be aware of what your audience wants, and give it to them. When I see a lot of love and effort in a haunt, be it in an elaborate presentation, engineering marvels, innovative ideas, or a tight operation, that’s what inspires me! And also to quote the late great Lance Pope referring to his patrons, “Give them a good show… they deserve it!” That’s the real reason to create — to give your guests a great show.
Do you ever get scared anymore?
I do get startled on occasion, but haunts don’t really scare me. The feeling of suspense you get before the drop on a rollercoster, and certain peak moments in good haunts or during a good horror movie come close, but real scares are limited to real dangers like driving in Atlanta!
What does scare you?
Bad weather and having my slider pads slip when I am sliding in our parking lot. Ouch!
Do you believe in real haunted houses or ghosts?
I don’t believe in them per se, but I think something interesting is going on. Hopefully the continued application of science to odd events will eventually shed more light on them.
What is fear?
Real fear is something you inspire once in a while in guests, and it is not always a good thing. When they think they are really going to die and completely lose it, it means that you have pushed too far. I really dislike haunts who market making guests lose control of bodily functions, even though we see it a lot. It’s generally not a good experience for the guest, and I think glorifying it is crude and unprofessional.
My favorite reaction is a huge startle, followed by a shock release where they sort of slump or lose balance, followed by laughter or smiling. You got ‘em good, they are having a great time, and they leave happy. If you terrorize a patron to the next level they will leave traumatized and will probably never go to another haunted house again. That is bad for them and bad for the industry. But the reputation that you are that scary is actually an advantage when marketing, so you are always trying to ride that line.
Who’s your average customer?
Everyone! We have huge crowds in all shapes and sizes. But the most common type I would say is young adults in pairs or groups looking to have a good time, and we try to give it to them.
What are your five-year goals?
I love this line of work! I want to keep doing it till they pry my screw gun from my cold dead fingers! Really my goal is to run a safe, fun, impressive show that is always evolving and always taking it to the next level. You just go year by year and do the best you can. I am also excited about getting my kids into the business as they grow older and seeing where they can take it in the future. What more could you want?