Enter the Netherworld
Enter the Netherworld
Enter the Netherworld: An Exclusive Interview with Ben Armstrong of Netherworld Haunted House in Atlanta, Georgia!
This article has been shared from Louisville Halloween’s Phantom Gazette.
After 21 seasons in Norcross, Netherworld Haunted House will be moving to new location next Halloween. We get all the latest terrifying news from co-owner, Ben Armstrong.
Louisville Halloween (LH): Tell us about your earliest childhood memories of Halloween, and how you first fell in love with ghosts, goblins and things that go bump in the night?
Ben Armstrong (BA): I have always loved monsters and Halloween. I told the neighborhood kids I was a werewolf, did makeup every full moon (featuring a nose I ordered from the back of Famous Monsters Magazine) and hid in the bushes to scare them! In Elementary School our family got to do the Haunted House for the Halloween Carnival when I was in the 4th grade, and I came back every year to help them until well into High School. I was always starting clubs that revolved around Monsters or Mad Scientists, and at the age of 15 became an avid Dungeons and Dragons gamer long before most people had heard of it. It still amuses me that today I make a living creating “dungeons” and filling them with monsters.
LH: How long have you been involved with Netherworld and was Netherworld your first professional haunting experience?
BA: We founded NETHERWORLD in 1997, and this will be our 21st season. Previously I had worked with a chain of Haunted Houses called SILO X and got to design shows for a number of locations around the US. Before that I spent 3 years creating charity Haunted Houses in Tallahassee Florida for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
LH: After two decades of consistently being considered one of the best haunted attractions in the country, you’ve decided to move to a new location in 2018. Why?
BA: We have wanted to own our own building for years, and the time was finally right for the move. Our new location will have much more room for us to grow, and also a much better parking situation. We will own the dirt at long last!
LH: What can longtime fans of Netherworld expect in the final season at your original location this Halloween?
BA: Our upstairs show this year is PRIMAL SCREAM, a war between the forces of nature and the creatures of the NETHERWORLD. Expect savage nightmares and elemental terrors leaping at every turn with lots of full on monster action! Our second show will be a 3D clown show with a twist, Mr. Grendel’s Fun House of Horrors. We haven’t created a 3d Show in about 10 years, so it was really fun to get back into freaky black light environments filled with bizarre inhabitants…. Plus you know how people love clowns!
LH: Tell us about the skeletal character in the top hat that appears on much of your promotional material. What’s his name and does he have a backstory? Tell us about his origins and how long he has been associated with Netherworld.
BA: That is the Collector, he was the icon character from our 2004 show, Spirits of the Dead. He is a corpse like revenant sent to collect lost souls in ancient graveyards at the behest of foul creatures from other planes of existence. He uses the power from these souls to open gateways to the NETHERWORLD causing all sorts of mayhem. The Collector was based on a creature from our first year we called Top Hat, who was in turn inspired by the skeletal mascot named Dooley from the college where I got my undergraduate degree, Emory at Oxford. He became so popular that he is sort of the Mickey Mouse of NETHERWORLD, our primary Mascot.
LH: I’ve read that you were once a television Horror Host yourself in Florida back in the 1990’s. Can you tell us about that?
BA: My “day job” until I retired to haunt full time was in broadcast television where I worked in various positions in several markets for 18 years. Over a 3 year period I appeared as Dr. Speculo, a crazy mad scientist type character at WCTV in Tallahassee Florida, doing wild skits and introducing horror movies in a series I produced called TALES FROM 6 FEET UNDER. This led to several Dr. Speculo themed haunts, and in later years a bunch of live stage show productions including the Price is Fright at TRANSWORLD with John Laflamboy and Zombie Army.
LH: What’s your philosophy of haunting? What do you want the public to take away with their Netherworld experience?
BA: I could write a book on this. (I think I practically have come to think about it…) Over the long years I have done many seminars and written many articles in Haunt magazines, and the ones I enjoy the most really do seem to focus on Haunt Philosophy. To put it in a nutshell it is all about the guest experience. The easiest way to say it is give them what they want: interaction, scares, cool stuff, chainsaws… AND give them what YOU want – the original crazy fun and scary ideas that make your haunt unique.
LH: What do you think the future may hold for the haunted attraction business? Is this a trend that’s here to stay and will only continue to get bigger or do you think the public’s interest in haunted houses could wane over time?
BA: I think the industry is healthy! I have seen nothing but growth in our business, as people love to be entertained and scared. I do think we will see interesting entertainment hybrids continue to emerge as haunts crash into new territory like opening on holidays and fusing with trends like escape games. We have some interesting years ahead of us!
LH: Netherworld contains some of the most spectacular monsters, makeups and animatronic monstrosities anywhere in the world. How many of these eye-popping creations are designed and built in-house and how many are purchased through vendors that make props and effects for the Halloween industry?
BA: Hard to gauge. We buy extensively from haunt vendors. We have some amazing artists in our industry! But we do fabricate a large amount of the effects and creatures you will see here in house. Also we like to modify, enhance and change the things we do purchase. Generally most of the stuff we get is altered quite a bit once it has been here a couple of years.
LH: Netherworld is one of the most successful haunted attractions in the world. Obviously it wasn’t an overnight success, what do you believe is the formula of Netherworld’s success and how has it evolved since it opened?
BA: Spend all the time, money and resources you have – and get real lucky! Actually joking aside, we started with a very good foundation. We got together a team of amazing artists and craftsmen, raised enough capital to open, and we had a very good understanding of the haunt industry before we ever tried. Even then it took many years before you could say we were truly successful. This is a very difficult business and I think that very few haunts are completely self-sustaining. Not many have owners who have quit the day job so to speak. Also key in my opinion is that you have something about your event that is unique… Just dreams and drive alone are not enough. There needs to be a special element brought to the table that gives you the ability to thrive and survive. As far as evolving, you must grow and change constantly every year. You can never stand still. It is always better, faster, stronger! The crowds sense your enthusiasm and that of your staff. You always have to outdo yourself every single year. That said – back to work for me! I hope everyone has an amazing 2017 season!
Have you visited Netherworld yet? Tell us about it in the comments below!