For a self-proclaimed horror nerd, I don’t actually do haunted houses very often. I get enough anxiety from descending into the automatic, sliding mouth of hell known as Walmart. But when Paste wanted to cover Atlanta haunted house institution Netherworld, they asked themselves, “Who can we send off to be terrorized?” and answered, “Oh, the interns. Obviously.”
So, on one dark and actually pretty fair-weathered night, the Paste interns set out for Netherworld, one of the top ranked haunted houses in the country. This year it was designed by makeup effects artist and prop-maker Billy Messina and Emmy nominated, Telly Award-winning Ben Armstrong, who has more than 20 years of designing and producing haunted houses under his belt.
This is a journey in two parts. First up is the shorter of the two. Unfortunately for us, shorter also means more action-packed. We enter “Vault 13: Unearthed” through “The Elevator of Death,” and then make a sprint through the alien/deformed creature infested lab. I wish I could describe it for you in detail, but between keeping one eye over my shoulder looking for the numerous actors lying in wait to walk at you when you pass by (not since It Follows has walking seemed so scary), and being pushed through by a fellow screaming intern, I can only remember it in brief flashes. If I had to liken it to anything, I would say it’s like if Alien met District 9 in the underground facility from Cabin in the Woods. You just have to see it for yourself—but, prepare for “toxic foam” at the end.
Still, you’ll want to do that one first and get your feet wet before the much longer main attraction, “The Rotting.” Right off the bat, “The Rotting” was more impressive, in my opinion, because it opens into a graveyard scene with a giant skeletal dinosaur, which are already three amazing words that only get better when combined. “The Rotting” is more ghoulish fun than the body horror of “Vault 13”—it’s what AHS: Murder House is to Freakshow. The premise is basically that ghosts are draining the life from humans and turning them into zombies, but the execution is so much more intricate, macabre and beautiful than that description suggests. The highlight for most of us was the first Ghoul Tunnel (aka the One Too Many Shots of Fireball Simulator Tunnel), which is a moment of funhouse revelry in the otherwise frightening attraction. You will likely fall down if you don’t hold on to the railing. We’ve already discussed what it would be like to have one in your house (Verdict; pretty cool, but don’t fall asleep in it or you’ll probably wake up vomiting). I’ll admit, I spent most of my time running around saying things like, “Oh, awesome!” because the special effects, props and makeup were genuinely amazing. A room with a holographic ghost and clacking floorboards stands out. Even the more gimmicky set pieces are cool on a technical level. Because it’s a 15-minute experience, there is a lot going on, and its references are wide and far-reaching. We saw everything from The Hills Have Eyes to Night of the Living Dead to Hellraiser to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (if you go, you’ll get it).
The experience might have made me a haunted house person out of me. The props and the sets were incredible, but what really struck me, as I was screaming and being pushed through corridors with another intern’s hand clutching the back of my shirt, was how sometimes it’s just fun to be scared. I got to live out my dream of being in a horror movie without actually coming close to death. That’s living the dream.