The night before we were to depart for Florida this year a hurricane hit the northeast. Our train was canceled and flying wasn’t an option. I turned to my husband and said, “Well I guess we finally get to drive to Netherworld in Atlanta!” He replies, “Hell yeah!”
Make no mistake about it, driving to Atlanta from New Jersey in 1 day with almost no advance notice is an extremely taxing and painful 13+ hours of spine torture and too many Cracker Barrel meals. (Take note, travelers – they have vegetables!)
This is why why we hadn’t been able to do this before even though we had wanted to see Netherworld for many years. I always tell the people I mentor that problems are opportunities. That was exactly the case here. Having been pushed into the awful prospect of driving we had the opportunity to push the drive a bit and finally see this amazing attraction.
Netherworld is a PG or PG-13 Halloween attraction so it is appropriate for tween and above or an adventurous younger kid with their family. That does not mean it doesn’t deliver for adults like us. It delivers. Oh BOY does it deliver. They just pride themselves on having the spirit of traditional Halloween. You won’t find gory torture porn here.
The problem is that Netherworld is so damn good that now we may force ourselves to attempt this hellish drive every year. We have never seen anything like this before. Many seem to have attempted to do what Netherworld does – all fall short.
Why? Scale. Netherworld is exactly what it purports to be – a world. Set pieces and props reign supreme here – and that’s actually a good thing. They aren’t done at the expense of the actors – they’ve created a world for the actors to live in and do it better than anyone else. It’s balanced and used in exactly the way it should be to create a stunning show.
Thanks to co-owner Ben Armstrong I had the opportunity to go backstage and see the actors suiting up for the night. That was absolutely amazing. Some of the actors requires multiple people to help them get suited up. Others were in bodysuits preparing for wire work. It was pure controlled chaos. Their goal? To scare the crap out of you. You can tell that this is a big family. They are “Netherspawn”, and they don’t have a high turnover rate. They joke that once you are a spawn you are always a spawn. The people who all stay with the haunt for many years and only leave if they absolutely have to due to life circumstances.
Job satisfaction is high with the ghouls and I can’t blame them. What ghoul wouldn’t love being able to float after you and eat your soul? I know that’s as good as a 401k to me.
Check out the cool photo ops they have set up in the front:
First off, I got to meet this guy:
The queue actually warrants a review because it’s breathtaking and huge. They actually have a museum of some past props and an entire mini haunted house in the queue before you even get in. The mini haunted house reminded me of the old scarehouses of the early 1900s, like Kennywood’s Noah’s Ark, combined with steampunk. I got to go in before the queue opened for the night and speak with a couple of the actors who work the front queue. They explained some of the props to us because this was our first time here. They told me that it was an opportunity for them to allow people to see things up close because it’s impossible to see everything inside.
At this point I thought they were being hyperbolic. While I was familiar with Netherworld, I like to try and keep as much of each haunt that I visit a surprise since I’ve seen everything (or so i thought) and surprises are more fun for me. I did not really have an accurate idea of what was in store for me inside. Hurr hurr…
I should emphasize that yes, they actually entertain you while you are in the queue before you enter. I feel that this is something that more haunts should take note of.
“The witches have released vast armies of spirits from the depths of the NETHERWORLD to appease the DEAD ONES, and these spirits must feed! Drawn to the life force of human beings they drain the energy causing their victims to suffer THE ROTTING, a decay of the body accompanied by a ravenous hunger! A supernatural investigation team, G.H.O.S.T . has discovered the supernatural source of the plague, but will the cure be worse than the disease?
New horrific experiences in THE ROTTING include: The Phantom Energy Chamber, The Mummies Curse, The Spectral Gallery, The Sinking Tombs of Whyshburg, The Boswick’s Revenge, The Alien Flesh Lab, The Slithering Soul Eater, Engulfed by the Shoggoth, The Arena of Ghosts, The Walk Of Peril, The Elder Thing, The Rotting Dead and the War Wraiths! A supernatural shock fest full to the brim with never ending terror!”
The Rotting was absolutely breathtaking. They were not kidding about there being so much stuff to look at. I’ve been through haunts which were set piece heavy and I’ve never seen it done well. Netherworld does it very well. It’s not a prop museum, it’s a wonderfully integrated world in which the actors are positioned such that they work in harmony with that world. This is one of the few haunts in which I believe the name is significant and not a useless “Boogity McBoogums” nondescript name. (Yes, I did just say “Boogity McBoogums. Deal.)
This is why the name Netherworld is so appropriate. It’s not a simple haunted house. It’s a world. Forget everything you know about haunting. You can see the sky but it’s a fully enclosed venue. You almost want to live there or run around like a weirdo with the ghouls. Speaking of scale – the scale of Netherworld is so large that I can’t even convey it to you. You have to see it. You won’t believe me unless you see it. It’s beyond massive. You can’t afford to have a haunt like this in New Jersey, that’s for sure.
I was blown away by the giant skull the came out of the sky at us – but more than that – you can see the next several rooms. That’s a good thing. You aren’t seeing the entire room, but pieces of the room that are strategically aligned together as you walk through which are meant to convey depth and scale to you. It’s an intentional part of the design that piques your attention and warns you of what amazing thing you are about to see.
I particularly loved one particular room where – I probably shouldn’t give it away – but I will just say that you end up inside a building under attack from something much more powerful than a human. Again the scenery is coordinated to work with you as you move through. Forget what you know about claustrophobia chambers. They actually have actors here manipulating that concept and even created their own designs on it such that it moves with you. The world is alive. Nothing in here feels stale. Nothing in here feels like a copy and paste from anything else. These guys aren’t just producing a haunted attraction – I firmly believe that they are redefining it and leading the industry every single day. With so much monkey see, monkey do in the industry, this was so refreshing to us.
My husband and I always talk about how we would do a haunt and lament that they do not do certain concepts, such as H.P. Lovecraft, inside a haunt. These guys did them.
Vault 13: Unearthed:
“Before the Mangler began torturing human beings, he created an AI (Artificial Intelligence) called PROTEUS to experiment on and drove it completely insane. It evolved into a living computer virus and sought out its creator demanding a body. Enraged at the Mangler’s lack of response, PROTEUS reactivated VAULT 13 and commanded secret ops security teams to capture the Mangler and his clone creations. Successfully locking them in VAULT 13 it continued its quest to create a living body and take revenge on the entire human race!
New dark secrets of VAULT 13 include: The Elevator of Death, The Toxic Foam Room, The Invincible TORG, The Hideous Hatchling, The Mechanoids, The Liver Eater, The Massive Defense Grid, The Hypno Room, The Steel Vault, Nurse Nervosa, Sample V-37, and the Wind Tunnel! A brain blasting sci-fi horror adventure sure to melt your mind!”
My observations of how the haunt was constructed for The Rotting, above, hold true for Sector 13: Unearthed. These guys know how to stage a haunt. Boy howdy. I particularly loved the compression hallways here that were made of flesh. Like, it caused me to be like this:
Seriously. I’ve never seen THAT before. I frowned in there because they achieved their goal, but make no mistake about it I was totally amused and elated to see such a thing. It felt like such a custom way of taking an standard stunt and making it relevant, along with skinless monsters.
I also particularly loved the giant robot and alien fight. Again – the staging and storytelling in here was fabulous.
This one had a foam room at the end that you can choose to go through or not. Of course after driving over 13 hours to get here we went through. Go big or go home! You will definitely get wet if you go in here and they tell you that very clearly beforehand. If you don’t want to get wet you can go through an alternate room.
With this haunt being sci-fi heavy, and The Rotting being all fantasy creatures and supernatural, you get both types in one location, which is great.
Netherworld has been called the best haunted attraction in the world. I do think the phrase “best” is a weird term because each haunted attraction aims for a different type of goal. You can have 10 haunted attractions that are all the best at what they do and all contribute wonderfully to the conversation of seasonal immersive theater. That’s why I have a pantheon of attractions that are my #1. I can’t choose. It’s apples and oranges.
However if you’d call Netherworld the best haunted attraction in the world, I sure as hell won’t argue with you. They do something that no one else does better than anyone else. Their unique identity and commitment to delivering a solid product for both families and adults – and succeeding at it without sacrificing creative integrity – makes them beyond remarkable.
The most important thing I saw that night was my observations of Netherworld co-owner Ben Armstrong. In my conversations with him I could see the little boy who probably loved Halloween just like I did growing up when I used to make a haunted house in my living room with blankets and toys. That little boy is still there – he’s just a little bit older and able to share what he loves with the world. They say that Real can recognize Real. Recognize it, we did.
Both Harknell and I are really glad that he shared this with the world. It’s a better place to live in because of it.
Netherworld is a PG or PG-13 haunted attraction that you can feel OK taking most of your family to, but it will blow the adult haunt fans away as well. It was worth the 13+ hour drive for us and had earned it’s reputation of being the gold standard, world class haunted house that it is known for. We will be back.
DO THIS ONE.
Oni Hartstein is a Los Angeles-based CMO and entrepreneur that is obsessed with progressive rock / metal, marketing, and nightlife. Please direct all business inquiries or review requests to the "Contact" tab on the top nav bar.
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