Entertainment, Local

Netherworld Haunted House Marks 25th Anniversary

Netherworld co-creator Ben Armstrong joined "City Lights" to talk about the haunted house's 25th anniversary.
Netherworld co-creator Ben Armstrong joined "City Lights" to talk about the haunted house's 25th anniversary.
Credit Lily Oppenheimer / WABE

Halloween’s around the corner, and the re-opening of many attractions after the easing of pandemic restrictions brings opportunities for fun, festivities, and frights. One of the country’s most popular destinations for just such a spine-tingling experience is right here in Atlanta: the Netherworld Haunted House, a fearsome labyrinth full of live actors, special effects and monsters. The Haunted House opens to visitors next weekend, marking its 25th anniversary. Netherworld co-creator Ben Armstrong joined “City Lights” senior producer Kim Drobes via Zoom to talk about his love of horror and to beckon the unwitting into his house of nightmares.

Armstrong has been fascinated by monsters and Halloween since he was a kid, when his family would help set up haunted houses at his local Halloween carnival. “I always liked scaring people… Since I was a little kid, I liked to dress up as a monster,” said Armstrong. “When the moon was full, I would put on a rubber nose and grease paint, and I told the neighborhood kids I was a werewolf.”

It came as no surprise that later in life, Armstrong would find himself working as a late-night horror show host on local access TV. “It was a lot of fun. I was also, at the time, producing local segments for our muscular dystrophy telethon through the TV station, so we did a haunted house as a fundraiser… This was my first real chance.”

Not long after that, the special occasion project he’d always enjoyed proved to be a true calling. “I came to Atlanta,” said Armstrong. “That’s when I found that haunted houses were a real thing; they were an industry.”

Before Armstrong knew it, he was designing haunted houses for event producers all over town. “That’s when I met my business partner Billy Messina. He was in the film industry. We started working for this chain of haunts, and then one year, they didn’t open. And when that happened, we were like, ‘Let’s do our own,’ and that was about 25 years ago.”

Armstrong’s an expert when it comes to the psychology of spooky. “What a haunted house is, it kind of has to ride the razor’s edge between horror and Halloween. Too far into the Halloween realm, it becomes maybe too ‘kiddy.’ Too far into the horror realm, you know, horror can be very unpleasant…. It has to be somewhere in the middle.” He identified his personal taxonomy of scares – the startle scares, the phobias, and the suspense, to name a few techniques.

“My favorite thing, honestly – if I jump out and scare you, and you scream, and then you laugh – that’s what I want. I want people to have a good time, to enjoy themselves in the attraction, to create memories.”

Not just a destination for Halloween scares, the Netherworld’s umbrella of experiences also includes an escape room, Escape the Netherworld, and a laser tag battle arena, Netherworld Laser Adventures. Both are open on weekends year-round. 

Netherworld Haunted House will be open Sept. 24 – Nov. 13. Tickets and other information are available at www.fearworld.com.