Tis the Season To Be Spooky: Netherworld’s Billy Messina Raises Your Darkest Retro Nightmares and Treats You to Raw Meat

By Angie Weiss
Contributing Blogger

Before I tell you about Netherworld, I must give full disclosure: I am easily scared. Like crazy scared. There can be the mere suggestion of something potentially frightening about to happen, and I curl up in a little ball. I can know that something lurks around the corner, but if said thing jumps out at me, I will scream like a baby anyway. So this post is not about whether or not Netherworld is scary. I’m certainly not the one to ask. But if you are looking for something that is psychologically thrilling, visually stunning and an overall can’t-miss Halloween experience, then I can tell you that Netherworld, open every night in October (and Nov.4-5), is the haunted house for you.

Now in its 15th year, Netherworld is divided into two attractions. “The Nightmares” is the main event, a huge haunted house that feels like it goes on forever, through hallways of old manors and gardens of gargoyles. “Raw Meat” is smaller, gorier and chock full of turn-your-stomach scenes.

In “The Nightmares,” a mix of illusions, animatronics and stellar actors work together to play off your worst fears. Monsters? Vampires? Voodoo priests? They’re all here to toy with your mind. The suspense factor in this one is quite strong, as the hallways wind through mirrors and tunnels and you never know what lies waiting around the next bend. Sure there are some jump-out-of-your-skin moments, but for me, this is more of an overall creeptastic experience that you’ll want to take time to enjoy. It may be tempting to run through the house out of fear, but slow down and absorb everything that’s going on. The intricately detailed sets alone are well worth the price of admission.

“Raw Meat” is, well, much like if you took a subway into a sewer and encountered THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Gone are the supernatural beasts of “The Nightmares,” and here come the cannibals and clowns. These earthly horrors make the situations in “Raw Meat” all the more real. The special effects are aimed at your senses, fully taking advantage of what sight, touch and sound can do to your psyche.

I had an absolute blast at Netherworld. I left feeling adrenalized, my mind racing with what I’d just seen. I had to find out more about what’s behind this brilliant haunted house, so I asked Billy Messina, Netherworld’s co-creator and co-owner with Ben Armstrong, a little more about it.

ATLRetro: This is your 15th year. How has your vision for Netherworld evolved over the years? If someone hasn’t been to Netherworld since its first year, what is the one big difference they would see? 

Billy Messina: The Scale! Netherworld has always been about intense scares and extreme detail, but now we have more resources to bring to the table. In the early years, we still did a pretty good job of creating cool stuff, but now the scale of what we are able to do each year is much greater!

“Nightmares” plays off fears that many have. I have to ask – after all this time in the business, does any of it scare you?

We have lots of things that come from above. If I am not paying attention, it is a natural reaction to duck when something is coming down on you!

There is a really cool Victorian/steampunk aesthetic in “Nightmares.” Can you talk a little about how that subculture has affected your design? 

We loved that entire steampunk look long before we ever heard the term! Fifteen years ago we talking about looking like the Nautilus or Jules Verne. A lot of what we do in Netherworld is influenced by H.P. Lovecraft, one of the progenitors of modern horror and science fiction.  I think we have always had sort of a more mythic, more literary focus than most haunts, and we also always loved the look of classic horror like the original James Whale BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Now that sort of thing is almost mainstream, it suits us just fine!

Your actors are incredible. Where do you find them? And who does their makeup? 

Many of our actors have been with us for years. Generally we don’t go looking for them any more, they sort of come to us, as most of them are former patrons. The makeup staff is lead by Roy Wooley who has been with us for 14 years, and this season on an average evening we have approx 8-10 make-up artists working.

“Raw Meat” is gory, dirty and downright disgusting. In other words, fantastic. Do you have more license to push the boundaries with the smaller haunt?

When we started Netherworld, we wanted to stay away from outright gore, but over the years that has obviously changed! The concept is to have the main show be something almost anyone can attend ( if they are not too freaked out) but to have the downstairs show be a little more nasty. If the upstairs show is THE LORD OF THE RINGS, the downstairs show is SAW. We wanted to have both haunts sort of work together to be a total package, so yes the boundaries are pushed further in “Raw Meat”!

The houses are so detailed and elaborate. When do you start planning for the next Halloween? Do you work in that space all year? 

We are always planning . Every day I have to push the new ideas away because we  have to focus on running the 2011 shows! You can bet we are already to get going on 2012.  Normally we don’t touch the physical haunt until about April, but this year we started in February. Of course, we begin at once on theming, planning, beginning complex effects, costuming and new creatures, basically anything that doesn’t require clearing any scenes. We like to keep it intact until we are 100% sure about what is coming down.

Speaking of next Halloween, can you reveal any details about what’s to come for Netherworld in the future? How do you continue to top yourself? 

Well, one thing we are planning in 2012 is a very expanded gift shop that is more like a themed walk-in store. It should be pretty cool when we are done and will be open year-round; at least that is the plan! As far  as the shows themselves, it is a bit too early to reveal anything, but you can be assured they will be way over the top!

Thank you so much for your time! If you have one piece of advice for attendees, what would you tell them?

Come see us this year because every year the shows change! We are open every night in October and the first Friday and Saturday in November, so come on down anytime, we will be lurking for you!

Netherworld is located at 6624 Dawson Blvd. in Norcross (30093). For tickets, hours and directions visit www.fearworld.com

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