The inclusion of Netherworld Haunted House in Atlanta as a yearly stop on the haunt tour began as something of an afterthought. A few years ago I was watching one of those “Most Extreme Halloween” shows on the Travel Channel and they did a piece about Netherworld. The hype was laid on pretty thick, but what I saw looked very interesting and professional. I inquired further and realized that as I had been driving to Florida each year to see Halloween Horror Nights, I had also been driving, literally, right past Netherworld’s front doorstep. The constellations thusly aligned, I made my first visit to the hallowed halls of America’s #1 Haunted Attraction. That was three years ago, and after all that time, Netherworld remains, quite possibly, the most intense haunted attraction I have ever experienced. It is absolutely the most original. Unlike theme park haunts that tend to be uniform in both quality and content, Netherworld has a very distinct bulldozer of a personality that makes it stand severed head and shoulders above the rest. You’ll never EVER mistake Netherworld for any other haunt. It is proudly and steadfastly it’s own thing.
That thing consisted of two separate mazes. The “A” maze, “Gargoyle”, the most elaborate and visually oriented of the mazes, and the smaller but much more intense “B” maze, “Dead Salvage”. Both were excellent this year, but in very different ways. “Gargoyle” was filled to the brim with tricks, traps, and freakouts, while “Dead Salvage” seemed to be one long scream of rage. We did the A maze first, and I was immediately gobsmacked at the variety and professionalism of the set and creature designs (here referred to as the “Netherspawn”). Everything here just reeked of quality, from the makeup effects to the great design skills put behind the various eye-popping gags. Something new and ever more bizarre lurked around every corner. A giant animatronic eyeball peering through a window? It’s in there. Dog-sized maggots leaping up into your face? They got that too. Big-ass rock monsters battling giant Yetis? Check and double check. How about the Headless Horseman and a man-eating (literally) T-Rex, why the hell not? Phrases like “expect the unexpected” and “anything can happen”are batted around with regularity when talking about haunts, but only here do they actually describe the thing. Not only can anything happen, it DOES happen, about every ten steps or so. There is absolutely NO WAY to predict what you’ll see next. It’s like a long, strange, psychedelic dream…if the dreamer was tripping balls on a combination of magic mushrooms and dayglo paint fumes, that is. It’s Castle Frankenstein as reimagined by GWAR.
I feel obligated to say at this point that “Gargoyle” actually IS supposed to have a plot, something about an invasion of gargoyles into the gateway to the Netherworld, and an ensuing war with the Netherspawn, which can include anything from vampires and axe wielding psycho killers to giant spiders and ridiculously huge unidentifiable tentacle waving beasties. Faced with such a sensory onslaught, the concept of “plot” becomes moot. Damn the why, it’s all about the “What the hell was THAT?”
“Gargoyle” borders on the indescribable because it was ever changing, never giving you a chance to rest or get your bearings before you are assaulted by yet another brain-flaying sight, and THEN you get broadsided by an actor who managed to sneak up on you while you were entranced by the aforementioned distraction. Some of the actors have been working these halls for many years, and they know their scares VERY well. Never in all my years of hauntgoing have I seen a tighter, more focused house cast. Not to mention a more death defying one…there were several instances of gargoyle bungee-scares, both vertical and horizontal, as well as a maze-capping tableau that featured a flying gargoyle circling some sort of gate that looked like it came from Lord Sauron’s yard sale. Add to this an awesomely unexpected stone angel scare (it flies!) that will have Doctor Who fans howling with delight, and the utterly mind-blowing “Laser Swamp” room, which must be seen to be truly appreciated, and you’ve got yourself a haunted maze that goes so far over the top that it virtually redefines the concept. Netherworld’s “Gargoyle” was, in a nutshell, a mindfuck of gloriously ridiculous proportions. I loved every second of it.
The “B” maze, “Dead Salvage”, while not as visually spectacular as it’s big brother, managed to more than make up for it in sheer startle factor. I’ve heard of haunted attractions being described as “high startle”, and “Dead Salvage” more than fits the bill. Actually, “constant startle” would be a more apt description. If the “Gargoyle” cast was a well-oiled machine, then this cast was a series of hammer blows to the forehead. The scares went off BANG! BANG! BANG! one right after the other, with nary a chance to rest. Netherworld’s policy of only letting small groups into the maze at one time helped this a lot, I’m sure, but this cast was absolutely on fire. It probably also helped that our group was host to one poor young lady who was quite seriously terrified for her life, letting loose a a repetitive series of magnificently ear-splitting shrieks that had even cast members holding their ears and cringing. Always good to have a screamer around, don’t you think? “Dead Salvage”, while a much more traditional haunted maze type experience than “Gargoyle”, showed that Netherworld can still bring the fright as well as the freakout…although DS was not without it’s visual highlights: for instance the maze entrance was dominated by a HUGE Tesla coil, throwing off fat blue fingers of lightning and generally looking very dangerous and being way too close to me for comfort. But that’s par for the course. Netherworld likes to get right up in your face.
I could go on and on about the horrorific delights of Netherworld, but I think you get the idea. One more thing before I go, though…no review of Netherworld would be complete without a mention of the parking lot creeps. Many haunts have scareactors roaming their grounds randomly frightening the patronage, but Netherworld, characteristically, takes it three steps further.The lot creeps are some of the most experienced actors in the place, and it shows in their interactions with the patrons. What’s more, some of the most popular Netherworld characters are parking lot creeps. There’s “Baby”, a bizarre albino child-like character that never speaks and is always clinging to a ragged babydoll. Then there is the “Collector”, a staple of the lot creeps and Netherworld’s chief “face” character, and this year’s awesome looking Gargoyle mascot, who doesn’t seem to have a name so I’ll just call him “Larry”. I also can’t forget to mention the sliders, one in particular who seemed to have little or no regard for his own health…and when someone is risking life and limb I’m always entertained.
At 30 bucks for both mazes, Netherworld is a bit pricey…but you also get more than your moneys worth of entertainment. Full of imagination AND hefty scares, Netherworld is one of the most solid haunt experiences I’ve ever had, and if you like haunts (and if you don’t, why are you reading this?) you’ll LOVE Netherworld, period. Recommended with no reservations.
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STILL TO COME: The Big-Ass Haunt Report continues with my review of Halloween Horror Nights XX: Twenty Years of Fear, Busch Gardens Tampa’s Howl-O-Scream, and a special in-depth examination of HOS’s bold experiment in haunted house design, “Alone”. The horror lives on!