Escape to (or from) Netherworld!
By Kim Hill
A new sign has recently been hung on the extensive, yet unassuming brick building at 2076 West Park Place Boulevard in Stone Mountain. Actually, it is an old sign which has travelled from Norcross, and advertises the haunting attraction known as Netherworld. The new location promises a larger haunt than its predecessor, as well as a variety of additional entertaining spaces. Co-founder Billy Messina says the old sign was brought over for a sense of transition and nostalgia. Messina – who previously worked in the film industry on special effects and props – and his business partner and co-founder, Ben Armstrong – a former TV horror show host – conceived the idea for Netherworld in 1996 and opened for the 1997 fall season.
“Our first year was in Kennesaw,” Messina says, “then we moved to Norcross where we kept expanding and expanding through the years until we couldn’t expand anymore. It was a time for change. We have so much more space to do different things here.” For starters, there is an interior queue line to keep people out of the elements. The area is a museum-like setting with controlled lighting and sound. Patrons experience eerie tales as they move through a series of rooms prior to entering the first of two attractions, which comprise the enormous warehouse area of the building. Messina says the first attraction is more fantastical and monster-oriented, while the second is “grittier.” Visitors will exit onto a midway where there will be food trucks, performing actors, photo ops, fun carnival-type games, and access to a gift shop. Much of the area is still a work in progress, but he says, "We’ll get it done by September – really we will!”
The Netherworld brand is strong and is known nationwide, and it has been featured on The Today Show and The Daily Show. “We want to let people know that Netherworld is not just, ‘Boo!’” Messina says. “We offer quality entertainment.”
The larger building will allow Netherworld to entertain beyond the Halloween season, with a big focus on escape games, something the owners have wanted to offer for years. Messina describes their games, which are open now, as “Netherworld versions of what we thought an escape game could be,” but he stresses that while the games’ themes are complementary to the Netherworld brand – Sasquatch, Haunted, Nosferatu – the escape rooms themselves are not scary, just maybe a little “spooky.”
Messina says the games make a great birthday party event and are really popular with corporate America as team building exercises. A meeting room is available for groups who wish to discuss the experience afterward. Part of the challenge is to complete the task in sixty minutes, and each game has a different “survival rate.” “You have to work together,” stresses Messina. “You can’t win this game doing it yourself.” The goal of the game rooms is to offer an intimate experience with friends or co-workers, as cameras placed throughout allow Game Masters to observe patron progress behind the scenes and offer clues if needed. One room features a talking crow! Escape games are open Friday – Sunday year round and can be booked on the website, but Messina says private games may be booked almost any time as well. Two new games are scheduled to open in January 2019.
In addition to the escape game meeting room, an adjoining Monster Museum (which will be open as a separate attraction during Halloween season) and a nicely appointed VIP room with a private bathroom, will also be available to rent to those wanting a bit more space for their post-Escape Game experience. An added bonus for those fortunate enough to gain access to the VIP room during haunt season (perhaps some of the many celebrities who have visited Netherworld over the years) will be the ability to scare people in the haunts with the push of a big red button via video monitors attached to certain scare elements in the haunted houses!
About 400 employees keep Netherworld running. The shows are rebuilt every year. “We never want people to say, ‘Oh, I went to Netherworld last year. I’m not going this year,’” Messina says. “We change it up thematically; we change the sets, we change the path, we change the name.” He adds, “This year is particularly challenging because we had twenty years at the other location and one year to try to replicate that, but we have extra staff working all year long.”
Netherworld has partnered with Vet Tix, an organization that makes event tickets available to active military, veterans, and families of those killed in action. “It’s a nice way to give back,” says Messina, “so we give thousands of tickets to Vet Tix.” Messina points out that Netherworld parking is always free, and a new onsite lot will provide sufficient space the majority of the time. On heavy nights, SpaceMax Storage, located across the street, will allow free parking in their lot as well. “We want people to have a good time and just walk away feeling good. People come for different reasons – some never get scared but just like to see their friends get scared, some people like to get scared, and some just come for the t-shirt.”