by: Nelson Hicks Updated:NORCROSS, Ga.,None —
Fifteen years ago, Ben Armstrong and Billy Messina had an idea. The pair decided to open their own haunted house.
"Billy was working at another haunted house and, at the time, I was working for one called Silo X," Armstrong told Nelson's News on wsbtv.com. "I recruited him to help Silo X because we were expanding to other markets, and one year, Silo X didn't open. We said, 'Hey, let's do our own,' and the rest is what happened."
What happened is, 15 years later, the pair owns what many industry experts rank as one of the top haunted attractions in America, Netherworld.
PHOTOS: Behind the scenes at Netherworld (WARNING: SOME IMAGES MAY BE CONSIDERED GRAPHIC)
"Year one, it was so much easier," Messina noted. "We did everything. It was basically five or six of us, and we did, literally, every single thing, and we worked on it for probably over a year to open up this little tiny 4,000 square-foot place that on one night, we had eight people come through the door."
A lot has changed in those 15 years. Today, Armstrong and Messina's creation boasts two haunts, The Nightmares and Raw Meat, includes more than 100 live actors seven nights a week, employs casting, makeup and operations staffs and causes panic and terror for thousands of guests on a nightly basis.
"Netherworld is a nonstop assault on the senses," Armstrong said. "You will see people flying, crawling, about 120 actors, probably 200-300 special effects, walk-through spinning tunnels 40 feet long. Anything you are afraid of that you can imagine, it's Netherworld."
And now that the 2011 edition of Netheworld is up and running, the pair is already working on the 2012 haunt. Each year, Armstrong and Messina develop a new theme, a new monster and a new layout. They'll travel to trade shows in November and December before construction on the new haunt begins in February.
As for the 2011 edition of Netherworkd, it's open every night through Halloween. It's also open Nov. 4-5. Messina noted that the lines are shorter earlier in the week.