For most of the year, sometime actor Brad Rudy works as a transportation analyst for Norfolk Southern, and contributes to the local play-review website Atlanta's Theater Review. For the past seven autumns, however, he has undergone a shocking transformation, becoming one of the "Netherspawn," the ghoulishly made-up denizens of the award-winning Netherworld Haunted House in Norcross. He talks some of the things that scare visitors and monsters alike.
What are you doing at Netherworld this year? Since I like to talk, normally I get placed in a greeter or door position, where I get to set up the plot, such as it is. This year, I've created a character named "Mr. Earwicker" for the "Primal Fear" Haunted House. He's the schoolteacher you always feared, drained of blood and living on mimeograph fluid. If you're younger than 40, I may have to explain that to you.
What other monster characters have you played? In previous years, I've done "Mayor Peatey," a scarecrow demon in "Dark Harvest," who later morphed into "Peatey the Clown" (pictured) for last year's "Dr. Biles' Freak Pit." I've also been "Bones" Bostwick, a Confederate Civil War ghost. I can't describe how hot it gets wearing a full-length wool coat in September. I've also been an unnamed doorman and Dr. Phoenix, a quack who liked fire and had burn marks on this face. For my second year, the haunted house was a mental hospital in which fears came to life. I have a fear of spiders, so I made a big spider-monster costume. It wasn't very good as therapy, though: I just imagined my costume coming to life.
What are your choices for jobs as a Netherworld character? Hams like me like to go out and mingle with the crowd. There's about 10 of us, and half the fun is the improvised interaction. I'll say to a girl on a date, "What's your fear? It's HIS lack of commitment." But a lot like nothing better than to hide in a hole, then jump out and make big teenaged men cry. There are a lot of "boo holes" in the haunted houses where characters can hide. The path serpentines around so much that sometimes the same character can scare you three times without leaving his hole.
How long does it take to put the makeup on, and what was the most complicated makeup job? When I did the ghost of the Confederate soldier, I had an exit wound on my forehead, so they had to attach a latex prosthetic and wax my hair down. Once that's done, they can knock out the rest with airbrush makeup in less than a minute. Counting the time it takes everything to dry, it takes about a half-hour, maybe 45 minutes. It actually takes longer to dry than it takes to put on. We have three regular makeup artists, and four or five who rotate in, so there's usually five on staff each night. This year the cast has 60-65 parts.
What are the challenges? The big risk is heat exhaustion, especially in September. If you're in full latex and hat, you'll be pouring water out of your shoes by the end of the night. Inside, there's no climate control. But we can use that, and say to the people, "You were expecting cool breezes in a place like this?"
How important is the back story about the haunted houses and insane asylums? A lot of it is for us, so we know what we're doing. It's mostly for ambience. If the audience doesn't hear the back story, the scares are still just as good.
What are the audiences like, and how do you encourage good behavior? We get the whole spectrum. This year they're selling energy drinks outside, so we're getting a lot of meanness. The security guys are extra busy. They're good at getting rid of the drunken, rowdy trouble-makers before they even get inside. This year the civilians are giving out the house rules, not the characters, so that comes across as more serious, and not as part of the show. We have a lot of cameras, some hidden, some not, so the audience should know they're being watched. I had to kick someone out the other night who was smoking a cigarette. We're a little paranoid about fire. Everything's fireproof, but all those chain saws use gasoline, so why push the envelope?
How has Netherworld changed over the past seven years? It gets bigger. It's gotten physically bigger, and as technology gets better, they get bigger and better toys every year. The crowds definitely get bigger each year. When the line wraps all the way out to the highway on the opening night in September, we wonder, what's it going to be like at the end of October?