Working at Atlanta Haunted House: Netherworld

Ghoulish, disfigured creatures slide their bodies along the gravel in front of their unsuspecting victims. Sparks fly from the beings’ hands as its audience runs and screams in terror.

This is just one example of an encounter with a live actor at Netherworld, a haunted house experience in Stone Mountain, Georgia, fit with realistic characters and special effects straight out of a nightmare. But for student Kelsey Rheney who works at Netherworld, it is “everything [she] dreamt of as a kid and way more.” 

Upon entering Netherworld for the first time seven years ago, Rheney was so mesmerized by the creation of the world around her that she was inspired to pursue a degree in the realm of artistic design, settling on becoming a film major at Georgia State. 

Now working at the very entity that sparked her passion for filmmaking, Rheney gets hands-on set design and acting experience as part of the “Nether-spawn,” which is how Netherworld refers to its staff.

Rheney was not only drawn to the job for the creativity involved but also her extreme love for all things creepy.

“It’s like when someone who’s a big Disney fan rolls into Disney World and they’re thinking I’m home, this is a dream,” Rheney said. “This is a dream. I don’t get this anywhere but here.”

Rheney also works at the retail store Spirit Halloween. She “live[s] and breathe[s]” the holiday so much so that she is currently in the process of building a faux catacomb in her home. 

When first interviewing for her position at Netherworld, Rheney was sent through several rooms of people informing her of the physical intensity of the job. 

“Sometimes, people quit the first day,” Rheney said. “They take off their costumes in the middle of the haunt[ed house] and say, ‘I can’t do this.’ To have the willingness to want to put yourself in all of this, you’ve got to really love what you’re doing.”

The costumes worn by Nether-spawn can be heavy, hot and even hairy. Some masks worn by actors sit so close to their water lines that at times their vision could be compromised.

Actors do not know what character they will portray before getting to their shift. So, to prepare for anything, they must wear all solid black from head to toe.

“It’s every goth’s dream,” Rheney said.

Masks and costumes of pre-existing characters are assigned to each Nether-spawn upon arrival to their shift with small cards also informing them when they will act and where they will be stationed throughout the night. 

“When I first went into [the room full of masks], I thought I was entering a Goosebumps episode,” Rheney said.

Although the costumes are re-used, actors ultimately have the agency to portray the characters how they choose.  

“That’s the great thing about being in costume,” Rheney said. “You could be an oddball or if you’re shy maybe going into a costume is what brings you out.”

Rheney’s favorite costume she has been assigned has consisted of an oversized, thoroughly detailed lizard mask, her eyes visible to her “victims” to bring the entity to life, and a lab coat.

“[It’s like] you’re in a sci-fi movie [when] playing something completely different than being human,” Rheney said. “People don’t expect it.” 

Although wearing masks can be physically demanding, including having to drink water through a tiny bendy straw throughout the night, Rheney prefers the hidden nature of wearing a mask to just face makeup.

“I was completely new as a lizard,” Rheney said. “It completely changed me.” 

Initially thinking she would get fired for laughing on the job at peoples’ reactions, Rheney finds that it is easier to stay in character while behind a mask.  

Some people will repetitively say “no” while pointing at Rheney and swatting their hands at her.

“Like hitting me is going to change anything,” Rheney said through a laugh.

One person looked at Rheney while she portrayed the lizard and said, ”you’re ugly as f—,” to which Rheney thought in her head, “That’s the point, dude. What do you expect?”

As a sociology minor, Rheney is fascinated watching people’s coping mechanisms as well as how they perceive fear.

“Halloween is one big adrenaline rush,” Rheney said. “People come for the thrill.” 

Attaining an adrenaline rush from scaring attendees, Rheney also gets pleasure from the “down-to-earth” people and environment of Netherworld. 

“I found my niche. I found my people,” Rheney said. “To know that I can sit here and spew out how much I love slasher films and not be looked at like I’m some kind of psychopath that needs to be locked away, it’s like going to Dragon Con.”

Rheney’s passion for Halloween was sparked at 8 years old upon taking a liking to the Chucky doll her father won from a game. In high school, she would get looks for wearing dark clothing and felt outcasted being so different from the rest of her family. 

“At this point, my family is used to me being a complete weirdo,” Rheney said reflecting on a time of showing them the props she had recently bought from Spirit Halloween. 

In fact, now when Rheney wants to scare her brother, the rest of her family including her 87-year-old grandmother are on board with the mayhem. Looking him dead in the eyes, she once stabbed herself repeatedly with a retractable knife.

“He was completely weirded out,” Rheney said.

Before the sun goes down, Rheney, on top of taking classes, works in childcare. She enjoys the balance of friendliness with kids throughout the day and the ability to completely flip her energy toward both children and adults alike at night. She explained that the release of energy can be cathartic. 

“It’s so great to embrace the creepy and embrace the wild side in my own way,” Rheney said. “This is just what I needed. I’m able to engage with something I love and be passionate about it.”