Julie Henning thought she’d be touring historic homes that were haunted when friends persuaded her to join them on a late-night, pre-Halloween excursion this month while attending a business conference in Kansas City, Missouri.
Instead, she and her colleagues battled “The Beast,” one of America’s largest haunted house attractions. Located in a creaky. five-story warehouse in the city’s historic West Bottoms — a former stockyard district where livestock awaited slaughter — it’s been in the business of scaring daring visitors for 22 years. With an “open floor” format that makes participants find their own way rather than follow a prescribed path, the terror relies on theatrics and sound effects more than blood and gore.
“It was my first haunted house ever and it was awful … in a good way,” says Henning, a mother of three and technical writer in Madison, Wis., as she describes how her fingernails gouged the arm of a colleague to whom she clung throughout the harrowing experience. “I’m glad I survived.”
For about 90 minutes, twice the time advertised, Henning and her friends screamed and clawed their way through the pitch-black, sometimes fog-filled chambers of The Beast. Horrors include a quarter-acre “Werewolf Forest,” a slick four-story slide, and a Louisiana swamp with faux snakes falling from the ceiling and a real alligator in a pit.
“Half the time I sort of had my eyes closed,” recalls Henning. “The scariest thing was being lost in the strobe-light room. We got very disoriented and the girl next to us started having a panic attack. …
“The actors would taunt you if you were going the wrong way, they wouldn’t help you at all.”
She remembers sliding down two slides and climbing along a narrow, elevated ledge, with costumed actors, including one with a real (though motor-less) chainsaw, reaching up to grab her legs. At some point during the night, the Grim Reaper joined her group, walking along without uttering a word. “The worst part was having no concept of when it was going to be done,” Henning says. “There was a lot of psychological stuff going on.”
When The Beast finally spit them out, shaking and dazed, they ended up at a concession stand. Just the kind of reality-check they needed.
Full disclosure: I was too scared to join Henning and her companions on their pre-Halloween adventure in Kansas City; just hearing about it gives me the creeps. But for those braver than I, there’s still time to experience The Beast most nights through Nov. 9. Tickets start at $27 plus tax; children under age 12 are discouraged. For schedule and details, check www.kcbeast.com.
Find Kansas City travel information at www.VisitKC.com; (800) 767-7700.