THE NETHERWORLD Interviews – Sam Ronick

by on Mar.28, 2011, under NETHERWORLD Haunted House, The NETHERWORLD Interviews

Contrary to popular belief, haunted attractions and horror entertainment do not just (black)magically appear. It takes a small army of creative personalities and talented folks to pull off a successful production. Atlanta, Georgia is rich with such people – actors, designers, illustrators, costumers, makeup artists, prop makers, film fan groups, conventioneers and many, many more.

We invite you to enjoy our ongoing series of chats with the uniquely talented and enthusiastic people who make the Atlanta scare scene one of the most thriving and lively (in an undead sort of way) in the world! Please take a few moments to familiarize yourself with a variety of individuals from every walk of life who share one very distinct trait – each plays a pivotal part in delivering top-notch chills and thrills to an audience hungry for horror!

First up is Netherworld Haunted House’s Sam Ronick, who claims his age to be 32 human years (clearly he thrives on the blood of virgins, or is the long-lost son of the Stray Cats’ Slim Jim Phantom, because you’d never know it to look at him!) Sam would need a small entourage to keep up with the many hats he wears at Netherworld, and on any given evening you can catch a glimpse of him darting back and forth with superhuman speed wherever his many talents are needed…

What are your responsibilites at Netherworld Haunted House?

I guess it is best stated that I wear a lot of different hats at Netherworld – as do many of us. During the off-season I work on the physical construction of the haunt from Ben Armstrong’s concept to completion which entails fabricating rooms and décor in compliance with all of the aspects that have been designed. I also work with Jayne Rogers and Roy Wooley in the art department on everything from fabricating and repairing props and effects to painting and sculpting details on sets. Every detail of the construction phase of the haunt is inherently a joint effort and honestly it is by far the most awesome in terms of creative collaborations I have personally been involved in.

During the season I assist with opening the show which includes repairing any issues from the previous night and making sure that all systems are go for the current night. When time allows I jump into the makeup room to assist with makeup application. During the show I am a “sectional” or floor manager which consists of repairing technical difficulties when they arise and checking on actors and patrons while walking the haunt until the show shuts down for the night. Fortunately I get to experience the entire show and how different groups react to different sections of the haunt as well there is a lot of entertaining interaction between myself and the patrons. Unfortunately there are times that I miss working a room and focusing on being a shock actor for the night although there are of course moments where things are running smoothly and I have a moment to work a room and scare a few groups as they pass through.

What do you do other than Netherworld Haunted House?

I am fortunate enough to say that Netherworld Haunted House keeps me primarily occupied for not only the haunt season – but the entire year as well. I also work for special effects artist Bill Johnson and his company Lone Wolf Effects. Beyond working on films, Bill does a lot of work for Netherworld in terms of the characters created each season, so a lot of the outside work I do still delves into the collective realm of Netherworld. There is also odd jobs that come up here and there when time allows as well which is usually due to the affiliation with Netherworld. I recently was the lead actor in a film that will be released in June of 2011 entitled Nerd of The Living Dead.

Do you have a favorite Netherworld moment or memory?

Ask any haunt actor this question and you will receive a minimum of at least five favorite moments which can range from shocking a patron to the extent that they soil themselves to the quite charming marriage proposals and occasional gropes one may receive while in costume. Most likely because it is fresh in my mind from last season and a favorite amongst peers – I would have to say my favorite memory was a certain encounter with a rather inebriated yet charming patron. I was repairing an animation that consisted of a large stuffed cockroach when I heard a loud and somewhat obnoxious yelling coming right around the corner from me. I placed the giant cockroach under my arm after pulling it from the animation and went to investigate the source of the noise. Just as I turned the corner the patron responsible for this disturbance stumbled directly into me. He was startled but fairly calm and first looked at me then his eyes wandered down to the stuffed cockroach under my arm. The patron’s eyes widened and he suddenly flung his arms up and screamed “SHARK!!!!”. Confused, I looked down at the cockroach and then back at the patron who had walked towards the entrance of the next area. The patron stopped and motioned for me to come with him while grinning widely as he said: “Come on Lobster Boy…we’ll get through this together”. Go with him I did and let’s just say It was the most fun I ever had walking through the house.

Beyond that single moment – I would have to say that whenever I am asked about working at Netherworld usually the assumption is that I must love “scaring the hell out of people” which is actually a total misconception. There is an endless amount of effort that goes into every detail in every area of the haunt that literally takes a year to come to fruition and even then it may not be entirely what was envisioned. When a customer comes through the haunt you want them to definitely react to what is around them – rather the reaction consists of a scream, or a jump, or grabbing the person next to them or even falling down. What is important is that they smile or laugh after they react and that they are enjoying what they are experiencing. The last thing you want from a patron is for them to be terrified and to have a horrible experience or walk through with their hand over their eyes. When you work on something as hard as we do it is imperative that people enjoy the world that we create for them and feel that they received their money’s worth out of the experience. You want people to want to go through again and again and again and come back season after season.

Can you share any outstanding Halloween memories?

One of the earliest memories I have of any Halloween is from when I was about 5 or 6 years old. My parents stuck me in front of the TV set which was most likely an attempt to distract me from chasing the dog and also in the hopes that I would not draw on the TV screen with chap-stick and blame it on the dog. During the Halloween season the stations usually play marathons of horror movies and I just so happened to fall into the beginning of Halloween which would be followed by Halloween 2 (yes the originals…otherwise I would be about 4 years old as I write this). For the entirety of these films I did not move and was absolutely mesmerized by what I was seeing before me. I assume that is why Michael Myers and the Halloween films always hold a special place in my heart. If only my parents could have put that in some sort of pill form – it would have done wonders for my ADHD.

That was simply the beginning of my fascination with horror films, the holiday of Halloween and an overall interest in the macabre. Our house was always the most elaborate in terms of decoration when the month of October hit. I would carve tombstones and skeletons from foam, make corpses from old clothes and wire hangers and also destroy the garage and any car in the surrounding area with the overspray from my painting all of these props. When Halloween would occur there would usually be a party at my house and the day and night was spent with horror movie marathons running while greeting all of the people that would come to the door. I would always get the most satisfaction out of hearing kids and parents alike say that they had been waiting all month to come to the house and that I had the best house in the neighborhood. A lot of that same sensibility has of course adhered to the way I approach things with Netherworld and what we do.

Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi?

Bela Lugosi without hesitation. Classic monster movies are the cream of the crop in terms of my viewing pleasure in the horror genre and Bela Lugosi is by far a personal favorite. To me there was a certain sexiness to the early vampire films and an overall romanticism to the story of Dracula which I think Bela Lugosi did a brilliant job of portraying. While I would much prefer to view Kate Beckinsale in her black leather gear from Underworld – Bela Lugosi and his films always hold a special place with me.

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