Amber Arnett-Bequeaith of Leawood is co-owner of Full Moon Productions, KCBeast.com, which owns four haunted houses in Kansas City’s West Bottoms, including the Edge of Hell. It is the oldest commercial haunted attraction in the country and is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. This conversation took place inside the Edge of Hell.
Can you give us a quick primer on the history of commercial haunted houses?
It all started here. The Edge of Hell started the whole industry, and in 1991 the Beast turned it on its ear by creating the open format and not being able to find your way out. All the people building haunted attractions around the country have visited Kansas City. The Beast is still the largest haunted house in the country.
In the 1980s, when the Edge of Hell was at Seventh and Wyandotte, there were 14 haunted houses downtown. Kansas City was considered the haunted house capital of the world. Later, the Edge of Hell became the angel for the West Bottoms when we moved there in 1988. Everyone said, “You’ll never make it down there.”
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But we absolutely fell in love with the buildings and the architectural details. You could not have purchased materials to create those kinds of sets for any amount of money. A lot of haunted houses across the country are one-story, in old strip malls. But if you are a kid and you think of a haunted house, in your mind it’s never one-story. It’s big, with multiple stories and rich historical details and fixtures.
How did your family get into this business?
My great-grandfather was a pastor, and we had an outdoor theater at Lake of the Ozarks called Summers Moonglo Theatre. We were 3 miles down a gravel road on my grandmother’s property.
They got into debt because in the early 1970s there weren’t a lot of people year-round at Lake of the Ozarks. So they decided to come to Kansas City and get into the dark side of things for Halloween to extend the season as well as to utilize things they had already created.
My mother hand-sewed costumes all year long. As a little girl I remember lying by the sewing machine for hours. We all worked a part in the business. We were just a very creative family. I am an expert on fears and phobias.
How does one become an expert on fears and phobias?
You do a lot of reading and a lot of research, and you can get certifications.
Do you have a degree in fears and phobias?
No. My bachelor’s is in broadcast, film and theater, and my master’s is in integrated corporate communications. But I was 5 when I started working in this industry, so I learned a lot naturally.
What did you do when you were 5?
I laid in a coffin. Scaring gets in your blood.
We have learned a lot about creating the path and using phobias to provoke the adrenaline rush. It’s about making people feel insecure in an environment. You crawl into fireplaces for a reason, and there are slanted floors so you have to hold onto a railing to move forward for a reason.
At the Edge of Hell we have Medusa. She is in the Guinness Book of World Records. She is the largest living reticulated python in captivity. She is mesmerizing. You can’t believe she is real, so you are entranced with her, and then something else happens. The five-story slide at the Edge of Hell and the four-story slide at the Beast are unique in the country. We have a patent on them.
What are your two newest haunted houses like?
The Chambers of Edgar Allan Poe kind of takes us full circle back to our first haunted attraction in 1974, which was the Chambers of Edgar Allan Poe on Independence Square for two weeks.
Macabre Cinema is for people who like horror movies. We created a 1930s haunted theater with original antique seats. The movie is playing as you walk down the aisle, and you pass through a slit in the screen. Then you become the victim inside the movie set. We have the real sets from “The Mummy/Scorpion King,” “Hellraiser” and “Killer Klowns From Outer Space.” We bought them from a lady in Salt Lake City that had got them from L.A. When her haunt went out of business, we bought them.
What is the most rewarding thing about your line of work?
Wherever I go, whoever I meet has a story about my family’s haunted houses. You told me you’ve never been to a haunted house because you are too scared. That is still a story!
When people say that or say they went once and will never go back because they were so scared, that means we’re doing our job. I have played every role in these houses, and I can’t tell you how many times I have watched people climb these stairs and then one minute later run back down them and out the front door because it’s too scary.
When you see that happen, do you ever think maybe you should dial it back down a little?
Oh no. No, huh-uh. Absolutely not. No.