The Edge of Hell, The Beast, Macabre Cinema, Chambers of Poe, and Inteview

In Kansas City, one organization runs four separate Halloween attractions, a total of more than 2 hours of wandering through spooky hallways! They are The Edge of Hell, The Beast, Macabre Cinema, and Chambers of Poe. Here is a review of each, and I don’t know that I’ve ever reviewed a Halloween attraction with such surprising highs and lows. After the 4 reviews, keep reading for my interview with Amber Arnett-Bequeaith, the owner of Full Moon Productions.

The Edge of Hell: 4 stars

The Edge of Hell is the best of the 4 attractions and the one that I visited first.

The best part of The Edge are the animatronics. I’ve learned that the designers of Halloween houses come in two flavors: those who love gadgets and those who love theatrics. The Edge of Hell definitely falls into the gadgets half, with at least three rooms dominated by giant moving robots. Moving monsters surprise you all over the attraction, and the effect is quite impressive. In one room, the floor shook beneath me. In the final room, you zip down a 5-story corkscrew slide to the bottom! You are given a sheet of wax paper to sit on, and as you slide down they have spooky decorations on the inside. I’ve never seen a Halloween attraction with a better ending, although I’ve been to amusement parks with non-scary theme park rides and Jiminy Peak with its Halloween treat being an non-spooky ski lift ride up and down.

I was pleased to find good separation between groups. At the best haunted houses, they hold back each group a minute so that you don’t bunch up. When you bunch up, the people at the front get scared by the actors, but the rest of us can see it coming. Even though I was going quite slowly, the people behind me never caught up.

Overall the attraction was low on theatrics and did not have much of a theme, although I suppose you could vaguely group all the random encounters into the “Hell” theme. Few of the actors had anything to say except to roar and then step back. The costuming was unimpressive, lighting uninspired, and the decorations minimal. From the outside, the building is undecorated and doesn’t look like much, but on the inside, it’s a combination. The attraction is quite long, 33 minutes, but many of the areas that you walk through are “filler” areas with just plywood or camouflage netting.

That being said, they had Heaven and Hell rooms that are totally unique in my experience. In the Heaven room, you meet angels who greet you and one is even playing a harp. You think that you’re saved only to learn that you have to pass through Heaven to get to Hell. They missed the opportunity to have a river Styx, pearly gate judgment, and a 9 circles of Hell, though. I also passed through two “star rooms” where the walls have holes in them so that you see pinpricks of light all around you. Those were lovely. I loved the actor on wires who came out and flew above me to scare me!

A bit of lame theatrics combined with incredible animatronics could easily make a 5-star attraction! Unfortunately, the Edge of Hell also comes with two significant problems. The first is that the animatronics will hit you. I was hit in the face twice by monsters popping out, and had a few close calls as well. If you want to bump me a little, that’s fine, but don’t hit me in the face, please.

Even worse, the attraction is filled with tripping hazards. There are long sections of total darkness, and in those areas you can find things to stumble over, and even ramps up and down. I almost tripped and fell three times, and that was even though I was fully aware of the problem. I’m sure many teenagers not thinking of it fall all the time.

One of the staff told me (although to be fair she was surely not speaking officially on behalf of management) that the uneven floors were deliberate, in an attempt to distract you, so that you’ll be more easily frightened, but there are two problems with this view. First, the tripping hazards in total darkness couldn’t possibly distract you, because there’s no light to see. Secondarily, in a Halloween attraction, visitors want the fantasy of being afraid. We don’t want to actually be afraid that we might fall and hurt ourselves.

At the front of the attraction there is some legal jargon on the wall, a waiver, and visitors are asked to scan their fingerprint to waive their rights to sue if they get injured. I was surprised that the question came out like this, “put your finger here”. Shouldn’t they be saying, “If you agree with the waiver, place your finger here” for it to have any legal effect? Although I could guess why, I asked about the reason to see what the staffer would say, and she looked annoyed and just told me to do it. I had to ask three times for her to tell me that putting my finger on the scanner signified accepting their waiver. (At the other three attractions managed by the same company, I only had to ask once to get an answer, but it was still posed as “put your finger here”.)

With fantastic gadgets, but only a few theatrics, and terrible safety problems, I’m torn in both directions about how many stars to give The Edge of Hell. I feel that 4 stars is the most generous rating I could give.

The Beast: 2.5 stars

The Beast and the Edge of Hell are similar attractions managed by the same company, Full Moon productions. In my interview with its owner, she claimed that it was the nation’s largest Halloween attraction when it was built, which could be true. Of course, outdoor attractions such as scary corn field mazes are much larger, and I’ve visited indoor attractions that take you longer to go through, but anyway, it is very large and that’s good enough for me. The best things about the Beast were better than the Edge of Hell, but the worst things were worse.

Let’s start with the best. At the end of the attraction, you have the chance to jump 20 feet onto a giant inflatable cushion, just like stuntmen use in the movies. That is completely unique and wonderful! For those like me who are too fat, or those too afraid, they have a four-story slide to take you out, which is remarkable in itself.

The length was great, and they had some really big animatronics, including a room pulsing with light. One of the actors had a live snake, and there were rooms where behind glass you could see a boa constrictor (this may have been in the Edge of Hell, my notes aren’t clear) and an live alligator. Pretty great! I’m always impressed by giant demon and alligator robots. They also had an extensive room filled with fog, a treat.

Unfortunately, when they say it’s the largest, what they mean in part is that there will be long stretches with no actors and minimal or no decoration. There are areas where you can get really lost, either because they are not properly enclosed, or because there’s an area in complete blackness where it’s easy to get turned around. I did actually get turned around twice until a friendly actor pointed the way. I suppose getting lost in the dark has a certain Halloween scare to it, but I found them annoying because I was wary about tripping hazards in the blackness.

Speaking of tripping hazards, this time I did actually fall, scraping my arm. It’s remarkable that I was able to fall because I was so attuned to this problem in The Edge of Hell that I was being super cautious. Another area of total blackness was supposed to resemble a forest, and they brought in dead tree trunks and branches that you had to feel your way through. Unfortunately, dead wood does not bend and branches are stabby. I stabbed and drew a bit of blood from one of my palms, in feeling around. I almost whacked my head into a log set at head level.

I’m sorry to repeat what I said in The Edge of Hell, but there’s no excuse for an attraction having so many stumbling hazards. I don’t just mean that the floor had a bump or two. I’m talking about the floor suddenly becoming a ramp or a stairwell with inadequate lighting, and not just once, in several locations. The hazards were systemic and ubiquitous. My fall occurred close to the entrance area as I was descending stairs. It destroyed the experience for me, because I was too worried about my own safety to relax and be entertained. I’m not sure what the point is of long filler areas of blackness and plywood. It just causes visitors to slow down so much that they bunch up, making it hard for the actors and surprises to scare people. To use a technical term, it’s a “throughput” problem, a clog in a place that should be smooth to get through quickly.

In addition to the passive hazards, several times I got whacked or nearly whacked by fast-moving animatronics. Once I got punched in the stomach by an animatronic wolf head in a tight corridor where really there was no room for both me and the animatronic. This was either activated by a pressure pad, which indicates a system failure, or by hopefully a mistake of an actor with a trigger. Still, there were just too many hits and near misses for me to call them all accidents. I’m totally game for puffs of air being blown at me, mist sprays, “fun house” style floors moving, and being brushed by things, but no hard whacking, please. The ramps have bumps on them, presumably to give some extra traction for those walking up them… but most of the ramps went downwards… and please don’t put bumps on any floor surface with inadequate lighting.

Apart from the safety issues, there were not enough actors and the costumes were basic, uninspired. Few of the actors had much to say besides just “argh!”. The set design had no overarching theme and was also basic. Similar to the Edge of Hell, I felt that someone who loves gadgets designed the place. It seemed to be designed without the team having a theatre visionary for set design, lighting, costuming, and acting.

At this point in writing, I debated whether to call Full Moon Productions for a comment, wondering whether they would be empathetic, or just tell me to stop being a pussy and saying that because I signed the waiver I had no right to complain. Well… with their first attraction being created 40 years ago, and their overly legal waiver, surely they are aware of the hazards so I think I can assume what their response would be: they just don’t care.

I suppose I would counter by saying two things. First, even for those willing to be roughed up without complaint, getting injured detracts from the fun of an attraction. So even in a world without safety regulations, fixing these things would improve your attraction and reduce your liability. Second, even those who sign a waiver do so expecting a basic level of care. You know what I mean, signing a waiver hardly gives them permission to punch me in the face; we still expect professional standards.

Full Moon Productions brags on their website about the national acclaim they have brought. I think it’s reasonable to ask a company with such high aspirations to fix these concerns. It could all be fixed by adding a few LEDs for better lighting, easy and inexpensive work. Or they could keep the lights off and work on their flooring transitions.

The most generous rating I can give an attraction that made me bleed and fall in two separate incidents is 2.5 stars, but I give it that because of the impressive gadgets, unique exit thrill, and long length. In my opinion, The Beast should be closed and a city inspector brought in, one who is not incompetent.

Macabre Cinema: 3 stars

Having fallen and cut myself the previous day at The Beast, an attraction managed by the same company, I arrived at the Macabre Cinema hoping to enjoy myself more. Although it does have a small movie theatre in it, it’s basically a standard Halloween house that you walk through.

Of the 4 attractions managed by Full Moon Productions, the Macabre Cinema was the most theatrical and some of the actors had actual roles to play. For example, one asked “Who are you? The doctor doesn’t like strangers here!” as he was scaring me and chasing me out of the room. They also had a really interesting clown room with mirrors and a spinning center that you walk onto. It’s like stepping onto a small merry-go-round from children’s playground, while being taunted and screamed at by naughty clowns. They also had an extensive Ancient Egypt area with sand and mummies. Kudos to the female actor in the bar area who perched precariously on stairwell railings so that to ascend we had to walk underneath her, as she growled at us.

Although I was pleased by the theatrics, I have to say that so much more could have been done. Starting from the theme of “we’re at the movies”, they were basically handed easy ideas for set design and a built-in love. Basically, if you love Frankenstein the movie, you would love a Frankenstein themed Halloween room without much effort on their part. Unfortunately, none of the rooms had a clear connection to any one movie, so did not bring in that ready-made joy.

Although the theatrics were better here, they only rose to B-level and there were far fewer animatronics, although they did have a whirling vortex room. That’s a room where you walk across a bridge surrounding by a spinning cylinder of cloth that makes you feel like you are the one spinning. Mostly there were lots of filler rooms with just plywood walls. I also found (even more than The Beast) long dark areas where you have to grope along to get out. That’s fun occasionally but not for long periods. Can you think of any horror film with 100% darkness for 3 minutes? It gets a bit old. Also, having to grope along slows people down and makes the groups bunch up. Think of the people going through an attraction like blood coursing through human veins. Any time there’s a hiccup, or a “blood clot”, a large group builds up. It’s hard for actors to startle a large group: the people in front are scared, but the rest of us see it coming.

There were also many areas where it was confusing exactly which direction I should be walking in, again leading to bunching up of groups. Some of these were accidental and could have been solved with lighting cues, an arrow on the wall, or pushing the props and furniture closer together to block the wrong ways more clearly. Some of the confusing areas were clearly intentional, with the actors giving false directions to me when I asked. For example, one area you could only leave when the actor opened a hidden door. In another, you had to climb through a window to get out (this might have been in the Chambers of Poe). I get it that feeling trapped can be scary, but it just didn’t work for me, and a big group did eventually form. The actors should be trained to know the different between guests having fun (sure, give them wrong directions for fun) or people who just seem a bit frustrated or overly freaked out (give them correct directions to exit).

The best thing about the attraction is a giant “Bat pole”, a four-story harnessed fall, which I was too fat to do, so I just exited via stairs.

Sadly, there were also problems at this attraction. You guessed it: more tripping hazards. Once being lost in a room, I smacked myself in the belly quite hard by walking into a half-height wooden bar that I couldn’t see. In the very front, just before entering the ‘theatre’ room, an actor jumped out to scare me just as I was transitioning from a flat area to a sloping walkway down into the theatre. That was a tricky area where I could easily have stumbled, and a terrible time to have startled me, when the actor could so easily have chosen another moment. One doorway had a prominent threshold bump at floor level, a place very difficult to see. Several areas on the floor were surprise drops or transitions to sloping upwards or downwards.

It’s hard to give a low rating to an attraction with a 4-story bat pole and a sort-of movie theme, but the Macabre Cinema I can only give three stars to because of the safety hazards, confusing pathways, and (with a few exceptions) lackluster theatrics and gadgets.

Chambers of Poe: 3 stars

The Chambers of Poe had great promise but the same issues as the other three attractions run by Full Moon Productions. The experience was of course inspired by the horror stories of Edgar Allan Poe, and in fact you get to meet Poe in the first room, where he rants madly as you walk through what seems to be an upscale rich private library. This lifted my spirits and caused me to hope that I would get to see many of his stories acted out, and I did, but not to an A-level.

My favorite was an orangutan, the ape from The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and in that area the floor also shifted in a fun house manner that I loved. However, they had no attempt to explain the story, by writing it on the wall or having actors play it out. Sure, having a guy in a gorilla suit was fun, but what if we could have been led through three rooms, the first posing the mystery, the second giving a clue, and the third the climax where the detective fights the ape! So basically, an opportunity was wasted in a situation where they could have adapted a ready-made storyline (far easier than inventing a haunted house room from scratch). Other characterizations from Poe were low budget. For example, for The Pit and the Pendulum, they had a diorama you look down upon with a mannequin with a pendulum axe over it (not swinging, but an actor told me that normally it swings). Pretty good, but they missed an opportunity for real theatre, for the visitors to see the pendulum over their own heads, to put them into the story. If there was a pit, I missed it. In the story, the walls actually move inwards — none of that in the Chambers of Poe.

The room inspired by Poe’s story, “The Tell-Tale Heart” had a ranting madman actor next to floorboards with a one-eyed mannequin underneath. That was pretty good, but surely another lost opportunity to build it up higher. We might have witnessed the old man being killed, or witnessed the ranting narrator talking with the police and pulling up the floorboards, which would be of course replaced and the room reset before the next group arrived.

So… pretty good, but B-level. Most of the actors had little to do but shout at us. I did enjoy the vortex room though, again a metal walkway in the center of a spinning cloth cylinder, which disorients you as you walk through it. I also enjoyed the unique gadget, a slowly turning cylinder about 6 feet in diameter, which you had to crawl through. As you crawl, it slowly spins underneath you, throwing you off balance. Pretty good, although when I exited I found that from all the crawling (and stooping, kneeling under deliberately low doorways) that I had a limp and didn’t really want to walk to the bus station.

The Chambers of Poe ends with a zip line ride that takes you out of the building and into the parking lot. The zip line is quite short, perhaps 200 feet, and I was above the weight limit, but I’ve done zip lines before and they are thrilling. The wait in line was too long though. They should have extra harnesses, or even a sibling zip line, so that people can get harnessed up in advance and moved through quickly.

I am sorry to say that I found more stumbling hazards in the Chambers of Poe, yet again, and possibly the worst of the 4 attractions. We had to climb and descend stairs in total darkness. There were also long areas (made even longer by the bunched up groups) where you had to stoop over to proceed through a half-height space. I “get it” intellectually that being put into a claustrophobic area is scary, but nobody tall wants to be hunched over for 5 minutes like that. Worst of all, there was a tiny chain bridge with wooden planks whose guard railings were so low to the ground (less than two feet) that they could not be reached, and with a serious drop to either side, and with the footing uneven. People get bumped and jostled in Halloween attractions, and if someone is going to die in this attraction, this is the place where it will happen.

Despite its fantastic ending and a few good theatrics, I can only give the Chambers of Poe a 3-star rating, which is generous because I feel that it should also be closed until its safety is properly improved and inspected by the city. If somehow it already passed inspection, they need to bring in an inspector who is not incompetent.

Interview with Full Moon Productions

At the start of my journey, before I visited the four attractions and formed some concerns about safety, I had an opportunity to interview the third generation owner of the family business, Amber Arnett-Bequeaith. She was generous with her time and even gave me a ride to a nearby restaurant.

Events INSIDER: You claim a national presence on the website. Could you tell us about that?

AAB: The Edge of Hell is actually the oldest commercial haunted attraction in the United States. It created the entire industry. The Beast, which is the attraction we are currently sitting in, that’s the largest.

Events INSIDER: Largest by volume?

AAB: When it was built, it was the largest by square foot, but now I would just say volume, yes. There is an attraction called Cutting Edge in Fort Worth, TX, that holds the Guinness World Record as the largest indoor site.

Events INSIDER: Your locations are permanent installations. What is your typical year like?

AAB: For us, we start auditions in July, with another three weeks in August, and then we begin the training process, which will vary depending on the type of scare an actor will provide. You can usually tell during auditions if an actor will be more theatrical or high impact. Then there are all the other positions: ticketing, parking, and concessions to name a few. We have a lot of extreme rides here at Full Moon Productions as well, so there is safety training in those areas…

Events INSIDER: For people who haven’t visited recently, what’s new that you are most proud of in the four attractions?

AAB: I think this year one of the biggest things is our new extreme attractions. We’re combining the effects of fears and phobias, my personal specialty, while utilizing a visitor’s own adrenaline rush. For example, The Extreme Beast is a new attraction that includes a leap out of a second story window, free fall to the ground, with no harness or other equipment.

Events INSIDER: Is there a big cushion?

AAB: There’s a little cushion! We also have a new zip line coming off of our Edgar Allan Poe attraction, and a harnessed four-story free fall called the Bat Pole at the Macabre Cinema. We also have our classics like the five story spiral slide at the Edge of Hell, and the four story straight chute at The Beast.

Events INSIDER: You’re a family business. Do you feel part of the community?

AAB: With a business that has been open forty years, we’re starting to see grandparents [who came as kids] bringing their grandchildren, so it is very much a [community] tradition to celebrate Halloween here and we’re very proud of that… One year, I gave a nice young girl who worked at a daycare my children attended some tickets, and she used her tickets to take her now husband on their first date!

AAB: Another thing is the absence of alcohol at our attractions, which is a forty year tradition we’re proud of. It just doesn’t mix. Getting through here is a very physical process, and everyone scares differently. We’re here to celebrate Halloween and what it’s all about, and to create that excitement.

Events INSIDER: Thanks so much for your time.

You can find the four attractions of Full Moon Productions at The Edge of Hell, The Beast, Macabre Cinema, and Chambers of Poe.