Nestled in the West Bottoms area of downtown Kansas City, Missouri are four haunted attractions that are perfect destinations for Halloween enthusiasts and thrill-seekers alike to celebrate the greatest holiday of the year. The West Bottoms is an old industrial area of the city where four warehouses have been converted into four different, massive haunted houses, each with their own themes: The Edge of Hell, The Beast, Macabre Cinema, and The Chambers of Poe. In 2013, The Travel Channel listed all of the houses among the top ten best in their special “America’s Scariest Attractions,” and they even got an endorsement from the queen of Halloween herself, Elvira Mistress of the Dark.
Each house is several stories tall, and because of their size, they are kept intact all year round by Full Moon Productions, the owner and operator. They take care of the upkeep and make changes to the format and design so that the attractions are just different enough from previous years to keep things interesting. Also because of their size, the houses are well worth the time and money to visit them because it can take 30 minutes to almost an hour to go through each one, which truly makes it an experience for guests. The houses are also known for having live animals as a part of their attractions which also live there year-round: The Beast features a live alligator in the swampy area of the haunt, and The Edge of Hell boasts the world’s largest living snake in captivity–a 25-foot reticulated python named Medusa. This along with all the other unique thrills that lie in wait inside make the Kansas City haunted houses must-see destinations for those looking for a good scare on Halloween.This year, I had the chance to tour two of the houses and first up was The Beast. It opened in 1991, and is credited as the first haunted house to feature an open-format concept. The Beast is more well-lit inside, and therefore the experience is more visual for the guest. It contains some elaborate set pieces that are just awesome to look at, my favorite being an area that resembled 18th-century London. There is also the aforementioned swamp area, and a werewolf forest. Because of the open-format design, guests often have to look around for a bit to find their own way out of some areas, which just makes it all the more fun. The actors are also an added bonus, who stay completely in character and seem to really enjoy taunting and teasing you as you go through their area.
You will also find yourself having to crawl through small tunnels and walk on slanted floors, as if you weren’t already disoriented enough. Adding to this, you are also constantly changing levels as you go through the house, by going down slanted hallways or walking up stairs. The most fun way to get to a different floor, though, is the tube slides, of which The Beast has two. Halfway through the house, you hit the two-story slide, and then near the end is an even longer one. You are even given a sheet of wax paper to sit on so that you can slide down faster.
The Beast had a new “extreme attraction” to end the experience this year called the Beast Jump. Not knowing what exactly this was before arriving, I got a glimpse of what was in store for me via a video display showing other people doing it while waiting in line to enter the house. After going down the four-story slide that used to be the ultimate end to The Beast, guests are then given the option of either exiting the house or really putting their fears to the test. The Beast Jump is where you must make a free-fall leap out of a two-story window of the house onto a giant inflatable crash pad. There are no harnesses, no nothing but your own wits to make you take the plunge. It doesn’t look like that big of a deal from the ground, but when you’re standing on that ledge it’s a very different story, and I have to admit that I hesitated at first. But once I made the jump, it was a completely exhilarating and amazing experience.
The Edge of Hell is known as the “granddaddy” of haunted houses, and is one of the longest running commercial haunted houses in America, having been in operation since 1975. The operators say that they designed The Edge of Hell to play on people’s fears and phobias, and they definitely hit a nerve with something that still scares me: the dark. A good portion of the haunted house is almost completely pitch black. Whereas The Beast is much more open and illuminated, The Edge of Hell has a tighter, more structured, and maze-like design that is heightened by the constant darkness. My pulse was quickening and I was becoming ever more weary of what was around each corner as I felt my way along the walls of the maze. And I had reason to be weary, too, because the way they would break the darkness was to suddenly have a large animatronic beast of some kind come to life with lights and sounds that could be heard outside the house a block away, as I’m sure so could my screams.
Though there are a ton of jump scares like this to be experienced through The Edge of Hell, they are a big part of what make the house effective. There is hardly any blood, gore, or anything truly disturbing in the house–instead, it provides you with such sensory overload that you will be thoroughly exhausted by the time you get out. Actors will suddenly appear out of nowhere, or a fake chainsaw will come out of the wall and hit you in the leg. When taking a moment to view Medusa behind a glass cage, a fake snake will spring down from the ceiling right in your face. You will be crawling underneath fireplaces; be sprayed with water; or be walking on springy, uneven flooring to further mess with your head. There is a long suspension bridge to walk across, and one of those crazy rooms where you are walking straight, but the room around you is spinning and makes you feel like a drunk. The whole thing ends with another trip down a tube slide, this time a four-story one with twists and turns that made it seem like it went on forever.
The Halloween season might be almost over for 2015, but you still have time to catch either The Beast or The Edge of Hell if you’re in the Kansas City area. All four West Bottoms attractions are open every year Thursday through Saturday nights from late September to early November (except for The Chambers of Poe, which is closed this year). Tickets can be purchased online to avoid lengthy wait times. In fact, I definitely recommend getting one of the combo VIP tickets so that you can skip the longer lines and have plenty of time to do two, if not three, haunted houses in one night, as the attractions obviously get very busy closer to Halloween. Go to the KC West Bottoms website for all the information and experience these spooky haunts for yourself!