The Beast Haunted House
By HEIDI HONEYCUTT
At The Beast, “our applause comes in the form of screams,” says vice president Amber Arnett-Bequeaith. Referred to as “Scare Central” in Kansas City, Missouri’s historic West Bottoms neighborhood, The Beast is a haunted attraction operated by Full Moon Productions (a family business, not to be confused with the Charles Band company, that has expanded over the generations). The psychology of fear and phobias prevail over gore in this haunted house; your senses are affected by light and darkness, and the emphasis is on subtle psychological horrors—which Full Moon studies very closely, monitoring their guests’ reactions and doing year-long research into new methods of terrifying their customers.
“Scaring is not easy,” according to third-generation owner Arnett-Bequeaith. “It has to do with timing and being able to read body language.” Fear, she says, is biochemical and emotional; the sweating, adrenaline and rapid heart rate all indicate that you are terrified, which is the goal at The Beast. It has a reputation for being one of the largest and absolute scariest haunts ever created.
Arnett-Bequeaith’s family began Full Moon’s legacy in 1975 with an attraction called The Edge of Hell, the longest-running haunt in the entire United States, which subjects customers to demonic consequences for their earthly transgressions. When The Beast was added in 1991, it was what she calls “a shakeup,” in that if has an open format; there is no straight line that all guests walk along. The instead wander through scenes without guidance or guardrails, and a creature, killer or ghost (or just about anything else) can pop out at any time, from any direction, and there may be no other people nearby.
That kind of privacy is something many have no doubt wished for in, say, Disney’s Haunted Mansion or the larger Hallween theme-park mazes, and it makes The Beast feel more like a real haunted house and less like a corny, planned-out ride. Visitors also have to find their own way out, which adds to the sense of fun (and terror). Some people spend the average 45 minutes in the haunt, while others may wander for an hour and 10, 15, 20 minutes or more; it’s up to the individual and his or her ability to escape.
Arnett-Bequeaith and the rest of the Full Moon team’s goal is to make people feel like they’ve entered another world, and their attention to detail is an industry gold standard. The Beast, housed in what was the original John Deere corporate building, opens on a huge Southern mansion in a swamp, complete with alligators (and pirates at the end of your journey, if you get there). Yes, those are real reptiles, so you could probably contrive a way to fall in and get your hand bitten off. The vastness seems to mystify those who wander in; it seems huge, with no discernible walls or clear path to the end. Those alligators aren’t the only live animals you’ll meet; a headless horseman rides a real horse, for instance, and the tarantulas lurk in cracks and crevices. But perhaps The Beast’s most famous denizen is Medusa, a genuine, 25-foot reticulated python that has been awarded the Guinness World Record as the world’s longest captive snake of its kind. (It enjoys eating rabbits, hogs and deer during its off hours.)
Most people take their time wandering through the Werewolf Forest, which is a quarter of an acre in size—so large that it fills an entire building, and has a (get this) exit that is hidden and shrouded in complete darkness. Guests try to find their way out as they are stalked by lycanthropes in thick, dense fog that obscures everything except the (real) trees right next to them. They then hop on slides in total darkness and emerge in cobblestoned London, only to be stalked by Jack the Ripper as the face torture chambers, thunderstorms, rooms that repeat and are duplicated (to confound them) and even an antigravity space as they try to find their way out of the unfathomably large set, art-directed and acted to perfection. Along the way, chainsaw-wielding maniacs lunge out—and even though the saws have no chains, it’s still heart-stopping. The exit is a four-story slide, which sounds terrifying in any context, and no attraction called The Beast would be complete without some kind of supremely large monster, which one will indeed encounter at the heart of this haunt.
The powerful audio, sheer scope and unusual and clever scares leave a strong impression on those who brave The Beast. As one visitor described it to a local website, “Screams and hysterical laughter echoed through the walls and my only thought was, Get me out of here.” While the territory is dark, however, Arnett-Bequeaith says she and the full Moon family try to bring some light into the world via their haunted attractions. In 2007, they created two new houses whose proceeds go to The Dream Factory, a local charity that helps critically and terminally ill children make their dreams come true. One, The Chambers of Edgar Allan Poe, is a walk-through of the literary legend’s fantastic writings. Research was conducted at his gravesite in Baltimore, with a complete recreation of the area on the fourth floor—including real coffins that are said to add to the paranormal activity residing in the building.
The other, Macabre Cinema, celebrates classic genre movies; when you pass through a slit in the screen, your world is transformed from a haunted 1930s movie theater to a reality where you are the victim within the sets. Laced with artifacts from actual productions, its basement is among the most frightening places customers say they have ever visited.
Arnett-Bequeaith says that making memories by celebrating one of the greatest holiday, Halloween, couldn’t be more thrilling—but that the greatest blessing of it all is…family. “Our employees, volunteers and animals are the heart of this amazing family,” she says. That’s a tradition she insists will never die—but she doesn’t make any promises about the patrons…
The animal is unleashed on-line at www.kcbeast.com.