Fear Not: Company creates illusion of danger inside, sense of security outside
As the vice president of Full Moon Productions, Amber Arnett-Bequeaith is a mistress of horror. She draws from the psychological elements of fear to create a full-sensory frightfest at her company’s four haunted houses: The Beast, The Edge of Hell, Macabre Cinema and the Chambers of Edgar Allen Poe.
Arnett-Bequeaith’s office is up one flight of a Victorian-esque staircase to the second floor of The Beast at 13th and Hickory streets, inside what was built at the turn of the 20th century as the John Deere Plow Co.’s first office in the United States.
She assumed the role of vice president at Full Moon Productions in 2000 (her uncle is the president), but haunting has been in her family since she was born. Arnett-Bequeaith’s mother and grandmother, who ran a successful outdoor theater venture in the Lake of the Ozarks, opened The Edge of Hell in Kansas City in 1975 as a way to expand business beyond the summer season. Her father did all the construction, her grandmother dreamed up and designed each room’s scenery and theme, and her mother invented the character’s parts and sewed costumes. Every family member was expected to play a part.
“We complain about this talent we’ve all got,” Arnett-Bequeaith says of her family. “It’s an obsession. We can’t sleep. I lay in bed thinking about each room, each scene, ideas of how everything ought to go. I have to keep a notebook and a pen by my bed.”
When The Edge of Hell opened there was no such thing as a “haunt industry.” Today, that industry recognizes The Edge of Hell as the first commercial haunted house in the country. Arnett-Bequeaith serves as the spokeswoman for America Haunts, an organization representing “the best Halloween attractions in America.”
Rather than relying on blood and gore as the source of her scares, Arnett-Bequeaith prefers to conjure feelings of unease and disorientation. The Beast, for instance, is a maze of dark woods, and effects like lighting (or the lack of it) throw off a visitor’s sense of sight, balance, touch and smell.
Ironically, Arnett-Bequeaith has spent the past decade battling those very same fear-inducing elements outside the haunted walls, in the Historic West Bottoms area that her company calls home. The city habitually postponed basic maintenance of the Bottoms, an area that became synonymous with crumbling bridges and sidewalks, catch basins that don’t catch, and water mains that break.
Arnett-Bequeaith is an expert in the illusion of danger, but creating the opposite — a sense of security in the West Bottoms — has been a group effort, tackled by the entrepreneurs who make up the West Bottoms Business District Association. Their progress means that the hookers who once hung out at the West Bottoms gas stations are gone, run off by off-duty police officers whose time is paid for by Full Moon Productions. The association members pay out-of-pocket for things like weed trimming, a basic city service elsewhere in the metro. If a job is too big for the business owners to handle themselves, they lasso state and federal funds to fix the problem.
“I look out at the new sidewalk across the street and I smile,” Arnett-Bequeaith says, “because that was 10 years of my life. It’s a small thing, something you might not even realize unless you’re as involved in the area as we are. We successfully lobbied for the city to upgrade our streetlights — obviously people don’t feel safe if they can’t see where they’re going.”
Enthusiasm for the West Bottoms has ignited at City Hall. Mayor Sly James recently acknowledged that the area is the next hot spot for development. Arnett-Bequeaith’s reaction: We told you so.
“It’s a belief that the business owners have here,” she says. “We always knew that this area was more than it had been given credit for.”
For details about Full Moon Productions’ haunted houses, visit fullmoonprod.com.
Photo by Megan True