'Terror' creator has long history with haunted houses

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Alex Shead's mind is, admittedly, a little demented.

Tucked away in an aging warehouse near Lawrenceville City Hall is his newest creepy creation -- a 70,000-square-foot, bone-chillingly haunted sanitarium now known as "Terror in the Square."

"We've gotten a ton of, 'It's so much better than Netherworld,'" Shead said Thursday, comparing his attraction to the long-running Atlanta-area gold standard for haunts.

Terror in the Square's founder has taken an interesting path to his hobby-gone-mad. Growing up, Shead's father was the head of the arts department at LaGrange College. Living in an enormous Tudor-style mansion owned by the school, the Sheads hosted their first haunted house when Alex, his birthday just a few days shy of Halloween, turned 8.

"We had a real skeleton from the science department, red lights and everything, and a bunch of my friends ran all the way to the end of the driveway as soon as they went in," Shead says. "It really made an impression on me."

When Shead had children of his own, he began hosting his own haunts at the family's Lawrenceville home. As hobby turned into obsession and neighbors chipped in, he was soon having 2,000 visitors every Halloween season.

Then the Gwinnett Braves came calling last year, and he turned their Coolray Field into a "Field of Screams."

This time around, he's got his own place -- big, bad and filled with $250,000 worth of the scariest experience in Lawrenceville.

Touring his place in the light of day, Shead explained his haunting philosophy.

"It's all about misdirection. They're now looking at this thing," he said, motioning toward "Kristen," an animatronic patient in a straightjacket, "and then, bam, look behind you. You've got another actor coming out behind here. You got another one coming from here."

"You get the front of the crowd and the back. You're getting it from all sides."

Fifty or so actors, ranging in height from 4-foot-8 to 7-foot-2, Shead said, will be terrifying brave patrons each weekend through Nov. 6. Neighbors and friends have helped Shead paint, build, plan and transform the Nash Street warehouse into a truly chilling attraction.

And let's not forget nightly, outside performances from "Undead Elvis" and America's Best Dance Crew competitors Royal Flush, who recreate Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video.

"The strength of our attraction has always been the actors," Shead said. "We have animatronics, we have the large monsters and whatnot. But it's the actors that get you. That's the real scare factor."