BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — In the 90s, a teen boy, Matt Hall, decided to make ‘ridiculous’ videos. Almost 30 years later, his passion for the macabre blossomed into a multi-faceted business: ROTN (“Rotten”).
“ROTN is an acronym for the Rule of Three Network,” Hall said. “It stands for the idea that in nature everything comes in threes, so you expect everything three times.”
Hall’s network connects three facets of haunting: haunters, haunted houses and artists to provide any haunted house attraction with the ability to make commercials, train actors and more.
It all started with food reviews, which landed Hall at Hellbilly Hollow one fateful night. That’s when Hall met Hellbilly Hollow’s owner and ended up making a free commercial for him – a springboard into what ROTN does now.
Today, ROTN has their own podcast, TikTok and web series, and works to help other haunted attractions find the same success.
“We do long-form videos and short-form videos … because a lot of people in business now are missing really heavy on the social side of selling a business,” Hall said. “To me, social media isn’t about my personal existence. It’s more about a product in a way. And I can always use that to benefit their business.”
Still today, ROTN films free commercials as a part of their first-timer package, and only charges clients the following Halloween season.
“I want them to see what we bring to the table,” Hall said. “I have no piece of paper that says I can do what I do. All I have is my product.”
Matt does the majority of the editing for the videos and commercials they put together, while his co-creators, Grim Solice and Carrie Cannibal, craft the makeup for the characters.
“Almost all the makeup that you see that we’re in comes from these two,” Hall said. “They are brilliant.”
Both women started on the makeup team at Hellbilly Hollow when they joined the crew, but their interest in it started even earlier.
“I started with normal makeup and I was like ‘Oh, I just want to do something more fun. I want to do something like in the movies,’” Carrie said. “So I just started playing with my makeup one day; I started looking for videos on YouTube … And ever since then I just kind of start and end up somewhere. That’s every time I do my makeup; I wing it.”
However, the “makeup” looks that Grim and Carrie create are no easy feat. In fact, Hall said some of the looks they craft can take up to two and a half hours.
“We try not to do the same makeup twice,” Grim said. “We like to do something different every time.”
Hall said that while some creators in the same industry as ROTN are “apprehensive about people having their look,” ROTN encourages imitation.
“We want every haunted house in town to do awesome. We want every actor to do awesome,” Hall said.
In addition to their makeup creations, ROTN also makes outfits, since all three members actively participate in haunts.
Hall said there are “so many different ways” to construct an ensemble, but Grim said the most common is buying a costume and customizing it to their taste.
ROTN also utilizes the creations of their fellow haunt-industry friends, such as costumes from Scarecrow Creations or masks from Single Tree Lane.
However, no amount of costumes and makeup would suffice without the proper acting skills.
Carrie, who still works at Hellbilly Hollow alongside Grim, said that the acting in a haunted house is a mix of improv and rehearsing.
“In haunt acting, you have a great balance where you’ll get a skeletal structure of what you’re going for in a couple of lines … But you have to be reactive to an audience,” Hall said. “So the same lines, that same robotic response is not going to work with every single person … You’re basically interviewing each customer, but there your interview is to see if they are entertained.”
Grim said working at a haunt is a great way to release emotions.
“And there’s a thousand things you can learn from working at a haunt,” she said. “I picked up on being able to read someone or read a group very quickly, and that is very helpful in life.”
For day jobs, Carrie works retail and spends time working to finish her college education; Grim and Hall work at a friend’s shop, Magic City Conjure. But for all three, being full-time with ROTN is the end goal.
Hall said they would love to transfer everything into creating more commercials for people.
For Carrie, a dream accomplishment would be for ROTN to produce its own movies.
For Grim, it would be consistently being able to pursue bolstering their web series, while not giving up haunting.
“My dream gig would have us … making enough money on the other side that we offer the free service to the haunts indefinitely,” Hall said. “Anything we can do to keep the haunts here flourishing and just blowing up because if we could turn Alabama into a haunt destination, that helps us, it helps the haunts, helps the community.”
For ROTN, there’s no rest for the wicked. Preparing the materials that they do is a year-round event, from training actors, to photographing new characters, to setting up social media platforms and creating billboard advertisements.
“We never stop creating,” Hall said. “Aside from just having the business side of ROTN … we have the entertainment side of ROTN, which brings the eyeballs to us … And then as we get more people, now, when I put out a commercial for a haunted house, I’m getting that much more attention to the commercial for the haunt.”
One look at ROTN, and it’s clear their biggest desire is for haunted attractions to thrive in Alabama.
“We hope for every haunt to have a successful haunt night and lots of people show up and have a great time and everybody is safe,” Grim said as she looked forward to the month of October.
Hall said he is simply looking forward to “every next day” this halloween season.
“In Alabama, there are so many amazing haunts,” Hall said. “All we want is (for you) to go out and go to a haunted house. You are missing out on a large chunk of the human experience if you do not experience a haunted house.”
For those who are often anti-haunted-house, Hall had some words of encouragement.
“I talk to a lot of people, and when you say haunted houses, 50% of the time you’re going to get people that say ‘Oh, I don’t go to haunted houses, they scare me.’ And to that I say, ‘we are currently living in a very, very scary world,’” Hall said. “You don’t know what’s around the corner or what’s down the alleyway. You don’t. And the scary fact is you probably will never be prepared for it. “
“But we can offer you the ability to understand how you react in those situations, in an atmosphere that is completely safe and conducive to safety. So, you get a chance to go ahead and explore those areas of your personality that I promise you, you want to know how you’re going to react when you’re safe. So, when you’re not safe, you react properly.”