Haunters: Art of the Scare

Year: 2017
Production Co: Brain Factory
Director: John Schnitzer
Producer: John Schnitzer
Writer: John Schnitzer

One of the participants in this documentary about people setting up extreme haunted houses experiences says it best. The authorities have mostly left the small cottage industry alone, but one day someone's going to get killed and the weight of the law is going to come crashing down on it.

I couldn't have agreed more, and whether it was intentional on the part of director John Schnitzer or not, I became convinced it was (probably still is) going to be at the hands of a loudmouth, ham and blowhard named Russ McKamey, who operates a notorious suburban scare attraction called McKamey Manor.

He seems like the kind of guy who loves the attention all the controversy brings him, knowing full well when the camera's on him, extolling the virtues of his intensive haunted house fixtures (that have a four year waitlist and require the signing of an extensive waiver) and the treatment he metes out to his customers, all the while shoving cameras directly in screaming, blood-splattered faces like a bottom feeding photojournalist because he knows the footage is his most valuable sales tool.

The film features several such suburban haunted houses and the people who put them together, interspersed with talking heads from the entertainment field weighing in with their own thoughts and history with the mom and pop-style haunted house industry.

You can see how they pour their hearts and souls into the venture - one guy starts months in advance and loves it so much the movie paints his new wife as kind of a bitch for wishing he'd stop doing it, even capturing a brewing argument about whether it will continue when they have a family.

Others interviewed are actors and special effects technicians who've made this their life's work, and you'll be impressed and kind of touched by the level of commitment some people give purely for the love of it. One poor woman, a veteran of haunted attraction acting who does it every year, frightened a male visitor so badly during one of her gigs he attacked her and left her with longstanding and painful injuries.

What you might not know about the whole scene – particularly if you're not American and don't know the creative trends in this movement – is how over the top some of it gets. It's not just guys dressed as zombies jumping out of doors in front of you. Haunted house visitors are locked in coffins, submerged in water, dragged through doorways by creatures, drugged, chased with weapons and chainsaws, many of them captured in stills or on video seeming to be genuinely disturbed from what they're trying to endure.

There's a lot of very appreciable artistry in what people do to their backyards, houses or basements, but you can't help feeling like the wheels are going to fall off in a high profile death or lawsuit. McKamey in particular has been the subject of several scandals in real life – like the guest who wasn't allowed out despite using her agreed safe word and ended up in hospital from her injuries.

But just as certain as you are someone who does such an extreme attractions like McKamey is going to bring the whole industry crashing to a halt, you then remind yourself that people sign up for this stuff willingly.

Apparently though, in the haunted experience community (such as there is one), most self-described responsible operators consider McKamey over the top and possibly dangerous. After watching this film and seeing him try to turn it into the Russ McKamey show, you'll agree.

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