The Horror Honeys: 'Haunters' Focuses Too Much on One Sadistic House

'Haunters' Focuses Too Much on One Sadistic House

A Documentary Review with Musical Horror Honey Stella Libretto

Photos courtesy of
Haunters: The Art of the Scare (2017)

On the outside, Haunters: The Art of the Scare, directed and produced by Jon Schnitzer, promises horror and haunt fans alike an inside look at the people creating the mazes and experiences that attract hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of attendees each Halloween. While it certainly does accomplish that, it also provides a deeper look into extreme haunts, most notably, the infamous McKamey Manor. What Schnitzer manages to uncover is not only the incredible creators and actors running some of our favorite haunts but also some of the deeply disturbed individuals out to torture and harm others for their own delight.

The film starts harmlessly enough, focusing on several stories of independent haunt builders. One particular haunt is highlighted, in which a man builds a haunt for one night on Halloween in his parent's front yard. The entire neighborhood loves it, however, his wife is a little less understanding. Throughout the movie, the wife becomes more involved with the haunt, eventually making it a true partnership. It's a great little story about a haunter who truly has a passion for the art, and wants to make it his career.

Schnitzer also covers a variety of different haunts and haunters, including legendary haunt actors, creators of major attractions such as Universal's Halloween Horror Nights, and creators of a variety of events, including some extreme haunts. Each perspective provides an interesting look at the evolution of haunting, their hopes for the industry, and their fears around extreme haunts and the possibility of regulation of the industry due to their carelessness and need to push things to the extreme. The creators of Blackout, one of the more notable extreme haunts, spend some time talking about their creative process, detailing how they scare each other by testing their tricks, but at the same time, put a strong emphasis on safety and the audience being in control of their experience. From an outsiders perspective, their philosophies of safety make extreme haunts seem like a natural evolution of the industry and an interesting experience for those who dare enter.

It's wonderful that Schnitzer provides exposure to the passion in the industry, several very cool haunts and haunters, and the opportunity to learn about how their interest was sparked and what drives them. If Schnitzer had continued to focus on this group, the film would have been informative and fun. However, the bulk of the film is spent not on these folks, but rather, on one particular extreme haunt known as McKamey Manor.

Everyone in the film seems incredibly concerned about the level of extreme McKamey Manor is offering, and for good reason. The creators of the haunt, a husband and wife duo, originally started the experience out of their backyard in San Diego. The experience quickly gained notoriety, with its years-long waiting list, screening process, intensive waiver, and film footage coming out of the haunt.

Primary creator Russ McKamey created McKamey Manor first as a neighborhood haunt, but quickly evolved it based on his perception of his audience's audiences desire to have more extreme experience. What the haunt has evolved to amounts to a torture chamber, where there is no safe word, the actors have total control over the participants, and it's up to Russ to decide when the victims have had enough. Additionally, Russ films every participant's experience and then edits the videos to put onto YouTube. These videos only fuel the fire about the haunt, garnering thousands upon thousands of views.

This documentary extensively covers Russ McKamey's motivations for what he does. While he insists that what he does is safe, ultimately he repeatedly states that he will continue to push his participants in order to create the best footage possible. Schnitzer and his crew appear to have gained pretty exclusive access into the haunt, filming Russ, the actors, and the victims as they go through their experience. How Russ and his team behaves is truly shocking. As participants cry and plead for release after undergoing extensive torture, Russ simply stands there relentlessly mocking them while shoving a camera in their face. Just some of the torture that was captured by Haunters includes simulating drowning, allowing bugs and spiders to crawl on people's faces, including into their mouths, being shoved in coffins, and having their puke picked up off the floor and placed back in their mouths, while being told to eat it. All the while, Russ, with a truly maniacal and sick look in his eye, laughs as participants, cry, scream, have panic attacks, pass out, or literally forget who they are out of shock. Russ is truly the most terrifying part of this film; his sadistic behavior and the insane look in his eyes as he films will forever be seared into your brain.

While Haunters: The Art of the Scare presents all of this without much commentary, it's clear that other haunters are extremely concerned about the level of notoriety this haunt receives. The film also alludes that the government is now trying to exercise some control over McKamey Manor, as further evidenced by the fact that the haunt has now moved out of its original location in San Diego. The juxtaposition between McKamey Manor and the also featured Blackout couldn't be starker. Blackout, and similar extreme haunts, are carefully choreographed with an emphasis on safety. McKamey Manor is perpetuating an experience full of violence and revenge.

The one major mistake that Haunters makes in an otherwise fascinating film is the amount of screentime they give McKamey Manor, which can only lead to further press coverage of the haunt. Fueling Russ McKamey's ego and driving up his video views is the absolute last thing the haunt industry needs if it wants to continue to thrive and encourage innovation.

Haunters: The Art of the Scare is now available on VOD and Netflix.

Musical Horror Honey Rating: 3.5 Scary Clown Masks out of 5