Produced By Jinsha Moore and Jon Schnitzer
Written and Directed by Jon Schnitzer
Starring Jason Blum, John Murdy, Jen Soska,
Sylvia Soska, Russ McKamey, Donald Julson,
Shar Mayer, Jessica Cameron, Jon Braver
Most people have a memory of going through a haunted house when they were young. Some people were pumped to face the jump scares, others traumatized by the same events, and a small group of die-hard haunted house junkies dreamed of creating their own haunted houses.
Haunters: The Art of the Scare takes a look at these people. From actors who spend every Halloween season scaring people to the back-yard haunted house builders to the creators of extreme interactive terror experiences, this documentary showcases these enthusiasts and let us peek behind the curtain and past the gore to the people who find joy in that special moment when you scream.
Haunters has a very good survey of the history of haunted houses in America from cheap thrills from low budget carnivals to Junior League Halloween parades and fund raiser haunted houses. There are some big examples like California amusement park “Knott’s Berry Farm” transformation to “Knott’s Scary Farm” and “Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights.” But the meat and potatoes of this show are the back-yard haunted house builders. Much of the documentary compares the lives of Donald Julson (Nightmare on Loganberry) and Russ McKamey (McKamey Manor).
Longtime scare actor Shar Mayer is also profiled as an avid participant in all levels of haunting from standard hauntings to extreme terror events. Having done some of every kind of haunt she has great stories of the good times and hazards to being a scare actor, including physical assault. She lives for these events but the hobby has taken its toll on her.
Donald Julson runs a haunted house out of his mother’s Orange County house. As a former special effects prop maker for the movies and a longtime volunteer as a performer at other haunted houses, Julson knows his haunting game and works to scare the pee out of at least one person every year.
Russ McKamey is definitely the star of Haunters and he is one twisted haunter. He ran amateur haunted spaces for years wherever he happened to be, from a ship while in the Navy to his backyard near San Diego. For years he ran a traditional haunted house but eventually his haunt morphed into an extreme terror event.
While other standard and extreme haunts are profiled it is the contrast between Julson’s and McKamey’s haunts that stands out as examples of two directions the community has taken. The standard haunting builders, like Julson, don’t like the extreme haunts and feel that they will eventually harm the community. The extreme haunters feel they are just giving their audience what they want. And with a waiting list that is several thousand people long it’s hard to dispute that some people really want the extreme terror event McKamey and others like him provide.
The footage from McKamey’s haunt was frankly disturbing and showed many unsafe practices with respect to fluids (even bodily fluids) and psychological pressure techniques that could lead to long-term PTSD. McKamey does have a process to screen applicants and is totally open about what will happen and has videos of many of the past participants in his haunt that can be viewed online. What makes his segments worthwhile is that he is a compelling character that has many more sides than just an extreme haunt enthusiast.
While I will go nowhere near most of these haunted houses, I can unreservedly recommend this documentary as a great view into this world and the people that find fun and fulfillment scaring the bejesus out of others.
And finally I will tell you the haunted house memory this brought back for me. In the early 1980s my friends liked to go to a haunted house run by a local rock radio station. One year a friend had just purchased a custom made head of the monster from the film Alien. When we brought him up to the haunted house the people running it thought it was the best thing they had ever seen and decided to prank their employees. We went through the house but the people controlling the lights were changing the cues so our Alien head could scare the workers.
And it worked.
Once their shock was over we got many compliments on the scare before moving to the next room.
But, I’m still not letting Russ McKamey anywhere near me.
Haunters: The Art of The Scare arrives on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD
on October 3, 2017