Haunters: The Art of the Scare (2017) is currently available to stream on Netflix. In this documentary, director Jon Schnitzer showcases several different independent haunts from around the country. Haunts are mazes constructed to scare patrons who are brave enough to enter. The film dives into their history a bit looking at the early haunts that were used to fundraise for things like the Jaycees (United States Junior Chamber) and bigger ones like Halloween Horror nights. Where this documentary takes the dark turn is its look at the rise of more interactive haunts where the scare actors are able to grab, torture, and abuse the patrons.
Haunters disturbed me more than I would have expected a documentary to be able to do.
The most disturbing haunt of these is McKamey Manor and its founder Russ McKamey. It’s hard to watch this documentary and not view him as a sociopath. More, if one were inclined, you could watch the YouTube videos where McKamey has filmed the literal torture of his patrons. His haunt is the only one of these new, more intense versions of the traditional scare mazes that don’t employ a safeword or any way for the “victims” to stop the ride. He clearly takes joy in what he is doing and, most frighteningly, seems to be converted some of his “victims” into his scare actors looking to inflict similar horrifying experiences onto those who dare to enter.
The documentary itself is quite engaging with several interviews that discuss the concept of haunts. Donald Julson is another amateur haunt builder with a background in props and special effects. He is critical of houses like McKamey Manor. In fact, a central debate of the film is if these new haunts are simply a passing fad, a disgrace to the legacy, or if it is simply the logical next step in their evolution. However, this is one of the film’s biggest weaknesses as it never full finishes the thought.
The films end just kind of fizzles out. There are some recaps and little bits of closure, but ultimately it just runs out of content. I expected Schnitzer to put a better stamp at the end of this or at least wrap up the idea of these new torture haunts. Instead, it just sort of ends. There is enough to make some inferences, but the film being two years old and seeing that McKamey Manor is accepting new patrons, this will make more sense if you watch the doc, was so surprising.
Despite McKamey making me feel unbelievably disgusted, I did find this documentary to be quite good. I’ve always enjoyed going to haunted mazes and was a frequent visitor of both Howl-o-Scream at Busch Gardens and Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios. I liked hearing from the various scare actors, the history of haunts, and even the crazy evolution of them. Haunters: The Art of the Scare earns the Decent Watch rating.