DAY FOUR OF 31 DAYS OF HORROR
Haunters: The Art of the Scare - 2017
“Haunted houses are designed to make us laugh, to make us scream, and they make us feel like kids again.”
I have always been fascinated by haunts. A lot of people assume I love them and go through them because of my obsession with horror but I don’t, there is no part of me that would ever want to go through one. But I am obsessed with other people’s obsession with them. Because horror movies and haunts do not necessarily go hand in hand. I remember years ago hearing about Mckamey Manor and watching the youtube videos and while I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to do that, I couldn’t stop watching.
Haunters: The Art of the Scare is a new documentary that explores the reasons why people love haunts, it touches on some of the most notorious ones, and it also takes a look at the people who create them. It’s an incredibly well done documentary that satisfied all my questions and gave me that peek behind the curtain about how haunts are made and why.
The documentary mostly focuses on two haunts, the first being Mckamey Manor, which much to my surprise was created by a married couple in their backyard. It has since gone on to be this notorious dark enterprise that attracts a lot of bad press and passionate fans. The other haunt is one that only runs for four hours every Halloween and is created by Donald Julson. They also speak to the Blackout creator along with some famous haunt actors, my favorite female directors Jen and Sylvia Soska and Jason Blum of Blumhouse to name a few.
It’s so fascinating to watch and it touches on a lot of what I try to explain to my friends and family when they ask why I love horror. To me, my love of horror came from being young and being scared watching horror movies alone in the dark. It soon blossomed into something of a comfort blanket for myself when my life fell apart. It was a place to turn to when real life got too scary and hard to manage. Horror movies were there to comfort me, they always followed the same formula and they were like a safe, warm hug.
In the documentary they talk about haunts and how they grew in popularity after 9/11 happened. That year the big haunts saw record breaking numbers of visitors. And in 2003 when the world was shown the first real photos of torture going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Saw franchise broke box office records and haunts became even more popular. And even now, in 2017, horror is having a record breaking year in the theaters and outside of superhero films is the only genre actually making money. There’s a reason for that. When the world is a scary place and the news is filled with horrific images of mass murders and terrorism, we turn inwards and face our fears and anxieties through horror movies and haunts.
Jon Schnitzer, the Director and Producer of this film, was given amazing access to so many behind the scenes moments and personal interactions and it makes for a fascinating documentary. It follows Mckamey Manor specifically as it goes from being the scariest haunt in the world, to having the police and the FBI get involved. It also touches on what it’s like for these creators and actors at home with their family and spouses. This part actually made me sad to see how many of these people are in relationships with people who don’t support their vision or passion. Or people whose marriages have broken up because of it. It makes me incredibly grateful to have Mitch, who does not like horror movies or being scared at the least, but continues to support me and put up with all my horror nonsense. He buys Halloween decorations with me and doesn’t bat an eyelash when they’re up all year round, he watches horror movies with me, and he drives me to Walmart to dig through the $5 bin and even helps pick some out. But most importantly he helps me when I’m exhausted from working a full time job and then coming home to write articles for three different websites and he’s patient with me when I have to watch screeners instead of hanging out. So it makes me incredibly sad to see these wonderful people who are not being supported for their “weird” passions. It’s a side of all of this I never thought about, because luckily I am blessed with a partner who supports me.
Did I get my questions answered about how people can do this? I think the documentary certainly takes a good shot at answering that. But with those extreme haunts like McKamey Manor where people will literally pass out or blackout, puke, cry, beg for their lives and then come out of it wanting to do it again or do it to someone else, I don’t think I’ll ever understand that because there’s not a part of me that would want that. But I don’t want to discredit them. And I’m glad that there is a safe option for people with those more extreme needs.
The documentary leaves on a question about the future of haunts. A lot of them think that it will only get more fucked up from here, while some hopefuls think it will get more tame. I’m not sure at all, but I think I agree with Julson when he says that at some point someone will die or be seriously injured and there will be a tone of legislation slapped down on haunts. That just seems more likely in our world than anything else.
Ultimately, this documentary is fascintating and I highly and aggressively recommend it for anyone and everyone.