Everyone loves a good haunt. But who are the people behind them? That is one of the questions that Jon Schnitzer’s documentary Haunters: The Art of the Scare aims to find out over the course of its brief 88-minute runtime. Haunters is a highly entertaining and heartwarming look into the world of haunts and the people behind them. Schnitzer manages to mine a surprising amount of material from the subject matter, making for a rather fun viewing experience.
Haunters narrative moves in a fairly straightforward fashion. Beginning with an explanation of haunts, the film then dives into the lives of a select few members of the haunt community before delving into the world of extreme haunts. The subjects that Schnitzer focuses on are legendary scare actor Shar Mayer, traditional boo-scare maze designer Donald Julson (Nightmare on Loganberry) and the infamous Russ McKamey (owner/creator of extreme haunt McKamey Manor). Schnitzer and co-editor Michael Collin Russel shift seamlessly between their three stars, while peppering interviews with producer Jason Blum, the Soska Sisters and other prominent members of the horror community throughout the film.
Mayer proves to be the most endearing out of all three subjects. She is just a happy woman who loves scaring people. She provides a good amount of insight as to why people get involved in the world of haunts. Her story is the heart of Haunters, as she describes how her passion for scaring originated as a child and how it has shaped her as a person today. She now considers her haunt community as her family, and the warmth and goodwill between all of them is truly inspiring. These people just want to have fun, and it’s a real treat to watch them get to do what they love.
Julson’s segments are informative but can be a bit awkward, as the majority of his screen time focuses on the strain that his haunt puts on his marriage. Formerly a props maker for Universal Pictures (he worked on Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing), he found himself out of a job and began his own haunt which gave him an outlet for his prop-making skills. His wife has reservations about the haunt side of his life and the amount of time he devotes to the holiday (he is not allowed to mention Halloween until August of every year), and while it is an understandable position, sometimes their segments feel like you’re watching an E! reality show. You almost wish that Schnitzer had a full movie to devote to their relationship, but there isn’t enough time to really get to the heart of the matter.
While Mayer and Julson are given an appropriate amount of screen time, the bulk of Haunters‘ is devoted to Russ McKamey and McKamey Manor (a haunt that I have actually written about before). This makes sense, as McKamey Manor is the most notorious extreme haunt in the country. McKamey himself is quite a character, and you can tell he just lives for attention. Wedding singer by day, McKamey has gained notoriety for his haunt, which goes far beyond the traditional boo-scares of traditional haunts and enters what some would call torture territory. McKamey has a different opinion on the matter (though he even states that he would never go through his own haunt), claiming that he is just giving people what they want (the waitlist is several thousand people long and they must go through a rigorous screening process before being accepted for the haunt). Ultimately it is up to the viewer to decide which side of the debate they fall on.
As entertaining and heartwarming as Haunters is, it doesn’t really delve deep into the effects of haunts on people. One particular moment features a pre-teen boy leaving a haunt proclaiming “You get scared but after you do it you feel like a man.” That boy never shows up again, but it feels like a missed opportunity for Schnitzer to look into how haunts reinforce gender roles. Of course, that isn’t an area that Schnitzer seems particularly interested in exploring, but it seems odd to include that reaction and not analyze it more. Doing so would have made for a more memorable feature.
Haunters is a highly entertaining documentary that contains more heart than you would expect from the subject matter. The people involved in haunts are a colorful group of people, but they have a passion for what they do that Schnitzer captures perfectly. While it is a shame that deeper issues were not touched on in the film, it still makes for solid entertainment and one of the more interesting documentaries to come out of the horror genre.
Haunters: The Art of the Scare had its world premiere at Fantastic fest and is currently available on Blu-Ray and digital platforms on October 3, 2017.