Spooky stories about goblins and ghosts have existed for as long as mankind has been able to gather ‘round a campfire and tell tall tales about what lies hidden in the shadows at night, but horror films didn’t really hit their stride until the Great Depression, because that’s when people started going to the movies looking for an escape – anything fantastical to distract them from the reality of their rough lives. The owners of local haunts understand this, and that’s why the men who run attractions like ‘Nightmare on Loganberry’ and ‘McKamey Manor’ pour thousands of their own dollars to go all out every Halloween season – to give their neighbors and loved ones, and anyone else willing to travel to their little community the chance to escape from the horrors of their everyday lives. But even if these haunted attractions are originally created with the best intentions, what happens when the visitors become overcome with terror and decide that they aren’t equipped to withstand what they’ve signed up for? Is their torture still all a part of the game, or should they be released from their trauma? Are the creators of these mazes truly crafting these attractions just because they want to bring people adrenaline-fueled joy, or just because they get a kick out of watching frightened attendees squirm? How far is too far? These are exactly the kinds of questions that the new documentary Haunters: Art of the Scare looks to ask, and the answers are even crazier and more fascinating than anything you might imagine.
Filled to the brim with interviews from horror aficionados like Jason Blum, Jessica Cameron and the Soska sisters, this documentary not only includes intel about the horror community and the film world, but also follows around a specific group of maze creators who speak in detail about what it takes to build your very own haunt in your front yard. Men like Russ McKamey in detail how many hours and how much of their savings they’re willing to spend in order to scare folks, and why exactly they’re willing to do it. According to McKamey, it’s thrilling to watch people face their worst fears, undergo a few hours of torment in the name of good old-fashioned holiday terror, and come out the other side of the haunt filled with excitement. In the end, their confrontation proves to be therapeutic, because they were able to go up against what frightens them, survive, and prove to themselves that they have what it takes to overcome their nightmares. People may not have any control over what happens to them in their day-to-day life, but the satisfaction they feel when they exit a haunt gives them a sense of confidence that they may not otherwise be able to experience in the other outlets of their existence. It’s a well-deserved break from reality.
On the flip side, it’s entirely possible that the creators of these haunts are having a little too much fun torturing their subjects. There’s plenty of footage showing attendees shrieking with joy and exaltation upon exiting the homemade mazes, but there’s also a good chunk of the film spent exploring the darker side of these attractions. Russ McKamey admits that he himself is afraid of absolutely everything – including snails – and would never actually walk through one of his very own haunts. Still, he gets a sick pleasure out of watching people scream, and even when they start to cry and beg to be released from the ride, he refuses to allow them any sort of refuge from his terror, causing some to become hysterical and even lose consciousness. One begins to wonder what’s really the motive behind all of this torment, and if men like McKamey truly wish to bring people joy, or if they’re just playing cruel games for sport.
Jon Schnitzer has done an excellent job creating a truly enthralling documentary here, not only because he gives people a peek into the world of haunted attractions, allowing some who wouldn’t’ normally dare venture into such terrifying territories a chance to see what it’s like to take on the challenge of Halloween-themed maze, but also because it shows so many different perspectives on the subject. The viewer gets a chance to see it all – the jubilation, the dread, and the fascinating history of how haunts were created in the first place. It’s an intriguing and extremely well put together piece on haunted houses, and one that doesn’t choose sides, but rather, allows the audience to decide for themselves what to think about these wild and crazy annual attractions. There’s plenty of fictional horror films to check out this Halloween season, but if you want a look at some real life, genuinely petrifying and surprisingly intelligent commentary about the holiday and all that goes into it, don’t miss Haunters: Art of the Scare. It might just unnerve you in a way that no scary movie could.