Haunters: The Art of the Scare follows a series of men and women who sacrifice their time, money, social life, and even health in order to terrify strangers on a near-daily basis. If that sounds insane to you, you are not alone. Their spouses think that they are crazy too.
The documentary starts off with a look at an older couple who host a haunted hayride every year on their farm. The couple seems pleasant, and their neighbors certainly love the kitsch of cuteness of taking a midnight ride with the smell of Autumn in the air. You think to yourself, “That seems like somethingI’d like to do at some point!”.
And then you see the main focus of the Doc. Donald Julson and Russ McKamey.
Donald Julson is a former film prop maker and now spends at least three months out of the year putting himself in debt to make the ultimate neighborhood haunted house. You can see the passion in his eyes (well, not really as this guy has to wear sunglasses during the daylight due to a medical issue with his pupils – don’t ask), and his epic haunts are a highlight of his community to everyone but his wife. You feel like there must truly be something wrong with him because as much as one might love Halloween or any other holiday for that matter, how much is someone really willing to give up for their obsession?
Donald Julson may be a self-destructive compulsive, but at least he’s not a narcissist. Not like Russ McKamey of McKamey Manor.
Russ McKamey is psychotic. The documentary makes it a point to interview those who know McKamey outside of his horror fetish and they describe a wedding singer who knows how to inject the fun into a standard event, a neighbor who is funny and sweet. Someone whose list of phobias is about a mile long.
And then you see the footage of his Haunted House and every bit of sympathy you may have gathered for this man is destroyed. Russ locks his patrons in coffins after promising that he will respect their claustrophobia, he hires underage works who are intrigued by his particular brand of sociopathy. He throws vomit and blood on strangers and refuses to let people leave even when they begin to dissociate.
The worst part? He films all of it and posts it online. Since the documentary, there have been charges pressed against this man and investigations into the legality of what he is doing.
Monsters and witches and the dark are scary. Haunted houses are thrilling in the way that a roller coaster drop makes you feel briefly unsafe. But the moral of Haunters is one that has been on America’s mind as of late. The most terrifying thing in this world are white men when they are allowed to indulge in their obsessions.