It’s October, the best time of the entire year, where the whole month is dedicated to Halloween happenings. One of the most popular things to do during October is visiting haunt attractions. Haunters: The Art of the Scare delves into the world of haunted houses, but it isn’t the documentary you’d expect. Whereas there have been documentaries and television specials that have explored haunt attractions and the spirit of Halloween surrounding them, director Jon Schnitzer sheds a new light on haunts; the passionate haunters at the heart of haunt attractions. The people who make huge personal sacrifices all for the sake of delivering ultimate scares during the Halloween season.
Schnitzer gives an overlying history of haunted attractions, as well as the direction they seem to be headed, but his main focus is on three different perspectives of passionate haunters; legendary scare actor Shar Mayer, home haunter Donald Julson, and the huge personality behind the infamous McKamey Manor, Russ McKamey. Schnitzer probes into each one, discovering what shaped them into who they are today and just how far they’re willing to go for the sake of their beloved hobby.
Haunters quickly emerges as one of the most captivating documentaries due to Schnitzer’s uncanny ability to drive right to the heart of the haunt experience in both visual and narrative level. The very heart of haunt attractions is worn on the documentary’s sleeve; the thrills, the chills, the Halloween feel, and the dedicated passion behind it all makes for one of the most moving explorations of the holiday on screen. Vividly stunning as it is a roller coaster of emotions, prepare for a unique experience that will teach you more about haunts than you thought could be possible.
Whereas scare actor Shar Mayer becomes the beating heart of the documentary, even going as far as to give up a chunk of her health for the sake of her beloved passion, Russ McKamey is revealed to be a sort of villain. McKamey’s story is so strange and compelling that his extreme haunt becomes the centerpiece. Russ McKamey’s interviews are captivating; McKamey’s haunt, in his own backyard, is so extreme that it’s the only extreme haunt to not have a safe word. People are brought to their mental breaking point, and some even near death, and Schnitzer cleverly explores what kind of person would be behind it all. If you thought a bit unhinged, you’d be correct, as the initial interviews paint McKamey as a devious mind that leaves you reeling in his daring. Yet, Schnitzer also slowly unveils McKamey’s humanity. Whether you love or hate such a strong personality like McKamey’s, by the end of the film you’ll admire him.
The central theme of sacrifice is heartbreaking and inspiring. It’s so complex and layered, though, that it feels like Schitzer could create a multiple-part series on what he’s spent years documenting. He empowers those who hadn’t had a voice before by sharing their stories, and yet there’s so much more left to be discovered on the subject. Completely compelling storytelling set against beautiful footage, Haunters will inspire you to seek out haunt attractions this Halloween season.
Haunters: The Art of the Scare screened at Fantastic Fest, and is available on Blu-ray and VOD today.