Jon Schnitzer’s documentary Haunters: The Art of the Scare attempts to delve deeper into the haunted attractions that draw myriad thrillseekers every Halloween season. Some interesting insight is offered–why creators are driven to build such haunts, what makes people want to act in them, how attendees are affected (for better or worse) by them. Ultimately, though, the film fails to do justice to its promising subject.
Primary among the disappointments is the disproportionate attention given to amateur and extreme haunts (more professional operations such as Haunted Overload in New Hampshire and Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights are barely covered). The stories of local nobodies staging attractions on their own property simply aren’t that captivating. Making matters worse, the documentary seems to resort to the manufactured drama typical of reality television. A resoundingly false note is struck when a haunter receives (and reads aloud) a text from his Halloween-denouncing wife while in the midst of being interviewed. Further cause for skepticism: the testimony of a neighbor who claims she was traumatized by the haunt next door, yet somehow managed to get tricked into attending it several more times. If the film had chapter titles, “The House on Haunted Shill” would be a perfect one here.
So much focus is given to notorious extremist Russ McKamey, the documentary plays like a covert commercial for McKamey Manor. Accordingly, a distorted impression of haunting is given, where sadism and degradation masquerades as entertainment. The “art” of the scare reduces to torture porn, a point underscored by McKamey’s obsessive, close-up recording of attendees’ anguish.
Even though I only spent $3.99 on an Amazon video rental, I still felt fleeced by Haunters. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about this documentary is that it has left the door open for a much less misguided and more compelling exploration of the haunted attraction phenomenon.