Everyone loves to be scared, but not everyone loves to do the scaring. It takes a special breed of person to dedicate their lives - or at least their Octobers - to freaking people out for little to no money. The documentary Haunters: The Art of the Scare takes the audience inside many different types of haunted houses, from the traditional "boo" attractions found in every small town come Halloween, to extreme experiences that use physical and mental scares to push people to their limits.
Haunters introduces the audience to a variety of different characters from across the world of haunted attractions, and while they don't all agree on the same principals behind scaring people, they all love what they do. The haunters profiled in the documentary are all unique individuals who put their own spin on haunted attractions. The film takes its audience through the highs, lows, and dark underbelly of the world of professional scaring.
Since there isn't a full-time haunted house in every city, many haunters work regular jobs for most of the year and cash in their vacation hours to work in a haunted house. The documentary catches up with haunt actors who work in offices and emergency rooms - and even one creepy clown who works as a bus driver for a school district.
One of the subjects, Donald Julson, works full-time as a security manager for RED Cameras and begins working on his haunted house at the beginning of August. He takes time off from work the closer it gets to Halloween, all to put on a 4-hour haunted house for one night at his parents' house. The haunters followed in the documentary are dedicated to their craft; the thing they love just happens to be scaring people.
Even Russ McKamey of McKamey Manor works a full-time job for the Veterans Affairs office - and as a wedding singer and DJ. He doesn't make any money from the haunted house itself; for admission, he only charges four cans of dog food, which he donates to a greyhound rescue center.
Every person in the haunted house community who was interviewed for Haunters clearly enjoys scaring people. They revel in getting guests to urinate on themselves or drop to the floor as if their knees were suddenly zapped out. The joy the haunters get out of delivering scares is contagious, whether it's from people who work at Knotts Scary Farm or the folks who run smaller-scale productions.
The fun the non-haunting community feels when they get to dress up for Halloween is amplified by the haunters, who have found a way to turn it into their own form of artistic expression. Throughout the documentary, they absolutely beam anytime they're discussing the horror they put people through.
Most of the guests who attend haunts are completely normal people who just want to get scared and have some fun. But then there are guests who freak out and go after the performers.
Shara Meyer admits that she's been assaulted multiple times while working in various haunted attractions. She's been punched in the face, choked out, and even had someone shove her to the ground and jam their knee in her back so hard it injured her for life.
As of the filming of the documentary, Meyer says she can only work for a few days at a time and can no longer work the whole season. It's also notable that three guests of McKamey Manor interviewed in the doc admit, in post-visit interviews, that they now want to take the extreme terror they went through and inflict it on others.
There's a schism in the haunted house community over extreme haunts like McKamey Manor and Blackout. Many haunters who consider themselves legitimate worry that the more extreme situations will get them shut down or bring regulation into the business, and many of the mom-and-pop haunts can't afford that.
Haunters who work in standard haunted houses don't believe there's any real skill in scaring people in extreme haunts. They note that using the threat of aggression isn't good for the community, and question why someone would want to emotionally scar people. Shara Mayer, a lifelong scare actor, understands that McKamey Manor is trying to create an intense experience, but she believes it harms people:
I know what they're trying to do, but the way that they're doing it... it's physically abusing people. Even though they say they're not, and they're fine afterwards. You know, when a cat plays with a mouse, when the mouse is dead there's no more fun in it... I like to keep my mouse alive. My mouse can get out at any point, get away from me, move on. But while I'm there I have them... I'm never going to put somebody in a position where they can't get away. Where's the fun in that?