No longer content with traditional haunted house experiences, many entrepreneurial individuals started playing with the idea of extreme haunts in the early- to mid-2000s. Among those that emerged during that time, the McKamey Manor may be the most extreme, mysterious, and controversial of the bunch. Around the year 2000, Russ McKamey had an idea to create a grotesque haunt attached to his suburban home in San Diego, CA. McKamey films every participant's experience, from initial abduction to concluding interview, with an edited final clip eventually being posted to the site's web page.
McKamey Manor has become infamous for lawsuits from participants claiming they were harmed - both mentally and physically - by what they endured. Visitors can expect to be bound, blindfolded, forced to eat mystery foods, dunked in or soaked with ice-cold water, bruised, slapped, and have all sense of autonomy stripped away. Some visitors, however, allege that McKamey and his employees went too far with their actions.
Petitions calling for an end to McKamey Manor are prevalent. These include calls to look into the owner's finances - McKamey takes dog food and possibly even canned human food as payment - as well as his alleged involvement with Las Vegas bets being placed on his patrons. People complain that the extreme attraction is plagued by masochistic employees, safewords are ignored, the required 40-page waiver is unlawful, and police ignore calls to file charges on the Manor.
However, this hasn't slowed McKamey down; instead, he recreated his haunt at his new home in Tennessee and opened a new attraction, Desolation, in Alabama. Still, opponents of McKamey Manor continue their attempts to reveal the supposed truth of the attraction to the public.
According to a 2018 interview with Nashville Scene, Russ McKamey starts his business day at the Tennessee Manor location by calling local police to tell them that any calls from neighbors about screaming, or people running from his house, are false alarms. During one of the early shows at the new location, neighbors alerted police when a woman in front of his home screamed as what looked like kidnappers dragged her along. Authorities responded, but left when the 40-page waiver proved the woman consented to the event.
The incident prompted a Facebook post from Lawrence County Commissioner Scott Franks denouncing the Manor and garnering public support for running McKamey out of town. At that time, no official action appeared to take place, but the distaste of the small community toward McKamey remained firmly in place.
Employees of McKamey Manor include high school students, former participants, and McKamey himself. Together, they create, operate, and film the haunted attraction. None of them, however, have any training to recognize when a person needs assistance during the stressful experience they're put through. As quoted in The Guardian in 2015, employee Andrew Sweeney likes the job because he can let out all of his aggression on unsuspecting participants, including ripping out hair with his bare hands or jamming visitors' faces into water.
A Facebook page called The Truth About McKamey Manor suggested that hiring people who are in it for the aggression means that attention paid to possible dangerous scenarios - visitors who lose consciousness, endure panic attacks, or experience dry drowning - may fall by the wayside. One petition to shut down the attraction even claims that workers have histories of assault, making one wonder if those alleged employees would help someone even if they knew how.
On episode 8 of the Netflix show Dark Tourist, McKamey claims to make only $800 a month from a Navy pension, without any other income whatsoever. However, he lives in a nice home in Tennessee, runs a haunted house he's invested an estimated $500,000 into, and also owns property in Alabama for his Desolation haunt. In the same show, an attendee of the haunt reiterates that the cost of admission to the Manor is a 50-pound bag of dog food (though monetary donations are also accepted).
Still, detractors question exactly how McKamey affords everything he has in the two properties. One petition for the closure of the haunt posits that McKamey garners income from Las Vegas gambling, based on his claim of providing a live stream of participants and their experiences to a group in the city. The Las Vegas group allegedly bets on, and makes suggestions for, the participants' experiences, and provides McKamey with a cut of the winnings.
In late 2019, Frankie Towery began a petition to get McKamey Manor shut down and moved out of its new location in Tennessee. Towery alleges that the large waiver participants sign has multiple typos, including the misspelling of "liable" as "libel," thus making it void from the beginning.
It also alleges that those who use the newly implemented safeword remain under duress long after the word has been deployed. In Tennessee, the law states that one can remove their consent at any time after providing it, so footage surfacing of McKamey ignoring the safeword or revocation of consent is a violation of that law. As admitted by McKamey himself, the footage he releases is edited and no other recording equipment is allowed during the experience.
The petition further alleges that people leave with broken bones and other mental and physical conditions - including one man who supposedly passed out - and that attempts to oversee the attraction's legality stumble due to lack of payment from visitors, as well as the fact that the Manor does not have a legal designation as a business.