Monster Inside: America's Most Extreme Haunted House
Dir. Andrew Renzi (2023)
A documentary that seeks to expose Russ McKamey, the owner/operator of America's most extreme haunted house attraction.
I am not a particularly sympathetic person. If you've ever interacted with me anywhere, that's probably not a big surprise to you. I've always thought that you often win stupid prizes when you play stupid games, and I've never really felt bad for people who decided to play those games. I've also done a good bit of research into McKamey Manor, the subject of this documentary, before I even knew the doc existed. After watching the documentary and its exposure of some of the worst offenses committed by Russ McKamey, the man who runs the attraction, my feelings haven't changed a whole hell of a lot. It's abusive, sure. You could even make the case that it goes too far, punishing its parishioners far more extremely than necessary to achieve its goals. I'm just not sure that you can ever really make the case that these people didn't get exactly what they asked for when they signed a forty page waiver dictating exactly what they could expect once they agreed to take part in McKamey's twisted game.
The documentary itself, unfortunately, doesn't do a whole lot to help its case. It's entirely one-sided, which is fine if McKamey wasn't willing to participate. But the stories told, of people looking for the greatest scare of their lives and then receiving just that, aren't enough to convince me of anything other than McKamey did exactly what he was asked to do. On top of that, the documentary's excuse of attempts to hack McKamey's personal information, not to mention their unabashed use of said documents, is disappointing to see from a documentary. I'd be surprised, quite frankly, if it was legal at all, much less something that should be used as evidence in a documentary about how bad a guy someone is.
The bottom line in this situation, I believe, is that these were people looking for something. Whether it was money, fame, fear, or any combination of the three, these were people who were lacking something from their lives that they believed Russ McKamey and his haunted house could provide. And I feel for them, I do. If you're at the point in your life to where you're willing to undergo tortuous techniques designed to make you tap out in order to attempt to feel something, I think that's a terrible thing and I wish them all the happiness in the world. I just don't sympathize with them when they sign up for it and then bitch about it later.
All this is not to say that I side with Russ McKamey, either. He seems like an enormous piece of shit, a man with severe problems in his brain that lead to him wanting to hurt people as much as he possibly can. That can't be a good thing, regardless of how you look at it. I also tend to believe the stories about him being sexually abusive to some of his "guests" and potentially his girlfriends. This makes him a bad guy, to be sure. It does not, however, make McKamey Manor some criminal enterprise that needs to be taken down, and it also does not relieve the other party of their responsibility for signing up for the whole thing. If Russ McKamey is, indeed, a sexual predator, and if he is committing fraud by continuing whatever show he has planned until people have to quit, then he should be prosecuted the same as anyone else. "Bad man was mean to me," however, is not a reason to put someone in jail.
At the end of the day, I fully recognize that haunted attractions aren't really my thing. I also don't see the value in having someone beat me to make me afraid, and I'm sure if I did, I could find many more constructive ways to have it done. I get the feeling that this documentary was a feature-length advertisement for Miasma, the haunted house shown near the end of the film, or perhaps even for McKamey Manor itself. Regardless of the film's intended purpose behind-the-scenes, it doesn't really do anything more to convince me that there's anything inherently illegal in what McKamey is doing. I do, however, know I have no interest in taking part. Perhaps if the participants in his scheme took the same attitude, there wouldn't have been a need for the documentary at all.
Who this movie is for: Horror doc fans, Haunted attraction lovers, Masochists
Bottom line: There's definitely something sexual afoot at McKamey Manor, but far be it from me to judge that part of it. The documentary, however, is a little bit of a mess, often coming across as more of an ad for extreme haunts than it is a condemnation of a particular example. Despite the doc's shortcomings, McKamey Manor and its creator are fascinating, a true exploration of the dark and potentially sexual side of horror. I feel bad for the victims only to the extent that they were in the place in their lives where they sought out that type of experience to begin with, but that is unfortunately the limit of my sympathy.