It was midnight on the 6th night of Fantastic Fest and I was scheduled to attend a screening of a film called Cold Hell. I had heard good reviews, but it was the last screening of the night and none of my friends were assigned to the same screening I was. Because of this, even though I have zero interest in haunted house attractions, I decided to switch into a screening of Jon Schnitzer's Haunters: The Art of the Scare. Ladies and gentlemen, I am glad I made this switch because Haunters is one of the best documentaries I have seen in a long time.
Here is what I wrote on my Letterboxd profile immediately after watching Haunters:
"HAUNTERS: THE ART OF THE SCARE is an extremely hilarious and terrifying look into the addicting world of scare acting, haunted house attractions, and Halloween-themed amusement park events. I am, personally, someone who does not participate in the "enjoyment" of haunted houses. I startle easily, flail my arms, and accidentally hit people, so HAUNTERS provided me with an amazing lens to see into the world of haunter-tainment and experience it from afar." - @KevWatchesFilms on Letterboxd.com.
When watching a documentary I look for passion and knowledge to flow out of the screen and into my mind, heart, and soul. After watching Haunters and chatting with Director Jon Schnitzer (whom I now consider a friend), it became blatantly obvious to me that this was a passion project from a passionate filmmaker with a most genuine and sincere interest in the documentary's topic. As I said in my blurb from Letterboxd, I do not do haunted houses unless they are a Disney theme park attraction. I startle and jump way too easily and, without fail, end up accidentally hitting one of the scare actors. I do not mean I punch them; I simply flail my arms and accidentally smack someone. I do not enjoy going through haunters and I was not expecting to love Haunters, but I did. This documentary is simply mesmerizing, terrifying, heartfelt, and surprisingly hilarious.
Schnitzer likes to tackle the question of, "When have you taken it too far?" Much of the film's runtime is dedicated to getting to know Russ McKamey and his infamous haunted house, McKamey Manor. At McKamey Manor all guests must sign liability waivers and a safe word does not exist. A safe word is simply a word someone can say or yell if they are too scared, cannot handle the terror anymore, and need to get out. This is not an option at McKamey Manor and, quite frankly, it was stressful and terrifying to watch people go through the Manor knowing they could not escape without going all the way through. It also pissed me off what lengths they went to to scare guests at McKamey Manor. They were legitimately waterboarding people, which begs the question, "Does McKamey Manor take it too far?" Personally, I believe this particular house should be shut down, but that is my opinion and I am open to discussing this with anyone else who has seen Haunters or maybe has experienced some of the houses that share the spotlight in this documentary.
Haunters also proved to me that there really is a community and fan base for everything. I did not realize that there was a nationwide community of people who design walk-through haunted houses. Every community has its idols or legends of the craft to whom they look up and admire.
Haunters also explores the life of legendary scare actress Shar Mayer. Who knew there were legendary scarers other than the characters of Monsters, Inc.? Mayer is a woman who has dedicated her life to scare acting and is most known for her time spent at Knott's Scary Farm, the Halloween-themed transformation of Knott's Berry Farm in California.
Ultimately, Haunters: The Art of the Scare is a visually stunning and beautiful documentary overflowing with terror, laughs, emotion, and passion that are blended together masterfully by Jon Schnitzer. This film was nowhere on my radar at Fantastic Fest, and my expectations were low considering my disinterest in the film's topic, but it blew me away and was truly one of the gems of the festival. It is a crowd-pleaser, so see it with some friends and family, and I guarantee you will be talking about Haunters: The Art of the Scare for quite a while after the credits roll. It is currently available to rent and purchase on all digital platforms and can be purchased on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon.
Final Score: 4/5 (Really Good)
*All images are from Haunters: The Art of the Scare and belong to Jon Schnitzer and The Brain Factory.*