With its participants bound, drugged, and beaten, McKamey Manor is said to be more like a torture chamber than a haunted house.
Haunted houses are universally appealing — anyone keen on a few harmless scares gets a rush from their simulated danger. McKamey Manor in Summertown, Tennessee, however, may have crossed the line.
According to the TV station WFLA, Russ McKamey’s haunted house requires both a doctor’s note and and a signature on a 40-page waiver to enter. McKamey even originally offered a $20,000 prize for completing the challenge — but not a single person ever succeeded in winning it.
Most lasted just a few minutes before begging to leave.
While this might initially seem like McKamey managed to develop the scariest haunted house in America — if not the scariest haunted house in the world — thousands of people beg to differ. A Change petition with more than 170,000 signatures claims it’s not an extreme haunted house — but a violent “torture chamber under disguise.”
Go inside McKamey Manor, the controversial “extreme haunted house” in Tennessee.
How McKamey Manor Became The Scariest Haunted House In America
McKamey Manor is the brainchild of Russ McKamey, a former Navy seaman turned wedding singer turned haunted house enthusiast. He first started his haunted house in San Diego before pulling up stakes and moving his operation to Tennessee.
There, he offers guests an all-immersive “extreme” haunted house experience. For the price of a bag of dog food — McKamey is an animal lover with five dogs — guests can try to endure the McKamey Manor experience.
There are a couple of ground rules, however. All participants must be at least 21 years old (or 18 with parental approval), complete a physical, pass a background check, be screened by Facebook, FaceTime, or phone, have proof of medical insurance, and pass a drug test.
Participants must also read aloud, and sign, a 20-plus-page legal waiver. But this isn’t just any legal waiver. It’s packed with possible scenarios that range from pulling out someone’s teeth to shaving their head to having their fingers shoved in mouse traps.
Though participants are allowed to choose two — out of more than one hundred — that they want to avoid, everything else is fair game. For some, that’s enough to back out of the challenge right away.
Braver souls are allowed to proceed. But most don’t make it very far into the McKamey manor challenge. In fact, most just last an average of eight minutes before begging for it all to stop.
Those eight minutes have convinced thousands of people that Russ McKamey isn’t running a haunted house at all. They claim that he’s created a torture chamber.
The Controversy Surrounding McKamey’s Extreme Haunted House
According to an online petition with more than 170,000 signatures, McKamey Manor is “a torture chamber under disguise.”
Calling McKamey Manor “torture porn” and “a shame to all haunted houses,” the petition claims that participants have suffered sexual assault, injections with drugs, and extreme physical harm.
Russ McKamey, the petition claims, “uses loopholes to get out of being arrested,” and “one man was tortured so badly he passed out multiple times… workers only stopped because they thought they had killed him.”
Indeed, a number of people have gone public with their terrifying experiences at McKamey Manor. Laura Hertz Brotherton, who went through McKamey’s San Diego haunted house, claims that the experience sent her to the hospital. She arrived covered in bruises, with scratches inside her mouth from actors “fish-hooking” her cheeks.
Brotherton says that actors blindfolded her with duct tape, submerged her by her ankles in water, and buried her alive with only a straw to breathe through.
Other participants describe being forced to eat their own vomit, having their faces shoved in rancid water, and being locked in coffins with insects and spiders.
“its literally just a kidnapping & torture house,” argues the petition. “Some people have had to seek professional psychiatric help & medical care for extensive injuries.”
But Russ McKamey says that the backlash has all been blown out of proportion.
Russ McKamey’s Defense Of McKamey Manor
Russ McKamey might accept that he’s created the scariest haunted house in America — maybe even the scariest haunted house in the world. But he’d deny that McKamey Manor is anything but an extreme haunted house. It’s certainly not, he says, any kind of torture chamber.
“I’m a very straight-laced conservative guy, but here I run this crazy haunted house that people think is this torture factory, fetish factory,” McKamey complained.
That’s simply not the case, he said. McKamey even got rid of the $20,000 prize because it was attracting “the crazy ones.”
Still: “You’d be surprised over the years how many people have claimed something happened to them inside,” he said.
That’s why McKamey tapes every single participant and uploads the videos on YouTube. When people complain about something that happened to them, he merely hands them the unedited footage and says, “Here ya go, here’s the complete show.”
From his perspective, McKamey is simply a good creative director. He claims to tailor each show around everyone’s individual fears. He insists that countless participants have been fooled into thinking something happened that never actually did.
“When I use the hypnosis I can put you in a kitty pool with a couple inches of water and tell you there’s a great white shark in there, and you’re gonna think there’s a shark in there,” McKamey said.
“And so, when you have that kind of power over people, and have them do and see things that you want them to see, then they can leave here thinking it really happened, and they’ll go to the authorities and say, ‘Oh, whatever,’ and I have to come back and show the footage and say, ‘It didn’t go that way at all.'”
“It saved me a thousand times.”
That said, McKamey had adjusted his haunted house a little. He currently offers a “Descent” experience which is six hours long. “People can actually make it through – it’s not as rough as some of them are,” he said.
In the end, McKamey claims that his haunted house is all smoke and mirrors. Mere suggestion is often enough to scare people — and sometimes convince them that something happened that didn’t.
“It’s a mental game,” McKamey insisted. “It’s really me against them.”
Real or not, it seems certain that McKamey Manor will continue to draw guests. Considered one of the world’s scariest haunted houses, it’s a magnet for endurance junkies and horror aficionados.
But, as Russ McKamey notes, the “Manor is always gonna win.”