Anyone who completes the haunted house wins $20,000. Not a single person has ever managed to do so.
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. One would think that the $20,000 prize for successfully completing the challenge would motivate even the most terrified volunteer to pull through — but not a single person has ever done so.
Every person has, instead, uttered the safe word phrase to surrender — “You really don’t want to do this” — and given up the hefty bundle of cash in the process.
While this might initially seem like McKamey managed to develop the most terrifying — but legal — haunted house in America, thousands of people beg to differ. A Change petition with nearly 80,000 signatures claims it’s not just a simulated haunt — but a violent “torture chamber under disguise.”
The requirements to participate in this ominous thrill ride are as follows: 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.
All it actually costs to enter is a bag of dog food for one of McKamey’s five pets. After watching a two-hour video called “And Then There Were None,” you’re free to give it your best shot. The footage is a collection of failed attempts, and always ends the same — with participants giving up.
“You really don’t want to do this” might be more than a clever phrase McKamey can use to market his business, which was recently featured on Netflix’s Haunters: Art of the Scare and on an episode of Dark Tourist.
The online petition claims McKamey “uses loopholes to get out of being arrested,” and that “one man was tortured so badly he passed out multiple times.” It also claims “workers only stopped because they thought they had killed him.”
McKamey also allegedly employed people with histories of violence. The petition claims his employees waterboard participants, force them to eat things, duct tape their heads, and even sexually assault them.
While claims such as these are easily made, nearly 80,000 people seem to corroborate they might be factual. There’s even a Reddit thread that shares some of these allegations.
Most unnerving are the petition’s claims that McKamey or his employees use “needles to inject people with drugs” that make people hallucinate. The entrepreneur, meanwhile, is baffled at the backlash he’s experienced. According to him, this has all been blown out of proportion.
“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,” he said. “All of these things that it’s not, but people believe that based upon the films that I have made.”
“You’d be surprised over the years how many people have claimed something happened to them inside,” he said. “And I need to go back and show whoever needs to see it the raw and unedited footage, saying, ‘Here ya go, here’s the complete show.'”
From his perspective, McKamey is a merely a good creative director. He claims to tailor each show around everyone’s individual fears (a common one being water), and 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,” he 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.”
McKamey uploads the footage of each show to his YouTube channel. His favorite horror movies are more in line with the classics, rather than their bloodier, more modern counterparts. The suspense and elongated dread is what does it for him.
“Because that’s what the Manor really is,” he said. “It’s a mental game. It’s really me against them.”
Ultimately, it does appear to be that way. McKamey is facing large and substantial opposition by thousands who seemingly believe he’s responsible for physical violence against them.
Alternatively, he might just be a genius never-before-seen in the haunted house industry — and too effective for his own good.