Haunted Houses are Quickly Becoming Torture Porn

Allow me to get straight to the point here: some modern haunted houses are… sick. Not only was I taken to the popular local radio-station KUBE 93 Haunted House as a child (and scarred by the experience), but in the past couple of years my family has coerced me into visiting some truly obscene new ones. One example, the Hillbilly Haunt, features partial nudity (which I consider a scintillating bonus) but also some of the most disturbing scenes of torture that I have ever seen. Boiling beneath my anxiety over the constant jump scares was resentment at my family for guilt-tripping me into this, and abhorrence at what people were lining up and paying to witness. I kept thinking, “What is wrong with you people?! Why do you enjoy this?”

I am sure there are multiple reasons people are so eager to jump in line for progressively violent haunted houses. You can test your mental fortitude and feel especially tough at the end. The pseudo-danger is surely thrilling for the adrenaline junkies. The partial nudity might even make the experience erotic for some. In the words of Tom Cleary in Wedding Crashers, “It’s sexual and violent.” My family and friends always tell me, “Oh, it’s just harmless fun.” Whenever they say that, I like to tell them about McKamey Manor.

McKamey Manor is a haunted house in San Diego, California (although it is currently moving locations). The entire experience takes between two and four hours and only two people are allowed inside at a time. All participants are required to be at least 21 years of age and sign a waiver before entering. According to owner Russ McKamey, the majority of people do not make it all four hours and many often quit in the first room. What exactly goes on there?

According to the website and testimonials, a lot. Touching is allowed, but only by the actors. You cannot touch anyone yourself. Participants have been locked in coffins, repeatedly doused with “blood,” force-fed strange food, gagged, placed in head restraints, bound, dunked in cold water, and physically injured. The waiting list in the thousands and you must pass an extensive physical and mental assessment to be let in. On the assessment, you are asked to list your biggest fears. This information is then used against you to personalize your fear experience. Those who are claustrophobic are placed in tiny locked compartments.

Those with arachnophobia will have a tarantula placed on their face with their wrists and ankles bound.

McKamey Manor is not alone. Blackout in New York has gained notoriety by forcing its participants to partially undress, suck on a tampon, and undergo simulated waterboarding. Do I think these places should be shut down? No. I simply do not understand why there is a market for them. If someone on Craigslist advertised to torture you but not hurt you too badly, would you say yes?

I think many people are going about haunted houses the wrong way. But not everyone. “Hell houses” are haunted houses put on by churches that focus on sins and consequences. They have been known to depict the consequences of drinking and driving, recreational drug use, suicide, and abortion. The New Destiny Christian Church in Colorado sells a hell house starter kit, customizable with modern sins such as “the rave scene,” “domestic abuse,” and, my personal favorite, “the gay wedding.” (Hmm… one of these things is not like the other.) While hell houses may open up an entirely new can of offensive worms, what I appreciate is that there is a message contained within the experience. Real-world scenarios paired with religious judgment and damnation? Now that is scary.

Instead of focusing on gore, violence, and torture, I think haunted houses should focus on stories. One of my favorite movies to watch around Halloween is the 2001 remake of the 1960 film 13 Ghosts. In the bonus features, you can click on any of thirteen items and hear the backstory of each ghost. Some of the ghosts were crazy, some of the ghosts were violent, and some of the ghosts were victims. But the way they lived decided the way they died and now they are angry and resentful towards the living. How easy it would be to have a haunted house with a similar theme. Thirteen rooms, thirteen stories. Realistic, artistic, and downright chilling… haunted houses could be so much more than they currently are.

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Illustration by Felicia Chang

Illustration by Felicia Chang

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