27 October 2019 00:32
Where to Stream: Haunters: The Art of the Scare More Options For most people, Halloween is one day on the calendar — something to look forward to, something to celebrate — but ultimately one that comes and goes like any other. For a certain kind of person, though, it's a passion, one that extends to creating carefully planned, wildly ambitious and utterly bonkers attractions meant to shock, terrify and surprise. Haunters: The Art of the Scare, an entertaining documentary on Netflix, takes a deep dive into the subculture of people dedicated to creating haunted houses, mazes and other grim Halloween attractions. These aren't businesses run by traditional entertainment operators — they're often small attractions on private property, but ones built with a shocking degree of intricacy, passion and investment. Calling what their builders are doing a "hobby" might be technically correct, but that hardly seems to capture the level of commitment on display here.
"I start in about August," shares one man as he constructs an attraction at his mother's house, due to lack of space in his own. "I end up spending most days after work and all weekends here. This takes a lot of time away from my wife, who essentially sees Halloween as a mistress I cheat on her with." The months of work he puts in are aimed at a surprisingly narrow window of operations — he'll only open the attraction for four hours on Halloween night. "Last year we actually made a rule that he can't talk about Halloween until late August," his beleaguered wife adds. A brief on-screen marital argument ensues about whether such behavior will continue once they have children, with the wife suggesting that they'll go trick-or-treating like normal people, and the husband insisting that "I'll be damned if I'm going to give up Halloween for a kid." Of course, for many of these enthusiasts, they're not totally against the notion that Halloween might be for kids. They're just extending their own childhood love of horror into adulthood. One woman tells a story of rejecting her mother's selection of princess dress in favor of a skeleton costume in second grade. These people have always been this way — they've just got more time and money now. "Ever since my first time scaring someone, I was hooked. It was like a drug," another operator chuckles. That thrill of scaring becomes almost a sport, evidenced by several of the movie's subjects gleefully recounting their twisted metrics of success for the attractions. "We've had four people pee, we've had kids' retainers pop out — we had one girl curl up in the fetal position crying for her mommy. She was like, seventeen." Another, a filmmaker running an especially an infamously intense attraction called McKamey Manor, treats it like a private club, claiming a waiting list numbering in the thousands for his four-hour-long scarefest. "We prescreen people. We have to make sure they're physically and mentally okay, because it is, to say the least, very challenging." We watch as he conducts Skype interviews of potential attendees, grilling them about the things that scare them the most. While he clearly derives a perverse pleasure from the torment, the subjects are candid about their reasoning for wanting to go through with it all. "I want to prove I'm not a wimp," one woman states. Most of the people we meet in Haunters are regular people with normal, buttoned-up, white-collar jobs — legal assistants, risk managers, and so on. For them, the act of scaring is both a channel for their creativity and a release valve for "the things I can't say to my boss", one laughs. "You can have a really bad day in your personal life," another shares, while in costume, "and then you just come here and let it all out on the guests." There does seem to be a lot of genuine psychological catharsis in this for people — one mentions the 2008 economic crisis as a personal catalyst. They're simulating horror in a garage so as to better cope with the everyday horrors of life. As several experts explain, this ties into a larger history of the horror genre — as long as it's been around, it's reflected society's mood. "There's a reason the horror genre was born during the Depression," notes John Murdy, a creative director for Universal Studios, in an on-screen interview. "All the original monster movies, Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, came out then. People needed that escape." As another historian points out, many early 20th-century amusement parks couldn't afford to build roller-coasters, but found profit in the "cheap thrills" afforded by haunted house-type attractions. Whether a scarer or a scaree, and for whatever reasons have brought them there, it's clear that this is serious business, a labor of love expressed in bigger and better frights, in gushing blood and crawling creatures, in racing hearts and adventures in the dark. These people might seem twisted, gruesome or just downright weird, but in the end, they're bonding and celebrating the same way others might with an elaborate Christmas display or a big Labor Day barbecue. "As a family, we all come together out of our love and pride in putting together this masterpiece." Scott Hines is an architect, blogger and internet user who lives in Louisville, Kentucky with his wife, two young children, and a small, loud dog. Stream Haunters: The Art of the Scare on Netflix