Drawing the line

Savanna Hennig

Let’s get this straight: I love scary things. Horror movie classics to creepy campfire stories. A glance at my stock of entertainment and you’ll see such titles as Silent Hill, Stephen King  and American Horror Story. I grew up with a passion for being scared, and even today I’ll seek out some truly horrific things with a smile on my face.

Savanna Hennig
Savanna Hennig

While browsing the Internet recently, I discovered a trend that I had not known about: “Extreme Haunted Houses.” They are described as one of the most intense, fear-filled experiences out there. Designed to cater to only the most seasoned, desensitized thrill-seeker, I did some research. “Bring it on,” I thought excitedly.

When I saw what I was in for, The McKamey Manor, hosted in San Diego, was the first “extreme” haunted house I saw on my search. The promotional videos showed participants being physically beaten, spat on, forced to eat rotten things that they gag on… the list continues. OK, I understand, it’s supposed to be scary. It’s supposed to be extreme. The home website boasts the chance to experience your own personal horror movie. But, the McKamey Manor has no safe word, and the two to seven hour experience is only cut short if the participant has a serious medical problem.

It’s true, people have to sign a lengthy waiver and be in excellent physical health before entering, but is that any justification to what really happens? Is a sheet of paper all you need to sign to be OK with being grabbed, bruised or cut? To be OK with being shoved head-first into a pool of putrid water and held there by your hair?

I would love a safe word at that point, if you ask me. But at the Manor, they take that away from you. From owner Russ McKamey himself, “Nobody so far has been able to handle this experience… Medically, we had to pull the plug.” This means no one (that I know of) has been able to complete the entire haunt.

Really? Why is this a thing? At what point is the experience not fun anymore?

The extreme haunts are not limited to McKamey Manor. A quick Google search will bring up names like Blackout, Alone: An Existential Haunting, and The Freakling Brothers. Most of these haunts are either 18 and older or 21 and older and you cannot be under the influence of drugs or alcohol before entering. Also, you can only go through the experience either completely alone, or with one other person. Some of these haunts have safe words (“bunny” was my favorite), while others do not.

I get it, I totally do. People go to these things to be scared. Enjoyment of these haunts are entirely based on the individual going through it. I’m not at all trying to insult people who are seeking out this extreme haunted torture in the least, I’m asking why. I suppose that there’s a sort of adrenaline rush after the experience (that is, if you’re not unconscious or scarred mentally), or you just have an appreciation for pain, humiliation and/or fear.

I appreciate scary things and horror, but count me out of the really extreme haunts this year. Trust me, I’m down for a truly scary haunted house, even one that is somewhat immersive. I’m incredibly excited for NMU’s 2014 haunted theatre, and I’ve heard a few rumors of what they’re going to have this year.

But, in my mind, there is a very distinct line between horror and torture. I’m absolutely not planning on visiting things like the McKamey Manor this year. Call me a wimp, but the moment that some actor slaps me in the face, I’m out.