Directed by: Jon Schnitzer
Featuring: Russ Mckamey, McKenzie Westmore
Haunted houses are holiday attractions that seem to come and go as far as popularity. They really became a thing in the 70’s. Nowadays, with Halloween creeping up on Christmas as far as popularity, these attractions are finding more competition, which requires more innovation. The boo haunts of the 70’s have given way to attractions with animatronics, Hollywood caliber makeup fx, and even more recently, extreme haunts. Haunters: The Art of the Scare attempts to be an overview of the various haunts from small home haunts to massive spectacles.
So, right away the documentary is in trouble. To do a survey of such a wide variety of locations and characters requires a deft hand to maintain a consistent narrative. There are common questions asked of the various actors and haunt owners but mostly the film jumps subjects at a breakneck pace leaving us with a series of sound bites rather than a follow through on any individual story. The Travel Channel does a survey of what they think are the scariest haunts every year and this film feels like an extension of that special rather than an informative documentary. There are some great opportunities for storytelling here. One example is a couple struggling to come to terms with the possibility of a normal life versus a haunt life, and the other is notorious haunter Russ Mckamey struggling to find a new home for his haunt. These are great behind the scenes moments revealing real struggles the hunters have to make their dreams a reality, but they are fleeting. Just as we invest in these stories we are off to another montage of sound bites from a variety of haunters, most of which we know nothing about outside of the lower third.
Documentary interviewing is a very special art that takes a great deal of practice to get right. The best documentary interviewer will never have his/her voice featured in the final film. Unfortunately we hear our intrepid interviewer speaking throughout Haunters. That, along with a ton of center framed interviewees awkwardly staring directly into the camera led me to believe that this may be Jon Schnitzer’s first documentary. A quick dive into IMDB reveals only this film and a VR film scheduled for release in 2017. That’s not a slam against the director by any means. Just taking on a feature documentary for a first film is a daunting endeavor.
The subtitle to the film is “The Art of the scare”. The actual art, technique or anything really related to what makes haunts work is just glossed over. This movie was made for other haunters or hardcore haunted house fans. If you are a fan or an employee of haunted houses you’ll enjoy seeing this film, otherwise you won’t learn much about what makes haunts great. Also, you can tell that the filmmakers became enamored with extreme haunt owner Russ McKamey because he gets the largest individual portion of the movie’s running time. Russ is an extremely interesting personality but for this particular survey of haunts the time spent with him feels off balance. Finally making a documentary can be a very pricey and challenging affair. If I heard right their is footage in the film from 2008. So, the filmmakers spent nearly 10 years on this film? That’s not uncommon in documentary filmmaking for sure, but any hardcore fan knows that the issues Russ McKamey was facing during the filming are a distant memory.
Haunters: The Art of the Scare may be a fun one time watch for haunted house fans and followers but the lack of a solid through story leaves us wanting more.