McKamey Manor is no ordinary thrill experience.
Russ McKamey founded his eponymous manor as an interactive haunted house, but now McKamey Manor is on the opposite end of the spectrum to a classic ‘boo haunt’ with plastic skeletons and spooky noises. McKamey Manor was featured extensively in the 2017 documentary film Haunters: The Art of the Scare and on the Netflix original series Dark Tourist. The manor has evolved (after some sites have been forced to shut down) into less of a venue and more of a harrowing physical and psychological event, attracting much controversy, scrutiny and media attention throughout the process.
Usually, two or three guests are allowed in at a time for an experience that can last as long as ten hours if the visitors can endure it. McKamey says that he likes to “personalise each haunt.” They find out the invitee’s biggest fear to use it against them. Gabi L, one of the first visitors to the manor, explained “He knew I was afraid of spiders. That’s why he put a spider on my face.” Entrants also claim that he likes to pin them against each other and make them decide who will suffer some hideous tasks at the expense of the rival guest. Upon arrival guests are blindfolded, thrown into the back of a van and beaten up by the actors; and this is before they even get to the destination. It has been suggested that most of the ‘actors’ McKamey hires have criminal backgrounds.
Some experiences involve guests being locked in freezers, slapped, kicked, held underwater, injected, tased, punched, or choked. Other recorded visits show live animals brought in to be put on visitors faces or to be consumed by the entrants. Several visitors have had nails ripped off, bones broken, hair shaved, or teeth removed. All of this is available content for viewers of YouTube’s McKamey Manor Channel. The footage shown on this and McKamey Manor’s website is touted as the watered-down, edited version of their videos. They don’t show the worst parts of the torture; McKamey says its “top secret,” so God only know what could be accessed on the dark web. Here lies the fascination, which McKamey uses to create an unknown fear that sells to a masochistic crowd.
In an exposing clip entitled I Survived McKamey Manor- The REAL Truth, YouTuber Gabss (also known as Gabi L) explained how she is only now, ready to talk about her experience going through the infamous McKamey Manor, she said “It took me 5 years ‘til now, to really grasp how messed up the situation was. It wasn’t a haunted house. It was a weird way for Russ to have control over people.” Gabss saw the original advertisement on YouTube. She thought it was marketed as ‘a boo haunt’. “They could grab you. They could get physical but it wasn’t gonna be anything crazy.” She was one of the very first to take part in ‘the haunt’ and refered to herself as a guinea pig.
McKamey’s team made no excuses. Employee Ryan Lawrence, in an interview from last year, admitted “I don’t have a line. If they say they can’t do it, they can’t stand up I drag them.” McKamey himself, in the same interview proudly added “7 years ago we had a heart attack. That was good stuff.” Russ McKamey’s ex-wife Holly Shillito described him as a “dangerous predator,” whilst his own children confess “He enjoys torturing people.”
When the manor first came into the public eye in 2014 there was an approximate 22,000 people on the waiting list. This was back when clips of people were shown on various social media platforms, apparently experiencing a haunted storyline. Now it is more about the harrowing experience than the location. An endurance competition where people go to see how far they can ‘push’ themselves. Glorifying, not the horror of the house (as there is no permanent location), but instead the uncivil treatment of the visitors. Videos provided by McKamey and comments from the public gradually reveal a much darker side of the exhibition, unafraid to tell it like it is. In fact, the exploitation seems to be the selling point. Since the more violent videos were posted, the number on the waiting list has increased by 3,000.
The first house in San Diego was forced to close down in 2015. Now McKamey has a 40-page waiver that entrants must sign prior to taking part. A guest called Avery contacted the police right after her experience. They couldn’t do anything to help her as she had waived the right of assistance before she entered the manor. In 2019, more than 81,000 people signed a petition to close down McKamey Manor on the grounds of it being a “torture chamber in disguise” (The Daily Mail, 31st October 2019). It is still in operation and perhaps even more popular than ever, adding to the mystique and horror of the site and the man who runs it.
With a background in theatre and 23 years in the navy, Russ McKamey is not a man to shun the limelight. He seems to love the negative attention and even tries to allude to more. But is this a surprise, or merely a way of propagating his own renown? McKamey is obsessed with mind games and many have suggested that he uses hallucinogens on guests, not simply to enhance their encounter, but also as a further means of control. Sometimes he’ll turn the camera lens off when filming but leave the audio on. Is this because he’s got the cast to do something even more horrible to the guest that he doesn’t want to show? More likely, it is simply to add to the mystery and the sales.
Guests who are trying to expose him for what he is will mention they were in there for hours but the video that goes on the McKamey Manor site is only an hour long. But this is all hearsay. According to multiple guests, the original videos can only be accessed on the dark web. This type of gossip creates a buzz for young conspiracy theorists who are dying to find the evidence, while at the same time, the house accrues the attention that McKamey craves.