With so many haunts on the rise, it is hard to keep track of what’s going on and what is out there to suit the most discerning of hauntees.
One documentary film maker, Jon Schnitzer, has not only set out to gather what is going on in the whole world of haunts, but to also capture the dramas that go on behind the scenes.
HAUNTERS THE MOVIE is a documentary about the visionaries who sacrifice everything to create the most popular, and controversial haunted houses for Halloween, but it’s also exploring the psychology of scaring people and the rise of full contact extreme haunts.
Schnitzers’ love of haunted houses began when he was in elementary school. He was so convincing as a monster in a maze that the authorities were forced to knock the entire maze down. Cut to present time and Schnitzer’s love affair continues, but he has noticed an evolution. Over the last few years not only has the quality of haunts increased, but also the quantity, with types of haunts ranging from the old school “Boo Scare” mazes to the more interactive “Escape Haunts.”
“I started to notice something changing about haunted houses. They had become haunted experiences, all about interactive live entertainment, and the fact that haunted houses are now visceral, interactive theatre, and you’re now a character playing a part, in a world, and depending on what you do, you are going to experience something different than the other person.”
An example of the type of haunt Schnitzer is referring to is Trapped In a Room With a Zombie where you have sixty minutes to solve a series of puzzles and escape from a room that has a zombie chained to the wall. Every five minutes a buzzer sounds & the chain is released another foot from the wall.
As well as “Escape Haunts”, it seems that “Home Haunts” are starting to give the mainstream contenders a run for their money. These Home Haunts are exactly what they sound like – everyday people turning their home into a Haunted House.
“The home haunts this year have been incredible! They have come such a long way and the people who make them are so passionate. They’re not making any money from it either, and if they do charge something, they usually give 100% of it back to charity.”
Two examples of Home Haunts are Sherwood Scare, and Rotten Apple Gang. Both are non-profit and give all proceeds to charity.
Although it’s a home haunt, people are shocked at the level of professionalism.
“These home haunts can get away with doing all kinds of crazy stuff that you just couldn’t do at Universal or one of the other mainstream haunted attractions. They have rooms that are slanted to the point where you are slipping and sliding. The floor is made from a weird texture and you feel like your feet are going to sink right through it.”
McKamey Manor is among the most extreme home haunts of all time. The haunt lasts up to 7 to 8 hours and the creators put every penny that they have into making it. Despite this they don’t charge an admission fee but will accept dog food that they then donate to a Greyhound Rescue shelter.
McKamey Manor can be so traumatic that some people who went through experienced the most extreme panic attacks, crying, vomiting, (yes, vomiting) and blacking out. Jon asked them 2 days later if they had regrets, and not one person did.
”Every single person said no and that they were so glad they went. And when I asked them why, they said that they had learnt something about themselves.”
There have been many critics who think that some of the extreme haunts go too far.
“I want people that watch the movie to figure that out for themselves. I predict that there are going to be a lot of arguments that take place amongst people after they see this.”
With the rise of the extreme, interactive haunt, people are looking for a more personalised experience.
“At one end of the spectrum there are people who have office jobs and want to be put into their own worst nightmare to shake them out of the mundane. At the other end there are people who are ex military. For them it’s the closest thing to the fear that they felt in combat without being in true danger. It’s something I’ve been calling it “Scarepy” because there is a therapeutic value to screaming your head off. It makes you feel so alive. You’re put into situations that you’re probably never going to be put into in real life, and it’s wild to see how you’re going to react.”
There have been moments during the shoot where Schnitzer has felt genuinely terrified.
“McKamey Manor is the only haunt that I have filmed where I have had nightmares afterwards. It is so hands on, and the haunt is so aggressive. It is just so scary to be inches away from someone when they are in the middle of a panic attack, and they’re begging to be let out.”
On the future of haunts, Schnitzer is unsure of their place being on solid ground.
“I sometimes wonder if haunts are going to continue to grow and evolve, or is it a bubble that is just one controversy away from being shut down. Will people look back at 2014 and think of it as the year of the wild west of haunting where you can get someone to sign a waiver and get away with anything?”
Jon has been there to capture the moments when certain haunts have been shut down, and says that there is currently a ‘witch hunt ‘on haunts because people have a misconception of what they are about.
“It seems that right across the country a lot of people don’t want a haunt across the street from them or in their neighbourhood”.
Understandably so, as some of these home haunts can have up to 1500 people show up in one night .
Schnitzer has the majority of the documentary filmed, but is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to help with post – production. So far the documentary covers the California region, which makes sense – it’s the home of the movies and the location of the best in special effects – but he would like to cover other parts of the globe.
“My vision has outgrown my resources. I keep hearing about cool haunts in the UK or Japan. There are always new haunts popping up and I would love to shoot them! I want this to be an epic adventure in the new wave of haunting as well inspiring people by the creative process.”
Schnitzer has also quite a considered and planned approach to making the film, taking the viewer on a journey to experience the haunt as much as possible.
“I think people are expecting me to just walk around a haunted house and film it and then have people talk about it. That’s not what I’m doing. I want people to really have a genuine cinematic experience. I’ve used 7 different cameras to film this. There are times when it’s in night vision, times when we’re using red epix, times when we’re using a canon T300and 5D’s, Go Pro’s, I want it to be the movie that would blow me away when I was 8 years old.”
Last year Mark Cuban from Shark Tank awarded LA’s Haunted Hayride with the biggest deal in Shark Tank history, giving the production two million dollars.
“This is the future of entertainment.” Says Schnitzer with a giggle.
Jon Schnitzer is co-owner of The Brain Factory and was hired by Tim Burton to produce 3D ghost illusions for Obama’s 1st Halloween party at the White House.
As a member of The Magic Castle’s “Boo Crew” Jon curates interactive 3D illusions for the most exclusive Halloween party in Hollywood.
For further details of his documentary and Kickstarter campaign, visit