For the past several years, Russ McKamey, who spent 23 years in the Navy, has been on a mission: to terrify, disturb, and just plain ruin those who enter his den of doom.
Marketed as the “premier home haunt,” the reservations-only has seen numerous visitors begin their living nightmare but not a single one finish it. Rather, those who enter tap out halfway through the terrorizing experience, and leave a blubbering mess of their former selves.
Perhaps that’s because McKamey Manor is no half-hour jump-scare excursion; this is an all-out interactive physical and mental assault that lasts for a whopping eight hours. Participants, known at the manor as “victims,” are battered, bloodied, bruised, shaved, and shamed—and it’s all legal.
After signing a 10-page waiver, doling out medical records, acing a background check, and winning over McKamey himself in a Skype interview, no more than two 21-or-older participants at a time are sent to a pickup location. There they meet a pair of masked henchmen (known as “kidnappers”), who gag, bind, and bag them. The victims are then hauled to their final destination, where the “fun” begins.
Upon entering McKamey Manor, “enforcers” get to work force-feeding, waterboarding, punching, slapping, and torturing their victims—nothing is off-limits. Their main goal: ensure the new arrivals don’t finish. Terrified of cockroaches and tarantulas? Expect to get up close and personal with the creepy-crawlies while locked in a coffin that fills with a mysterious gas. Sick to your stomach? Throw up and the enforcers will make you slurp the vomit back down your throat. And that’s just the watered-down stuff.
Throughout the manor are nearly impossible traps, or “breakers,” as McKamey calls them. One such trap is the eel breaker, in which a victim is submerged in an eight-foot tank of eel-infested water with a cage top. Every torture sequence and sadistic attack doubles as a Kodak moment. That’s right: from start to beg-for-mercy finish, everything is recorded on film.
It’s questions like these that keep McKamey Manor shrouded in controversy. There’s even a community of online critics, who vent and warn others about the manor on Facebook. Though the group is officially known as , McKamey has a word for them all his own: haters.
Love it or hate it, the extreme haunted house trend isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s flourishing. There’s the extreme trailblazer Blackout with locations in L.A., Chicago, Miami, and NYC; Haunted Hoochie at Dead Acres in Ohio; Nightmare: New York; and many others. Each is certifiably different, yet they all share the same aggressive modus operandi, and that’s to get every participant to break.
McKamey views his manor as an immersive live performance of smoke and mirrors. “It’s not real,” He told The Guardian in 2015. “If people were really hurt we’d be shut down.”
Nevertheless, city regulations in San Diego blocked McKamey’s attempt to make his haunt commercial—a development that seems to confirm the manor’s capacity for real harm. For those who still want in, go ahead and get started on your application process: the manor is open on weekends year-round.
Better yet: it’s completely free of charge. All McKamey asks is that you donate a few cans of dog food to his greyhound rescue organization. And to those who are firmly planted in the hell-no camp, would it help to know there are cookies, a blanket, and a round of applause once the nightmare is over?
All stills via McKamey Manor / YouTube