Haunted Houses - Deadly Attractions?

Whether you love them or hate them, there is nothing quite like a haunted house. That feeling of terror you get while wandering around a building full of actors hiding around every corner, ready to jump out and scare the living daylights out of you is unlike anything else. Haunted houses are still classed as amusement attractions, but they are so much more – even if we know they aren’t allowed to touch us, there’s still a distinct fear that comes with knowing there is no safety rope between you and the axe wielding maniac hiding behind the next door. At the end of the day, it’s all good fun. You may have screamed so much you’ve lost your voice, but you come out the other side relatively unscathed, and, if you’re particularly brave, you jump right back into the queue to go again.

However, over the past few years another type of haunted house has cropped up, gaining popularity particularly in America. These are the “extreme” houses, the kind where you need to go as far as signing a waver in order to pass through. Actors are encouraged to not only make the participants feel threatened but to actually threaten them – cuts and bruises as a result of taking part are not uncommon, and some houses take as long as a few hours to complete.

To someone like me who likes to double check their seatbelt whenever I’m in the car, the whole idea of a haunted house like this is my idea of hell on earth, but it would seem I’m in the minority – these houses tend to have queues so big that waiting lists are employed, and booking well in advance is preferred. So, what is it about these houses that are so popular? Why are so many people forgoing the jump-scares of a regular haunted house for one where actual danger is on the cards?

McKamey Manor

One haunted house in particular comes to mind when thinking of the word “extreme”, that house being the now iconic McKamey Manor. This house has a 27,000-person waiting list, with people flying in from around the world just to have a go. McKamey Manor will definitely give you an experience. Its creator and owner even boasts about the heart attack they were able to induce a few years back. One participant on their promotional site, an ex-Navy Seal no less, begs the audience not to go into the house, as it’s just too much. Gagging, binding and force feeding are all features, and a “short” trip through the house may take you around three hours.

Knowing this, the fact that heart attacks have been induced is not surprising. This is not to say, however, that safety is never something these houses think about. The terrifying performers of McKamey Manor are all trained first aiders, and houses all over America such as Dead of Night in New York (where you enter the house by being zipped into a body bag) and The Basement in Pennsylvania both advertise safe words as part of the experience. There’s an even lighter side to all this too – many of the haunted houses around America raise incredible amounts for charity every year, McKamey Manor taking dog food cans off participants to donate to the local dog shelter (and judging by the number of cans they get, those dogs eat well).

So, if these houses are so extreme and terrifying, why are they still going? Surely no one wants to actually get hurt as part of their evening? Well, here I can only speculate, and I’d like to say that it is all about the experience. Imagine being able to come out the other side of one of these houses and say you survived? Reviews of these houses have been overwhelmingly positive, and it would definitely be something to tell the grandkids.

As for me, however, I think it’ll be a long time before you see me voluntarily being zipped into a body bag for a night out.

-Chloë Perrin 2017