Note: I have heard from the grapevine that Russ McKamey has a… shall we say, “passionate” following. So if you’re a fan of his, let me be clear:
We at Awards Radar are not affiliated with or claim ownership of any intellectual property owned by McKamey Manor. No one here represents Russ McKamey or is claiming to speak for him in any capacity. None of us are affiliated with Andrew Renzi, Melissa Everly, Gabi Hardiman, Brandon Vance, Kris Smith, or Justin Yerace and no one at Awards Radar has been commissioned by Hulu to publish any articles about them.
This op-ed is not intended to deceive potential patrons of McKamey Manor, or defame Russ McKamey, or slander McKamey Manor as a corporate entity. Every photo and video of McKamey Manor posted in this article is solely intended for critique and analysis, which falls well within the “Fair Use” clause under Section 107 of The Copyright Act of 1976. All information I will share about Russ McKamey is public information about a public figure who has appeared in multiple news stories, interviews, and documentaries. Any evaluation of his character below is solely my opinion, and nothing you read below should be interpreted as any kind of definitive legal analysis, financial evaluation, or medical diagnosis. The success or failure of his attraction will have no material impact on me or this site.
Enough of a disclaimer? Okay, let’s go…
I love haunted house attractions. The cheesy and cheap ones have such a ramshackle charm to them while the elaborate ones with top-notch effects are a blast to go through. The Haunted Mansion might actually be my favorite ride at Disney World. I still have fond memories of going through one called “Silo X” in St. Louis, Missouri as a pre-teen, and I am delighted to learn that it’s still an ongoing annual attraction today.
But, much like horror movies in general, there comes a point when I just know, with absolute certainty, that crossing a certain threshold of intensity will take me to a place I have no interest in inhabiting. Remember that “Disturbing Movie Iceberg” meme that made the rounds on Reddit a few years ago? You can count me out of ever going past Tier Three on that list. Call me a coward, call me weak-willed, I don’t care. I see titles like Slow Torture Puke Chamber and Women’s Flesh: My Red Guts and I think, “No. Life is too short. I don’t need to put myself through that.” The most traumatic movie-watching experience of my life was Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father. If films are out there that will rend my soul even more, I can live the rest of my life not ever seeing those movies and feel no regrets.
… I don’t judge anyone who is into that stuff. I have all sorts of weird kinks and proclivities, myself. By all means, if you find those experiences cathartic or rewarding or even pleasurable, go for it! My only advice to you when pursuing those intense sensations is to be careful. When you’re paying money for that kind of experience, you have to know you’re playing with fire. If you are going to pay someone to actively put you through such a harrowing experience, you need to be absolutely sure that they know they are playing with fire as well. No recreational activity, even severely intense ones, is worth unnecessary risks to your physical and psychological safety.
Content Warning: Montage of people being visibly terrorized and borderline abused.
That is a promo video produced, shot, and uploaded by Russ McKamey, the owner and operator of McKamey Manor. Chances are pretty good that if you are even vaguely aware of these kinds of ultra-immersive horror attractions, you have at least heard of this one. It is the single most notorious extreme immersive horror attraction in the world, infamous for putting participants through a gauntlet of violent and deeply upsetting scenarios that seemingly psychologically break them. He is also the subject of a new Hulu documentary titled Monster Inside: America’s Most Extreme Haunted House. This is not a review of that documentary, though it is competently made and admirably explores issues of the ethics of consent and online media subcultures. But this is bigger than one documentary.
While Awards Radar does not venture outside of TV/streaming or films very often, since McKamey Manor bills itself as “living through your own horror movie,” I figure that’s more than enough for me to dive into these waters. So… should you take Russ up on his offer? All you need to do is donate a large bag of dog food, patiently keep up your interest through an (allegedly) long waitlist, pass a pre-screening interview/background check, pass a physical exam, prove you have medical insurance, sign a lengthy 40-page waiver, pass a drug test, and if you make it through to the end, you win a $20,000 prize. Pretty sweet, right? Worth a few hours in some dark cold rooms while dudes in creepy clown makeup shout at you and pour fake blood on your head?
I’ve seen every major YouTube “exposé” on this place. I have watched a good portion of the videos published by McKamey Manor’s official YouTube channel and many testimonials from people who went through the tour. I’ve read the interviews where he defends himself and the way he conducts his attraction. And, of course, I watched the Hulu documentary. Based on this perusal, I have to say to those of you who are considering going through with this experience:
I’m not going to declare Russ McKamey a “monster” or a “sadist” or express any desire for him to be incarcerated, because frankly, as someone who has never met the man, it’s not my place to make those calls. I’ll let those who have accused him of directly harming them speak for themselves, some of whom are prominent figures in Monster Inside. But putting all of that aside, I am fairly certain that this entire thing is not remotely worth the hassle. It might even be an outright grift. You see, from where I am standing…
There Doesn’t Seem to Be Any “Point” to It, Other Than Your Humiliation
This is kind of a strange time to be releasing a feature-length documentary on McKamey Manor, since COVID-19 changed… well, literally everything. Including this place. Since reopening, some of its recent attendees – most notably the YouTuber “Reckless Ben” Schneider – have complained that they never went inside a manor or even a recognizably indoor space, never experienced any of the truly nightmarish ordeals that were commonplace in the older videos, and their tours ended arbitrarily after going through a few hours of what amounted to an unpleasant amateur boot camp. In fact, Russ himself literally calls the first part of his tour a “boot camp” to evaluate the readiness of attendees for “the real show.” Which, conveniently, no one this year seems to be fit to experience “the real show” according to… Russ (let’s put a pin on that).
But even during its harrowing heyday, I have not seen a single pre-COVID video of these tours that actually went anywhere, thematically. And yes, these attractions should offer some sort of overarching narrative that gives meaning to what you are experiencing. Including characters, a plotline of some kind, rising action, a climax, and a conclusion with some sort of idea to take with you when you leave. No, it doesn’t have to be some grad school thesis or Aesop’s “moral of the story,” but it should mean something. Because, as the AMPTP learned the hard way last month, that’s literally why we want to experience narrative art in the first place. A bunch of stuff happening with no rhyme or reason is okay for a rinky-dinky carnival ride or a disposable piece of content spat out by ChatGPT, but for something pitched as a true “immersive experience,” a context-free gauntlet of horrible ordeals is pointless to experience. Boring, even.
“But Robert, there’s that $20,000 prize if you make it to the end!” First off, prize money you can maybe win if you make it all the way to the end is not a theme. But now that you mention it, that actually brings me to my next reason to abstain from the tour…
This Supposed $20,000 Prize Probably Doesn’t Exist
Here’s something that has been reported often and with a weird level of pride from McKamey Manor itself: despite being the most infamous full-contact horror spectacle for quite a few years, one that is apparently so overwhelmingly sought-after that there are thousands of applicants on a waitlist, no attendee of this attraction has ever won the $20,000 prize. Not one. Ever. I’m not the only person who finds that more than a little suspicious.
To be clear, I am not asserting that $20,000 doesn’t literally exist in any fashion. I am not in the business of accusing strangers of fraud without very compelling evidence. For all I know, Russ McKamey may very well have that amount of money set aside in some form. But I am fairly confident in saying that it doesn’t exist in a way that you, the person reading this article, will ever be able to access it. In one particularly revealing portion of Monster Inside, a former contestant recounts how determined he was to survive the entire tour out of a genuine competitive desire to get that money, only for Russ to unexpectedly declare that the tour was over and he failed, despite repeatedly insisting that he was still of sound mind and expressed no desire to end it early. Somehow, McKamey Manor has a higher attrition rate than Basic Underwater Demolition School. That does not make sense unless the victory conditions are, for all practical purposes, unattainable.
Remember: McKamey Manor has no monetary entry fee. Just a bag of dog food. The documentary also informs us that he works at Walmart as a checkout clerk, which is nothing to be ashamed of. Working a checkout line is good, honest work. But also, Walmart is a company that pays its workers such insultingly low wages, that a substantial portion of them have to go on government assistance just to meet their basic needs. Pretty sure the number of checkout clerks subjected to those conditions at Walmart don’t have much room to set aside twenty grand.
So if you’re a divorcée (nothing wrong with getting divorced, either, but you do take a massive financial hit when you get a divorce) who doesn’t charge any money for your well-known entertainment event that has a long waiting list, and you have to make your living working at Walmart, how much cash do you think you have on hand to just give away as prize money to someone? Russ says he deducts $500 for every failed “event” or use of profanity, too. Also, there is no “safe word.” He doesn’t end the tour until he unilaterally decides you’ve had enough. What incentive does Russ McKamey have to declare anyone the winner, under those conditions?
Speaking of “safe words”…
You Have Absolutely No Control Over the Situation Whatsoever Once You’re In
“We’re known for no quitting and no safe word. I make it simple because I’m a simple guy, and I can’t have too many rules, or I’ll get confused. So, either you actually complete the tour, which is not going to happen, or you mentally or physically are at such a breaking point that it’s now not safe for you to continue, and I need to take you out.”
And here is where that “You Get to Live Through Your Very Own Horror Movie!” pitch goes astray. Here is the most critical reason for you to just skip McKamey Manor. Because a horror movie is not real. It doesn’t force anyone to watch it against their will. Joey really enjoyed watching Saw X, but if, at any point during the screening, he felt overwhelmed or too repulsed by what he was watching, he could have gotten up and walked out of that theater and Kevin Greutert wouldn’t have been able to stop him. That Joey originally agreed to watch the movie is irrelevant.
Those fans who insist that “they signed a waiver so they knew what they were getting into!” are fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of consent. Consent can be withdrawn at any time. “They said yes at first!” isn’t an acceptable defense in rape trials, and it’s not acceptable here. When the participants aren’t literally gagged and prevented from speaking, their pleas to end the experience in the videos I’ve watched are often laughed off and ignored. That’s not simulating a horror experience, that’s a violation of basic human rights (don’t take my word for it; an experienced human rights lawyer is interviewed in Monster Inside and she says the same thing).
And for what? Public humiliation on someone’s YouTube channel? False hope to win a challenge that is essentially impossible to win, based on all the available evidence?
This was the most chilling common thread in those pre-COVID videos McKamey Manor Presents has uploaded to YouTube. In those recordings, the attendees are almost always troopers who initially steeled themselves through and then are hit with this realization that Russ McKamey has total control over them and that’s when they break down. That’s what Russ and his actors are actually trying to induce and what their waiver does not account for. That sense of panic over realizing that they unwittingly gave a stranger such a degree of unchecked power over them.
No experience is worth trading in your ability to consent for the sake of someone else’s entertainment.
It is never a good bargain for you.