Going to try out a new style of article detailing certain unpopular things that are for some reason, still popular. And what better subject than one of the most controversial tourist attractions ever created: McKamey Manor. Named after its founder, Russ Manor, McKamey Manor started out as a homemade haunted house in San Diego has since evolved into an experience in two locations, neither of which are in San Diego, that has a 2,400 person long waiting list. It has been featured in two documentaries on Netflix. The cost of admission is one bag of dog food and an optional charity donation to a dog rescue for greyhounds. But what it’s most known for is why everyone is asking how it even exists; in its current state it is a glorified torture simulator. But how did it go from a simple backyard haunted house to a real life Hostel?
As years have gone on, we as a human society have had to experience more and more terrifying events. So as that has gone up, so has our desensitization to scary things. The threat of someone invading your home and making a skin suit out of you is more horrific than a guy who looks like a zombie jumping out at you. And Russ McKamey recognized this and decided that he was going to ramp up his experiences to focus not just on blood and gore, but psychological terrors. It is also worth mentioning that Russ formerly served in the Navy and has gone through interrogation training, so he already knows how to mess with people on a much deeper level than, “I’m going to hit a hammer on sheet metal to make a startling sound.” In it’s current state, the event starts with Russ kidnapping you after you sign a 45 page waiver. It is so bad, he needs to call the police to let them know what he is doing. It is some next level demented stuff.
Once you are kidnapped, you will be subjected to a wide variety of things including, having a plastic bag put on your head, have spiders crawl on your face, cockroaches in your mouth, be spat on, thrown in a washing machine, have your own throw up put back into your mouth and, in the rare occasion (according to the 45 page waiver), have teeth and toenails pulled out, drugged or given a tattoo. You can even be waterboarded as part of it, something that has been famously brought into question that it should be classified as a form of torture from a legal perspective, including former Senator John McCain who was tortured in Vietnam. There are several pictures and videos that Russ posts on his website, but due to the graphic and horrifying nature of them, I’m not going to show them. Instead, here’s a picture of my dog Chewbacca sleeping to break the tension.
But the main questions that everyone asks are how can Russ get away with doing these things and why would anyone do this. The easy answer is that 45 page waiver. The first part of the experience is to read out loud every line in the waiver to make sure that you fully understand what Russ could legally be allowed to do if you sign it. That process alone can take up to two hours, not sure if that is factored in to the 10 hour experience. That also cannot start until you have produced documentation of a recent medical physical and psychological evaluation clearing you to participate. And as to why would anyone do this, some people do it to conquer their fears. Others are adrenaline junkies. But the crazy thing is that it has had longer lasting effects. Some people need to seek psychiatric help after it due to the experiences. Others need to have medical attention due to injuries that are suffered in it. One person even suffered a heart attack. Which most of these are caused because the employees and Russ himself rarely honor the safe word. This event used to not have a safe word, so Russ and his people could beat you up for the entire time and not be legally required to stop. But they have since instituted a safe word policy while also ramping up the terror. And yet there are multiple people who have said that they rarely honor the safe word until several minutes later.
But the other biggest issue that several people have with McKamey Manor is how Russ is able to keep funding it and the seemingly unwillingness to answer it. Seeing that he does not charge for the event and according to him, “only makes $800 a month from Navy retirement checks which goes in three days for food,” the question and lack of answer becomes a bit of a major sticking point. He does also say that he does not sell the footage and his videos are not monetized on YouTube (mostly because its torture porn and is 100% not ad friendly). So it is a genuine concern for a lot of people. There have been rumors and speculation that it is being funded by an undisclosed third party that enjoys watching the suffering of others. While Russ does deny this being the case, he also has never confirmed fully how it is funded, especially given the large scale of it.
It is mind boggling to think that something like McKamey Manor does exist. While there are other horror experiences that are similar to it, Black Out being the most famous like it but more focused on making you unnerved rather than kicking the crap out of you, a lot of those other experiences do honor safe words and at no point do they try to hurt you. They might grab you, but will not hurt you. It is no surprise that much of the haunted attraction community wholeheartedly disavows Russ and McKamey Manor for being less focused on scares and freights and more on actual torture. Russ McKamey himself will not even go through his experience. It is a horrid practice that needs to be regulated, which Russ has lost against. As stated earlier, McKamey Manor used to be in San Diego. It was shut down in both of its locations after a state inspector came by, took one look at it and said, “NOPE!” So with proper state and city regulations on these types of experiences, it can kill this experience and any other that wants to go to this extreme. The human body does have limits which people may want to push, but there are also ethical limits that cannot be pushed. You can’t torture people and call it a haunted house experience. That would be like me creating a bounce house where all I do is shoot you with a paintball gun while you sit on a trampoline for 10 hours.