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extreme haunts

Extreme Haunts: Why (Some of Us) Want to Live in Fear

The Horror Equity Fund

Do you love horror movies? I mean really love horror movies? Would you want to experience that level of fear in real life? Participants of Extreme Haunts – such as McKamey Manor, Gates of Hell and BLACKOUT – submit themselves to all kinds of terror and torture to do just that.

They are – of course – controlled environments, however, participants don’t have any indication of what exactly they’re in for. The McKamey Manor haunt, for example, can last up to 7 hours, and they typically only allow a small number of carefully selected patrons per weekend. Think of it as less of a haunted house and more of a horror marathon.

Described by many as “the most terrifying experience on Earth”, participants could be tied up, gagged, force-fed rotten eggs and other nasty things, covered in blood and other questionable substances, and shoved into caskets or freezers for long periods of time. They don’t use a safe word, so you’re locked in until the whole ordeal is over. No amount of begging or screaming will get you out.

But why, you may ask, would someone sign up for that on their own volition? Well believe it or not, there are actually around 24,000 people on that particular waiting list.

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A tense and terrifying scene from a horror movie may trigger our “agent detection mechanism” – a nifty little evolutionary trait that maintains constant vigilance in uncertain situations. It’s that cringe of dread that makes us stay alert and aware of any danger. Once the muscle-tightening, breath-holding and heart-pounding subside, you feel an intense wave of relief. Our body triggers a release of adrenaline, endorphins, and dopamine that ends up feeling pretty damn good.

For some, the fight-or-flight trigger that they used to get from horror movies just isn’t there anymore. They’ve trained themselves to know that what they’re seeing isn’t real. Perhaps, in this training, there arises the desire to test their mettle in similar situations. To go up against a Jason or a Leatherface and come out victorious. To truly “live out your own horror movie”. These haunts can be a safe way to test out your psychological survival skills without any real danger.

Part of what makes extreme haunts so successful is that they create a safe space that doesn’t always feel safe. BLACKOUT creator Josh Randall explains that they typically receive a better response when it’s something that feels real. Being kidnapped or tortured, for example.

When participants are placed in a maze with costumed zombies or vampires chasing them, it’s a fun thrill. But it doesn’t feel like a real threat. Having a stranger tie you up, physically attack you and scream in your face elicits a much more visceral response. I should note that BLACKOUT participants are required to go through the haunt alone.

Image via weirdee.com

Extreme haunts allow the participants to project their own fears into the situation. If you happen to have a fear of drowning, being forced underwater will be particularly effective in scaring you senseless. They prey on these fears – using elements like claustrophobia, psychosexuality, violence, and complete darkness – to break you down and leave you shaking.

One of the many differences between your run-of-the-mill haunted house and an extreme haunt is the complete lack of control over your experience. If you’re being herded through a haunt like cattle, you can clearly see the actor in a rubber mask jumping out mechanically after every 4 or 5 people.

When you’re forced to go through an extreme haunt alone, you don’t know what to expect or when to expect it. You must completely submit yourself to the experience, knowing the reputation of how intense the experience should be. Your fight-or-flight response is on constant overdrive. You’re exhausted into a state of pure terror.

Participants may take part in an extreme haunt to feel like they’ve accomplished or survived something extraordinarily difficult – which, by all accounts, they have. The haunts are described as controlled and safe, but they may not feel that way. The struggle is real. The terror is real. McKamey Manor, in particular, has come under criticism with conservative online groups targeting the attraction’s extreme methods.

Some people may relish the idea of submitting themselves to this level of torture at the hands of total strangers. Others – if faced with the same situation – would go straight for throat-punches with a resounding “NO THANK YOU!”. So what do you think? Would you be up for one of these extreme haunts, and if so, why? Check out our video below and tell us if you’re on board.

Feature image and video clip courtesy of Chris Fischer