McKamey Manor is not your average haunted house.
Forget a 10-minute walk through a spiderweb and fake blood-filled maze — this terrifying attraction is self-described as a “new level of extreme horror,” in which guests are forced to come face to face with what scares them most.
“Understand that each tour will be different based upon your personal fears, and can last up to 10 HOURS,” the website reads. “Each guest will be mentally and physically challenged until you reach your personal breaking point.”
Visitors afraid of clowns, for example, can expect to encounter plenty of the creepy jokesters during their journey. Someone who’s deathly afraid of drowning will likely experience some simulation akin to that experience.
In 2015, a participant named Amy Milligan told the San Diego Tribune that she had been slapped, waterboarded and locked in a coffin with cockroaches crawling over her face during her tour.
“I’m going to die here,” Milligan recalled thinking. “‘I’m going to drown.’ My hair is wrapping around my neck and I start freaking out. I’m telling them I can’t breathe and they’re just laughing and doing it more.”
The Manor’s owner, Russ McKamey, says he has invested over $1 million in the attraction over the years, and offers a $20,000 reward to anyone who can complete the entire experience. No one ever has. The Navy vet turned wedding singer created the attraction over 30 years ago, combining his love of haunted houses and theatrics.
“Doing a haunt is like doing a play, but in October,” McKamey tells PEOPLE.
But this controversial destination is the farthest thing from a typical theater-going experience. McKamey says he uses mind-control techniques and hypnosis to put people through mental torture, and that he can get them to believe anything he wants. “That’s my ace up my sleeve,” he says.
Tours at the McKarney Manor — which start in Summertown, Tennessee and end about 70 miles away in Huntsville, Alabama (if you make it that far) — are absolutely free to take part in, but guests must go through a lengthy admissions process to enter.
Because of the personalized nature of the Manor, it runs only once per week.
According to the website, potential guests must complete a “sports physical,” provide a doctor’s note stating they are in peak physical and mental health, pass a background check, provide proof of medical insurance, pass a screening over webcam, pass a drug test, sign a 40-page waiver and watch a two-hour warning video among other requirements.
Guests must be 21 years of age or older. Those aged 18 to 20 can sign up with a parent’s permission.
While the manor may appeal to masochists and horror-lovers, a petition on Change.org is currently going around to put a halt to the attraction, claiming it is “a torture chamber under disguise” and “a shame to all haunted houses.”
The petition was started by a user named Frankie Towery, and appeals to the Tennessee State Senate, Tennessee Governor and Alabama State Senate. It has been signed by over 80,000 people as of Halloween 2019.
The petition description details that “they do screenings to find the weakest, most easily manipulated people to do the ‘haunt.’ If Russ doesn’t think you’re easily manipulated, you aren’t allowed to go… he uses loopholes to get out of being arrested… One man was tortured so badly he passed out multiple times, workers only stopped because they thought they had killed him.”
The document also claims that there have been reports of sexual assault inside the manor, that people with violent histories and sexual offenders are hired, and that needles are used to inject participants with hallucinogens, among other illegal activities.
“It’s literally just a kidnapping & torture house,” the description continues. “Some people have had to seek professional psychiatric help and medical care for extensive injuries. I propose that all locations where this is happening be shut down immediately.”
Despite these allegations, McKamey maintains that the Manor is legal, and that the petitioners’ claims are untrue.
“I find it funny,” he says of the accusations. “It’s my private property, and it’s just something I enjoy doing. Just because I have this unusual hobby that people get all bent out of shape about, they’re not going to shut it down.” He did not clarify which portion of the experience is on his property, as the route covers many miles and crosses state lines.
McKamey also says that the District Attorney has been out to the site many times and has never seen any cause for concern. “You have to use your common sense,” he says. “If torture was happening the way they think it’s happening, then I’d be in jail right now.”
For now, McKamey says he is overwhelmed not by negative attention, but by the amount of people calling him looking to set up a tour.
“I have to put my phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ because my phone just rings 24/7 now with people trying to take the tour,” he says.
As for the current number of people on the waiting list? “Well over 27,000.”