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Bay Of The Living Dead: Haunters, New Doc Takes You Behind The Scenes Of Haunted Houses

Welcome to Bay Of The Living Dead, a regular column about the horror genre. The column has been on hiatus, but now it’s back.

In Haunters: The Art Of The Scare, documentary filmmaker Jon Schnitzer takes audiences on a roller coaster ride through Halloween haunted house attractions that are created by average Joes in suburban neighborhoods. These folks work for guts, glory (but no profit) as they turn their own homes in scary labyrinths filled with ghosts, zombies and ax-wielding killers.

Each August, Orange County, CA resident Donald Julson begins construction on his “haunt”, building sets, props, and costumes for the actors he will cast, so he can scare the shit out of the people who will line up on Halloween night. According to Julson, he works every day for three months so his “haunt” can be open for four hours on just one night.

The film follows Julson and other “haunters” as they create their haunts and deal with spouses who wish they had another hobby. They also have to answer to disturbed neighbors and even to local law enforcement, as one haunter did when he finds out that his “house” is a violation of local zoning laws. Viewers are also taken on a journey through some of the “haunted houses” themselves, which are as impressively scary as any horror movie.

One of the more obsessive “haunters” is So-Cal resident Russ McKamey, who’s haunt is considered by many to be the most extreme. McKamey is a friendly, jovial guy–who also works as a wedding singer!! He gleefully puts people in coffins and even waterboards them, all the while videotaping their horrified reactions for posterity–the screams which emit from McKamey Manor are very real! Just ask McKamey’s neighbor Grace, who took the tour a number of years ago and ended up fleeing from the house shrieking in terror!

“Come on, Grace, try it again,” McKamey says in a friendly if giddy voice.

“Not gonna happen!” says Grace!

McKamey, who screens people before he lets them in the house, says that he’s had visitors who’ve literally peed in their pants–and that he even caused one heart attack!

Haunters: The Art Of The Scare is a valentine to the strange world of these amateur frightmakers who know how to scare the living daylights out of people. They do what they do for the fun and passion of it, and they take their work very seriously. The film is a fascinating look at who these people are, and at why they do it.

Haunters: The Art Of The Scare is now streaming on Netflix and is available on DVD and Blu Ray.

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McKenna Grace, Rob Lowe in The Bad Seed (2018)
Photo: Lifetime TV

The Bad Seed (2018)

In 1956 child star Patty McCormack scored an Oscar nomination for her extraordinary performance as a homicidal 8 year old girl in The Bad Seed. McCormack mesmerized and terrified audiences as Rhoda, a seemingly sweet child in pigtails who had no problem killing in order to get what she wants.

“What will you give me if I gave you as basket full of kisses?” asks Rhoda’s loving dad.

“I’ll give you a basket full of hugs,” Rhoda replies, as she quietly plans her next murder.

The Bad Seed now gets the remake treatment courtesy of Lifetime TV. It’s a very different film, but disturbing in its own right.

McKenna Grace stars as the renamed Emma, who, like Rhoda, has no compunction about killing. Emma lives with her single dad (Rob Lowe, who also directed) who genuinely loves her even as he comes to the slow realization that his darling little girl is a psychotic killer. He decides to do her in, but Emma is on to him, and plots to turn the tables on dear old dad. In the original film Rhoda had two parents–it was the mom who figured out what was going on.

Patty McCormack, now 73 years old, has a small role in the new version as Dr. Chase, a friendly therapist who attempts to treat Emma – the doctor doesn’t quite catch on to what she’s dealing with.

While not in the same league as the original, the new Bad Seed works because of a creepy, terrific performance by McKenna Grace. Unlike McCormack’s Rhoda, who was all sugar and spice, Grace’s Emma is obviously, from the outset, a very unbalanced little girl – you can see it in her eyes. She’s pure evil. With Rhoda, killing was a means to an end, but Emma appears to get actual pleasure from knocking people off. It’s a terrifying performance from a brilliant young actress who should go far in the industry.

The original is still a better film. The subtleties of its quiet terrors stay with viewers long after the final fade-out. The new version lets us know all too quickly who Emma is, leaving little suspense for the audience. Still, Bad Seed 2018 does offer a few good scares and several very disconcerting murders–wait until what you see what Emma does to her teacher!

Look for The Bad Seed on Sunday night, September 9, on Lifetime TV.

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David Elijah Nahmod

David Elijah Nahmod

I, David-Elijah Nahmod am a Queer, American/Israeli dual national of Syrian descent who has lived in New York City and Tel Aviv.
Currently in San Francisco, my eclectic writing career includes LGBT publications (news and entertainment) and monster magazines. In 2012 I was voted Film Reviewer of the Year at the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Film Awards.
Look for me in Bay Area Reporter, Hoodline.com, South Florida Gay News, Echo Magazine, Outfront, Scary Monsters Magazine, Videoscope, and, of course, Broke Ass Stuart, (I'm so broke it's SCARY!)
Now, let's watch a horror movie!