As we know only too well, many things are allowed to happen in the USA that are totally forbidden in Australia – at least for the time being. In ‘God’s Own Country’ you can amass your own private armoury of automatic weapons, keep a personal zoo of dangerous and endangered critters and set up a haunted house designed to scare the crap out of all those who dare enter.
The latter, sometimes dubbed “extreme haunt” is a modern-day phenomenon that draws on the traditions of sideshow alley with haunted houses and ghost trains. Often located in rural settings, these houses run as a commercial proposition, attracting thousands of predominantly young thrill-seekers each year. Unlike their ‘soft scare’ carney predecessors, their aim is to use all manner of shock, surprise and psychological warfare to shake the bejeezus out of you.
Whilst most of these haunted house attractions play essentially on the mind with a minimum of physicality (i.e. you don’t get knocked around), one such enterprise sets out to tear you apart – body and brain. McKamey Manor, which originally began in a family home in suburban San Diego, is a notorious experience in which ‘guests’ are subjected to hours of very real cruelty, torture and physical degradation.
Founded by Russ McKamey, ex-US Navy and a part-time wedding singer, the Manor has a supposed waiting list of over 20,000. Participants, who must be over 21, are required to sign an extensive list of waivers and are now given a safe word to end the experience if it all becomes too much. Despite an impressive list of participants including ex-marines, cage fighters and numerous assorted tough guys, nobody has yet has made it all the way through what can be an eight-hour torture experience. As of a few years ago, it was actually a woman named Sarah P, who held the endurance record of six hours!
The question is could such an ‘attraction’ ever happen here or more importantly would it ever be allowed to do so? Imagine fronting your local suburban council with a DA to set up your humble inner west pad as a kind of Guantanamo Bay meets the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Noise objections from your neighbours would be enough to kill it dead in the ice bath, even if you promised there would be no more hysterical screaming after 10pm.
You could, of course, chose a rural, more remote location, similar to what Russ McKamey has recently done in the US. Here amidst clandestine meth labs and illegal bush doofs you might well find the right environment to set up our own version of McKamey Manor, complete with some distinctly down under features.
Instead of copious amounts of fake blood, participants could be smeared with generous amounts of vegemite, or even scarier OzEmite. The onesie is a popular and degrading dress requirement for the US experience, but our extreme haunt might see the psychological vulnerable clad in old tattered and torn Wilderness Society koala outfits.
At McKamey, many of those crazy enough to sign the waivers are given unwelcome haircuts and perhaps everybody at the Australian equivalent could emerge looking like Kim Jong Un. Waterboarding would not be in the Aussie spirit but a more subtle form of torture could be applied as your guests are locked in a windowless room and forced to watch three hours of old episodes of Family Feud and Australian Ninja Warrior.
After being pelted with meat pies and lamingtons, forced into a play pool full of slimy cane toads and rolled around in a Snowtown barrel, your tough guy and tough gal daredevils will be spitting out their safe words and wondering why they ever agreed to participate in such madness. Who needs a haunted house and an emotional mugging when day to day life often provides the biggest scares of all?