'Torture chamber in disguise': 76K sign petition to shutter McKamey Manor haunted house

Forced to eat things, waterboarded and shoved underwater. That's how critics are describing what happens in the haunted house otherwise known as McKamey Manor.

As Halloween approached, an online petition on Change.org garnered more than 76,000 signatures urging Tennesee officials to shut down the attraction, which bills itself as an "audience participation event in which (YOU) will live your own Horror Movie."

McKamey Manor

The "extreme" haunted house is an interactive experience designed to play on each visitor’s worst fears, revealed during a thorough screening process. "Each guest will be mentally and physically challenged until you reach your personal breaking point," the website warns.

The experience is so "rough, intense and truly frightening" that visitors must sign a 40-page waiver, hand over a signed medical release and choose a safe word. And if they do make it out -- without tapping out -- they are awarded $20,000.

McKamey Manor

The attraction's website provides a detailed description of what guests should expect before that happens, including low visibility, wet conditions, physically demanding environments and close contact with “very real and graphic scenes of horror." So far, no one has made it through the entire experience, which lasts as long as 10 hours, creator Russ McKamey said.

“It’s literally just a kidnapping and torture house,” the petition says. “Some people have had to seek professional psychiatric help and medical care for extensive injuries.”

The petition notes that participation is free, "which is technically the loophole," because they're doing it for fun. "It’s a torture chamber under disguise," the creator wrote. "They do screenings to find the weakest, most easily manipulated people."

While McKamey Manor visitors are allowed to quit once they hit their breaking point, the petition says that wasn't always the case.

"Previously, no safeword was allowed. He changed that, but there have been reports that the torture continues even when people repeat their safe word for several minutes," the petition adds. "One man was tortured so badly he passed out multiple times. Workers only stopped because they thought they had killed him."


While McKamey can't confirm which claims in the petition are accurate and which are not, he told FOX Business that if some of the experiences listed were actually happening -- he would be locked up.

He said no torture or illegal activity takes place at the manor and law enforcement keeps a close eye on the manor every time there is a show going on.

"It all comes down to common sense... torture is illegal," he said. What happens instead is a "mental game," he added.

The attraction uses mental techniques to convince people they are experiencing things that are not actually happening, McKamey said, and every visit is recorded so he has proof of what actually occurred.

"Under hypnosis, if you make someone believe there’s something really scary going on, that’s just in their own mind and not reality," he said.


The attraction earned rave reviews from one participant, Kris Smith, who originally gave it a pass after reading the 40-page wavier, which mentioned having teeth pulled and being buried alive.

“It completely terrified me,” he said.

But realizing that the operation had run for over 30 years with a waitlist that amassed tens of thousands of names, Smith thought, “How dangerous could it be?”

So he went back. While the trip through McKamey Manor was “complete chaos” and participants “may think they are going to die,” Smith said there was never any real danger and he'd recommend anyone interested in the experience to give it a try.

As for the petition, it isn't the first -- and won't be the last, he said.

The petitions, McKamey said, have actually helped generate so much business that he will have to start running a lottery system for admission.


Residents who live near the house of horrors, meanwhile, told a local Fox affiliate they have heard shouts of terror and have wanted to shut the house down since it opened.

“People come out screaming and hollering,” a neighbor told WKRN.


McKamey Manor is open year-round but performances only occur once a week. In addition to the Nashville site, McKamey operates one in Huntsville, Ala.

FOX Business' Angelica Stabile contributed to this article.