An infamous and nightmarish “haunted house” in Tennessee has caught the attention of the state attorney general after it was featured in a Hulu documentary.

Monster Inside: America’s Most Extreme Haunted House The focus is on McKamey Manor, a torture tour about 70 miles outside of Nashville. It fuses “documentary storytelling with the visual and cinematic language of a horror film” and follows three participants to “explore why people make themselves vulnerable to harm,” according to Hulu’s synopsis. The film, which debuted on the streamer on October 12, was in Hulu’s relaunched Top 15 every day in the first week of its release.

It also caught the attention of the Attorney General – as director Andrew Renzi tells it THR he didn’t see it coming. “It was definitely a shock that law enforcement actually became aware of it,” Renzi says, adding that he knows people who felt “victimized” by the experience “have wanted this for a long time this happens, but never had the means or the outlets to get everyone’s attention.”

Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti announced Tuesday that his office investigates McKamey Manor. “Happy Halloween,” he wrote on “This office continues to prioritize the safety and well-being of all Tennesseans.” (The @McKameyManor account responded, “Haters gonna hate.”)

The Tennesseean reported on the investigation Thursday and sent Assistant Attorney General Kristine Knowles’ letter to Russ McKamey.

“We understand that you own McKamey Manor and moved from California to Summertown, Tennessee in 2017 after your San Diego operation closed due to public outcry,” Knowles writes. “A 2019 promotional video on McKamey Manor’s YouTube page shows some of the horrors faced by visitors. This includes being dragged by heavy chains or locked in tight spaces while water rushes in.”

Knowles says her office has “concerns” and will be sending a formal request for documents and information to determine whether McKamey Manor’s practices violate consumer protection laws.

“McKamey Manor either does not offer a participant the option to withdraw from the tour or does not recognize it,” she lists as one of her concerns. “In Hulu’s 2023 documentary about McKamey Manor, you are quoted as saying, ‘We are’
known for not giving up and not knowing safe formulations.’”

She continues: “Participants do not have access to the detailed disclaimer that describes the risks associated with a ‘tour’ before signing up, traveling long distances to Tennessee, or even before the tour begins.” Former participants describe the adrenaline and the Pressure they felt when reviewing the waiver at the start of the tour. An interviewee in the Hulu documentary explained, “I had too much excitement in my veins at the time.” If [the waiver] “If I had said a man would come out of the forest and murder you during this event, I would have signed it.”

The final specific concern raised concerns the alleged award given to a theoretical survivor. “The purported $20,000 prize offered to anyone who completes the McKamey Manor “Challenge” does not exist and/or is impossible to win,” Knowles writes. “When a Nashville journalist asked you if anyone had won the challenge, you replied, ‘Of course not, and they never will!’ Because it is so mentally and physically demanding. But it will be the most exciting thing you’ve ever done.’”

This afternoon Renzi reacted to the news and told it THR where the idea for the project came from and how its storytelling approach may have helped attract the state’s attention.

What was the inspiration for? Monsters inside? How did you first hear about McKamey Manor?

I found my way to this project in a way that was really atypical for me. It’s almost always the story I find first, but this time I had been thinking quite a bit about the fact that there is no horror genre in the documentary world. It’s pretty much a blank space and a genre that doesn’t exist in nonfiction, and I thought that it would be a really fulfilling challenge as a director to find a story that could be something new, something true, a genre film that was completely real is. I was a little frustrated, or maybe just envious, at how loud, successful, and artful genre films were becoming, while the documentary industry seemed too preoccupied with true crime. The impact of these true crime documentaries started to wear off for me because there are just so many and perhaps we have become a little desensitized to the actual crime because of how consistently they are packaged and presented to viewers.

There are so many aspects of real life that are much scarier than anything you could write in a script. That’s why the genre world is so concerned with found footage. They’ve always tried to make horror films look like documentaries. Why hadn’t the medical world noticed this yet? To my surprise, Hulu had a project that was touted as a true crime film, but was absolutely terrifying and seemed like it could be a potential companion piece. So they introduced me to NYC-based LionTV, who was sitting on a stash of development materials for a McKamey Manor story. As I dug into it, it didn’t take long to realize that it was a true story about people around the world who wanted to be the stars of their own real-life horror movie. They seek the most extreme experiences to satisfy these urges, and McKamey Manor was where they all found themselves. That’s where the whole thing started for me.

What were the most surprising things you learned while working on the project?

When I started watching the McKamey Manor videos, I honestly couldn’t believe what I was seeing and thought it must be fake. They were some of the most horrific images I had ever seen in my life: people tied up and tortured, waterboarded, locked in freezer boxes, bruised and bleeding beyond recognition – and there were thousands of people from all over the world who saw them Experience the world and millions of people tune in to watch. I learned very quickly that everything was real. McKamey Manor billed itself as “the most extreme haunted house in the world” and all of these people signed up to be effectively sent to hell and back – sometimes for up to eight hours. The kicker, however, is that everyone went there with the idea that they could quit at any time, [that] Ultimately they had control over it, but that ultimately wasn’t the case.

While that was surprising enough to me, I became really curious to understand who in the world were the people who wanted to subject themselves to these experiences and why. That ended up being the most enlightening part of the entire film for me, because at first I was pretty dismissive, thinking that this was some bizarre, niche thing and that these people must all be crazy thrill seekers. When I got into it and met Brandon, who was suffering from survivor’s debt from his time in Afghanistan, and then Gabi, a queer woman who was suffering from extreme anxiety from growing up in a community, conversion therapy and the idea that she would burn in hell for her sins, and then Melissa, who was orphaned as a child and constantly in crippling fear of those around her – these were all people who were just trying to heal from their past traumas and wanted to put pressure on them pushed herself to such extremes to grow and overcome the fears that had tormented her for so much of her life. I found that so understandable. We are all trying to overcome the scars of our past, and we are not always presented with easy solutions. When I heard these stories, I really felt connected to the “why” and no longer viewed them as outsiders at all, but just as people who perhaps felt like they were out of options.

What do you think about the TN Attorney General contacting Russ McKamey with “concerns” that appear to have been raised by this? Monsters inside and the consciousness that created it?

It was definitely a shock that law enforcement actually took notice. If I’m honest, I didn’t go into the film with that express intention – but I know for a fact that the people who felt victimized by McKamey Manor have wanted to see this for a long time but never experienced the resources or the ways to attract the attention of others. I can’t deny that it feels especially good to see how much this means to people like Melissa, Brandon and Gabi. It was also worth it because my goal from the beginning was to create a real separation from true crime and show something horrific [the way] a horror film would. The Attorney General takes note of that, and perhaps the way my team made the film as a horror film elicited a deeper reaction from people than if we had followed a simpler true crime template. The fun of directing documentaries is that there’s really only one rule: don’t invent anything that has to do with the story. It has to be honest. Additionally, we can use any cinematic technique available to any other filmmaker to craft the document in the most impactful way. It makes me happy to know that our role as filmmakers and the way we have chosen to explore the world of the genre has served the true story and the people who deserve to have their voices heard as loudly as possible to be heard.

Is there anything else you’d particularly like people to know about the project or the response to it?

Don’t watch it alone in the dark.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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