Directed by: Stephen Lackey
Produced by: Stephen Lackey & Zach Martin
Editors: Stephen Lackey & Zach Martin
Cinematographer: Zach Martin
“The Family That Scares Together…”
Family of Fear, a new documentary by Stephen Lackey from Forcone Films, focuses on an eclectic group of artists and self-proclaimed “spooks” as they build and work in one of America’s scariest haunted house attractions – the 50,000 square foot Arx Mortis Haunted Attraction in (appropriately named) Killen, Alabama.
Soaked in blood and searching for screams, the members of this makeshift family don't work at the haunt for money: they work for the scares but also for support system that find at the attraction. I’ve seen other documentaries touch on WHY people choose to work at haunted houses, but Family of Fear goes deeper into these reasons than any film before it. Sadly, the stories that many of the workers have to tell are sad, painful and all too similar; most have suffered bullying due to their uniqueness in the small southern towns surrounding Arx Mortis. Others battle with depression and homophobia. And most have no real community or family support system to help them through their challenges. Life at Arx Mortis provides them with a safe space. As one person notes, “For some of us this haunt is all we have. We fit in here.”
The house itself is struggling to bounce back after a difficult prior season; not only were there internal family struggles but the attraction received many negative reviews (one patron rightfully complains that they walked in looking to be scared only to find some workers playing on their cell phones.) Arx Mortis is determined to make a comeback and rediscover what brings them all together, and why they call themselves a “haunt family”. After all, the family that scares together, stays together. Lackey’s film is surprisingly funny and insightful, occasionally scary (viewers are taken right into the action), and always meaningfully poignant.
The film is best when it allows the employees to speak of their troubled backgrounds and how it brought them to this extended family of ghouls. One young man gets to release pent up anger. “If I didn’t have this one month out of the year to vent, I’d probably be in jail.” A young lesbian discusses how she was bullied not only by classmates but also teachers and the school principal. “Here at Arx Mortis there’s no judgment, only acceptance.” Yet another young woman talks how angry she is because her dad abandoned her when she was 2 years of age. “My anger, stress and anxiety go away,” she admits, “for five or six hours every night in October.”
There are lighter moments as well. A drunk and high customer is quickly shown the door. Another gets the boot after touching one of the actors inappropriately. And there are amusing scenes of “early exits,” people who can’t make it through the first haunted room and have to leave because they’re too scared (one poor girl actually pees herself). There’s also a wonderful moment when one employee (who was bullied in high school, a recurring theme) speaks with glee about getting the chance to scare her bully). “After I came at him with a chainsaw, he never messed with me again.”
As someone who loves haunted houses and horror films, I identify with the overall theme of Family of Fear. We live for the vicarious thrill of being scared. Arx Mortis provides, through scares, a safe environment (the irony is not lost on me). One young man says it best near the end of the film. “People say that people who love horror have personal issues. I say it’s the issues that drives them here.”
From the Back Row,