Spookers is a big-scale haunted house attraction based in an abandoned mental hospital south of Auckland, New Zealand. Run by the Watson family, it includes the main buildings, plus the ‘Freaky Forest’ and the ‘Cornevil’ maze, based on the maize labyrinth that started the Watsons into the horror entertainment business in Marton in 1999.
The attraction has grown to include a sizeable cast of actors who dress up as all manner of zombies, murderers and monsters to terrorise paying punters eager for a scare. This most unusual of workplaces has attracted all kinds to join the cast and this documentary peeks in on the working lives of some of these people.
Director Florian Habicht has solid documentary credentials, from NZ Film Festival fave Kaikohe Demolition in 2003 through to the feature-length tour appraisal of UK act Pulp in 2014. Here, he shows his talents at getting people to open up to camera as we meet a variety of unique individuals donning masks at Spookers.
Shy individuals find ways to express themselves, loners find families and one young man with an HIV positive diagnosis finds support. And they all explain themselves whilst dressed in costumes, fake blood and latex make-up.
The documentary does not go into much depth, but does poke at one important issue: the ethics of having a horror park with chainsaw-wielding maniacs and the like…in a recently decommissioned mental health facility. The owners state they thought long and hard about it, but that nurses who actually worked there were happy the old place was getting used for something. Habicht then cuts to an actual ex-nurse who agrees – but then states perhaps it is not the most sensitive move in an age of trying to de-stigmatise mental illness.
Also interviewed is a former patient, who tells a fairly harrowing tale of being effectively imprisoned and not seeing her family for 18 years. It is a cold confrontation sandwiched between footage of the Spookers staff singing and dancing in costume.
The documentary also dramatises some of the dreams had by the Spookers actors, which the play out in full costume. It adds little to the themes and also smacks of superior type scenes in the likes of The Act of Killing and the scenes feel like padding to what is quite a lightweight piece.
Ultimately, Spookers manages to be alternately heartwarming and heartrending with the stories told by the diverse cast members, but the documentary perhaps lacks the depth to be anything truly effective. An interesting look at a very, very strange place to work.
The extras are mostly interviews with director Florian Habicht and some extra footage, none of which present any major additional insight.
Available on DVD from Madman Entertainment