The American Scream (2013)

Directed By: Michael Stephenson
Directed By:
Starring: Matthew Brodeur
  Victor Bariteau
  Manny Souza
  Richard Brodeur
The American Scream

For horror fanatics, Halloween is more than just a holiday. It’s the one night a year that is truly ours, when we can celebrate everything that’s weird, wonderful and dark, out in the open, without fear of reproach from those who don’t normally get the attraction.

Most have felt a certain affinity for Halloween since childhood, and this love of the dark side bleeds into our adult lives, permeating everything, from the way we dress, to what media we choose to devour, and, for some lucky bastards, it even dictates their chosen career path. Halloween is a horror fan’s holiday, a day that we hold very close to our hearts, and one of which we are fiercely, unflinchingly protective.

The American Scream, a wonderfully uplifting documentary from Michael Stephenson, the man behind the rather enjoyable Best Worst Movie, is a peek into the lives of a very special group of Halloween-obsessed adults, who celebrate the holiday all year round, in the most awe-inspiring way.

These so-called “home haunters” are behind the incredible haunted house displays that could only exist in our imaginations. Through the documentary, we are given a behind-the-scenes glimpse into everything that goes into making these incredible creations, from a month before Halloween, right up to the big day itself, alongside an intimate portrait of the people who make all of the magic happen.

Stephenson introduces us to three families, all of whom live in the same neighbourhood, in the small town of Fairhaven, Massachusetts, whose entire year revolves around prepping, creating and perfecting their haunted houses, before unleashing them on an unsuspecting community.

From kind-hearted family man Victor, who is the main focus of the piece thanks to his ridiculous attention to detail, to the adorably sweet Matt and Richard, a father-son duo who moonlight as clowns for the local children’s hospital, whose constant bickering is a joy to behold, it is difficult not fall in love with these kindred spirits, who speak so lovingly, and at length, about their very unusual craft.

It’s evident from the offset that these are serious Halloween obsessives. Although they are control freaks, who put their friends and families through hell for a month each year, simply to create something for one night only, they are incredibly likeable, and it’s impossible not to get swept up in their enthusiasm.

They truly believe in what they’re doing, even when their families don’t exactly understand, and, though the film is a mostly PG affair, it’ll take a very hard-hearted person not to root for these guys because, what’s clear throughout is that it isn’t really about them, but the community at large. After all, a great deal of work is put into something that is free of charge for everyone else to enjoy.

The American Scream could’ve easily been played as a carnival freak show, a game of point-at-the-simpletons that normal folk could watch and laugh, safe in the knowledge that the one skeleton hanging over the front door was as far as they’d go to celebrate such a ridiculous, childish holiday. On the other hand, it could’ve been a rather schmaltzy affair, painting the subjects in too good a light, pitying them for being so invested in something at which many would scoff.

Rather impressively, Stephenson manages to do neither, instead opting to observe his subjects from a respectful distance, which allows them to tell their own stories. Lovingly shot, and with a wonderfully spooky score by Bobby Tahouri, it’s clear that a great amount of care went into capturing the spirit of these fascinating people.

Matt and Richard are clearly the stars of the piece, but a revelation about Victor’s somewhat troubled childhood is rather heart-wrenching also, but yet, there is no need to over-explain, or sort anything out.

Interspersed commentary from so-called experts – the kind who run “haunting” conventions, or who have made a profession out of it, somewhat wonderfully/shockingly, depending on one’s perception – gives a more rounded view of why “haunting” has become so popular over the years.

Though it’s probably going to appeal to a wider audience in the States, where “haunting” appears to be something of a phenomenon, The American Scream is a must for fans of all things spooky, from Halloween to horror and everything in between.

A wonderfully uplifting, moving and hilarious documentary, it will warm even the blackest of hearts. There are several moments of gut-wrenching reality, and the climax is, understandably, rather bittersweet, but for the most part, The American Scream is a lively, fascinating glimpse into a wonderfully weird world.

The featured families immediately feel like friends, and the displays they create are truly something to behold. If this documentary doesn’t make you want to go home and immediately build a haunted house from scratch, there is something very wrong.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★★

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.