Fantastic Fest 2012: 'American Scream' Finds Heart in Haunted Horrors
by Jeremy Kirk
September 26, 2012
Michael Stephenson has an effortless way of digging into fake scares and finding real humanity. His first documentary, Best Worst Movie, took the notoriety of starring in a schlocky horror movie and revealed the very genuine and heartfelt look of a man discovering his own celebrity. It was an excellent film and one his newest doc, The American Scream, absolutely lives up to and very likely surpasses. Laughs and tears both pack into this lighthearted film of a man's passion built on scaring the bejeebers out of people, and it hits a strong emotional chord, delivering something translucent and ultimately inspirational. More below!
Setting his camera on Fairhaven, Massachusetts, Stephenson shows us three families, each of whom have an interesting way of celebrating Halloween. As home haunters, they transform their residences into elaborate haunted houses, filling them with plastic ghouls and mechanical spiders so that every year, local trick 'r treaters can get their fair share of jump scares, as well. The heads of each household when it comes time for devising and executing these haunts, range in the level of detail, care, time, and effort they put into them, none of them doing it professionally and only with the help they can pull from their families and friends. The occasional neighbor might drive a nail or two.
Front and center in the film is Victor Bariteau, who's passion for making his home the best haunt in the area each October 31st creates a tension between he and his wife and daughters. Manny Souza, the middle point in the spectrum of haunters, does it as a fun thing to do each Halloween, not striving for perfection when it comes to the items in his yard but caring for it enough to make sure everyone enjoys their visit. His segments are affable but come and go somewhat unnoticed. The bottom end of the gap comes in the form of Matt Brodeur and his father Richard, who, not completely with it in the mental department, come off as broad comedy as they lackadaisically slap papier-mache on tubes to make a plant-like, alien monster and hang sheets of black plastic for corridors. That's the extent of the big attractions at their haunt, and the film uses them to great lengths when it needs a good laugh or two. Or seven or eight.
As days lead up to the big, Halloween night, Stephenson bounces between the families, showing how each approaches the time of year when the "scary" things come out of the basement, most of them unassembled. The film follows Victor's passion very closely, using his trip to a convention of professional house haunters as both a way of expressing his ultimate goal and showing the viewer the inner workings of how these haunted houses are made. An admiration for the attractions comes in handy here and there, but it's really the message underneath that makes The American Scream truly stand out.
Following one's passion and striving towards the goal of making that passion your livelihood is a universal story, one that when done right can lead to inspiring as well as incredibly engaging results. Stephenson uses the quirkiness of family to great ends, pulling from them honest reactions to living under the same roof as all manners of fake horrors. The way one of Victor's daughters amuses herself with her dolls is just one of many applause-worthy moments, but film as a whole is more affecting than that. The American Scream is a crowd-pleasing documentary about the glue that holds family together long after the glue on the werewolf statue has worn out.
Jeremy's Fantastic Fest Rating: 9 out of 10
The American Scream will premiere on NBCUniversal's Chiller network October 28 at 8:00 PM ET and will be screening in select theaters through November. Visit http://
The American Scream is also available through Tugg.com, a platform that allows people to choose the films they want to see at theater and create their own screenings for their community. Go here to request a screening in your town – http://www.tugg.com/titles/