Ok so technically this isn’t a horror movie in the slightest way, I get that. But it’s as Halloween themed as a movie can get, and it’s the only movie I watched today so it’s going to have to do and you’re all going to have to deal with it!
Now then, let’s continue.
The American Scream is a recent-ish (late 2012 I believe) documentary from Michael Stephenson, who did Best Worst Movie (a documentary on the Troll 2 phenomenon that I highly recommend checking out) a few years back. This one focuses on a trio of “home haunters” in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. A “home haunter” is exactly as it sounds, someone who goes all out for Halloween and sets up their home as a haunted locale that the locals can run through. I don’t mean they have their foyer decorated and maybe have a dummy set-up in the corner or some amateur business like that. They go beyond anything I’ve ever seen and devote their yard, house, and in some cases thousands of dollars to setting up a full scale attraction. Make-up, actors, elaborate sets, you name it they have it. It’s crazy that the three families this movie follows all live within about an eight block radius, clearly making Fairhaven the best place on the planet to live if you’re a fan of Halloween.
The first family is the Bariteaus, where husband/father Victor is easily the most passionate about this whole thing amongst the documentary subjects and is the person we spend the most time with. He has been doing this for years and has invested tons of cash into his props and set-ups. An exact figure isn’t given, but we know it’s at the very least several thousand dollars. His entire house is essentially being used as storage for all of his Halloween items and the guy has wrangled a whole bunch of friends/associates to pitch in and help get all this set-up, a process which takes several weeks (maybe even months actually).
I’m not sure if it was intended or not, but this story quite often comes off as rather tragic. Although Victor is repeatedly assuring the camera that his wife and kids are absolutely into this whole thing and support him 100% of the way, it doesn’t always seem that way. The wife appears exasperated in most of her interviews and it often sounds as though she has accepted her fate to partake in this and isn’t necessarily all that excited about it. She tells stories about how she doesn’t care for the house they are living in, but that Victor saw the potential for his haunt so that’s why they ended up moving there in the end. Many sentences are punctuated with a sigh. Maybe I’m reading into it too much, but she certainly does not seem very psyched about this whole home haunt thing.
His two daughters do seem to be into it a little more at least. They dress up and participate in the haunt on Halloween night, and seem to be genuinely enjoying taking part and scaring their neighbors and classmates. However they also tell these sad anecdotes about how one of them has wanted a tree house for years but their dad is too busy with this stuff and always forgets, or about how they haven’t been trick or treating for years because of all this. So as much as I would like to believe his family is completely into the haunt and that they all have his back, their words often betray this.
Although Victor is absolutely the primary focus of this documentary, we also follow two of his neighbors. The first is Manny Souza, who lives only a couple of blocks away from Victor and is fully aware of everything he is doing. He is very up front that for him this is more of a hobby than it is for Victor. He doesn’t invest that much money in it, searching for deals and also going dumpster diving to obtain a lot of the items he uses in his haunt. He works as the anti-Victor, passionate but not quite as obsessed with the whole thing and just looking to provide people with a good, scary time.
The third and final haunt is set-up by Matt and Rick Brodeur, a father and son team whose haunt closer resembles Manny in that it’s mostly held together with duct tape and other crude means. It’s not made clear where they get the money to put their haunt together and while it’s not as elaborate as the other two, its final form is still very impressive. These two provide the most light hearted and humourous story, and out of everyone they seem to be the most into the idea of just making something fun for people. They even use some of their time to put on clown make-up (yes it is indeed incredibly creepy) and go entertain kids, so these two seem to just want to make people happy.
The American Scream focuses on an interesting subject, but even then it’s not quite enough to sustain a 91 minute run time. The majority of the film is spent watching people build sets and props, and while that can be interesting and the people themselves make this far more entertaining than it should be, it leads to several slow patches, especially during the middle of the film. You do learn a lot about the subject of home haunts though, including that some people have jobs devoted to teaching people how to set these things up, aka there are people out there who have a job way more amazing than any of us could ever hope to have.
The final act of the movie is the best as it takes place on Halloween night and shows the community coming together and experiencing the three haunts. It’s satisfying to watch everything come together after watching them put these together for the last hour, and to see people lined up down the block to run through it. If anything it bummed me out that I live in an area where virtually nobody decorates their home and nobody trick or treats. It was great to see that the spirit of Halloween is still very prevalent as I started to worry it was no longer a big deal.
The American Scream makes for an entertaining, often interesting, and admittedly somewhat slight documentary. It could maybe have come in a bit shorter, but I would still recommend giving it a watch. It will make you want to immediately move to Fairhaven or look around at your piddly Halloween decorations in shame.