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The American Scream – 7

Director – Michael Stephenson

Cast – Matthew Brodeur, Victor Bariteau, Manny Souza, Lori Souza, Richard Brodeur, Tina Bariteau

Release Year – 2012

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Horror documentaries always interest me because they give me a different experience than fictional or “based on a true story” nonsense flicks, and The American Scream is the latest one to grab my attention. Following three different families from a small seaside town in Massachusetts, we embark on a journey in watching them prepare for their annual homemade haunted houses that attract scores of people for one day every year. The journey is long and exhausting (yeah that’s what “she” said, whatever), from planning/designing, to building, then the big day and the bittersweet cleanup afterwards. Fans of such haunted houses should definitely give this a watch and enjoy the passion and dedication it takes to produce these awesome attractions.

I am sure that a lot of us horror fans are familiar with the haunted house attractions that have grown immensely in the last decade or so and now adorn countless cities across the nation. Most of the ones that I myself have come across are in the form of buildings rented for the event and open for several weeks before Halloween. In the case of The American Scream the haunted houses in the sleepy Massachusetts town are actually built by a family on their own personal property, adjacent to their home. Without the funds and already-structured locations that other haunted houses possess, it was heartwarming to watch these individuals and their families build their attractions from scratch and from the ground up in a months-long preparation for the big day.

Of course, there must be conflict in every film, and in addition to the joys and highlights of building your own haunted home there are many downfalls and things rarely go as originally planned. None of the families are “rich” and are the typical middle-class who make enough to live comfortably but not enough to live extravagantly, yet they invest time and money in an occupation that will only bring them joy and nothing of monetary value. The struggles make this an experience most of us can relate to given the families are not professionals by any means. They lack degrees in design/art and relative fields of study, and are simple lay-folk who consistently fail yet try and try and try until they get things right. Judging by their elation on Halloween and sadness the next day it is safe to say that they have enveloped themselves into a “hobby” unlike most Americans indulge in, and one that they will continue enjoy for years to come.

This documentary comes directed by Michael Stephenson, known for his 2009 documentary, Best Worst Movie, which centers on what he is really known for…his starring role in Troll 2. His cinematography is great and he immerses us into the lives of the three families enjoying their craft, and I enjoyed that he focused on exposing how they were just average people doing big things with little resources. The experience did drag at times and I felt like there was not much “excitement” throughout the piece, and that is my only real knock against it. That may be entirely due to the film focusing on average citizens who don’t have much to offer in the entertainment real without being unreal and “acting”, but I am informing you nonetheless so you know what to expect.

Overall, The American Scream is a positive horror documentary that gives us real people doing something that many of us are familiar with but would never undertake ourselves.  It is great to watch these people perform their craft and Michael Stephenson does a good job at taking us along for the ride in a doc that isn’t based on history or politics but good people doing great things.

Rating: 7/10

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