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The Cinematic Katzenjammer: Nov 12: The American Scream


Nov 12: The American Scream

"An original documentary which follows three families in a small seaside town in Massachusetts as they prepare for their annual home made haunted houses..."
Directed by: Michael Stephenson, Rated: NR, 91 minutes

I have never been the biggest fans of haunted houses. Pop out scares are mostly cheesier than anything else and half the time, the effort put into them isn't big enough to really make me shake in my boots. However, the very elaborate haunts with so much attention to detail are something I can appreciate. Haunting has become an art in this day and age and the cheap scares aren't always the ticket to a successful horror house and a hell of a lot of time, money, and creativity is needed to be something memorable. The American Scream is a documentary that tells the story of multiple people looking to make the perfect haunted house and their struggles and sacrifices to get things done.

New England family creating a haunted "pahty" for Halloween. 

In a small town in Massachusetts, three families look forward to Halloween more than any other day of the year. Victor Bariteau is an IT guy at an investment firm. He didn't grow up with Halloween, Christmas or even celebrating Birthdays, so he puts all of his attention into an elaborate haunted house. He dreams big, hoping to become a "professional haunter" one day, and his family stands behind him reluctantly. Mathew and Richard Brodeur are part-time clowning father and son, who don't have a lot of money but put a lot of imagination into their scares, just to give the kids something fun. Manny Souza is another family man that sets up a haunted house every year because it's simply a hobby. He's not obsessed as the other two parties and the majority of his contraptions, figures, and scares are made of recycled material he finds on the side of the road or in dumpsters. Large displays cost him only eight dollars and he does it all for the fun of it.

Clearly, these are the clowns. 

The American Scream showcases all three of these stories, throwing in bits of back-story here and there. Never does director Michael Stephenson insult his subject's behavior, and as the audience we just take a look at the buildup to Halloween and then, the eventual scares. When you go through a haunted house, you never think about the work that's actually put into the effects and creatures, and The American Scream shows the building process of a lot of that. It also shows the tolls certain obsessions take upon men and their families. Some of it's sad, but you can kind of understand where they're coming from. However, the documentary never feels that special. Sure, the details shown aren't what most people see nor even think about, but there's just something missing from the film that leaves you wanting more. Either way, it's a nice look into the lives of people you wouldn't normally even think to talk to and breaks down a community that gathers together to get scared. Each haunter knows the other and although they mention each other, I would have liked to have seen scenes shared between them, talking scares and what not. Although I'm little late, this would have been a great film to watch for Halloween and while I won't be running to see it again each year, I'd still recommend checking out The American Scream.

The Good:
seeing how the scares are built and appreciating the work and imagination each house has behind it
The Bad:
the film lacks something you can't quite pinpoint and leaves you wishing for a bit more, be it more scares or more charm
The Ugly:
just thinking about how much money is thrown at each project and that six months of work go out the window after just one night

Overall: 6.8/10

Discussion Question:
Are you a fan of haunted houses? Have you ever hosted one yourself?


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