Sunday, February 17, 2013

The American Scream (2012)

I love Halloween, but I have never been what you would call a lover of haunted houses. I don't have a problem with them per se; just not my thing for whatever reason. I like watching the scary movies, going to parties, corn mazes and pumpkin patches, etc. But after watching this highly entertaining documentary on three people in Fairhaven, Massachusetts who put on their own haunted house attractions every year on October 31st, I have to say I respect the hell out of anyone who goes out of their way to do anything like this.

These aren't professional haunted houses, these are what they call in the documentary, "local haunts." The three haunters the documentary focuses on each bring their own unique sensibilities to the production. Victor Bariteau is on the higher end of the spectrum; he appears to have a little more money to throw at his project (although he his seen along with the rest of them at garage sales looking for whatever he can use for his attraction) and is quite the perfectionist - the scenes with him trying to build some sort of Egyptian Deity are both sad and exciting (he keeps getting irritated and starting over from scratch). Out of all three of them, Bariteau seems to be the most dedicated and excited about his haunted house, but he also seems to be the one closest to going into a major depression if everything doesn't turn out just the way he envisions it.

Victor's friend, Manny Souza, has his own attraction as well. And while he seems to be as equally gifted at putting all of the scary stuff together, he seems much more random in his approach and not has concerned that every scratch and dent are covered up. Where Victor seems to be more selective in his props, Manny will throw whatever fits his fancy into the mix including a well placed "Bates Motel" sign. Mind you I'm going by the way the movie has been edited; it's quite possible Victor has a bunch of randomness in his set-up as well.

Rick Brodeur, along with his father Matt, is by far the least skilled, but his ambition makes up for it. All three of them are essentially putting up mazes (Victor even utilizes what appears to be his whole house), but Rick and Matt's has torn tarp and plastic for walls whereas Victor and Manny have actually gone to the trouble of erecting some walls from wood or whatever else they can find that go along with the theme in that area of the maze. Most of the scenes with Rick and Matt end up being the most endearing though just because there is such a harmless innocence to everything they try to do from building a paper mache alien with hilarious results to trying to get two dead baby sculptures on a seesaw.

Victor and Rick get most of the focus and considering they have a pretty perfect Yin and Yang kind of thing going on this works pretty well. I still would have liked to have seen more of Manny's set-up and more of his family. Family plays a big part into why Victor is able to get through the project; his oldest daughter seems to be an up-and-coming haunter herself. Like I said before, Victor seems about two steps away from going into a major depression; it's plainly obvious he can't stand his job as an IT guy (which he is about to lose) and this is the one thing every year that really brings him happiness. His wife makes a good point early on that she'd rather him be doing this than be off gambling or something; this is something that not only makes him happy but the close to a thousand people that show up every year to tour the attraction.

This being a made for cable production (it was produced for the Chiller channel) it is limited in its 90 minute time frame. This is a film where I think twenty or so more minutes really would have made it a much richer experience. The final 20 minutes or so (when we actually get to Halloween) seem a little rushed. Michael Stephenson has now made two of the more interesting documentaries in the past few years; he also directed 2009's Best Worst Movie. I am excited to see whatever he has coming up next.

With my only complaint being that I wish it was longer, obviously I can't recommend this movie enough. It's currently available on Netflix Instant. Check it out.

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