by Matthew Rowe
"The American Scream"
The slavish devotion to their DIY legacy seems to haunt each of the men shown in "The American Scream." Highlighting three different amateur haunted houses in Fairhaven, Mass., the film highlights the obsessive quality of each man's quest to create an experience for thrill seekers on Halloween night, and the special kind of hell their families must go through in preparation.
There are several subtle laughs and touching moments between fathers and their children, but the drive of these amateurs can be somewhat exhausting. Victor Bariteau's commitment to his yearly endeavor comes at the expense of his family's financial security, as his wife Tina has very real worries about money and Victor's job security in a rapidly outsourced field. Victor seems very conscious of her worries, but feels like it is his duty to build a haunted house in their backyard.
The two other families are a good mixture of interesting, funny and touching, but it is the story of the Bariteaus that drive the film, and it is never mean nor mocking. Filmmaker Michael Stephenson is no stranger to worlds like these, his previous film, "Best Worst Movie," chronicled the intense following of the cult movie "Troll 2." Like "Best Worst Movie," "The American Scream" is neither judgmental nor congratulatory and allows the subjects the forum to defend their passions.
When the haunted houses are finally revealed, it is a triumph for everyone, especially the audience. The obsession to detail and intensity for the project shows as crowds go through the house, and there is a sincere appreciation for each work. These gleeful sequences show animatronic creatures, costumed actors and intricate set pieces that would put professional stage designers to shame. In these moments, it is easy to feel that every struggle these families have gone through have been worth it.
Of course, how a viewer might feel that way after the triumphant night will rely on how much they could tolerate each of the these haunters. "The American Scream" works so well because it is a subtle film that gets out of the way of its subjects and lets the viewer make up his own mind. Stephenson and crew have crafted a warm documentary that should become a Halloween film-viewing staple.