Monday, July 29, 2013

Home haunters:The American Scream

I've always wanted to do my own home haunt. The problem has been that I've never had my own home to do one and do it well. Sure, I've helped other people make their home haunts the best they could be and I've been paid to work in professional haunted attractions, but it's not the same. And as much as I still want to do it, the documentary The American Scream may have scared me away from it.

The American Scream follows residents of Fairhaven, Mass., as they prepare they home haunts for one Halloween. The the primary subjects of the film are the Victor Bariteau family and the father and son team of Lori and Manny Souza.

The doc was directed by Micheal Stephenson, who also made Best Worst Movie about the craptastic Troll 2. In other words, I expected a touching treatment of a group of socially awkward misfits. I was not disappointed.

Stephenson treats his subjects with grace. Tragedy and triumph go hand in hand. When a major prop for the Souza's haunt breaks, they band together to get it in shape. When Bariteau struggles to complete a massive sculpture for his haunt, we hear from his wife about how important it is to him an dhow much she supports him even if she doesn't completely understand the obsession with home haunting.

For the haunters out there, Stephenson gives us glimpses into home haunts from around the country and follows Bariteau to a HauntCon in Nashville. It's a fun journey into just how serious the home haunt and haunted attraction business has become. But Stephenson's true brilliance is always in bringing this film back to the people.

Remember, triumph and tragedy--  after Halloween, which always comes together and everyone has a great time, the toys are put away and we find out what it's like to have to return to the real world. Bariteau gets laid off and decides this is the opportunity to look into starting a professional haunt. His oldest daughter is on board but his wife and youngest daughter are hesitant. As Bariteau says this is his one chance. If he makes it, great; if he doesn't, the dream is over.

The Souzas have their own problems. Papa Souza has arthritis and barely managed to get through this Halloween and his son has female problems. You see, there this girl who hangs out and helps a lot. And it's painfully obvious she is in love with the big goofball. But they both tell us that they will never really be in a romantic relationship. He says he thinks of her more like a sister and she says she knows he thinks of her like a sister. It's heartbreaking and made me want to jump into the television and scream at the dude. "Listen, you overweight dork! This girl loves you and if you don't see it the you will probably die alone and deserve it!" Being an overweight dork who used to have female problems (love you, honey), I feel comfortable in saying this. Like I said, The American Scream is about socially awkward misfits. If you are a horror fan, you've been there.

Bariteau at least has a family but he and his wife reveal that he didn't get to celebrate holidays as a child. No Halloween, no Christmas, no birthdays. The way his wife tells it, he has latched onto Halloween and home haunting as a way to cram in all the lost celebrations he missed. (Warning: extreme psychological insight ahead.) The problem, of course is that in trying to capture a past he never had Bariteau is missing out on the present and endangering his future. 

Stephenson seems to reserve judgement, as a good documentarian should. He lets his subjects tell the parts of their stories they want to tell and manages to enhance our glimpses into their lives by filming expressions and being open when things get awkward.

I'm a big fan of horror-related documentaries. This 2012 film may not be as scholarly as The American Nightmare or as buzzworthy as Best Worst Movie but it's still an interesting look into a segment of American life that we may not have seen otherwise.

The American Scream is currently available on NetFlix instant watch and you can probably find it online in other places, too. It originally aired on ChillerTV, so watch their listings for a return engagement.

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