[THE AMERICAN SCREAM is now available on Netflix instant view and at select theatrical screenings.]
Review by Bob Ignizio
There are people who like Halloween – the ones who carve a jack-o-lantern or two, put up some fake spider webs, maybe a few orange lights and a few window stickers. And then there are people like the ones we meet in the documentary THE AMERICAN SCREAM who really like Halloween, turning their homes and yards into elaborate scenes of terror that draw gawkers from all over.
The film focuses on three families in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. In his day job Victor Bariteau builds and maintains computer servers. What he lives for, though, is the chance to make and share his incredibly detailed props and scenes with the neighbors every October 31st. His wife Tina is philosophical: most guys would be spending about as much time and money on more traditional interests like football, which Victor could care less about. Plus Victor's hobby involves his whole family, although truth be told only one of his two daughters truly shares his enthusiasm. Manny Souza is a city worker who was inspired to create his own homemade haunt by Victor. He isn't as much of a stickler for detail, but his set up is still pretty elaborate. Finally, there's the father and son team of Matthew and Richard Broudeur, who work as clowns when they aren't making turning their yard into a den of horror.
Everyone featured in the film has a definite passion for what they're doing. They all say that making people happy is their main reason, but certainly a desire for recognition plays a part as well. Victor's motivation likely goes even deeper due to the fact that his strict religious upbringing as a child kept him from celebrating Halloween (or any holiday, for that matter). His obsessive attention to detail also shows he may have designs on turning his hobby into something more.
Although director Michael Stephenson (BEST WORST MOVIE) doesn't refrain from showing the occasional eccentricities of his subjects, particularly the Broudeurs, he does it without holding anyone up to ridicule. There's also a fair amount of drama, and even a few moments that are genuinely touching in the film, like when Manny finds out just how much his neighbors appreciate what he does when he considers giving up his haunt after recovering from a heart attack. About the only gripe one could have with the movie is that the ending feels like a cliff hanger, with one of the three haunters embarking on a new project. It would be nice to know if he succeeds, but at least for the most part the movie certainly does. 3 1/2 out of 4 stars.