THE AMERICAN SCREAM – Fantastic Fest Review – We Are Movie Geeks


THE AMERICAN SCREAM – Fantastic Fest Review

By  | 

home haunter: one who transforms the place where one lives with the intent to invoke fear upon visitors as entertainment on the holiday of Halloween.

With the exception of the classic cartoon It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, rarely are Halloween themed films described as “heart warming,” but THE AMERICAN SCREAM is an outstanding exception. This original documentary follows three families in the small town of Fairhaven, Massachusetts. These three families all share a common love for Halloween and the art of home haunting, or transforming their homes into frightening displays for the benefit of trick or treaters. The levels of expertise, and even the motivation for each of these families’ interest in such an undertaking varies greatly, but the one universal trait is the pleasure and joy they get from seeing visitors react to what they have created and having fun in the process.

THE AMERICAN SCREAM is directed by Michael Stephenson, his second feature length documentary film, which follows the much loved cult hit BEST WORST MOVIE (2009). At first, the viewer may find themselves wondering whether the film will go down a less mature, derogatory path. For some viewers, this may be encouraging, but Stephenson’s ultimate intention couldn’t be further from this false reading of the first act. As Stephenson sets up his three families’ stories, we’re introduced to them fully exposed, with all their “flaws” for the world to see. As a viewer, be a better person and look past this, as these people being profiled are about to fill your heart with holiday joy, inspire you and perhaps even initiate a few tears.

We are first introduced to the Bariteau family; Victor (the father), his wife and two girls. Victor is the man with an endless passion for Halloween and home haunting. Eight years he has been at this, having started with merely a single hand-made prop his first year. This tradition has grown since then to become the most cherished and anticipated home haunting in the area. Victor works year-round developing and building the various elements of his annual masterpiece, always adding and changing, ever striving closer to that elusively, perfectly frightening experience. What his story conveys is a sense of passion, a drive to succeed no matter the obstacle — and Victor does have obstacles — the way in which a family comes together and supports each other, and finally — as cheesy as it may sound — how dreams can come true.

While the Bariteau family is the film’s centerpiece, THE AMERICAN SCREAM is not solely Victor’s story. Once comfortable in Victor’s home, we’re introduced to Manny and Lori Souza, a working class couple with kids. It becomes apparent early on that Manny doesn’t have the same passion for the art of home haunting as Victor. He boasts about how most of what he uses for his home haunting is free. Manny shows off a massive pirate display he had built in the past, all of which set him back a total of about $8, which admittedly is impressive, but Manny is recycling other people’s junks into pleasant memories for his and other families’ kids who visit on Halloween. This is what drives Manny, seeing the happiness on the faces of children. He openly admits, if people stopped coming, he’d stop home haunting.

Victor may be the artist striving for perfection, while Manny may be the tough guy with a heart of gold, but the Brodeurs are the philanthropists. Matthew and his father Richard live together, take care of each other and both are as kind-hearted and generous as they are peculiar. Watching Matthew and his father interact is — as unintentionally mean-spirited as this sounds — like watching a hilarious sitcom. Despite the obvious personality points, these two men are an inspiration for all of us to do more for others. Not only are Matthew and Richard best friends, but they both contribute immensely to their community as Shriners, they’re both seasons clowns, and they work together each year on their home haunting as a benefit to the local children’s hospital. On the scale of artistic talent, the Brodeur’s may fall somewhere near the bottom, but they put their hearts into it and show us that it’s not always about the quality or even the quantity, but about the intention.

Michael Stephenson takes Halloween back, giving us a backstage pass to creating fear for fun, returning us to our youth and to what we all truly loved about the only time of year being scared was this much fun. THE AMERICAN SCREAM portrays a community that is brought together by Halloween, as Victor calls “the only holiday that does this,” pointing out that Thanksgiving and Christmas are for families, but Halloween is for the community. This is illustrated by the hordes of people who visit his home haunting, the majority of whom Victor and his family have never met before, and may never see again. In Victor’s words, “they may not remember me, but they’ll remember what I’ve done.” This one line sums up the entire film with crystal clarity.

Like” the film on Facebook and request a screening near you on

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

THE AMERICAN SCREAM will premiere on ChillerTV at 7pm CST on Sunday, October 28th, 2012. If you’d like to see one of the best documentaries in recent years in the theater, THE AMERICAN SCREAM will also have a limited theatrical release, as listed below:

October 5 – Hollywood Theater (Portland, OR)
October 5 – Music Box Theater (Chicago, IL)
October 6 – The Grand Illusion Cinema (Seattle, OR)
October 13 & 14 – The Cinefamily (L.A., CA) w/ Director Michael Paul Stephenson in person
October 16 – Roxie Theater (San Francisco, CA)
October 19 – Coolidge Corner Theater (Boston, MA)
October 20 – Nitehawk Cinema (Brooklyn, NY)
November 9-14 – Alamo Drafthouse (Austin and Houston, TX)

Hopeless film enthusiast; reborn comic book geek; artist; collector; cookie connoisseur; curious to no end