The weekend before Halloween, Chiller TV debuted the 2012 documentary The American Scream. First, one must acknowledge how disappointing Chiller has become. There is so much potential in a 24/7 horror channel that is squandered with its endless array of SyFy quality modern made-for-TV crap or edited direct-to-video throwaways. However, there are the occasional gems and The American Scream was actually quite interesting. Documentaries are something I don’t watch too often but when I do, I usually enjoy them and I had fun watching this one. It follows three men and their families with their annual Halloween haunted houses in Fairhaven. Now, I love haunted houses. I would go as a kid but never had as much fun as I did when I was older. After our two children were born in the 90s but before they were old enough to go, my wife and I would take the neighbor boy. It became an annual tradition that eventually became one in taking my own son and daughter. Last year, after years of waiting, we finally made it to the Gates of Hell in Kansas City. This year was the first in close to 15 years I haven’t gone and I really missed it. So, going into this movie I could relate to those attending how much fun it can be.
Having kids, we would put out a few things for Halloween and usually more for Christmas. But these three are about 10 levels above anything I’ve ever done. First, there is Victor and his family. It is clearly an obsession with Victor and one that, quite honestly, was a little sad at times. He missed out on holidays and even birthday recognition growing up as his mother was a Branch Davidian. Before that fact is revealed, I was actually a little angry at how selfish Victor is. His family goes along with his quest to outdo what he did the year before. His wife seems mildly annoyed as the money is spent on endless Halloween projects rather than on her dream home. One of his daughters loves it but also is sad because she too wants her own room and more space. He himself acknowledges the sacrifices that everyone makes including the fact he can’t even take his kids out to trick or treat. There is even mention that the kids can’t have a swing set in their yard because he’d have no place to put his graveyard at Halloween. His haunt is a massive event with lines of people ready to go in. He has animatronics and amateur actors that enhance the semi-professional event. No surprise that at the end of the movie it’s revealed that after losing his job some six months later he decides to take their savings and a year of severance pay to go professional. I don’t see how he can make his money back and I wonder how long his wife and kids will follow his dream.
The other two men were unique in their own way. There was Matthew and his father Richard. While these two would bicker, they clearly did all of this for the love of Halloween and for each other. They are each other’s best friend. It was comical watching these two and, yet, a little sad as you can see that Richard’s health is failing and you are left wondering, when he passes, what will his son do? I got the feeling these two are constantly together in an Odd Couple kind of way. Their haunt was a mix of odds and ends that seemed to please a smaller crowd but father and son clearly have a lot of fun with it. If Victor’s haunts were on the level of a Universal Horror film, then Matthew and Richard’s was the direct-to-video film, filled with passion and very little budget-think Ed Wood. Next, we have Manny and the Souza family. Theirs is a family event that became very evident when it’s revealed Manny had suffered a heart attack the year before. When he couldn’t do it on his own, friends came together to help. It clearly moved Manny to see how many loved to attend. He does his haunt for his family as a bonding event. While it’s more cohesive and professional that what Matthew and his father put together, it nowhere near comes to the level what Victor does. Manny apparently got the itch to do his haunt from a friendship with Victor. However, you’re lead to believe that friendship isn’t very strong anymore after some comments Manny makes about Victor’s obsession with perfection. Manny’s yard attracts countless people. The most important thing is how much not only his family enjoys it but the people who attend it as well. And how much he loves to make his family and others happy brings a smile to your heart.
The documentary is a little slow at times but an interesting look inside a world that I never knew existed, at least to this level. Apparently, there are even conventions for home haunters, which should come as no surprise to someone who attends Trek Expo and Planet Comicon every year. I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel that follows a couple of other new people as well as whether or not Victor’s professional haunt is a success. Director Michael Stephenson is the man behind 2009’s Best Worst Movie, which followed the crazy cult fandom behind the notoriously bad Troll 2, in which Michael acted. The American Scream is currently on Amazon Instant Video, iTunes and Netflix streaming. So easily available and some nice post Halloween viewing.