The American Scream is the new documentary from former child actor Michael Stephenson. If you’re a hardcore horror fan you should already know who that is. If not, let me refresh your memory a bit. THIS is Michael Stephenson. Yep. That kid from Troll 2. Don’t know what Troll 2 is? Jesus, dude, do yourself a favor and Netflix it. It’s incredible. But anyway, Michael Stephenson eventually grew up and has now found himself working behind the camera making documentaries. His first, Best Worst Movie, a documentary about the cult status of Troll 2 and the lives of all the people that were in it, was a surprisingly moving and heartfelt little film. His second feature length documentary, The American Scream, was nearly just as effective in it’s heartfelt sentimentality.
The American Scream is about a handful of people named “Home Haunters” who reside in Fairhaven, Massachusetts and spend all year crafting haunted houses in their backyards. These are ordinary people who do it out of their own pocket, all for sake of giving the neighborhood kids something cool to look at on Halloween night. We’re introduced to three sets of people who do this, all with their own baggage. Before the end of the film, I found myself pretty emotionally attached to these people. One more in particular than the others, though.
His name is Victor Bariteau. This dude goes HAM with his haunted house every year. When he was growing up, his mother was highly religious and wouldn’t let the family celebrate Halloween, Christmas, or even Birthdays. So once he grew up and started his own family he kind of just started snowballing all of that lost time into Halloween. All year is spent making new props and sets working extensively on the “haunt”. He talks at one point about the sacrifices that he has made in order to do this every year, which included settling into a house that is more suited for Trick Or Treaters than one more spacious for his family, and not being able to take his own kids Trick Or Treating. He’s a perfectionist, which I could actually personally relate to, and he even though he knows that no one will really pay close attention to the details, insists on everything being flawless, therefor creating a pretty stressed and at times irritable dude.
The thing I found the coolest about all of that was how despite of those sacrifices and his own frustrations, his family supported him the entire time. His wife helped make all of the costumes and cooked food for everyone involved, while his oldest daughter, who I’d ballpark around 10 years old, actually helped design her own room. She states that she “hates Barbie dolls” so she goes to yard-sales, buying up old used ones, destroying them, putting blood all over them, and stapling them to a wall in her “bedroom” within the Haunted House. I thought it was really cute seeing her and her dad bond over this hobby of his.
The other people that you see in the film are a guy named Manny who was inspired to start doing his own “Home Haunt” by Victor. A touching moment in his backstory revolves around him suffering a heart-attack, and the community coming together to help him still be able to put on his Haunted House for everyone on Halloween. Then you’ve got the incredibly oddball father/son duo of Richard and Matt Brodeur. These two are weird as hell, and I could never quite pinpoint them. I found it pretty enjoyable watching the two bicker at each other over their setup, especially this one certain Alien tube thing that they made.
Once The American Scream reaches Halloween day, you’ve spent the past hour and some change viewing these people’s lives, families, blood, sweat, and fears, and now you get to see their haunts in action. It was really cool seeing how happy these guys were over this. Clearly all the hard work had been worth it, for a few hours of fun. In one scene Victor kind of sums it all up by saying that Halloween is so important because it brings the community together, and I couldn’t agree more. Whereas Christmas is essentially just an excuse for mass commercialism, Halloween is the one time where these people create these elaborate setups so that the whole town can show up and have fun for one night. It’s not about how much you can save, or getting up at 4 in the morning to stand in line to buy crap that you don’t need. It’s about seeing the joy on the neighborhood kids as they walk through your months of labor.
The American Scream is full of sentimentality and love for Halloween. Much like my reaction to Best Worst Movie, I found myself surprised for how much care went into this film by Michael Stephenson. He may have been one of the (most awesomely) worst child actors of all time, but he is certainly finding himself to be an effective filmmaker. Keep it up, dude. I’m super excited to see what you do next.
I give The American Scream 4 trick or treating pails out of 5:
By Richard Pepper