The American Scream (2012) – Michael Stephenson

I’m either late for this year’s Halloween, or very early for next year’s but just wanted to talk about a highly enjoyable documentary I came across on Netflix the other night.

The focus of the film is a trio of house haunters.

I had no idea what these were, or that there was an entire sub-culture of them! These are the people who everyone remembers from Halloween, whether you know their name or not. They’re the people who turn their homes or their backyards into haunted houses and chambers of horrors for people to walk through on Halloween.

Set in the small town of Fairhaven,  Massachusetts, the documentary follows the tale of three families. A father, Victor, working in a slowly being outsourced IT department and dreams of turning professional with his house haunting, Manny, a father wanting to leave a legacy for his children, and a father and son, Matt and Rick, who are best friends and just want to entertain people.

These are people who live for the one night of the year, where in this small little town, it’s all about the shared experience with the community. One of them say it in the film, Christmas is about family, Halloween is about the community, and it’s true, at least in this little town.

Victor is a man almost obsessed with making the haunter experience perfect, he works almost all year round, until the one night literally takes over his house, family and friends. His wife, is exceedingly tolerant, supportive and loving, and his older daughter loves to get right in there and help. He shops for bargains and odd items, his wife does make-up, he gets help from his friends and actors who he puts in costumes, he builds prosthetics and monsters, and designs rooms and scares – this is a man who goes all out, and it pays off, as people from all over come to his house on this one night of the year to be scared, a day that, as it grows closer, the more tense, worried and excited he gets.

I should feel bad that some of the little kids are so scared by the exterior of the haunt that they burst into tears and refuse to go any closer, but I took an odd little joy out of that. Personally, I remember once when I was young enough to still be trick or treating, and my brain tells me that I was in North Bay at the time, and someone had created a haunted house, and I certainly didn’t want to go through it!

Victor’s work in this town, and probably on many levels is unparalelled, he pours his heart and soul into it, this is his thing, his release, his driving force.

Manny is a blue-collar fella, working for the town he lives in, and likes to create events in his back yard, much like Victor he shops for bargains, and makes wonderful scares and creatures, with the help of his family.

Both he and Victor get very wrapped up in the event, and want to do something that is going to be remembered by people, a lasting legacy in the nostalgic corridors of their mind, and perhaps inspire others to do the same.

You can see when they speak about their families that they truly love them, and both tear up describing the thanks and love they have for those people who not only tolerate their obsession but help and encourage them.

Matt and Rick are a fun pair, who transform their backyard into spooks, ghouls and aliens for Halloween, making them from everyday items, mechanizing them, and bringing them to life. They bicker, they laugh, they worry about one another, but they’ve transcended the family bond, and become one another’s best friends. I feel a little bad for the son, there’s a girl who obviously is crushing on him in a big way, but he’s almost ignorant of the fact, so she’s quite happy to just hang around, watch, laugh, moon and help where she can.

This is the kind of treat I would love to have found in my trick’r’treat bag when I was a kid, a delightful mix of laughter, love, boos, and jumps, a perfect candy confection that makes Halloween memorable.

Michael Stephenson (who yes, starred in the hideous Troll 2, and then made a kick ass documentary about it called Best Worst Movie) has created a documentary that could, but doesn’t, exploit its subjects, instead, it treats them as the honest, friendly people they are, people I would love to have as my neighbours. He slowly loves the gauzy veil of the ghost in the sheet that is Halloween and shows the magic, the work, the drive, the dreams and the soul that each of these people put into this one night of the year.

And they are just one small part of the world, there are millions of house haunters out there… maybe even one in your own neighborhood! So when All Hallow’s Eve rolls around next year, and you wander through some Chamber of Horrors that used to be someone’s backyard, give a thought to the dedication and love that the people behind it put into it, all to make your night that much more memorable.

This was a highly enjoyable documentary, a feel good story, with family, ghouls and monsters. Have a look if you haven’t seen it…

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