Countdown to Halloween – The American Scream (2012)

To countdown to this year’s Halloween, Luke Owen reviews a different horror film every day of October. First up – documentary, The American Scream…

After the cult success of Best Worst Movie, Michael Stephenson returns with the Louis-Theroux style documentary The American Scream, following the lives of people obsessed with Halloween and the scaring that comes with it.

The movie focuses on three families within in the same neighbourhood who all share the same passion – redecorating their abodes on October 31st to become haunted houses which their neighbours can then come and visit. Stephenson doesn’t shy away from the eccentricity of his subjects, nor does he gloss over the fact that this can be a very expensive and damaging hobby – to both the families and bank balances.
Stephenson carefully chooses his subjects to show three different sides to the art of being a haunter. Arguably the film is centred around Victor, who is the most determined of the bunch in terms of design, quality and aspiration for this to be his full time work. In this case, he is easily the most interesting person to watch to the point where you almost wish the movie was focused solely on him. The interactions he has with his family are fascinating and there is a wonderful father/daughter dynamic with his eldest who also shares her father’s passion for Halloween. He also has the most interesting journey and his story is really the core of what makes The American Scream a good film.
However the most memorable of the three is the father and son team of Matthew and Richard Brodeur. While it may seem that these two were picked because of the way they look and act (in that Channel 5, ‘look at these dumb folks’ way), Stephenson  focuses on their incredibly sweet relationship to prove that he is not an exploitative documentarian. There are some lines between the two on camera and in talking head segments which could tug at ones heart strings as Stevenson delves into Richard’s health and how this has affected their friendship. For them, the act of haunting isn’t about it looking perfect, it’s about doing something the love doing together.

The weakest of the three comes in the form of Manny Souza and his family – though this could be down to the way the documentary is put together. There is nothing inherently boring about Manny and his work, but they never match up to the aspirations of Victor or the family bond of Matthew and Richard. It feels as though Stephenson knew this, which is why (outside of a superb section on his health and his family’s support of continuing his hobby) he is often left to be the forgotten third wheel, only brought back a couple of times just to remind us that he is still there.

While it is interesting to see these men put their haunted houses together, the movie’s biggest success is the climax in which we see the neighbours experiencing their work. As a man living in a country that doesn’t take the Holiday as serious as his American cohorts, this is the kind finale that makes you want to pack up your bags and go across the pond. Stephenson makes the simple act of watching people get scared by the creations and minds of these men is incredibly triumphant and it’s so satisfying to see their visions come to fruition. Even if you weren’t drawn into the stories and aspirations of these men, this is a fantastic ending and is expertly put together by Stephenson.

The American Scream is not the world’s best documentary and is certainly no where near as interesting as Stephenson’s previous effort, but its central story of Victor attempting to realise his dream is beautifully inspiring if nothing else. He has chosen his subjects well and this has paid off in most cases. For the most part, The American Scream is a funny, moving and insightful documentary, but isn’t likely to gain any cult status like Best Worst Movie.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★

Luke Owen is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.

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