THE AMERICAN SCREAM
Directed by: Michael Stephenson
My father has a saying: “Do what you love and the money will follow.” We should all be so lucky to find something that drives us, whether it be movies, music, art or anything else. And it doesn’t have to be a traditional passion that fires you up, you should do what you want.
Well, that’s what they say but how often do people actually abandon their day jobs and pursue a wild lifelong dream? Rarely, it’s too risky and not always socially acceptable. But it’s a damn romantic and exciting thought, huh?
Michael Stephenson’s THE AMERICAN SCREAM is a documentary all about doing what you love. In the case of this film, the passion is making haunted houses. You’ve seen the homemade attractions pop up in your neighborhood around Halloween; they’re fun, pretty cheap and good for a few scares. But what does it take to create them year after year? What is the literal cost? What is the emotional cost? What drives these people to craft their bizarre, macabre funhouses despite no pay and a boatload of stress?
SCREAM focuses on three sets of house haunters and the people who love them: Victor Bariteau, Manny Souza and Matthew Brodeur and his father Richard. The amazing thing about these people is that they all live in the same town: Fairhaven, Massachusetts. Maybe it’s something in the water or just good ol’ fashioned New England spunk but Fairhaven has some inspired haunted houses. As you’d expect, the Bariteaus, Souzas and Brodeaurs are colorful, slightly odd characters but they embrace that. Stephenson never makes fun of his subjects. In fact, it’s evident that he cares about them deeply. By the end of the film, you will too.
Like all good documentaries, THE AMERICAN SCREAM is about more than just one thing. It doesn’t only focus on haunted houses but instead spends a lot of time gently and lovingly examining the lives of these families. They’ve sacrificed a lot for this particular passion and Stephenson makes no attempt to hide this. Hearing the wives of Victor and Manny discuss the fiscal cost of this annual endeavor is touching and a bit tough, especially if you’re someone who lacks an endless amount of cash. But the fact that they stick with these guys and even assist them is beyond touching. Then there’s footage of Manny and Victor reflecting on how much they care for their forgiving wives and children. You have a cold, black heart if that doesn’t make you tear up.
I didn’t expect to be so affected by the movie but time and time again Stephenson hits you with these charming, touching moments: Victor’s daughter lamenting her father’s forgetfulness to build her a clubhouse, Manny remembering how neighbors came together after he suffered a heart attack, Matthew reminding his father to check his blood sugar. They’re small moments but they say so much about these folks and the close-knit families they are.
I keep thinking about it and my conclusion is this: THE AMERICAN SCREAM is a perfect documentary. It takes a subject few really know about and explores it through these wonderful, middle-class people. It’ll put a huge smile on your face, bring a tear to your eye and remind you of the creative endeavors you love. Michael Stephenson has created a movie that he and his stars should be very proud of. Keep doing what you love, guys.