Monday, 4 November 2013

The American Scream

Title: The American Scream
Director: Michael Stephenson
Released: 2012
Starring: Matthew Brodeur, Victor Bariteau, Manny Souza, Lori Souza, Richard Brodeur, Tina Bariteau

Plot: Director Michael Stephenson who previously brought us “Best Worst Movie” about the making of cult favourite “Troll 2”. Now he looks at three families in Fairhaven, Massachusetts who every Halloween transform their backyards into extravagant hunted attractions.

Review: This year when Halloween when was fast approaching some of my more excitable neighbours already had their decorations out ready in anticipation of most peoples second favourite Holiday, while my neighbour across the road from me has already got a Jack-O-Lantern out, which looking at its current decomposed state 2 days before the big night left me really hoping that they were planning on putting out a fresh one by the time Halloween rolled around. Still all of these pale in comparison to the “Home Haunter’s” featured in this documentary which Lindsay over at the amazing "French Toast Sunday" brought to my attention.
While the documentary might be about the three families, the real focus is more on the husbands who also to the ones most keen on spearheading the construction of their individual attractions, starting with Victor Bariteau who works at a financial company, replacing servers while desperately trying to support his family especially as he currently finds himself with the constant risk of being made unemployed. Next we have the father and son team of Rick and Matt Brodeur, a pair of part time clowns whose basement supplies them with the majority of their haunted house props. Finally we have Many Souza, who frequently helps Victor with his props and sculptures, when he’s not working on his own haunted house.

All three subjects in focus have their own approach to their work with Victor being the most serious, as he openly expresses how stressed the lead up makes him, while equally happy to admit to suffering from a short temper as he gets closer to his deadline. This however is not so much his personality, but rather a genuine love for what he does and the constant search for perfection and to top what he achieved the previous year, as he listens constantly to podcasts in his car, while even attending expo’s dedicated to the helping these home haunters improve and hone their skills, as seen with the footage taken from one seminar Victor attends, were the speaker is shown stressing the importance of planning scares and their build up. Manny on the other hand while dedicated and certainly competitive as he likes to keep track of all the other home haunters in the local area is perhaps less detail focused than Victor who favours the quantity of props and sculptures over quality, believing that the people who come through his haunted house care more about the scare than the details which have gone into them. Finally Rick and Matt’s efforts could be considered the most amateurish out of the three, while their overcrowded basement resembles a jumble sale, yet to them is a treasure trove of lights, costumes, signs and other props which they have amassed over the year. Needless to say they represent the vision most people have when they think of people constructing their own haunted houses, yet despite this they don’t seem deterred that their efforts might be over shadowed by the setups of Victor and Manny, while at the same time they still appear to have little trouble attracting an equal size crowd of thrill seekers.

Needless to say the families in focus of their light hearted documentary, really love Halloween or more precisely the men of these households who spearhead the yearly efforts to pull out bigger and better shocks for the delight of the local neighbour, with their efforts and hard work not being for profit with seemingly any money they make being given to charity, but out of pure love for the joy of scaring the hell out their neighbours. What is most interesting about them though is the fact that these are not professionals who work in the special effects industry, but rather average guys who have taught themselves how to make their attractions, slowly building on what they learn with each passing year. Still despite the men being at the center of the documentaries focus it also takes time to look at their families and friends, many who work behind the scenes with costuming and make up, while really coming into their own on Halloween night as especially true with Victors house were it seems that he has a small movie production happening just from looking at the sheer amount of people involved. What is really touching though is how far they are willing to go to help them realise their vision, something no truer than with Victor’s wife who despite the long hours which Victor puts into what is essentially his hobby, she still stands by him and his vision even if you do get the feeling that she isn’t as into the whole event as much as he is, though it is certainly a love shared by his 10 year old daughter who can be seem mutilating her Barbies for inclusion in her father’s haunted house, while even relishing the celebrity status she has in her school for being Victor’s daughter.

While this documentary is a lot of fun it does however run alittle too long leaving you no doubt feeling that it would have been perfect it had been cut down to an hour, especially with the focus being soley on the three families and no voice over the end result can seem alittle tedious in places, especially when some of the footage is not overly remarkable or insightful. No doubt this extra length could have best been used for perhaps interviews with speakers at the seminar or perhaps one big name name from the special effects industry given their own opinion on the home haunter trend.
True this is far from a perfect documentary especially with its length and footage selection, it is still at times a touching documentary about a group of people who not only love Halloween, but genuinely get a real kick out what they do.

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