Movie Review – The American Scream (2012)

My childhood memories of Halloween are all fond ones, but the ones that stick out most involve visiting those houses on the block that went the extra mile. They would create sensory wonders in their homes or in their yards, inviting people into their creative world to be scared or awed, or both. Strobe lights, gravestones, jack-o-lanterns lighting the paths, descending spiders, shrieking ghosts, eerie music and sounds being fed from the darkness, and if you were really lucky, a neighbor with questionable judgement jumping out with a chainsaw dressed as Leatherface. Everyone embraced the macabre for just one night. We faced our fears of death and laughed at our own mortality.

The 2012 documentary The American Scream, which first premiered on Chiller, follows three working-class men in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, whose drives and passions lead them to create extravagant “home haunts” even more elaborate than the ones I experienced as a child. It highlights the amount of work, dedication, inventiveness, and personal resources required to make an even minor home haunt successful. While the men’s reasons vary somewhat, all are ultimately motivated by communal celebration, and the film, directed by Michael Stephenson, captures the spirit that made my own childhood experiences so special. As one of the men says, “Everybody’s screaming, they’re smiling, and that’s the point… Halloween is intensely special to me and it feels very different from every other day. It’s a community thing, it’s not just a family thing – Thanksgiving and Christmas are family holidays. Halloween brings the whole community together. You’re not going to see that any other time of year.”

The American Scream is an endearing documentary, even if it’s a bit light on content given its length. Nevertheless, it really makes one appreciate just how much effort and commitment it takes to pull off a home haunt, and I for one would love to see the trend continue and grow.

Grade: C

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