The Austin Chronicle

'The American Scream' Rises From the Grave

By Richard Whittaker, November 9, 2012, 9:00am, Picture in Picture

If you wish All Hallows Eve had lasted just a few more days, then your dark wish is fulfilled with the resurrection of The American Scream.

The film, which took the 'best doc' nod after premiering at Fantastic Fest this year, ventures into the strange world of amateur home haunters. Those are the creative souls for whom a couple of foam tomb stones on the front porch just isn't enough. It charts three Massachusetts families – the Brodeurs, Bariteaus and Souzas – who go all out on making their homes and gardens into the most hellish fun for all the neighborhood. The American Scream catches every lost night of sleep, every hammered thumb, every cobweb that won't stick on a crypt, and every broad smile and ecstatic shriek they create.

What's most impressive (apart from the personal commitment they all show) is that everything is hand-made, home-made, or, at the very minimum, heavily adapted from something store-bought. In the film, Victor Bariteau travels to various haunt industry conventions, but can only take lessons from the state-of-the-art manufactured scares, rather than taking one home. "I can't afford $20,000 for a prop," he said. "As home haunters, we can't afford to go into debt, just to entertain people. We try to build those props to make up for that."

Instead of cash, he depends on ingenuity and community to make the best fright possible – that, and the invaluable assistance of the Massachusetts Make and Take Group. The collaboration of Halloween mechanics gathers to swap hints and know-how, with the sole aim of making everyone's home haunts better. Bariteau said, "One guy knows how to program controllers, another guy knows about pneumatics. I know how to make molds and casts."

So what's Bariteau's favorite scare? It's the plastic pirate ship in his friend Manny Souza's yard. He said, "You see it in the day, and it's a playground. But you see it at night, and it's lit and he's got the props on it, and it's just magical."

It's easy to see which were the favorites of director Michael Paul Stephenson (Best Worst Movie): They're the two that take most time in the film. He said, "Victor's Anubis was impressive. From an artistic standpoint, and seeing him work on this thing, back in the garage sweating over the details." Meanwhile, there's a place in his Halloween heart for the Brodeurs as they struggled with their weird, snakelike alien. "That was their creation, completely original," he said.

For producer Meyer Shwarzstein, "It's as much the setting as it is the props, and the props within the setting really work, and then you bring it all to life with the actors. Taking any one piece out of the whole would never have the same value as when you have it in its setting, and in the way that Victor imagines it working. In the lighting, in the moment, that's the thing that stands out." That said, he did spend all Halloween spent dressed as a mummy in Bariteau's house. "I developed a personal rapport with a snake jumping out at me, so given the relationship and the bond we formed, that has to be my favorite."

Still, Bariteau wouldn't say no to one of the big props he saw at the various industry trade shows. He said, "I'd love to go to these places and say, 'See that giant thing there? Yeah, I'm buying that.' I don't have the power to do that right now, but I will in the future."

The American Scream screens at the Alamo South Lamar Nov. 9-12, and can be booked for more screenings More info at

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