TV Review: The American Scream

Genre: Documentary | Reality | Horror

Air Date/Time: Sunday, October 28 at 8/7c

Network: Chiller

Summary: On Sunday, October 28 @ 8pm, Chiller presents its first-ever original documentary film, “The American Scream.”

From the same director/producer of the critically-acclaimed hit documentary “Best Worst Movie” (2009), “The American Scream” is an unconventional look at the Halloween cultural phenomenon of homemade haunted houses and the enthusiasts behind the scenes. Filmed in the sleepy enclave of Fairhaven, MA, The American Scream follows the creative minds behind three local homemade haunts and their spirited, passionate and sometimes harrowing efforts in igniting their town’s Halloween spirit each year.

Prior to premiering on Chiller, “The American Scream” debuted as part of the Fantastic Fest, held September 20-27, 2012 in Austin, Texas.

The American Scream” is produced by Michael and Lindsay Stephenson, Zack Carlson and Rod Olson for Magic Stone Productions and Meyer Shwarzstein of Brainstorm Media; Michael Stephenson directs.

Trailer: The American Scream

If you take away from that trailer that this documentary is sort of a Hot Set meets Collection Intervention meets (fill in here with your choice of series that celebrates somewhat uncomfortably odd people), then well done, you. I didn’t include Face Off because there is only a quick bit about makeup at the very end.

It isn’t meant to be instructional, as in “this is how you make your house scary,” though you may be inspired by some of the crafting. Rather, it is an introduction to a world you may not have consciously realized exists. A world with its own culture and terms. The world of “haunters”. Who knew? There are “home haunters” (the three families we follow) and “professional haunters” (the charge-admission haunted houses) and there are “haunted attraction consultants,” one of whom explains home haunters’ “haunt stress” (basically the same thing as pre-wedding jitters, pre-Thanksgiving meltdowns, etc.)

The three families followed in this documentary are all dedicated home haunters, with three very different approaches to the craft, each appropriate to his (all three of the primary haunters are men) particular personality, gifts, and home life. And that’s what might make it particularly fun for some viewers, and somewhat uncomfortable for others.

The family showcased in the trailer seems kind of cool to me. The little girl is a riot of cool – “I don’t like Barbies; I love destroying them” (don’t worry, it’s for use in her personal section of the haunted house). And the dad is truly dedicated, not really scary-obsessed. The family mostly sighs and puts up with it, though they all get involved in the weeks leading up to Halloween. But for the most part, I like these people, and the man has some serious skills.

The other two families, however… well, just watch. I wasn’t happy that the filmmakers spent what I felt was an inordinate amount of time just watching the Brodeurs, a man and his father. Some reviewers have called this documentary “heartfelt” but there are definitely sections that felt more like “hey, look at how really odd these people are!” They even introduced the duo with this bit from one of the other haunters: “Matt’s got a big heart, he does a lot for the Shriners and everything… but, in some ways, their ways are, I dunno, peculiar.” Sorry, but that isn’t “heartfelt”; it is just a flat-out unkind way of introducing the pair.

And it pretty much goes downhill for Matt and his dad and his friend after that. There is an inordinate amount of time spent seemingly exploiting these people and their “peculiarities.” You can almost imagine the filmmakers rubbing their hands together with glee over some of the things they do and say, that have nothing to do with being haunters. I could have done with a lot less of that, and would have preferred that there was none at all.

The third family doesn’t exactly come off looking all rosy either, but maybe I’m just being oversensitive. These people are all clearly focused, enthusiastic, highly dedicated hobbyists, and getting a chance to see what they go through to create these venues for their community, and for the love of it, is an eye-opener. The footage of the finished haunted houses on Halloween night is a great payoff, for the haunters and for us, and truly is an absolute treat to watch.

This is a nicely finished production, with no noticeable issues in lighting, camera work, editing or sound. The soundtrack, often seasonally appropriate portions of Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King, enhances the creepy aspects of haunters’ work quite nicely. While the effects created by the haunters is likely bone-rattlingly scary in real life, none of it is particularly frightening for we viewers, so if you’re just looking to get spooked you’ll be disappointed. Colorful language does fly during the “haunt stress” portion of the program, so you may want to shield young ears.

Looking for some inspiration for next Halloween? Needing to get into the Halloween mood but not wanting to get scared? Interested in having one of those slice of life experiences, with a look at some interesting characters performing a ridiculous amount of work while you sit back on your couch and feel thankful that it isn’t you? All these and more can be yours by spending your Sunday evening watching The American Scream.

I give The American Scream Four Out of Five Stars.



Erin Willard
Written by Erin Willard

Erin is the Editor In Chief and West Coast Correspondent for