Review by Jonathan Lees (@jonNothin)

Director: Michael Paul Stephenson
Running time: 91 minutes
✭✭✭✭✭✭✭✭✭✩
Score: 9/10

There are certain expectations one might have before watching a documentary like The American Scream, which follows three families led by Halloween-obsessed patriarchs who construct elaborate haunted houses for their neighbors and friends. Trained as most viewers are to the glut of "reality" shows, there's the impending high drama, feuding friends, competition, sabotage and lunacy that all potentially await. What's not expected, though, is what The American Scream delivers in spades: an endearing and bittersweet portrait of middle-class families entranced with the prospect of doing something fantastical amidst a very normal life.

The families involved (led by everyday people Victor Bariteau, Manny Souza, and Rick and Matt Brodeur), all hailing from Fairhaven, Massachusetts, allow director Michael Paul Stephenson (Best Worst Movie) full access into their lives as annual home "haunters," the folks who elaborately turn their houses into haunted walk-through attractions every Halloween.

They're in it for the love and a bit of local legend, and The American Scream skillfully captures the enthusiasm and sacrifices needed in order to spend months executing a scare fest that, if all goes well, could rival the noble and energetic efforts of B-movie horror producers, or at worst, equate to the sets and props of one Edward Wood, Jr. The joy and fear each subject expresses while trying his damnedest to fulfill the promise of their annual event are simultaneously endearing and inspiring; though, for those actually building the haunts, it's quite often maddening, as inevitable obstacles arise from faulty construction, overworked family members, illness and some slight insanity.

There's nothing innovative about The American Scream's approach, and that's just fine. Some of the lilted editing and consistently soothing orchestral soundtrack slow Stephenson's heartfelt, crowd-pleasing film down in certain moments. But, overall, the execution is so genuine and involving, and the personal, familial stories told within are so passionately conveyed, that, even if The American Scream does involve severed heads and bloody children, it's enormously uplifting. The ways in which the featured home-haunters cause smiles, scares, and screams from their neighbors on Halloween day, and how perfectly Stephenson captures the big moments, make for undeniably effective cinema.

Not to mention, it's a film whose mission of re-instilling family connections and positive traditions, which is very welcome, indeed. As Victor Bariteau says at one point, "When you're scared, you're most alive."

The American Scream will premiere on Chiller TV on October 28th, at 8 p.m. EST

Review by Jonathan Lees (@jonNothin)