The American Scream Now Playing at Starz Denver Film Fest
If there’s one thing we excel at better than any other country, it is scaring the shit out of people.
Read that anyway you like, but Halloween is still one of the grandest spectacles we have, a time of the year when we embrace our darker side with great enthusiasm. In The American Scream we meet several residents of Fairhaven, Massachusetts who embrace Halloween the way Clark Griswold embraces Christmas.
What’s even crazier is everybody lives in the same neighborhood. Tim Burton might have christened this place “Halloweentown”.
Filmmaker Michael Stephenson (Best Worst Movie) invites us into their homes, which are still being prepped for Halloween night, the one night where all of their hard, menial and sometimes mind bogglingly stupid work pays off. I didn’t know what I would be most impressed with – their Halloween houses, or their commitment to the craft, but after the film was finished I felt I really knew these people, and they had become my friends.
It sort of reminded me of American Movie, which the title may be loosely referencing. In that film an amateur filmmaker recruits his family and friends to make an independent movie and what could have been just a funny, exploitative film about some crazy guys from the Midwest turns out to be an inspirational story of doing whatever it takes to chase down your dream.
The American Scream shares many of those sentiments. It doesn’t seem like there is a lot of glory in making a paper maché alien plant. Especially when the line between “finished” and “work in progress” is constantly a blur. Watching these Halloween fanatics make their tombstones, alien plants, and mummy crypts in the backyards or basements of their homes, I started to get philosophical about what they were doing. It seems that these people have some autistic neurosis about their projects, and in the midst of it all everything can look so pointless. It is not until one night on Halloween, when thousands of people shriek and laugh their way through the experience that their hard work finally feels redeemed.
It is a feeling I’m sure many of us experience on a constant basis, especially as artists. All the hard work we do never seems to amount to what we hope for. Our expectations are always so lofty and grand, that we’re sure to be met with some sense of disappointment. But those breaks do happen. It’s just a matter of separating the forest from the trees, or something like that.
The film also had me thinking about what is the best approach to our work that we should embrace. Every person in this movie obsesses over the details of each project, but some find “perfection” more attainable than others. And the ones who do not need their haunted house to be perfect seem happier as they go on their journey.
Going back to The American Scream I realized the title is a play on “The American Dream.” I never would have guessed this would be a relevant theme until the ending to the film. One of the characters realizes their creative outlet of making haunted houses might translate to a full time job. It is inspiring and unexpectedly heartfelt, just like this documentary.
See it or skip it
Saturday, November 3rd
2:15 PM at Denver Pavilions