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October 25, 2012

‘American Scream’: ‘Home haunter’ channels Halloween spirit

Posted in: Movies,TV

Victor Bariteau works on an Egyptian-themed prop for his haunted house in his Fairhaven, Mass., home workshop. Bariteau's family is one of three featured in the documentary "The American Scream," which airs Oct. 28, 2012, on Chiller. (Magic Stone Productions / Chiller)

Each year, several families in Fairhaven, Mass., turn their homes into haunted houses. (Magic Stone Productions / Chiller)

Victor and Tina Bariteau and their daughters, 9-year-old Gwen and Catherine, 11. (Magic Stone Productions / Chiller)

Catherine Bariteau, 11, shows off her distorted dolls, part of the display in her family's haunted house. (Magic Stone Productions / Chiller)

Gwen and Tina Bariteau package candy for trick-or-treaters. (Magic Stone Productions / Chiller)

Victor Bariteau, left, and his 11-year-old daughter Catherine, who shares her father's love of the gruesome and creepy and helps him with his haunted house. (Magic Stone Productions / Chiller)

A zombie crossing sign in Fairhaven, Mass. Each year, several families in the neighborhood turn their homes into haunted houses. (Magic Stone Productions / Chiller)

Rick Brodeur, left, and his son Matt turn their home into a rough-and-tumble haunt each year for Halloween. (Magic Stone Productions / Chiller)

The home of Matt and Rick Brodeur, one of three families featured in "The American Scream." (Magic Stone Productions / Chiller)

Rick Brodeur, one of Fairhaven's home haunters, dons a Halloween mask. (Magic Stone Productions / Chiller)

Home haunters Manny and Lori Souza and their children, one of three families featured in "The American Scream." (Magic Stone Productions / Chiller)

The home of Manny and Lori Souza and their children, one of three families featured in "The American Scream." (Magic Stone Productions / Chiller)

Manny Souza works on a clown prop in his backyard haunt. (Magic Stone Productions / Chiller)

Children play in Manny Souza's backyard haunt-in-progress. Souza's family is one of three featured in the documentary "The American Scream," which airs Oct. 28 on Chiller. (Magic Stone Productions / Chiller)

Halloween is a year-round holiday for Victor Bariteau and his family. A self-proclaimed “home haunter,” Bariteau works around the calendar building props, designing monsters and going to incredible lengths to transform his home into a haunted house for one night in October. Bariteau’s family is one of three subjects in the feature-length documentary “The American Scream,” which chronicles the home-haunting phenomenon that has taken root in Fairhaven, Mass., an unassuming New England town where the houses stand close together and the neighbor kids all know one another.

The film was directed by Michael Paul Stephenson, the filmmaker behind 2010′s acclaimed documentary “Best Worst Movie,” about the infamous “Troll 2.” “The American Scream” won the best documentary award at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, last month, and is airing on Chiller network on Oct. 28, as well as screening in select theaters in November, and through Tugg.com. Hero Complex caught up with Bariteau, who is opening his first professional attraction, Ghoulie Manor, this year. Hero Complex readers also get a peek at an exclusive clip from the film (below).

HC: In the film, you said that most holidays are family holidays, but Halloween is a community holiday. Why do you love it so much?

VB: I think I love it so much because I missed it as a kid. My family was very religious and I was not allowed to trick or treat. It was heartbreaking as a child to watch other kids have so much fun without me. Regardless, it is a fun holiday. I can’t say for sure if I would be doing this if I was allowed to participate when I was younger, but likely I would. You get to dress up in a costume and go house to house so people can give you candy? Is there anything more magical than that to a child? It happens only once a year. You get to knock on the door of a complete stranger and they thank you for it with a small gift. If that’s not community, I don’t know what is.

HC: Why do you think “home-haunting” is contagious in a community?

VB: That’s a very good question and difficult to answer. I’m sure everyone has different motives, but certainly the common factor is a love for the holiday. Plus, if you hear kids screaming and laughing at someone else’s house, wouldn’t you want them screaming and laughing at your house too? I also think there are lots of people looking for a creative outlet. If they see someone in the neighborhood who is able to display their creations, they are likely to want to do the same. I can’t pinpoint exactly why it happens, I’m just glad that it does.

HC: What’s the relationship like among the haunters in the neighborhood? Do you lend each other props and labor? Are you competitive?

VB: We are incredibly friendly. I’ve given props to [fellow documentary subject] Manny Souza and a new home haunter just around the corner from us this year, although I couldn’t give them my time. I want them to be successful. With the pro haunt taking all my time, I won’t be able to do the home haunt this year. It will certainly take pressure off of me if the other neighborhood haunts keep the community entertained. It’s certainly not a competition though. If we all put on a good show, it brings more people to the neighborhood. It’s beneficial to help each other succeed. What’s funny is that I’m finding it difficult to get the pro haunters in the region to buy into this theory.

HC: Can you fill us in, picking up where the documentary left off? Is Ghoulie Manor allowing you to make a living “haunting” full time?

VB: Ghoulie Manor is getting great reviews and customer feedback. We’ve even been rated No. 1 by a local radio station. But our numbers are not as high as we had hoped. Getting the word out has been a challenge. Being a first-year haunt, many people have never heard of you. We are advertising on radio, television and billboards, but it’s still a challenge to get customers through the door. On a per-night basis, we haven’t been getting the visitors at the pro haunt that we did at the home haunt. Ghoulie Manor will take a loss for the first year, and I will have to find a full-time job once the season is over, but I’m not giving up. Next year we will be an established haunted attraction, and I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes this year. We will be bigger and better next year, and it will become my full-time job. This is my dream and I’m not letting go! It’s not only important to me, but to others as well. I’ve had actors giving back paychecks to help Ghoulie Manor succeed. It’s humbling.

HC: How has this documentary affected your life, both during the process and since then?

VB: Overall it has been greatly beneficial. I won’t say it wasn’t difficult having a film crew at our house every day for over a month. It was an adjustment. Certainly, private family time goes out the window for a while. But Michael Stephenson and the entire crew were so great that it was only a matter of time before they became family themselves. There were tears shed in my house when they packed up and left. Luckily, we’ve gotten together with them a few times throughout the year since the movie came out.

HC: What was it like to see the film for the first time?

VB: I saw the movie for the first time at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, with the film crew and lots of film fans. It was a night that validated everything I’ve done, everything that I’ve put my poor family and friends through. It was even more emotional when the movie premiered in my hometown with friends and family in attendance. Michael focused on the families and the enormous effort it takes to put a home haunt together rather than focus on the home haunts themselves. That was incredibly satisfying and helped audiences identify with us. It wasn’t about haunting, it was about passion….  The bottom line is that I’ve been recognized nationally for doing something that I love to do.  That’s all I could ever ask for.

Victor and Tina Bariteau and their daughters, 9-year-old Gwen and Catherine, 11. (Magic Stone Productions / Chiller)

HC: What tips do you have for anyone considering taking up this hobby?

VB: Get online! That’s the best tip I can give. There is an entire subculture of people who love putting together home haunts. Visit HauntForum, The Garage of Evil, HauntProject and many more. Visit a haunt convention too. There’s lots of people willing to share their prop-building know-how. Also, start small. But, I warn you, once you start it is difficult not to become addicted.

– Noelene Clark


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