Stephenson quickly discovered that there was more of a subculture of home haunters than he could imagine, with people toiling away in their garages working on all sorts of spooky creatures and other such creations. “I think what was surprising, because for me, from the outset of this project – and it was the same with ‘Best Worst Movie’ – I wasn’t really interested in B-Movies or defining a subculture at all," he explained. "I was more interested in the human aspect and ‘What does the director think about this movie ['Best Worst' Movie'] that is being celebrated because it’s bad? And is that really a bad thing?’ I’ve always been more interested on the smaller, slice of life, human side of things than the broad."
Fairhaven, Massachusetts, was where the search for a home haunter who encapsulated all the characteristics Stephenson was looking for eventually led. Victor Bariteau is sort of the main character of the film from which the other home haunters follow, as he creates home haunts that would dazzle even those who’ve spent a few Halloweens attending Halloween Horror Nights or any major haunted house attraction, with the sheer ambition, scope, and artistry of his haunt. Yet, Victor wasn’t even the first choice. “It was complete, complete, kind of serendipity or luck that we found him," he explained. From 600 submissions from across the country, they realized the greatest concentration of applicants came from New England specifically, so naturally they set the film there and found their main character. Victor didn't initially make the final cut of people to feature in the narrative. “The day before I left to go and meet with the 12 I was considering, I came upon that picture of Victor’s daughter Kathryn standing next to the spider with a huge smile on her face. At that moment it was like, ‘Wait a second,’ that picture grabbed hold of me.”
Some comparisons have been drawn between Victor and Mark Borchardt of “American Movie” fame for their passion to accomplish a creative task (in Mark’s case, make a horror film entitled “Coven”) possibly beyond their small town means and at times putting stress on their personal relationships. Victor spends much of the documentary worrying that perhaps he’s spent too much of his family earnings on the haunt, with his supportive wife and kids at times feeling neglected or cast aside due to his passion. Stephenson said that making a character like Victor accessible to an audience isn’t necessarily difficult. “For me, the best characters are not black and white," he said. "It’s not bad or good, all of us lie somewhere in the middle. I think the key to having a character that is accessible, and likeable, ultimately comes down to vulnerability. All of us have our weaknesses and strengths, and even though Victor is arguably obsessed and puts his haunt before his family, the flipside of the coin is, it’s the one thing that that family does year-in and year-out. It’s a keystone to their relationship as a family.”
While pull quotes on film posters are standard issue nowadays, so often people will spew some sort of semi-positive quote for a movie just to land on a poster or trailer. Though for “The American Scream” trailer, there’s one from Ain’t It Cool News writer Alan Cerny that stated, “[American Scream'] assures us that life lived in pursuit of a passion…is never a wasted life.” This was a quote that Stephenson picked himself while cutting the trailer and said epitomized the message of the film. "The one thing I want people taking from this film is that, being passionate about something is worth everything. I don’t want to sound silly, but ultimately you have one life to live. Sometimes I think people stop the progress towards their dreams just because of irrational fear. Sometimes you have to throw caution into the wind and go for it.”
Stephenson will continue to follow his own dreams, lining up his first narrative feature as director of “Destroy,” a horror comedy said to be in the vein of “An American Werewolf in London,” which follows a would-be vampire hunter who has left a string of staked corpses all across Bavaria, unaware that he's actually been murdering innocent old men. Stephenson will certainly be playing around with moral ambiguity once again, only on a fictional basis now, and hopefully soon. "We were actually working on ‘Destroy’ when ‘American Scream’ came to us. Now my head, in terms of creatively, is on ‘Destroy,’” he said. The filmmakers has a tentative start date of April in mind and even mentioned that he’s thought of incorporating some of Victor’s production design-level talent on the film.
As for anyone who’s already seen "The American Scream" [mild spoiler alert], you’ll know that the film leaves off with Victor setting up his own, full-scale haunted mansion outside of his home about six months after Halloween – hoping to turn it into his own professional haunt for Halloween 2012, and fulfilling a dream he expresses throughout the film. Stephenson updated us on Victor’s progress towards that goal as well. “Victor took me to his pro haunt, where he’s leased this space that’s part of a mall. On the outside it’s sort of unassuming, because there’s a banner, and nothing very interesting about it – it feels like you’re walking into an old Best Buy – but then you walk in and it’s magical. He’s built a haunted mansion.” Stephenson said, “It is going well, the attendance has been good, and he has a big week ahead of him.”
“The American Scream” will premiere on Chiller network Sunday, October 28 at 8:00 PM ET and will be screening in select theaters through November. Visit AmericanScreamMovie for additional information on screenings.