Michael Stephenson and Victor Bariteau on The American Scream
One of the Fantastic Fest premieres is coming straight to your home this weekend. The American Scream premiered in Austin last month and Chiller is airing it on Sunday. The documentary by Michael Stephenson (Best Worst Movie) follows three families building haunted houses last October. One of the film’s subjects, Victor Bariteau, joined Stephenson for interviews in Austin. Spoiler Alert: Bariteau is now going pro so we had some questions about his pro haunt that he begins to plan at the end of the documentary.
CraveOnline: Michael, what was it like making a documentary you were not in?
Michael Stephenson: [Laughs] Great! It was one of the things in the beginning of it, I was afraid. After Best Worst Movie I was afraid to make another documentary because Best Worst Movie had been so personal. That I had been a part of it was, by default, there was a piece of me in that. Coming into this documentary was a little bit more “how would I find something that would mean as much personally?” Right off the bat, it became very personal and meaningful because for me it was an examination of not only creativity and passion and chasing your dreams but family and community and small town values.
There’s heart in both movies, but is American Scream maybe more sincere where Best Worst Movie is kind of ironic?
Michael Stephenson: It’s hard to say because I don’t necessarily see Best Worst Movie as being ironic. The movie [Troll 2] is arguably celebrated by people who are celebrating in irony, but in making Best Worst Movie I found fans that had the same level of sincere and genuine appreciation for Troll 2 to the point where I didn’t see it as ironic. I saw it as these people really genuinely are having a great time from this movie. And this is a movie they will be remembering and talking about their entire life. So it kind of transcended a level of irony or “so bad it’s good” but presented this questions of how bad is it if it is leaving this type of impression, this positive impression for years down the road? I think there are comparable levels of heart between both because Troll 2 in Best Worst Movie, there is a genuine passion with Claudio and with even the fans and with George Hardy. There’s this genuine spirit about these people and their lives. Within home haunting with American Scream, again at the root of it are people that are doing something that they’re very passionate about for genuine purposes. What Victor does, what Manny does is at great personal sacrifice. They don’t get paid or any of that. They do it because they love it.
Victor, were you worried that having a film crew all your preparations would give away your secrets?
Victor Bariteau: No, no. Within the home haunt subculture, we share information. There’s a lot of online resources that you can go to and I’ve thrown How-To’s on there. Lots of other people throw How-To, creating props. No, we share information. We absolutely want everybody to have a high level home haunt. The information is out there, go get it and everybody’s happy to help each other out, absolutely.
One of the great construction scenes is when Matt Brodeur is hammering in the wrong spot. Did you already have an angle on the nail coming out the other side or did you go back and get that pickup?
Michael Stephenson: [Laughs] No, when they’re constructing the mineshaft, that was one little moment of a whole. When you edit, there are things that you’re like, oh, we have to lose this. But that whole construction of mineshaft was like a day of filming. There were more than one nail being missed. It was much like the alien or some of the other projects.
So after the first time it happened, you pointed a camera at the reverse angle on the nails and just waited for gold?
Michael Stephenson: Yeah, exactly.
This seems like basically a 30 day shoot, the month of October, and then how much post?
Michael Stephenson: Yeah, we shot a little over 30 days and then we did a follow-up trip just as a closer. Like six, seven weeks and then post really started in January. A big bulk of it is logging and organizing and transferring all the footage. We ended up with over 200 hours of footage and getting everything organized up front. So we started that in January and then once we started editing, our first cut we had in about two months and then after that, the polish cut was like three weeks after that. I don't know, I can’t do the math right now but it was I would say three of four months.
How did you feel about jumping to an R-rating as soon as Victor starts saying f***. You only get two in a PG-13.
Michael Stephenson: I guess it never crossed my mind. I love it actually and it is because it’s the reality. It shows how much this means to Victor. Most people could dismiss the broken leg of a yard zombie and no big deal, but that moment makes it very clear how important this is to him and how passionate he is about this and how important this dream is to him. You start to put in perspective that this whole home haunt, the purpose behind it has always been much bigger than a home haunt in his head. There’s a much bigger picture for him than just the home haunt.
Could you bleep them out for an airing on non-pay television?
Michael Stephenson: Oh, absolutely. It’ll air on television at the end of October and I actually just did the bleeps last week. It’s great. It’s really wonderful.
Chiller can show it though, right?
Michael Stephenson: They can’t. No.
Victor Bariteau: I’m actually embarrassed by that whole thing by the way. Obviously I was comfortable with the cameras at that point. My children are sitting right there with me as we’re watching this and I was horrified to hear that coming out of my mouth like that.
As a home haunter, what did you get out of seeing the other home haunter stories in the film?
Victor Bariteau: The effort that they put forth, the aggravation. They share the same aggravation when things don’t go right. They’re a little more calm about it, it seems, than I am but I identified with them.
Now that you’ve had a chance to build a pro haunt, could you ever go back to home haunting?
Victor Bariteau: If the pro haunt fails, I will go back to home haunting. I can’t stop. It’s in me.
Not to say that it would fail. Even if it succeeds, would you continue doing a home haunt on the side?
Victor Bariteau: This year I won’t be doing a home haunt. We’ll see in the future. Maybe if we ever get a permanent location throughout the year to keep it up and there’s not such a rush at the end of the season, then I can see myself doing the home haunt again.
Did your daughter get her room with the victim under the bed in your pro haunt?
Victor Bariteau: Yes. She designed the whole room and we built the room very similar to what it was in the garage. Actually the prop itself is still being worked on. I have all the parts. When I leave here, I have to rush home and finish it up.
We’ll have readers from everywhere so where can people find your pro haunt?
Victor Bariteau: Ghouliemanor.com. The website is up finally. They can go there if they want to talk to me online about anything, pro or home haunt. I can be found on Hauntforum.com and The Garage of Evil. My screen name is Halloween Zombie and I’m willing to talk to anybody about anything.
Do we need to reserve tickets for Ghoulie Manor?
Victor Bariteau: You can get tickets at the door and they’ll be available online by the second week [of October].
Michael, what if you find a subject that’s not horror related for your next documentary?
Michael Stephenson: For me, the subject matter I guess is really the wallpaper on what I’m driven by, and that’s just interesting people and characters. A lot of times the people I find most interesting are ordinary people on the surface. So I don’t feel constrained one way or another, or even all that specific to horror. I’m more interested in finding the humanity or the human angle in a place that’s kind of unexpected.
Are you still working on the narrative feature Destroy?
Michael Stephenson: We are. Zack Carlson and Bryan Connelly wrote it and our plan is to shoot it this spring.
Is that geared up?
Michael Stephenson: It’s getting geared. We’re in preproduction right now, early preproduction, like storyboarding and that type of thing. We have a lot to do. I’m not very good at doing 10 things at once, so as of yesterday it’s like okay, now this is done. Now jump off and start focusing on something else.
When will you go out to casting?
Michael Stephenson: We’ve had some initial talks with some people that we’re interested in, more like coffee talks. But I would suspect November/December probably.
There’s so much battle between romantic and deadly vampires. Is it time to take it out of both those realms?
Michael Stephenson: Well, this isn’t a vampire movie.
Right, you’ve got a movie about a vampire hunter who mistakenly kills innocent humans.
Michael Stephenson: I think what really drew me to the story is you have a guy who on paper is almost impossible to empathize with. He’s a guy who is very well meaning and the best of intentions but is terribly misguided. And he kills old people, sweet old people. The thought of being able to not necessarily empathize with him but see both the comedy in the comedy of errors but also his vulnerability as he realizes that there is no threat. The threat is himself.
Have you heard from Troll 2 director Claudio Fragasso since Best Worst Movie?
Michael Stephenson: I guess it’s been three or four months. Occasionally we’ll be in touch. He’s still making movies. George Hardy I still talk to. We’re as close as we can be still. He texted me yesterday “Good luck” and we still talk every one or two weeks.
Is Claudio still working on Troll 2 Pt. 2?
Michael Stephenson: He is. They’ve written the treatment and last I heard, she [Rossella Drudi] had finished writing the script and really wants to get it made, but it’s been a couple of months since I’ve talked to them.
Is there a role for you in Troll 2 Pt. 2?
Michael Stephenson: They’ve written a role. Whether or not I’d be in it… He wrote it around me being grown up and now having a daughter of my own. I’ve read the treatment, so yeah.
Victor, what exactly are the rules for performers in a haunted house?
Victor Bariteau: It’s different rules for different haunted houses. In my particular haunted house, the actors can’t touch any of the patrons. There’s not a lot of blood and gore. There is some but there are other haunts that encourage that sort of thing. Touch and get them involved that way and make them feel threatened. I’m more worried about lawsuits. I want to entertain but I don’t want to cross a line. There are other haunts who are able to get away with it and I kind of admire that but I’m too afraid to be honest.
Do you ever go to the big ones, the equivalent in your area of Universal Halloween Horror Nights or Knott’s Scary Farm?
Victor Bariteau: Oh yeah. I’ve worked at Spooky World, one of the incarnations of Spooky World. We try to get out to some other haunts whenever we can. I like to take my daughter and she’s thrilled when we’re going through a haunted house and somebody screams my name because they know me, so yeah. And I also go to conventions and we do haunt tours for different places around the country, so I’ve been to more than 100 pro haunts.
Were you aware how close to the cusp you were in their auditions for three haunters they’d follow?
Victor Bariteau: I wasn’t. I didn’t know that I almost didn’t make it. To be honest, I didn’t expect to make it. I probably only halfheartedly submitted the application because somebody had pushed me to do so. But once they came and interviewed us and left, I told one of my buddies, “They’re coming back. It’s us.” Not because of what we had created but the questions he was asking. They were taken with the town that we live in so I knew they would come back.
Did you film anyone who didn’t make the cut?
Michael Stephenson: Haunt-wise, other haunts no. We did film other expert voices and other interviews, lots of those that didn’t make the cut. But haunt-wise, once we zeroed in on these guys, it was all we could do. We didn’t have the resources to throw in a wild card just in case. This is our story. This is where we need to be.