William McHugh’s documentary Screamer gives us a look into the world of haunted house attractions, offering up interviews with different proprietors of such horror events as well as giving first-person perspectives on many different houses. At the heart of the film is the haunted house endeavors of Matt Kemp and Phil Granger as they prepare their Chamber of Horrors for the upcoming 2006 Halloween holiday.
The strength of Screamer is definitely the behind-the-scenes glimpse we are given into Kemp and Granger’s projects. Relying predominantly on actors as opposed to the ever-popular animatronics, the Chamber of Horrors winds up having the same issues a theatrical show would have: how to compensate the actors, how to get more attendees to pay for it all and how to keep it all on the up-and-up with the building inspectors.
It’s a gamble as far as finances, but also as far as the scare potential too. Obviously the talents of the actors vary, and with so much riding on their performances, it really comes through who is up to the task and who isn’t. On top of that, as money gets tight, some actors walk in fear of not being paid and an already tenuous effort becomes that much shakier.
While I enjoyed the various looks at different scare-styles and performances of the different haunted houses, in addition to the more nuts-and-bolts presenting of the Chamber of Horrors, these other elements did begin to feel repetitious. While I enjoy a good scare as much of the next person, there’s only so much screaming and chainsaw-brandishing I can take before every haunted house begins to look the same, and interviews with their proprietors cursory.
And since the film doesn’t really dive into an overall historical perspective on the scare attractions, we’re left without much context beyond “these are some of the people behind certain haunted houses, and here’s a look at the type of scares they employ.” In other words, while the Kemp and Granger sections have depth, the rest of the film lacks it, making the 101 minute running time feel far longer than it is.
As far as being a glimpse into a world I hadn’t thought to explore before, complete with the personal touchstones of Kemp and Granger, I think Screamer works. Again, though, as the other footage came into repetitious play, I found myself starting to lose interest in the film. Not that these other proprietors’ stories aren’t interesting, but they also begin to blur together with the similarities of the different attractions and it begins to feel like a case of “seen one, seen ’em all,” which is unfairly dismissive but, unfortunately, that’s the feeling that set in.
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