Screamer (2012) Movie Review

The local haunt documentary, “Screamer,” follows haunters Phil Granger and Matt Kemp’s quest to scare the pants off Indiana residents while not losing their own shirts in the process.

Screamer” could easily have been called, “Screamer: A Cautionary Tale for Haunters,” and should be required viewing for any armchair or home haunter thinking about diving into the deep end of the professional haunting pool. Anyone who has ever gone to a haunted attraction in the middle of October and seen a long line stretching around the building has probably had the same thought; a quick approximate head count and ticket cost estimate multiplied by five or six weeks of business has probably given many layman the idea that operating a haunted house is an easy way to make a lot of money in a short period of time.

This documentary should go a long way towards dispelling that myth.

Earlier this year also saw the release of Brian Cunningham’s Louisville haunt documentary, “Monsters Wanted,” which chronicled an equally harrowing tale of the trials and tribulations of Richard Teachout and Janel Nash as they struggled to open the Asylum Haunted Scream Park. However, unlike that documented journey which was edited into a film that ultimately saw its protagonists succeed against all odds, “Screamer” shows what happens when things don’t go as planned no matter how much blood, sweat and tears are shed in the process.

“Screamer” is not nearly as polished a production as “Monsters Wanted.” It’s a little rough around the edges and sometimes haphazardly edited. I often wished director, William N McHugh, had included the years, dates and names of the haunts on screen more often because the film is sometimes hard to follow when it jumps from haunt to haunt.

The core of the film follows veteran haunter, Phil Granger, and his right hand man, Matt Kemp, as they run their Henryville, IN haunted attraction, “31 Ways to Terror,” and attempt to open a new attraction, “Chamber of Horrors,” in downtown New Albany.

Granger, a former Chicago police officer who also worked as a circus clown in his younger days, caught the haunt bug after moving to Indiana. Kemp, a 20-something cook at a local restaurant, met Granger while working at “31 Ways to Terror,” and the two teamed up to create a number of haunted houses in the Southern Indiana area over the next few years.

During the process of following these two Spookmasters as they work towards the opening date for “Chamber of Horrors,” we also follow them to Haunt Con and the Haunted Attraction Trade Show in Chicago. These sequences give viewers a great look at the showroom floors of these colossal shows, including the industry’s most elaborate props and animatronics. Interviews conducted at the shows include haunt legends like Larry Kirchner, owner of “The Darkness,” Ed Edmunds of Distortions Unlimited and haunt industry pioneer, Leonard Pickel.

Apart from the big haunt industry shows, the film also follows Granger and Kemp to a local junk and haunt trade show known as Ironstock in Tellcity, IN.

You’ll also be treated to footage from some the biggest haunts in the country like Dead Acres, Necropolis and Nightmare on 13th as well footage from the Baxter Avenue Morgue during the period of time when it was run by Jamie Stephenson and the Haunted Hotel when it was run by Terry Campbell and Todd Moore.

It’s hard to talk about the film’s ultimate theme without discussing what might be considered SPOILERS for those not familiar with local haunt history, so if you don’t want to know how the film ends, please stop reading now and go to to buy a copy of the DVD or rent the streaming video version.

After a series of unfortunate events involving the local fire marshals, last minute changes and a forced closing of their opening weekend, “Chamber of Horrors” failed to make budget during its first season, but Granger was not deterred.

“Next year, I guarantee we won’t be closed,” he exclaims. “I guarantee it!” The immediately following onscreen text reads: “The Chamber of Horrors Closed the Next Year.” As the rain continues to pour, Granger loses his day job and his lease on the “31 Ways to Terror” property just two and a half weeks before opening date.

As the documentary comes to a close, Granger and Kemp team up together once again the following year with “Psychomania,” built inside the empty remains of the Greentree 4 Theater in Clarksville, IN. “Psychomania” steadily built its haunt and audience for four years until one early morning during the off season, the building caught fire and burned to the ground. Since Granger and Kemp couldn’t afford insurance on the building during the off season, the haunt was a total loss.

“Screamer” ends up becoming a haunt industry tragedy on a grand scale; the story of two well-meaning dreamers whose love of Halloween and passion for scaring the public every October ends in broken dreams and financial nightmares. I wouldn’t write these two Spookmasters off just yet, however. I’m guessing that they both have sinister plans for haunting the Indiana area again in the future.

Through the end of December, DVD copies of “Screamer” are available at for $14. It’s worth noting that the copy I received was actually a manufactured DVD-R and not a factory pressed DVD. There is also a streaming video version available on the website that you can watch on demand for $3.99.

The Phantom of The Ville

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