Spooktacular! (Fantastic Fest 2023)
Dir. Quinn Monahan (2023)
A documentary that explores the fascinating history of a horror theme park in Berlin, Massachusetts.
I'm a huge documentary buff. I mean, I will literally watch a documentary about anything and be happy about it. Whether it's Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Aliens... I mean, you name it, I've seen it and greatly enjoyed my time watching. Spooktacular!, which is premiering at Fantastic Fest, is a new documentary about Spooky World, covering the park through its evolution as a haunted hayride to its position as arguably the greatest haunt in American history. With cameos from horror celebrities like Adam Green and Kane Hodder, as well as mainstream stars like John Krasinski, Spooktackular! is a comprehensive doc that is a fascinating watch.
The brainchild of costume worker David Bertolino, with parts of the park co-designed by horror legend Tom Savini, Spooky World became a right of passage for fans of the creepy and the eerie in New England. Nestled in the woods of small-town Berlin, Massachusetts, the park went through many iterations. At first, it took advantage of the craze for haunted hayrides, with Bertolino incorporating live performers who would scare the pants off of visitors. It eventually became a horror museum, multiple haunted houses, and even a wax museum featuring many real-life horrors and murders. Spooktacular! covers every area, telling the story of how the park came to be as well as its eventual downfall due to overzealous state regulators and a town that was not ready for its boundary-pushing entertainment.
There's always a little disconnect when you watch a documentary about a specific place and/or time that is outside your realm of experience. As someone who, surprisingly, has only visited haunted houses on extremely rare occasions and has never been to that part of Mass, Spooktacular! had to rest on its production value and an interesting story to keep me interested, and it managed to do that throughout. It's a legitimately interesting story, watching these small-town folks giving their all in the pursuit of something greater. While not all of the story was feelgood, and the ending was certainly less than happy, Spooktacular! shows that the horror community can come together and create something truly amazing.
The horror community is a wide-ranging one, with various toxic trends much like any other fandom. The wide array of entries into the genre practically ensures that horror fans will run the gamut, which would naturally include folks who are gatekeepers, those who are rude to other fans, and those who disparage people for having an opinion that differs from their own. It's nice to get a reminder that true horror fans are in it for the magic. They're in it because the genre as a whole brings joy to almost everyone who comes across it. Even the most staunchly anti-horror folks likely have one or two that tickle their fancies, and when the residents of Berlin came together to make Spooky World, they really had something special. I hope that everyone out there reading this will find a place that will bring them the same kind of love and joy that Bertolino's park brough to so many over the years.
Who this movie is for: Horror doc fans, Haunt enthusiasts, Fire marshalls
Bottom line: A comprehensive documentary about one of the greatest horror attractions in American history, Spooktacular! is an excellent watch for anyone who loves hearing stories about horror history. While I had never even heard of the park before this documentary, it brings me joy to know that so many people had such great experiences to share, many of whom became lifelong horror fanatics. If you're a fan of documentaries that fit into the horror realm, I highly recommend checking this one out. It's premiering at Fantastic Fest and will hopefully be available to the public soon!