The piece below was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.
Being a fan of both family owned rural amusement parks and horror attractions, Quinn Monahan’s Spooktacular! made me feel actual regret upon seeing the greatness that once was Spooky World. The doc, reminiscent of The American Scream, is the story of David Bertolino who started his spooky empire when he purchased a former dairy farm in Berlin, Massachusetts that was originally intended as simply a haunted hayride, but which grew from 1991 to 1998 into what is now the template for homemade horror attractions across the US. The doc is a more clinical deconstruction of not only how the park was founded and grew over the years, but how it eventually incurred a backlash from the small town it resided in, culminating in the park relocating, and ultimately closing.
Before hitting play I hadn’t heard of Spooky World. From its genesis as Spooky Hayrides, Quinn Monahan takes you through how founder David Bertolino with six acres of land and a small loan of $150,000 immediately tapped into the horror zeitgeist with his month-long celebration of all things Halloween. Within a year they had cars backed up 800 deep from the freeway all to get into their attraction, which took the area, and later the nation by storm with its then patented mix of fun attractions for casual attendees and families, and the scary goods for horror aficionados. As new haunts were added, another big draw was celebrity guests, the likes of Linda Blair, Tom Savini and Elvira who were on hand doing autograph sessions. It was a pure genius move that brought even more crowds to what was later renamed Spooky World, to give Bertolino the aspirational latitude to grow the park which he did.
The story is thankfully told by most of the players involved rather in their own words, with some perspective added – given it’s been nearly 3 decades since the park ceased operations. While the story is interesting, it lacks a humanity. While the workers offer some of the more colorful bits, Bertolino, while engaging, is very matter of fact and sometimes appears disconnected when discussing not just the good times, but some of the more unflattering stories around the lengths he would go to promote Spooky World. He’s just not a good interview, and that really hurts the documentary as a whole since he’s set up as one of the main voices in the chorus. Personally, his wife felt a bit more authentic here. That said while the doc is rather competently constructed, the film also leans too heavily onto clips of Vincent Price that while adding flourishes to illustrate the story, don’t add much value.
For fans of haunted attractions this is easily a MUST watch or for those who have memories of Spooky World, of which I am very jealous. For casual viewers, there’s just not a great hook here to latch onto which is the biggest downside, but it is overall an enjoyable and brisk watch, which could be its salvation for most. Horror fans will no doubt enjoy the cameos by Savini, who at one point had his own haunted attraction at the park and a few other celebs who graced the autograph tables at Spooky World over the years. While Savini is one of the most entertaining floating head presented, it’s hard not to notice it appears his interview was done in his car over what appears to be facetime, which is a bit distracting. While we may never walk the hallowed halloween grounds at Spooky World, thanks to director Quinn Monahan we can still experience it just a little bit thanks to this doc.