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CampBlood Gay Horror Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Scream for Help Michael Winner 1985

Winner Takes It All (and Fucks It Up)

Someone once said, “Shoot for the moon – even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”. Well, the vast majority of horror films shoot for the moon and end up somewhere about 20 feet above the roof. In fact, a quick look at the glass house of the horror genre would reveal thousands of low-hanging also-rans hovering around the building like fishflies holding vigil outside a lit gas station. A few more successful of the bunch may have ascended a bit higher (Look – isn’t that Brain Damage flitting about with The Children of Ravensback up in the trees? How on earth did Curtains clear the telephone pole? And is that Dead and Buried and Night of the Creeps I see shooting off into the night sky like so many bottle rockets?), but for the most part, they’re lucky to clear the chimney.

But a few “special” horror films have the distinction of not even clearing the roof. While One Dark Night and The Legacy may be rattling around in the upstairs hallway, unsure of where the hell they are, a few even less successful attempts at entertainment remain stuck to the popcorn ceiling of the poorly-decorated living room. And somewhere between the track lighting and a water stain from that time years ago when Jason let the tub overflow, you’ll find the pathetic, squashed remains of Scream for Help.

Folks, this is a movie that manages to get absolutely everything wrong. From casting to direction to acting to score, it is a virtual textbook of how NOT to make an engaging thriller. Beyond that, it’s also coarse, illogical, and abysmally unengaging as anything other than an unintentional comedy (a weak moment for scripter Tom Holland, who would make the excellent Fright Night the very same year). Rubberneckers, this one is for you: this is a full-on, 20-car highway pileup.

The film starts with a shot that looks like a douche ad and one of the hottest opening narrations EVER: “My name is Christie Cromwell. I’m seventeen and live in New Rochelle. And I think my stepfather is trying to kill my mother!” DA-DAAAAAAAAAAAA! In the first of a series of the worst music cues in history, we are launched into the Cromwell-Fox household, where two soap opera actors (David Allen Brooks of The Young and the Restless and Marie Masters of As the World Turns) are raising the beady-eyed and somewhat dumpy Christie (Rachael Kelly) in a haze of chilly wealth. We already know that Christie thinks her stepdad Paul is up to something – so no need for any suspense or discovery there (get used to it – director Michael Winner – who somehow pulled off enormous success with Death Wish – manages to systematically defuse every potential surprise or scare with sheer ham-fisteness). But within minutes, we have Paul killing off an electrician in a poorly-planned (and laughably transparent) plot to kill his wife Karen, which Christie is all over like white on rice. That gold-digger won’t get away with this!

Naturally, Christie runs to her slutty friend Janey (Sandra Clark) to commiserate, but Janey’s busy porking the son of the police commissioner, Josh Dealey (played with customary coquettishness by Corey Parker of The Lost Language of Cranes and Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning). Christie is as horrified as we are at the sight of Janey’s bare torso, and Janey tries to tell Christie that she’s being a pain (which she is) while freshly-drained Josh sits at the table dipping Oreos in peanut butter. Christie decides to take matters into her own beefy mitts and follows her stepdad around on her bike, which of course means we’re treated to a thrilling array of painfully boring “chase” scenes that consist of Christie coasting past unwitting extras through a dreary, ugly, overcast New Rochelle. All this would be absolutely unacceptable were it not for one saving grace:

The score.

Ladies and gents, Scream for Help boasts what is easily the worst score in the history of the cinema. Ugly, discordant, and ridiculously inappropriate, the music (composed by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, of all people) swings faster than a WB teen heartthrob at a Joel Schumacher pool party. One moment it’s a Sousa march, the next it’s the theme to Murder, She Wrote. Next is something from Mary Tyler Moore, followed by the score to Terror Trainall in one scene. It assaults the ear on every imaginable level, challenging the very fabric of the aural universe with its refusal to make even a lick of sense. But considering that what’s going on on-screen is as exciting as watching the fucking grass grow, thank God it’s there.

Anyway, Christie finds out that her stepfather is porking local trash princess Brenda Bohle (the white-hot Lolita Lorre), who lives with her “brother” Lacey (Rocco Sisto) in a run-down house on the other side of town. Don’t ask me why a man is named Lacey. In an astounding display of clumsiness, Christie freaks out after seeing her stepdad and Brenda smoking together on the couch (?!), gets spooked when Lacey jumps out from around the corner of the house, and steps directly into an empty fishtank on bricks that is sitting directly behind her on the sidewalk, shattering it. Never before has a pratfall setup been so ludicrous and amazing – what in God’s name is an empty fishtank doing directly under a window in the front yard? But this is but the first in a series of hilariously contrived moments… read on…

With a stunning lack of tension or suspense, Paul and Christie have it out in the living room, with Christie stupidly telling Paul everything she knows (uh, genius – you should be telling your mother, not the guy who’s trying to kill her, that you’re onto him – unless you want to become a victim, too). Her mom gets pulled into the mix and she’s not buying it, either, so Christie keeps up with her Harriet the Spy surveillance of Paul, this time dragging her zaftig slut of a friend to spy on him and the glorious Brenda in a motel (“We’ve gotta catch them doing it!”; “Doing what?”; “Fucking!”). When Paul spies them and gives chase, the two painfully unathletic girls make a run for it, and end up strolling down a wooded lane. Here, Janey feels compelled to reveal that she is not only a slut, but a pregnant slut, and launches in to an audition-scene-ready monologue just as an ominous black sports car enters rear-of-frame. Just as the predictable “I have my whole life ahead of me” spills from Janey’s puffy lips, the car plows her over and sends Christie rolling into the leaves. Folks, this is one of the best bad run-downs I’ve ever seen – I rewatched it about 10 times in tears. Note how the dummy that is thrown in front of the car skids off into the leaves feet-first, and the following shot shows the actress rolling casually – head-first – toward the camera. This kind of cavalier disregard for continuity of any sort needs to be applauded, even more so than the casual killing off of a pregnant teen with no real connection to the plot.

Fortunately, the death of Janey means that Josh Dealey’s dance card is clear, and Christie sets upon getting him to deflower her (I think she has a reason, but I can’t remember it). First, she makes him ride with her in a surveillance trip, in which the brakes conveniently go out in her mother’s car (one of the only moderately thrilling scenes in the film – if you turn off the score, of course). Then Josh stands up for Christie when the kids at school inexplicably attack her for being responsible for Janey’s death (which makes so sense whatsoever – why would she want to kill her only friend, even if she was a knocked-up tramp?). Then Josh shows up at her house and tries to pork her, which she resists for about 3 seconds before hopping into bed for some unprotected baby-making sex with a proven spermbank. God, this girl is retarded. Luckily, stepdaddy Paul breaks in before Josh can release his army of footsoldiers into Christie’s freshly-cracked vault, so hopefully she’s not going to be following Janey’s path.

Now this part is great: newly-whored Christie reaches down and pulls back a bloody hand, and understandably freaks out. When she tries to run to the bathroom to cleanse her filthy self, Paul stops her at the door. At first I was hoping that he was going to sniff it or something, but what he does is actually more ridiculous: he slips into the bathroom, which has obviously been rigged to kill Christie with a deadly gas explosion (the vents are plugged with towels, the gas main is turned on, and the lightswitch is rigged to throw deadly sparks when it is flipped). Mind you, Paul cleans all of this up right in front of Christy, without an iota of subterfuge. So now he knows that she’s onto his affair, and she knows that he’s trying to kill her. And they’re both the worst liars in history.

Anyway, things spin out of control pretty quickly, with Christie following Paul around even more (even taking Polaroids of him porking Brenda – in a fairly graphic doggie-style scene…), and Paul, Brenda, and Lacey eventually taking Christie and her Mom (who is in a cast and wheelchair from a Paul-induced spill) hostage in their own basement, with plans to kill them in a “botched robbery” scenario. Of course, the stupid insistence that they need to wait until 2am to kill them (?!) gives the spunky ladies plenty of time to turn their attackers against one another (Christie has learned that Brenda and Lacey are actually married and planning on blackmailing Paul for his inheritance, which she waits to tell Paul until she and mom have been locked up for hours) and eventually kill Brenda in a fabulous electrocution scene (her hair blows straight up from the back of her head). The other 2 guys get theirs as well, but it’s not nearly as fabulous. In the end, Christie and her mom are rid of the strikingly handsome gold-digger and white hot trailer trash that have been plaguing them, and Christie has a new fuck-toy. Roll credits.

But I’m intentionally leaving out the most fabulous thing about Scream for Help: the stunts. Once Janey gets clocked by the Trans Am, Scream turns into an orgy of hilarious pratfalls that mostly consist of Christie’s mother being thrown down various sets of stairs. First, she trips on an enormous metal tusk that has been bent to stick out of the grand staircase and trip anyone blind enough not to notice it. Of course, Karen steps right on it in her sensible low heels and pinwheels down the stairs into the foyer, breaking her cankle in the process. Graceful? No. Hilarious? Yes.

Soon enough, Karen is in a cast and wheelchair and is a sitting duck for a bunch of sadistic hillbillies like Paul, Brenda, and Lacey. Before you can scream “Odessa Steps!!”, she’s being dumped down the cellar stairs like coal out of a wheelbarrow, and Christie is shoved down after her for good measure. There’s also a great moment when Karen is shoved full-speed into the foyer and spills out of her chair most gracelessly – it’s a great moment as well, but nothing can match the shambling way she flops over her wheelchair when she hits the bottom of the steps. It’s enough to make you run outside and start shoving the differently-abled down staircases (see also: the deliciously-abled Tom McBride in Friday 2, who navigates a staircase backwards in his chair, with a machete in his head). Coupled with the nasty pregnant-girl hit-and-run, this is just about one of the most vicious films to women that I’ve seen in ages (Lacey also beats the hell out of Brenda at one point). But oddly, none of it really seems that offensive…

You see, let’s not forget the fact that Scream for Help is one of the worst films EVER MADE. Literally every choice is wrong. And when a movie is such a disaster in every regard, it’s very difficult to take such affronts seriously. So a woman in a wheelchair is thrown down a flight of stairs, it’s funny. When a pregnant teen talking about getting an abortion is mowed down by a musclecar, it’s hilarious – bad mannequins notwithstanding. Even attempts to be vulgar or shocking (the first-sex blood, Christie’s use of “fuck” at inappropriate moments, the gross sex scenes) are so ill-advised and out-of-place that they take on a surreal quality that only serves to make the movie weirder. Even the composition is begging for comment – Winner couldn’t put the camera in the right place if his life depended on it. A great drinking game to play with this film: everyone has to do a shot whenever there’s an object in the foreground that is larger than one of the actors (i.e., a lamp, phone, or vase that, thanks to forced perspective, looms over the actors like a monolith). You’ll be drunk within 15 minutes – and loving every godawful minute of this so-bad-it’s-good disaster.

Rating (out of 5):