Saturday, March 26, 2011


The moment this tape arrived I embarked on a bi-polar coaster ride for over a week before actually inserting it into my VCR. I was initially apprehensive because “Scream For Help” was an unlikely marriage of talents. Not that writer Tom Holland and director Michael Winner are diametrically opposed in terms of what they do. Both are responsible for some of my favorite films of all time. In fact, I’d categorize this pairing as a ferocious dream team. Unfortunately, in my experience, collaborations between two strong and talented personalities usually results in a big, fat let down.

Holland wrote some of my favorite films of all time, including “Class of 1984,” “Cloak & Dagger,” and “The Beast Within.” He also wrote and directed the phenomenal “Fright Night,” as well as “Child’s Play.” The man also has cajones forged from the magma of a netherworld volcano for tackling the intimidating task of penning “Psycho II.” As a screenwriter, I’ve often ponder what it must have been like to have been handed the job of writing a legitimate sequel to what is considered by most to be one of the greatest movies of all time. Going into that project, you had to know there was no way you were going to win. Even if you wrote something that managed to supersede the original, no one would ever admit it out of reverence for the original. People were going to be predisposed to bashing it. Ultimately, Holland wound up creating a respectable sequel. On the other hand, Michael Winner directed, what is in my opinion, one of the greatest movies ever made, “Death Wish 3.” As I mentioned before, sometimes you combine two ultimate badasses and they crack horns ‘til their both drunk, or cancel each other out, and the results are tepid. That's sort of what I was expecting here, because this pairing is like the cinematic equivalent of mana.

You can call “Scream For Help” a success, but it doesn’t come near the sort of artistic achievement most typical people demand before calling a film “great." The dialog here broadsides out of left, frequently veering into unintentionally hilarious territory. The acting has the sort of speech fluidity you only hear on a “Learn To Speak English” tape. The score by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones comes in tacky, jarring slabs. In fact most will notice that some of the later music cues wound up being used in Jimmy Page’s “Death Wish 3” score. The story itself feels like a compacted season of a soap opera, amplifying its outrageousness. All of these things combine to form a truly entertaining and engaging film. You'd have to have a petrified branch up your ass to not have fun while watching this.

Predating “The Stepfather” by several years, the story begins with a narrative by young Christie Cromwell who is convinced that her mother’s new husband, Paul Fox, is out to get them both. The opening moments of the film harkens to the spirit of innocent William Castle brand fun, ala “Thirteen Frightened Girls!,” but they eventually dump a wild bouquet of vulgarity, blood, tits, and sleazy sex into the mix that occasionally catches you off guard.

The accidental death of a maintenance man arouses Christie’s suspicion in her stepfather. She believes the fatal scenario was intended to claim the life of her mother. Christie decides to shadow Paul and soon uncovers an extramarital affair. Her friends eventually become entangled in her quest for proof, with lethal results. Here’s one of my favorite scenes from the film.

Fucking awesome!

Eventually, Christie convinces her mother of Paul’s infidelity with a little photographic proof. Soon after, Paul and his gang of homicidal conspirators invade the Cromwell mansion with a plot to kill mother and daughter and make it look like a burglary gone bad. The film has an ironic twist, as Christie defends her mother and bumps off the goons using a batch of methods derived from Paul’s earlier failed murder attempts.

Mince chunks of "Square Pegs," "Dallas," early "Dark Shadows," and cut the intensity of “Fight For Your Life” with the suave noir of “The Desperate Hours” all together and you wind up with "Scream For Help." In spite of its loud, over the top qualities, the movie remains relatively obscure. Some feel that the tape's blase packaging effectively camouflages and discouraged most people from picking it up. Don’t let this ordinary looking box detour you, though. Inside this pale looking clamshell exists a wild piece of microwaved trash that stands up to repeated viewings. A super-fun must-own tape for any collector. As a collaborative effort between two heavyweights, it definitely lives up to whatever expectation you might build up in your mind before hand, which makes this movie all the more exceptional.

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