Scream for Help (1984)

August 27, 2020

 

If anything, Scream for Help is most famous for making Tom Holland a director.

 

Holland, a hot commodity after writing Psycho 2, was apparently so aghast with director Michael Winner's take on his Scream for Help screenplay, that he decided to direct his next script himself, the horror classic, Fright Night. Because as Holland says, he "couldn't do worse." 

 

Winner's film has been shrugged off over the years, if not outwardly mocked; the New Beverly even screened it during a series showcasing the five worst films of the 80's. And for that and all those haters out there:

 

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucccckkkk OFF!

 

To be sure, if you want to put on your Critical Analysis Hat and prance around like a little fancy lad, Scream for Help is no Fright Night or The Stepfather. No, it's altogether a different sort of beast. Instead of being of quality, it has qualities. I.e., sometimes you want to meet Barack Obama. Other times, you just wanna do rails of coke off strippers with Rodney Dangerfield.

 

 

Scream for Help is the doing rails of coke off strippers with Rodney Dangerfield of 80's horror cinema.

 

"My name is Christina Ruth Cromwell. I'm seventeen, and I live in New Rochelle. I think my stepfather is trying to murder my mother."

 

The film follows high school student, Christina Cromwell (Rachael Kelly), who tries to prove her new stepfather (David Allen Brooks) is planning to murder her and her mother for their fortune (all of this a year prior to The Stepfather, by the way). What's interesting about the setup, is that before the first act is even over, Christina knows her stepfather's plan, he knows she knows, and she knows he knows she knows. Thus, we're cast into a game of one-upmanship between the two, a literal race to the death. 

 

 

Holland has spoken about how Winner, a great action director, didn't understand how to build suspense, as he took out all the dialogue and beats that established the tension. And to a certain extent that's true. Winner was a journeyman director who understood sensationalism and its relationship to entertainment. The Mechanic and Death Wish excel as action films, because Winner removes all the dialogue and exposition. They are so lean and devoid of any subtext that audiences, for years, have been projecting their own subconscious and politics onto them (the homosexuality of the relationship between Charles Bronson and Jan-Michael Vincent in The Mechanic or the right wing vigilante ideologies of Death Wish).

 

Winner always laughed off these interpretations. He never thought about his films in any context other than to entertain. 

 

 

And because he brought that same approach to Scream for Help, everything is just 100% all the time—like the car with the stuck accelerator in the film. There's not one ounce of fat in this movie and not one moment to rest. Just when you think there's going to be an annoying subplot involving Christina's friend getting pregnant, Preggers is struck and killed by a car literally twenty seconds after revealing her secret. Yes, you heard me: this film has no problem mowing down pregnant women who get in the way of plot!

 

So when people tell you this film is bad, they mean it's adult, sleazy, fast-paced, and without any regard for subtext or time-consuming setups and payoffs. That sounds pretty fucking cool to me. 

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