(UK - 1984)
Directed by Michael Winner. Written by Tom Holland. Cast: Rachael Kelly, David Allen Brooks, Marie Masters, Rocco Sisto, Lolita Lorre, Sandra Clark, Corey Parker, Tony Sibbald, Stacey Hughes, David Baxt, Burnell Tucker, Bruce Boa. (R, 90 mins)
"I remember coming out of the screening at the old MGM building and standing there with the executives from Lorimar and nobody knew what to say to each other. Everybody was just standing there, dumbfounded." - SCREAM FOR HELP screenwriter Tom Holland
Though his place in horror history would soon be secured by writing and directing 1985's FRIGHT NIGHT and 1988's Chucky-spawning CHILD'S PLAY, Tom Holland already established his genre and cult movie bona fides by writing 1982's THE BEAST WITHIN, 1982's CLASS OF 1984, and 1983's PSYCHO II. Directed by Australian Hitchcock disciple Richard Franklin (PATRICK, ROAD GAMES), the excellent PSYCHO II surprised everyone, and the Franklin/Holland team reunited for 1984's generally well-received CLOAK AND DAGGER. Holland wanted Franklin to direct his script for SCREAM TO HELP, but it ended up in the hands of Michael Winner, the journeyman British director best known for his numerous collaborations with Charles Bronson, most notably 1974's landmark vigilante thriller DEATH WISH. Whether it's 1977's "gateway to Hell" horror film THE SENTINEL, with its use of circus freaks and a young Beverly D'Angelo introducing herself to heroine Cristina Raines by vigorously masturbating through her leotard, or 1982's DEATH WISH II, with an almost unbearably brutal gang-rape so over-the-top that some of the crew walked off the set in disgust when it was being filmed, Winner had a reputation as a button-pushing provocateur, though in the parlance of our times, one could also call him the directorial equivalent of an online troll. He was capable of making movies and behaving himself (1971's LAWMAN, 1972's THE MECHANIC, 1973's THE STONE KILLER), but the early '80s saw Winner going on a gonzo and often unbelievably nasty streak that more or less cemented his reputation through his retirement from filmmaking in the late '90s to begin a new career as the Sunday Times restaurant critic, to his death in 2013 at 77.
Karl-Lorimar Home Video banner, a joint venture with Karl Home Video, the company behind the phenomenally successful Jane Fonda workout videos. After the VHS era, SCREAM FOR HELP fell into obscurity until a 2016 screening at the New Beverly in Los Angeles alerted cult movie scenesters and bad movie aficionados that a real doozy had fallen through the cracks. SCREAM FOR HELP certainly has its bad movie charms, but I don't find it nearly as bonkers as Winner's next film, 1985's insane DEATH WISH 3, and it's certainly not as egregiously awful as other trendy bad movie staples, like TROLL 2, MIAMI CONNECTION, or THE ROOM. Much of the laughs in SCREAM FOR HELP come from star Rachael Kelly's terrible line readings or Winner's sudden kamikaze dives into into shock value antics, whether it's an unexpected, explicit sex scene or Kelly forced to play an entire scene with her hand covered in blood from her virginal character's broken hymen. There's no need for the scene in question to go off on that tasteless tangent, but that's exactly why Winner did it.
THE STEPFATHER, as Christie Cromwell (Kelly), a 17-year-old in New Rochelle, NY, is convinced that her new stepfather Paul Fox (David Allen Brooks) is plotting to kill her mother Karen (Marie Masters). Wealthy Karen owns the local car dealership, and she recently dumped Christie's nice father (we never see him) for the younger, hunky Paul, her top salesman. Christie's been so adamant in her accusations that she even missed a stretch of school after her mother forced her to see a shrink. Still, she persists, especially after a handyman is electrocuted in the basement in an "accident" that she's convinced was set-up for her mother. She follows Paul around and discovers he's having an affair with trashy Brenda Bohle (Lolita Lorre), and the two are in cahoots with Brenda's psycho brother Lacey (Rocco Sisto) to get Karen's fortune. Soon, Christie's best friend Janey (Sandra Clark) is run over by a car in an "accident" meant for Christie, and Christie and Janey's stud boyfriend Josh Dealey (Corey Parker) borrow Karen's car only to have the brakes go out. Unable to convince anyone--her mother, Josh, or his police commissioner father (Tony Sibbald)--that Paul is trying to murder both her and her mother, Christie takes drastic measures--a Polaroid of Paul and Brenda getting it on--which is enough to convince Karen to kick him out of the house. Bad idea, since that only leads to the bickering trio of Paul, Brenda, and Lacey (who's not Brenda's brother but her husband, and he's not very happy about her enjoying so much of her time with Paul) staging a DESPERATE HOURS home invasion to do away with Christie and her mom--who's already in a wheelchair after breaking her leg in yet another botched attempt on her life--once and for all...if they don't kill each other first!
|Michael Winner (1935-2013)