Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Reserved Seating: SCREAM FOR HELP

by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
The review duo who learned how to electrocute people in shop class.

Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.
Adam: Our month reviewing ‘80s horror films that neither of us have seen continues with the insane 1984 thriller Scream for Help. written by Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child’s Play) and directed by Michael Winner (Death Wish, The Sentinel). It tells the story of a teenage girl named Christie (Rachael Kelly) who discovers her step-father Paul Fox (David Brooks) is not only having an affair, but also plotting to murder Christie and her mother (Marie Masters) to steal their money. When Christie tells literally everyone about her suspicions, nobody believes her and mayhem ensues, complete with Nancy Drew-esque snooping and dangerous close calls.

I’d been hearing about Scream for Help for a year or two after it was discussed on the terrific Shock Waves podcast. Shock Waves co-host Elric Kane made the movie sound like the most hysterical thriller experience you could ever see. He’s not wrong. The pleasure of watching this movie is in its bizarre details. The story itself is more or less standard thriller fodder, but Scream for Help really dives in on perviness and slack filmmaking. It’s not even a movie that starts out normal -- by the first edit you know you’re in crazy town because the narration is stilted and the serene photography and score is incongruous with the heaviness of the dialogue. The entire movie is like this, punctuated by sex and sudden violence. In a very specific way, I found Scream for Help fun for about an hour but then I was ready for it to be over. You can only see Marie Masters thrown down stairs/out of a wheelchair two or three times before it loses its novelty. What did you think of the movie, Rob?
Rob: I’m not even sure where to start. As you said, Scream for Help’s charm comes from its sleaziness, depravity, and overall sense of reckless abandon. Buy into that, and you’re going to have a good time. The characters are thin facsimiles of human beings with little or no understanding of societal norms or interpersonal relationships. The dialogue and presentation are wooden and stagy, full of odd ticks and idiosyncrasies (What’s with the whimsical score? Why is Paul Fox only ever referred to by his full name?). Sometimes, though, it feels like it goes a little too far. The nudity is gratuitous and many of the sex scenes live on a spectrum between uncomfortable and alarming; I was worried at several points that I might lose my teaching license watching this movie. It was made by bad people with broken souls.

But still, I’m not sure how much that disqualifies Scream for Help from inclusion in the pantheon of party movie oddities best appreciated with groups of like-minded friends. You know That Group of friends? They need to see Scream for Help. It’s special. I absolutely don’t want to come off as too strict a moralizer or pretend like I didn’t have a ton of fun watching this batshit movie. There’s just a profound lack of adult supervision here that starts to make you feel a little icky after a while. You start to feel culpable in the exploitation of these young women for your entertainment (That deflowering scene? Yikes!). This isn’t me being an oversensitive SJW. This is just me being a person with a soul. I don’t know. Maybe we can work this out over the course of our discussion.
See, it’s Tom Holland’s involvement that makes me most anxious to get to the heart of this thing. Given his legendary disgust with the final product (he vowed to direct his own scripts from them on), I’m fascinated by how we ended up here. There are brief glimpses of satire in the writing, and I’m wondering if Winner just lacked the subtlety or grace to understand how to integrate it. Rachael Kelly’s lead performance has so many (sometimes contradictory) tones, and David Brooks has a Chris-Sarandon-in-Fright-Night quality in certain scenes, so some wheels had to be turning somewhere. The Nancy Drew/Dear Diary elements tipped me off to this, too. They feel like an element that was front and center in the screenplay and pushed to the side when Winner took over. But again, I could be totally off.

Adam: My experience watching the movie is different now that we’re talking about it. In the moment, I found the first hour to be the party movie you described. It’s so misguided that a great amount of entertainment could be had from it. I hit my wall when there were three villains invading Rachael Kelly’s home instead of just one. I think the movie spends too much time at this location (it’s most of the third act) and it plays out in a heightened, but not unfamiliar, way compared to other thrillers. The main thing the first two acts of Scream for Help had going for it was the unpredictability that anything could happen at any minute. This is gone in the final third, which telegraphs big moments and becomes somewhat of a waiting game.

As you raise some moral apprehensions about the movie in this review, it makes me like the movie less. I think it’s so wrong-headed that I’m almost willing to look the other way in terms of the ugliness, but Michael Winner was a seasoned director at this point and had to be aware of what he was doing. I’m not doing a complete retraction of my initial enjoyment watching Scream for Help, but I get enough of a bad taste from it that I think it will be a one-time viewing for me.
I did want to discuss some of the things about the movie that fascinated me most:

1. This came from Lorimar, which is (upon research) the most schizophrenic production company ever. Their television output includes ALF, Full House, Step by Step and Family Matters while their films include Scream for Help, Cruising and The Toxic Avenger Part II.

2. The score by Led Zepplin’s own John Paul Jones is NUTS. It never fits the scene it’s in.

3. Christie calls two characters (Paul Fox and Josh Dealey) by their full names constantly but no one else.

4. The driving scene where Christie and Josh are careening out of control because Paul Fox cut the brakes is the highlight (for me) of the entire movie. It’s like the car chase in The French Connection made by the worst student in any film school.

5. A person gets hit by a car and the filmmaking is straight out of a movie like Pieces or Death Spa. The character is said to be pregnant which makes it all kinds of wrong.

6. The movie stops cold for me every time Brenda and Lacey Bohle are on-screen. It would be better I think if it was just Paul Fox as the villain.

7. Finally, the end credits song called “Christie” (by Jon Anderson) is the best/worst song we’ve had in a Reserved Seating film since that milk and cookies jam in Author! Author!

Rob: The pregnant woman getting hit by a car is part of what I’m talking about. It makes for an insane gag, and it wouldn’t be as bad if it weren’t for the fact that she tells us she’s pregnant SECONDS before in the SAME scene. This is a teenager! The filmmakers clearly put that there for shock value, and that made me really angry. I think the violence against women is especially frustrating given that Scream for Help is, at its core, about a young girl trying like hell to prove that a powerful man committed a sexual transgression when no one believes her. I mean, do I even have to talk about why that’s fertile ground for a smart horror movie? This one totally shits the bed on that front.
Adam: Yeah, once you start applying any humanity to your reaction Scream for Help falls apart very fast. I was bothered by how quick Josh Dealey moved on from his girlfriend dying and going to bed with her best friend. I’d be curious to watch the Blu-ray special features to learn more about the behind the scenes, but I think I’m good never seeing this movie again. I didn’t hate it except when I kinda hated it. Mark Off.

Rob: I feel like a lot of people are expecting us to have more fun with this and celebrate its quirks and so on, and I’m sorry that I couldn’t. I enjoyed watching this movie, but it made me feel gross afterward. I think I’m a slightly softer Mark Off, but I’m a Mark Off, as well.

Adam: All you can do is react honestly. It’s not our responsibility to agree with everyone all the time. I probably would have given Scream for Help a Mark Ahn if it kept up the “fun” of the first hour, but I think it clunks out by the end. I’m also less forgiving today than I was when I watched it because I’m writing this after watching Lady in White and Vampire’s Kiss in the past 24 hours, which both have similar ugly treatment of women and children and I’m sick of all that shit right now. I need a SMM palate cleanse, like Trick r’ Treat where nothing bad happens to women or children. Oh wait…

Rob: Yuppie dudes in the ‘80s took filing very seriously. What are we watching next week?

Adam: One of the last few Wes Craven films I’ve yet to see: Deadly Blessing. Until next time…

Rob: These seats are reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Nice article fellas! I had a very similar reaction when I watched this a couple of weeks ago. Maybe I'm just getting grumpy in my old age, but this type of ironically enjoyed bad movie is losing its appeal to me. Other than a few chuckles at Christie using Paul Fox's full name all the time, this movie just left me feeling blah and gross.