Welcome to Back to the ’80s. This recurring feature aims to take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from horror’s most beloved decade. Regardless of which category a particular film falls under, this segment will spotlight films that horror fans can appreciate for one reason or another. We will look at how some of these flicks have stood the test of time and others have not aged quite so well. Regardless of what they look like today, these efforts from the 1980s laid the groundwork for the horror genre as we know it today.
Scream for Help (Michael Winner) is a horror movie that straddles the line of being so bad it’s actually good. Now, let me further clarify that statement. This is not a good movie. The heroine is not particularly likeable. The dialogue is cliché and overly dramatic. The music belongs in a Lifetime movie of the week. However, if you are looking for some big laughs, this might be just the movie for you. Especially if your sense of humor is triggered by the ridiculous and the absurd. Covering topics such as adultery and abortion in the most blasé fashion, Scream for Help follows the story of Christie (Rachael Kelly) and how she must prove that her stepfather is trying to murder her and her mother. The problem is that Christie has always been a bit immature in her relationships and her friends have always taken everything she has to say with a grain of salt.
Right out of the gate, the movie trips over itself. There is a debate amongst critics about whether or not to include voiceovers in film. Some believe that it might be a cheap way to move the story along. However, there can be solid arguments for the effectiveness of the technique. It depends on the genre and ultimately the kind of story being told. Whichever camp you might fall in, there is really no argument when watching Scream for Help that the filmmakers made the wrong choice. At first, it’s played out that she is writing in her diary. However, the diary device is later abandoned and yet, the voiceover still continues. The movie begins with a narration by Christie explaining that this is the story about how her stepfather is trying to murder her mother. This is followed by an immediate cut where the audience is blasted with strings and violins reminiscent of a 1950s romantic drama. After this random opening cut, the scene shows Christie in her room and her voiceover continues as she sneaks around the house. The narration jumps back and forth between the past and present leading to confusion for the audience. Is this happening now or did it already happen? Did we find out immediately that the heroine is going to live because she is telling the story? Did I really sit down to watch this movie? The obvious problem with the film being narrated by the heroine is that we are basically being told that she is going to live.
Scream for Help was written by Tom Holland. One would think with screenwriting credits such as Fright Night, Child’s Play, and Psycho II that the audience is going to be in for a suspenseful and sometimes scary experience. The entertainment is there but definitely not the way in which the filmmakers intended. There are several scenes that one can choose from to demonstrate the absurdity of this movie. The two that follow are my personal favorites. The first involves Christie trying to follow her stepfather to prove that he is having an affair. Now, we’ve already established that this film made the ill-fated decision to use voiceovers. There is reason to suggest then that an effective narration could go something like: “I followed Paul. He was in a car, and I was on a bike so I kept losing him. However, after a few days of catching up to him at the spots where I lost him, I finally reached my destination.” The movie could continue from there. Instead, this cinematic un-classic decides to actually use about five minutes of screen time to not only show her day after day losing sight of her stepfather, but literally narrate the action as it happens.
The second worst best scene from the film involves Christie’s best friend, Janey (Sandra Clark). Janey has been going all the way with a boy and this leads to the discovery that she is pregnant. In the most cavalier way she describes how she is going to “get an abortion, of course…I’m only seventeen…I just like to sleep around. I have my whole life ahead of me; I want to party and travel!” Immediately after that, she is hit by a car. (I use the word “she” loosely as the audience can clearly see that it is a poorly disguised dummy that is taking over for the stunt.) This is, of course, followed by another blast of strings and violins from the soundtrack as Christie runs over to her fallen friend. One is made to wonder if the screenwriter was trying to make a moral statement with this scene. Whatever the intent, the result is that it plays out like the worst after school special ever and the audience will literally laugh out loud. Especially considering that only a few short scenes later, Christie has sex with Janey’s guy thus losing any potential moral redemption for these characters.
Scream for Help is the kind of film most contemporary audiences associate with stereotypical 1980s horror. There is gratuitous sex, horrible acting, and plot holes that one could drive through with a DeLorean. However, one can argue that this film is the kind designed to be watched and made fun of with a group of friends. Only the most faint of heart would find anything to be afraid of when watching this movie. The true horror of this movie is how talented filmmakers could create such an unintentionally hilarious film. The only real screams to be found here will be rooted in laughter.