Welcome to Cult Corner where we dive through the bargain bins to determine if a movie is trash or treasure. Today’s pick… Al Beresford’s Screamtime.
Screamtime is a low budget mid-80s anthology film consisting of three short stories. There’s a wrap around as well, centering around a couple of guys popping some VHS tapes into a VCR (each tape being one of the short stories). This wrap around is alright, though I really have to wonder why they decided to make the characters so detestable. At the start of the movie they steal these three tapes off of the counter at the video store. I could understand if these were tapes hidden in the back that weren’t for sale in some kind of “no human should see this” way, so the only way to see them was to steal them but this just makes them look like scumbags.
Anyway, the first short is “That’s the Way to Do It.” We follow a puppeteer whose family is angry with him because he apparently spends all of his time with his puppets and not with them. His wife tells him that she is taking the family and moving to Canada. She begs him to get rid of the puppets and go with them. As tensions rise and things come to a head someone starts to murder people. Is it the puppet? Maybe.
The first problem with this setup is that we only know of his obsession because we’re told that it’s what’s going on. We never see anything that suggests this. Show us the puppeteer missing his son’s birthday because he’s in his workshop or something. This is a tried and true character flaw that’s been used a million times and I’ve never seen it executed so poorly. The end result is that all of his family members seem like they’re out of their minds and being unreasonable.
When the violence begins to happen it’s ridiculous. We get shaky cam, abrasive noise, and a piece of wood coming from off camera and hitting the victim in a POV shot. It looks like a poorly played first person shooter. Later on it just gets worse when the puppet finally appears and attacks people, followed by the lamest chase scene ever. Seriously this chase scene is garbage and has the least interesting or intimidating villain ever. Next.
The second short is “Dreamhouse,” which was apparently remade as a feature length movie in 2010 for some reason. Anyway, this is a straightforward haunted house story. A family moves into a new house and this woman begins to see things. They range from harmless appearances like a vision of a young boy riding his bike outside to more sinister visions like the knife she was previously using to chop vegetables being bloody when she walks back inside. There’s a relatively nice trail of breadcrumbs left for the viewer to figure out what happened to the previous owners on their own and they try to leave you guessing whether the haunting is real or if it’s in her head (it’s obviously real). Other than that it’s pretty simple and not all that interesting. No major flaws to pick apart like the previous story, but nothing really to write home about either.
Finally, we have “Do You Believe in Fairies?” which is another haunted house story. Granted, the setup is totally different, but that’s what it amounts to. This time we have a group of dirt bikers strapped for cash when they decide to rob this place that one of them just took a job at. While they are there, some weird things start to happen. Candlesticks and rope move by themselves, a beautiful woman appears out of nowhere with psychic powers, and lawn gnomes attack en masse. This one at least has something going on, but after watching two haunted house vignettes in a row it feels repetitive and like they could have combined what worked about both segments into one good short and featured something else for the third tale.
All of the vignettes fall into the same traps. They’re poorly shot and edited, poorly acted, and there just isn’t enough going on to keep the viewer’s interest. It’s a lot of slow buildup to crappy payoff. The first two stories are overly complicated for how simple they really are, and the wrap around is really awkward and unnecessary. There’s a reason movies like Trick r Treat and Creepshow are more over the top with their shorts. They have monsters and a variety of crazy things going on because when each story is 15-30 minutes long, there’s not a lot of time to develop characters and backstory and rely on slow pacing. Anthology films need to hit hard and fast because every second counts. This movie just does not do enough to keep the audience awake, let alone interested. Skip.
Here at Cult Corner we cover the weird and obscure. Given the low budget that these movies often have we feel the need to recognize that entertainment value and quality aren’t always synonymous. That’s why we have opted for the “trash or treasure” approach in lieu of a typical rating system. After all, Troll 2 is incredibly entertaining but it’s no 8 out of 10.