Yes folks, it's another one-vote wonder today, and what a wonder it is. Coming straight outta 1984, it's Michael Winner's trash in pastel cotton* epic Scream for Help.
*please sing "trash in pastel cotton" to the tune of "Knights in White Satin," thank youThis tale of a 17-year-old who thinks her stepfather is trying to kill her mother starts like an early Lifetime flick or an After School Special, perhaps owing, somewhat, to the fact that it was distributed by Lorimar, a television production company that briefly dabbled in film during the mid-late 80s. It doesn't take long before this tale becomes something fairly bonkers, with a few unexpected (and over-the-top) moments of violence and some queasy gratuitous sex, definitely owing to Michael Winner.If you've seen any other Winner films, such as The Sentinel or the Death Wish saga, then you know you're in for a....mmm, let's call it an "un-PC" time. Scream for Help is no different--it's ultimately mean-spirited, but lawd if it ain't eminently watchable. It's also maybe not quite as sleazy as its reputation would have you believe? Or is it just that SHOCKtober has numbed me...?The turn towards the tawdry is telegraphed in the film's opening moments, where lovely scenes of New Rochelle, New York--with its cobblestone sidewalks, charming downtown, and leaves blowing about--are coupled with shots of stray dogs roaming and rats scuttling near sleeping vagrants. There's a dark heart lurking beneath the gussied-up surface of New Rochelle...and in the Cromwell household, where Christie (Rachael Kelly) writes in her diary, annoys everyone around her, and relentlessly tries to find some dirt on her stepfather Paul (David Allen Brooks).
For you see, there's a dark heart lurking beneath Paul's gussied-up surface as well, Christie assures us in a voiceover. Christie's mother owns many a business in New Rochelle, including a car dealership where Paul was a hotshot salesman. Ever since her mother left her father for Paul, Christie has been obsessed with proving that Paul's a bad dude. So obsessed, in fact, that she spent some mom-mandated time in a shrink's office to help her get over this fixation. It didn't work! If anything, Christie has doubled down, feeling right in her assertions after an accident--OR IS IT "ACCIDENT"--kills an electrician in the Cromwell basement. Christie gets her Nancy Drew on as she tries to catch Paul in the act of...well, something, frequently (and hilariously) tailing Paul's car on her bike while 70s detective show music blares. Thankfully, Scream for Help doesn't run the girl who cried Paul / is Christie just a wackadoo? angle into the ground; It's not long before Christie's incredible powers of snooping dispense with the mystery and reveal that yeah, Paul is fooling around with some (incredible) floozy named Brenda (Lolita Lesheim) and yeah, Paul wants to kill Christie's mother and Christie both.
There's a surprising turn into home invasion territory, and Christie must use every ounce of MacGuyver-esque knowledge we never knew she had if she and her mother are going to make it out of this second marriage alive.Everything would be pretty silly and soap operatic no matter who was at the helm of this picture, but again: it's Michael Winner, who employs a bull in the china shop approach to everything. Like, Christie doesn't just catch Paul and Brenda together, she sees them going at it hard, fully naked doggy-style. Christie doesn't just have bad sex her first time, she bleeds like a stuck pig. Women get knocked around plenty, and if you see someone in a wheelchair, you'd best believe they're going to get dumped out of it several times--doubly guaranteed if there's a staircase nearby.
Yes, Scream for Help is entirely tasteless. It also tastes fucking great!Writer Tom Holland disagrees with me, however, who hated Winner's handling of his script so much that to ensure something like that wouldn't happen again, he went on to direct Fright Night himself a year later. So...thanks, Scream for Help?The are bizarro changes in tone throughout the film are reflected in the "what exactly is this score?" by John Paul Jones (yes, the John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin), which is sad sweeping strings one minute, blaring klaxons the next. Best of all, it's capped with the song "Christie," which...unfurls over the end credits, sung warbled by Jon Anderson (yes, the Jon Anderson of Yes). I do love it when a woman in a movie gets her own theme song (see also: Jennifer (1978)), but yeesh, "Christie" surely ranks with the worst. Sorry, Christie.
Scream for Help became ubiquitous--though maybe not successful--in the home video market after a failed attempt at a theatrical release, then found something of a second (or is that first?) life in the Blu-ray age amongst fans of trash cinema. It's well-deserved, I say. There were more than a few moments that had me hitting rewind, laughing in surprise over whatever I'd just seen. Yeah, as I said, it may just be the SHOCKtober talking, but I found that the touches of squidginess throughout were vastly outweighed by the entertaining-as-all-get-out insanity. Cue the klaxons!