Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Scream of the Crap: "Scream" (1981)

First of all, this is a review for the 1981 train derailment known as "Scream," not the Wes Craven directed film.

The horror film tries to be a new take on the slasher film and fails miserably. A group of people rafting in west Texas stop and camp out in a ghost town. There, assorted tourists pick the wrong time to wander off alone, and they are murdered in extremely boring fashion. The sun rises, so does my ire, and the rafters discover they are sans rafts. They return to the ghost town, where two lost motorcyclists happen by. One leaves with tour leader Stan (John Ethan Wayne, the Duke's son) and the killing continues.

Almost a solid hour into this thing, character actor Woody Strode rides in on a horse and a fog bank, has a meaningless three minute scene, and leaves. He does figure prominently in the finale, for another two minutes, but the climax is so bad and the killer's identity so off the wall that you may find yourself reenacting the film's title.

The characters' names are negligible, and some of the cast are not named at all. When Strode rides in with a body on his horse, someone recognizes it as one of the motorcyclists, yet we did not know his name until that moment. The ghost town set is good, and Queasyberry tries to do some John Carpenter directorial business on the screen by showing us empty building facsimiles, but he cannot build any suspense whatsoever. Characters meander off alone at the drop of a hat just to be killed. Not one, but two characters are murdered when they leave to fetch beverages.

The director makes the obviously budgetary decision to show just one murder onscreen. The gore effects consist of fake blood on a variety of farming implements and nothing more. The film features some other character actors like Pepper Martin, Hank Worden, Gregg Palmer, and Alvy Moore, all doing the worst work of their careers.

The old Vestron Video company adds insult to injury with their video box. The curved sickle on the cover is not in the film. Woody Strode, who appeared in almost eighty films, including "The Ten Commandments," "Spartacus," "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," and "Sergeant Rutledge" (just to name a few) is credited on the back cover plot summary with his cinematic master work "Angkor: Cambodian Express" (huh?).

A horror film is a tricky thing to pull off. The victims should be sympathetic, or at least have a collective I.Q. higher than the number of fingers on your left hand. The villain should be scary, but here he is never seen. The special effects should add to the suspense, not serve as a subliminal Pavlovian trigger for french fries with extra ketchup.

In the end, "Scream" is another nail in the coffin of late 1970's/ early 1980's horror, where the slasher film quickly fell from the heights of "Halloween" to the depths of "Friday the 13th: Jason Takes Manhattan" and "Slaughterhouse." (*) out of five stars.