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Scream (1981)


Scream 1985 VHS
86 minutes
MPAA Rating
Cast and Crew
Production Companies

"The Definition of Ineptitude"

Maybe I'm just too dense to get it and Scream is a subtle masterpiece about something - who knows what - but my guess is that it just sucks.

First off, no, it isn't that Scream, in case you ended up here by mistake. This film, rather than spawning sequels and kickstarting quite a few careers, was made by a then and now unknown producer, director and writer (using those terms liberally) Byron Quisenberry, and seems to have killed quite a few careers. Certainly, that fact is much more horrific than anything you're likely to see on your television screen while watching this mess.

Scream was made to cash in on the slasher craze, especially Friday the 13th and its offspring (like The Burning). A group of rafters head down the Rio Grande to a small ghost town where they plan to spend a relaxing weekend camping. But almost as soon as they arrive and night falls, they start dropping like flies-apparently a psycho is attacking them one by one. There are suspicions that one of the campers is the culprit, but various events rule that out.

It's not a plot that's going to offer profound philosophical insights into life, but in the right hands, it could be serviceable. I strongly believe that great films come from great crews and casts. If you have the right people involved, any story can end up being a masterpiece, even something with a dubious script.

Scream certainly does not have a great cast and crew. There are hints of competence, and the film is actually promising for at least the first five minutes. The cinematography is more than passable (and tellingly, cinematographer Richard Pepin is one of the few people involved with Scream to continue a film career) and Quisenberry does one interesting thing that worked very well, namely, that a lot of the exposition and backstory in the first few minutes is told through disembodied, layered dialogue uttered as asides between characters as they ascend the hill leading to the ghost town.

There are a few more facets that keep Scream from being entirely without merit. I may as well get them out of the way now. The principle one is the introduction, late in the story far after we've lost all hope of it not sucking, of a ghost character who may just as well be an embodiment of death. He comes riding up to the ghost town, lead by a black dog, on two black horses. A corpse is tied to one of the horses-it's one of the crew who headed out on motorcycles (more on the motorcycles later) to look for help. The ghost is a great character, played well by whoever the actor was, and well costumed. His scenes almost approach that vaulted adjective of "atmospheric." But it's too little and far too late. Other positives are parts of the score, especially the music that accompanies the arrival of the ghost (it's in the same key as a cowbell tied to one of his horses and uses this ambient sound as a part of the musical composition), and occasionally there are hints at directorial competence in the filming of the weapons used to slaughter the campers.

So that's why Scream rates 3.5 out of 10 rather than a 1, which everything else demands. Here are just a few of the problems:

* There are at least three incredibly blatant product drops.

* Much of the beginning is very, very slow, and Quisenberry calls for agonizingly slow pans and music.

* I don't know who Grandpa is, but he's got to be one of the worst actors I've ever seen.

* As far as I can remember, no one ever calls another character by name. Certainly not after the first few minutes (about the time I started wondering just who these people were).

* We're never given any reason to care about any of the characters. Not only do we not know their names, but we also don't know their relationship to each other - how do they know one another? Where did they come from? What are their personalities? All the characters are simply props.

* The characters frequently don't say anything to one another. They're searching for a killer and one of them will see something odd, but then they'll just stand there as if mute, even when another character says, "What is it?"

* They're looking for a way to get help (it's too far to walk and their rafts are gone) when suddenly motorcyclists appear. Instead of yelling, "Hey! Help Us! Please!" they just look at the motorcyclists, who sit down the street, looking back at them as if readying for a duel.

* Note: there's a reason we don't have alarm systems consisting of a string of tin cans.

* This has got to be one of the worst directed and edited films I have ever seen. There is absolutely no internal logic, and scenes and settings change for no reason. One minute everyone is inside. The next they're all outside with no explanation and no purpose. The death scenes are done so that you can't tell what's going on and there's no tension. Characters routinely end up by themselves, sleeping alone, with no explanation. A character who is too scared to go outside and go to the bathroom alone later goes into a dark, abandoned building alone. At one point an older couple inexplicably rides up in a pick-up truck and does something we can't see-about two minutes later the film ends. And the film is book-ended with interior shots that are never explained. We never know who the killer is or why they're killing. The film just ends.