Friday, August 23, 2013

Video Cheese: SCREAM FOR HELP (1984)

Note: this piece has been edited from a review earlier posted at and has been re-printed here by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.

SCREAM FOR HELP (1984 - color)

The short version: "A 17 year old girl thinks her step-father is out to kill her and her mother."

The full story:
   Now, obviously, there's a lot you can do with such a basic concept of having someone in the house that you feel might be a danger. You, being the only one who can see it, can't convince anyone else of the danger, so you reach a crossroads. Do you go along with the others, try to see things from their point of view, or take action to prevent what you believe is inevitable? It's a very primal idea, and one most every child of a step-parent has at one time or other felt. Knowing the power of this situation, any number of films have used it as a set-up for suspense (the subject of fear being everything from a step-parent to a babysitter, to a family doctor, to a literally unearthly duplicate of a loved one). 

   It works well because, on some level, it's just all too easy to sympathise with. 

   All in all, SCREAM FOR HELP is not a bad flick. Not terrific, but a workable suspenser. 

   The plot is simplicity itself: a girl thinks her step-father is trying to kill her mother, digs into his activities, then believes she too has become a target.

   Unfortunately, they don’t do everything they could have done with this material. The biggest problem is that they made the cast so un-likeable.

   Our main figure is 17 year old Christine Cromwell. She’s played by an actress named Rachael Kelly, who has a whopping three credits on the IMDB. This is a pretty big part for an unknown, and her delivery makes me think she may have come from the stage, and doesn’t yet know the finer art of acting for the camera. She’s not awful or anything, but she never really convinces us we’re not watching a movie. Pulling one even further from the story is that Kelly looks almost exactly like soft-core porno ‘actress’ Misty Mundae.

   Christine is constantly jumping back and forth between intelligent and stupid. She shows enough smarts to track down her step-father to spy on him and overhear vital information, but she never brings along a tape-recorder. Instead, she takes along a girlfriend to act as witness to one stake-out and ends up getting the friend killed. 

   (This friend, by the way, is introduced with a nearly full-frontal nude scene, and she’s also supposed to be 17. Up to that point, I thought this film had been shot for television, boy was I wrong!)

   In what I found to be the movie’s most repulsive scene, the friend notes prior to being run down on a country road that her boyfriend has impregnated her and she intends to get an abortion. While she hasn’t discussed this with her boyfriend, she’s sure this is what he’ll want.

   Later, the boyfriend is at Christine’s house, supposedly mourning. They sit next to each other and he tries to kiss her. She backs him off and he openly admits his actions are out of habit from being around his now-deceased bunk-mate. He starts to walk home, when Christine runs out after him, then invites him up to her room to deflower her. I REALLY could have lived without that bit. (This scene is here mostly so that when Christine confronts her step-father, he'll have some dirt on her. It's incredibly lazy scripting, and the pay-off isn't worth the minimal effort.)

   The step-father, Paul Fox (played by David Brooks) is a car salesman whom Christine believes seduced her mother Karen (soap actress Marie Masters, who comes off best, cast-wise) away from her true father and married her for the family money. Karen met Paul because she owned the lot where he (still) works (you’d think getting married to the boss of the company would advance you a bit, wouldn’t you?).

   Christine is awakened one night by the sound of banging on the pipes and goes downstairs to investigate. She finds Paul coming from the basement, although he says he was working in his study, which is clear across the house from said basement. Christine figures he was doing something sinister down there.

   The next day, a meter-reader is electrocuted, and Christine is convinced Paul rigged the fuse-box to murder Karen, so he can collect her money. Christine then decides to skip school and shadow Paul as he leaves work.

   I’ll avoid going into the full plot for the benefit of those who might wish to see the film. It’s not bad, and the last act is pretty good. I only wish we’d been given some more appealing characters. Paul is a jerk from the start, and Christine is too much of a drip to take seriously.

   In the end, Karen is the most likeable character and she isn’t given much to do. In better hands, this story really could have been something. A skilled director could even make the sleazy bits work to the film’s advantage. Ultimately, the final half of the film works best, when it becomes an action-based suspense movie. 

   Minus the hard R material, the film looks, feels, sounds, and plays like a tele-feature of the same period. Much of the first half even relies on music cues that sound like rejected themes for series openings. The result is a professional, but largely empty affair. It's the kind of film where most of it's mileage comes from it's concept, rather than it's execution. 

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