Director/Producer – Michael Winner, Screenplay – Tom Holland, Photography – Robert Paynter, Photography (US) – Dick Kratina, Music – John Paul Jones, Special Effects – Allan Bryce & David Watkins, Makeup – Enrico Cortese, Kevin Haney & Richard Mills, Art Direction – Tony Reading. Production Company – Torremodo Ltd
Rachael Kelly (Christie Cromwell), David [Allen] Brooks (Paul Fox), Marie Masters (Karen Cromwell Fox), Rocco Sisto (Lacey Bohle), Lolita Lorre (Brenda Bohle), Corey Parker (Josh Dealey), Tony Sibbald (Commissioner Bob Dealey), Sandra Clark (Janey Ralston)
In the town of New Rochelle in New York State, seventeen year-old Christie Cromwell believes that her stepfather Paul Fox is trying to arrange a series of accidents to kill off her mother for her money – including rigging the wiring to electrocute her and cutting the brake lines of her car. Christie begins to follow Paul and finds that he is having an affair with Brenda Bohle. Her efforts provoke Paul to run down and kill Christie’s best friend Janey. She tries to prove these things to her mother but Paul deftly explains them away and suggests that Christie is blaming him for taking the place of her father. After Christie obtains a photo of Paul having sex with Brenda, Paul, Brenda and Brenda’s sadistic husband Lacey burst into the house, determined to kill Christie and her mother.
For a time, British director Michael Winner gained a reputation as one of the worst directors in the world. There are probably better contenders than Winner – certainly, his name has slipped off the radar in such respect during the 00s where Winner has effectively retired. Back in his heyday however, Michael Winner was seen as a crude hack, lacking in much of the way of style and frequently creating material that crossed into morally dubious or poor taste territory. Winner first came to notice in the 1970s with the influential Charles Bronson vigilante film Death Wish (1974). This would be the biggest hit of Winner’s career and he passed around Hollywood with other works like Won Ton Ton, The Dog That Saved Hollywood (1976), The Big Sleep (1978) and The Wicked Lady (1983), without attaining much further success. Michael Winner’s other genre ventures include with the Turn of the Screw prequel The Nightcomers (1971), the occult horror The Sentinel (1977), Death Wish II (1981) and Death Wish 3 (1985), the amazingly sordid gun-toting vigilante chick flick Dirty Weekend (1992), and Parting Shots (1999) where a dying man sets out to eliminate those who made his life miserable..
The script for Scream for Help comes from a young, then unknown Tom Holland. Holland also wrote works like The Initiation of Sarah (tv movie, 1978), The Beast Within (1982), The Class of 1984 (1982), Psycho II (1983) and Cloak and Dagger (1984), before making his directorial debut with the hits of Fright Night (1985) and Child’s Play (1988). Tom Holland went onto make other directorial works such as The Temp (1993), The Langoliers (tv mini-series, 1995) and Thinner (1996) but his presence has faded away after the end of the 1990s.
Scream for Help is often referred to as a slasher film. One feels that this miscategorises it somewhat. It is more like a 1940s psycho-thriller with a Boy Who Cried Wolf concept a la The Spiral Staircase (1946) or Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) – wherein a heroine sees a crime but is doubted by everybody around her as she attempts to tell someone. (Tom Holland likes these Boy Who Cried Wolf concepts in his scripts and cast characters where nobody will believe what they saw at the centre of Cloak and Dagger, Fright Night and here). Scream for Help is in essence one of these 1940s thriller made with a 1980s slasher sensibility that puts an emphasis on gratuitous naked breasts, gore and random victimisation. Certainly, Scream for Help rests far more in traditional psycho-thriller plotting and tropes than a typical 1980s slasher film, which usually stripped plotting away to a series of scenes with a boogieman stalking young co-eds. Indeed, in contrast to the typical slasher heroine, here Rachael Kelly manages to lose her virginity during the course of the film – the nearest she gets to slasher movie chastity is when she insists that she is going to swear off sex altogether after seeing her stepfather’s naked tumblings.
Scream for Help is made with Michael Winner’s usual slapdash ham-handedness. Winner’s ability to generate suspense is crude – like an absurdly staged scene where Rachael Kelly is hiding in a bathtub with the curtain pulled and Lolita Lorre contrives to tip her bleeding head in after being beaten in a marital spat with Rocco Sisto and pulls on the curtain popping the rings off yet fails to notice Kelly hiding there less than two feet away. The latter half of the film works better where Tom Holland’s script manages to confine most of the characters to the house and plays off their various attempts to escape and questions of who they can trust or who is about to betray the other with a number of whiplash twists.
Not many of the cast were heard from again. There is some undeniably bad acting throughout – notably from an irritatingly geeky Corey Parker who plays with a snotty unlikeability. (Oddly enough, Corey Parker is one of the few in the cast who went onto better things). The one good performance in the cast comes from David (Allen) Brooks who plays the villainous stepfather with an undeniably dashing mix of handsomeness and ruthlessness. Rocco Sisto, who is decidedly reminiscent of David Hess out of The Last House on the Left (1972), plays with a psychopathic cruelty.