Screamtime (1983)

JANUARY 20, 2011


Well this is an oddity – Screamtime is an anthology of three British stories with a baffling New York set wraparound. Most anthology wraparounds either tie into one of the stories somehow (like in Tales From The Hood) OR has a comic or book or some sort of device for the stories being told. Screamtime actually has both, and proves that more is less in the process, since the movie as a whole probably would have been better without any wraparound at all.

Continental difference aside, the tone of the wraparounds is sort of sleazy; our “heroes” rob a video store located in the heart of old 42nd street (the theater next door is playing Taboo II for Pete’s sake), then head to some girl’s house to watch them, a girl who is frequently nude. And at the end of the movie they’re all killed by the puppets from the first story, which doesn’t make any sense whatsoever since that’s the only story without any supernatural elements built into it. But the stories themselves, while not without some goofiness, are 70s-esque atmospheric tales, the sort of stuff that populated Dead Of Night.

Anyway, the stories sadly decrease in quality as they go. The directors/writers should have known that topping killer Punch and Judy puppets would be hard and saved it for the end, but alas. It’s the usual tale of an old guy getting revenge on the younger folks who are cruel to him, but with the added bonus of him doing all of the killings with his puppets. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Judy beat a woman to death with a 2x4 while laughing creepy puppet laughs, as the saying goes. And even though it’s kind of obvious he’s the one doing the killings, I like that they keep him out of frame even AFTER it’s revealed to the audience that it is indeed him. He also suffers one of the most hilarious deaths I’ve ever seen, swinging at his victim, missing, and toppling into a trash compactor.

Let me digress for a moment here. Back in 2002 my girlfriend suckered me into joining her for something called Bread & Puppet, which took place in upstate Vermont. Basically, it’s a bunch of artsy folks making giant puppets and putting on a bunch of politically charged “skits” (is there a word for something that’s like a skit but doesn’t contain any apparent humor?), and then at the end you get a piece of bread. I shit you not, that’s what it is (there’s no other food on the premises). It’s also one of those “free but donations are appreciated” deals. I was all for following the “free” part of that scenario, but she wanted to donate, so we gave them ten bucks – and the lady taking the money practically POUTED. I believe her response was “Well if that’s all you got...” Go fuck yourself, hippie! Anyway, ever since I’ve been weary of the puppeteer mafia, so part of my enjoyment of this entry was seeing a puppeteer (who is hated by his family) getting his just desserts.

Back on track, the second one wasn’t very good but it had a great twist, salvaging it. There’s an unhappy couple who just moved into a house, and the wife keeps seeing people in their yard and has visions of people being murdered in the middle of the night, which makes the husband get more and more sick of her nonsense since he can’t see them. She even hires a medium to give the house a look, a woman who routinely talks to ghosts, and even she claims the woman is crazy. Finally she suffers a breakdown and the husband has to sell the house to a new family, and then (spoiler) we realize that she wasn’t seeing ghosts – she was having premonitions, as her visions were of the new family, who are about to be killed by a recently escaped murderer. Granted, it doesn’t really make any sense – if she wasn’t having the premonitions she wouldn’t have had to move away and let the family in, which led to their deaths – but oh well, it’s still better than the usual “these were the people who lived here BEFORE you” explanation. A simple preposition change and viola! Cool story. Nice throat slashing near the end too.

The third one should have been the best, since it concerns evil garden gnomes, but it’s sadly the weakest. They throw in a random ancestor ghost chick who has the power to tear dudes’ clothes off with her mind, which sounds awesome but just comes out of nowhere and adds to the main problem - the gnomes don’t get enough action. I don’t know if this was supposed to be a longer story (a full movie?) or what, but it was really unfocused and confusing to boot. And padded! There’s a bit early on where the main guy’s brother calls him to tell him about the gardener job, and instead of just saying “yes” and getting on with it, he turns it down, talks to his boss, then calls his brother back (and we even have to watch someone else answer the phone and call the brother over) and takes the job after all. Less time with your internal struggle about the job that you obviously have to take or else there’s no movie, more time with killer lawn gnomes (or ghost chicks who can tear off your clothes with her mind), please.

But, whatever, it’s still an entertaining enough watch. I was never really bored, and none of the tales were “typical” anthology entries. I was also tickled by the odd concept of having the stories be movies that the wraparound characters were watching – how short are these things? And who robs a video store? You can’t afford 99 cents? It’s also funny how the guy in the wraparound sneers about the British accents (he claims that’s how he can “tell” it’s a British movie), because he has a typical New York accent. Being a Bostonian, I think you all sound wicked fahkin dumb, kid.

Of some interest (beyond the fact that the movie was completed in 1983 and not released until 1986), director “Al Beresford” is actually Michael Armstrong, who wrote (under a different pseudonym!) and directed the notorious Mark Of The Devil, which I still haven’t gotten around to seeing despite keen interest (Udo Kier as a witch hunter? SOLD). He also hasn’t directed a film since Screamtime. Way to go out on a high note, dude.

What say you?


  1. Mark of the Devil was really interesting. A little odd, but I enjoyed it for its wackiness.

  2. i love punch and judy ANYTHING. so this makes me insanely happy.


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