Color, 1984, 89 mins. 55 secs.
Directed by Michael Winner
Starring Rachael Kelly, Marie Masters, David Allen Brooks, Lolita Lorre, Rocco Sisto, Corey Parker, Sandra Clark Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
To put it mildly, there has never been another film like Scream for Help. Actor turned writer Tom Holland was hot off of two Richard Franklin films, Psycho II and Cloak & Dagger, when he penned this tale of murder and deceit in the New York suburbs, all seen from the perspective of a teenage girl. However, instead of Franklin the film ended up falling in the lap of Michael Winner, who was in between two of his nuttiest films, The Wicked Lady and Death Wish 3. What's most remarkable is that this one turned out to be even more insane than both of those films combined, and the end result perturbed Holland so much he decided to direct his next project himself: Fright Night. That's right; without Scream for Help, the world of '80s horror would have been quite different.
New Rochelle teen Christie Cromwell (Kelly) has two obsessions: saying the full names of every male she knows at every opportunity, and finding ways to prove that her new stepfather, Paul Fox (Brooks), is trying to kill her mother, Karen (Masters). No one believes her despite her stepfather's constant shifty behavior and a string of mishaps around the house, so Christie decides to play detective with the aid of her best friend, the promiscuous and sassy Janey (Clark), and her occasional bedmate, Josh Dealey (Parker, future star of Thirtysomething). She soon uncovers more than she bargained for as it turns out Paul Fox has been a very bad boy, sleeping around and running with a very rough crowd. Can Christie survive? Will Janey realize she has her whole life in front of her? Will Josh Dealey try to take Christie's virginity? And what will happen when Paul Fox's evil scheme is finally exposed? Watch and find out, if your sanity can take it.
A simple plot synopsis can't even come close to capturing the lunatic joy of this film, right down to its schizo soundtrack mixing wildly inappropriate library tracks with new contributions from none other than Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones. (And yes, there is a theme song.) The foul-mouthed dialogue is a real wonder to behold, but the violence is even more glorious as the film indulges in violent hit and runs, wheelchair abuse, explosions, butcher knifings, and other random mayhem. It's also incredibly sleazy at times with some startling doses of sex and nudity where you least expect it, and even Christie gets in on it in what might be the film's most tasteless moment. If you're looking for a great undiscovered party film to bring down the house, this is the one.
Though it played theatrically in a handful of test markets, Scream for Help never received a bona fide wide release and was promoted as a major direct to video title in the heyday of VHS courtesy of Lorimar. After that it vanished completely for decades, though anyone with a taste for crazed genre cinema managed to spread the word where it counted. Eventually around 2016 a print started popping up on the repertory circuit, resulting in a very understandable thunderous response from audiences. Thankfully the movie gods were paying attention, and the world was finally blessed with a 2018 Blu-ray release from Scream Factory that should have a place in every single movie library on the planet. The new transfer (courtesy of current rights holder Warner Bros.) completely smokes the old VHS of course and admirably replicates the original 35mm appearance throughout. The DTS-HD MA English mono track also sounds fine for what amounts to a very unchallenging mix. Weirdly, though this version reflects what's in the 35mm version circulating around, the VHS features a stronger version of the sex scene with Christie peeping in on Paul in action with Lolita Lorre; presumably somebody was trying to pull a fast one with the MPAA and hoped they wouldn't notice. Incredibly (and thankfully) this is a special edition complete with two featurettes you really, really don't want to miss. A new interview with Holland, "Cruel Intentions" (13m29s), has him correctly noting its similarities to the later The Stepfather and chatting about his plans to give the film to Franklin, Winner's complete inability to handle suspense, the heavy dialogue cutting that made the film impossible to reedit, and the film's eventual rise from the dead. His comment about the Fright Night remake is a keeper, too. Then "Stepfather of the Year" (15m57s) features Brooks recalling how he got into his character by calling a lawyer who gave him good advice about how to find his killer instinct, had a good rapport with Winner, and got nailed on his salary by English taxes. No trace here of Rachael Kelly or Lolita Lorre, so hopefully they're both doing well. On the giddiest note of all, the film itself can be played with a new audio commentary by The Hysteria Continues' Justin Kerswell and Made for TV Mayhem's Amanda Reyes (though it's identified on the packaging as being by The Hysteria Continues, which isn't quite accurate). They really dive into this one covering the soap opera origins of many cast members, Winner's self-aware and mischievous directorial style, Paul Fox's questionable lovemaking skills, the crackpot after-school special vibe, the domestic Gothic elements, and plenty more. Prepare to spring this one on a lot of unsuspecting friends.