Color, 1984, 98 mins. 55 secs.
Directed by Tony Lo Bianco
Starring Mike Connors, Anne Archer, Leon Isaac Kennedy, Ian McShane, Ruth Ford, John Heard, Carrie Nye, Maureen O'Sullivan, Murray Hamilton
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Best known as the star of such '70s films as The French Connection, The Honeymoon Killers, and God Told Me To, actor Tony Lo Bianco had his one shot at directing a big screen feature with this oddball thriller that was marketed as a slasher film (two years after its completion in 1982) but actually turned out to be something quite a bit stranger. A very unexpected and eye-popping cast is easily the main show here for what really amounts to a grimy cross between No Way to Treat a Lady and Case of the Bloody Iris with the attitude of a made-for-TV film spiced up with a few helpings of blood and nudity.
To the accompaniment of a swooning theme song by Charles Aznavour we meet the highly eccentric Vincent Hardwick (Deadwood's McShane), who slathers on makeup and heads out to his regular job as a night doorman at a swanky apartment complex in Manhattan called The Royal Arms. When one of the female residents gets stabbed to death by a butcher knife-wielding intruder in her closet and has her body stashed in the dryer, it's up to two cops, Alex (Mannix's Connors) and Frank (Penitentiary's Kennedy), to investigate the murder starting with a discarded matchbook for a club called the Playpad and the dead woman's booze-riddled ex-husband (Hamilton). All signs point to the weirdo Vincent as the likely culprit, especially since he has a dysfunctional relationship at home with his wheelchair-bound mother (O'Sullivan), but things get much more complicated when another cop, Kate (Archer), gets recruited to go undercover as a new resident to smoke out the killer.
Though just functional as a thriller, Too Scared to Scream is a treasure trove of crazy character bits including out of left field appearances by the likes of John Heard (in a random cameo as a forensics expert) and a particularly chewy turn by Creepshow's Carrie Nye as a sardonic fashion magnate. Fans of McShane in particular will have a field day as he gets to run the gamut of acting tics throughout the film, which plays even more strangely when contrasted with sleazy scenes like protracted nude shower and hot tub interludes. Then there's the crazed finale, which features a wildly inappropriate twist ending and leaves more than a couple of dangling story threads. This one may have vanished from theaters quickly and confused more than a few people in its VHS run from Vestron with its misleading slasher mask-style artwork, but there's a lot of retro melodramatic fun to be had if you're in the right mood.
Like other titles handled by the short-lived outfit The Movie Store, this one passed over to the hands of MGM and made its Blu-ray bow in 2019 from Scorpion Releasing. The film is preceded by a disclaimer that this was taken from the best available elements at MGM, though that really just means you see a few hairline scratches here and there and a handful of scenes that appear to have been slugged in from lower generation film elements. For the most part though it looks quite pleasing with fine film grain and vivid colors, definitely way beyond the washed out VHS version. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono audio is also in good shape and comes with optional English SDH subtitles. A new interview with Lo Bianco (11m31s) is an interesting look at how he took the film because of the murder sequences (back when it was originally written as The Doorman) and how the cast was assembled, including a fortuitous shared gig that brought Connors aboard. Also included is an interview with Kennedy (7m), who is lively company as always as he recalls the experience of working with Lo Bianco, the vacation-style atmosphere of this production compared to his heavier duty work elsewhere, and his reactions to the cast as a self-described Hollywood historian. Also included are bonus trailers for Body and Soul, Lone Wolf McQuade, Johnny Cool, Land of Doom, The Cycle Savages, and Opposing Force.
Reviewed on August 12, 2019.