Friday, July 15, 2022

Census Bloodbath: Father Knows Best

Year: 1984
Director: Michael Winner
Cast: Rachael Kelly, David Brooks, Marie Masters
Run Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Plot: Scream for Help follows Christie Cromwell (Rachael Kelly), who believes that her stepfather Paul Fox (David Brooks) is trying to murder her mother, Karen (Marie Masters). She teams up with her friend Janie (Sandra Clark) and Janie's boyfriend Josh (Corey Parker, who played one of the weird greasers in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning) to investigate his comings and goings including his liaisons with his mistress Brenda (Lolita Lesheim), who is married to his other accomplice Lacey (Rocco Sisto).

Analysis: "Isn't that just the plot of The Stepfather?" you ask. Well, you're right, but this one came out first, motherfuckers! Not only that, but it was birthed from a peculiar conglomerate of B-movie royalty, including director Michael Winner (of Death Wish, The Sentinel, and Appointment with Death), producer Irwin Yablans (of Halloween, Tourist Trap, Hell Night, Fade to Black, and The Seduction), and screenwriter Tom Holland (who directed Child's Playwrote Psycho II, and did not star in the Spider-Man movies).

It's a slasher movie about as much as The Stepfather is as well, which is to say it's not really much of a slasher at all. It has enough of a body count to allow for its inclusion here, but where it really shines is the fact that it exactly resembles a made-for-TV movie until the scenes where it very much doesn't. The plucky girl detective protagonist provides the sense that the thrills and spills will be as wholesome as they come, which does not prepare one for the film's obsession with sex and all its down-and-dirty trappings, including the lead character winding up with her hand covered in blood from her torn hymen. It's a real experience, let me tell ya. 

The thriller aspect of the film doesn't hold much water because the stepfather completely fails to hide the fact that he is pure evil, but that allows Scream for Help to sink into the mire of sleaze as quickly and painlessly as possible, ending on an extended, Home Alone-esque home invasion that is full of bonkers shenanigans. 

This is a mean movie, and while that might not be a compliment for some, it certainly adds flavor and texture to what otherwise could have been a rote Lifetime movie of the week. The acting is banal at best and shriekingly terrible at worst and the filmmaking is nothing to write home about, but the movie's pure balls-to-the-wall approach will earn it whatever fans it could possibly hope to boast.

Killer: Paul Fox (David Brooks)
Final Girl: Christie Cromwell (Rachael Kelly)
Best Kill: I mean, how can you beat Janie announcing she's pregnant and getting hit by a speeding car in the same breath?
Sign of the Times: I suppose the digital speedometer readout on Christie's mom's car was ahead of its time, but it's light years behind our time, good God.
Scariest Moment: Christie and Josh are driving in her mother's car when they realize the brake line has been cut.
Weirdest Moment: Josh and Christie begin making out basically the second they have a moment alone after Janie dies.
Champion Dialogue: "Not only is he an incompetent writer, he's a total asshole."
Body Count: 5
    1. Power Company Man is electrocuted offscreen.
    2. Janie is struck by a car.
    3. Debra is electrocuted.
    4. Paul Fox dies in a gas explosion.
    5. Lacey is stabbed in the gut.
TL;DR: Scream for Help is a surprisingly sleazy quasi-slasher with a premise that would be improved upon in The Stepfather.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 603

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