Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Screamtime (1986)

Directed by:
Michael Armstrong (uncredited)
"Al Beresford" (Stanley A. Long)

A trio of independent British shorts (each running less than 30 minutes apiece) were rounded up by someone in the U.S., who then shot silly linking segments and released it all as an anthology. Surprisingly enough, the end result isn't as bad as you might imagine. No one seems to know who shot the American footage, but the shorts were all made by Stanley A. Long, who was primarily known for making Brit sex comedies, including numerous entries in the "Adventures of..." series. According to Long, all three shorts had already played theatrically in the UK as support features prior to being included in this collection. Michael Armstrong (of MARK OF THE DEVIL fame) is sometimes listed as a co-director (perhaps he did the new framing footage?), though he's only credited for the script and casting in the credits. The film begins in New York City as Ed (Vincent Russo) and his buddy Bruce (Michael Gordon) steal three horror videos ("Killer Punch," "Scream House" and "Garden of Blood") from a shop, then head over to their friend Marie's (Marie Scinto) apartment to watch them. After Marie takes a customary shower (apparently she's got a date lined up for later in the evening), the three then settle down on the couch with some beer and chicken legs to check them out...

Story #1 centers around Jack Grimshaw (Robin Bailey), a friendly old man who loves entertaining children with his puppet shows. Unfortunately, his profession isn't quite paying the bills to his wife Lena's (Ann Lynn) satisfaction. She calls him a "born loser," thinks he's been neglecting the family for years, wants him to burn all of his puppets and plans to run off to Canada. Her son from a previous marriage, Damien (Jonathon Morris), is an obnoxious punk who hates his stepfather. One day after a performance, Damien decides to burn down Jack's puppet stand and throw some of his puppets into the ocean. Later that day he's mysteriously killed by someone brandishing a club. The same killer decides to whack Lena to death, and then does the same to a doctor who stops by. Have Jack's puppets come to life for revenge? This one has decent acting, is somewhat fun and has a rather predictable, though satisfactory, twist at the end. If the score sounds familiar, that's because it was stolen from Cronenberg's RABID (1977).

In our second tale, a young couple, Tony (Ian Saynor) and Susan (Yvonne Nicholson) Kingsley, move into an old fixer-upper, which was sold to them by his father. The two are kept up at night by sounds they attribute to mice, red water that fills the bathtub that they attribute to rust and flickering lights they attribute to bad wiring. Soon, strange things that can't be contributed to anything of this Earth begin happening. Susan begins seeing visions of a little boy on a bicycle, the corpse of a dead man in her bed, a young man painting and a man lurking around with a knife. Blood appears on a knife in the kitchen and on a banister. She arranges for psychic Miss Burns (Veronica Doran) to come over and evaluate the home, but she comes up with nothing, and informs Tony that his wife needs to see a shrink. Is the house actually haunted or has Susan gone bonkers? There's an excellent twist at the end. Amazingly, this segment was just recently remade as a feature-length film: Psychosis (2010).

And finally, teen dirt bike racer Gavin Martin (David Van Day, from the UK pop duo Dollar) is having financial problems and isn't making enough money at his current job at a menswear store. His mechanic brother Tim (Matthew Peters) spots an ad in a trade paper for a general handyman and gardener. Gavin decides to apply for the position and ends up at large home that was reputedly built as early as the 16th Century. His new employers; Mildred (Jean Anderson) and Emma (a scenery-chewing Dora Bryan) Hurley quickly fill Gavin in on the bizarre history of the place. Supposedly, a noblewoman named Lady Anne made a contract with some evil fairies to give them the souls of her discarded lovers. When Gavin, Tim and Tim's co-workers Frank (Gary Linley) decide to break in an rob the home, they end up coming across fairies (basically shown as specks of light), killer garden gnomes, ghosts and Lady Anne (Kim Thomson) herself. It's somewhat original, I guess, and one sequence copies Piper Laurie's demise in Carrie.

Things return to our trio in New York, as what they've seen in the horror videos come back to kill them. It was originally released in on VHS by Lightning Video. The DVD (which is a video transfer) is from Event Media UK.

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