Friday, February 7, 2020

Worth Mentioning - A Deadly Trap, A Killer Game

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Tales of paranoia and bloodshed.


Scream for Help is a movie that seemed to languish in obscurity for over thirty years with no one really talking about it, but it recently resurfaced in a major way, getting a Blu-ray release and theatrical screenings. It's easy to understand why people are working to make sure a wider audience gets to see Scream for Help, because the movie is awesome. Sure, most of its greatness comes from the fact that it's unintentionally hilarious, but greatness is greatness.

The film was directed by Michael Winner (Death Wish, Death Wish II, Death Wish 3) from a screenplay by Fright Night and Child's Play director Tom Holland, and it's just as ridiculous and inappropriate as you would expect from the man who gave us those early Death Wish films. The story centers on seventeen-year-old Christie Cromwell (Rachael Kelly), who strongly suspects that her new stepfather Paul Fox (David Brooks) is trying to kill her mother Karen (Marie Masters), probably because Karen inherited a fortune - with one of the business she owns being the car dealership where Paul is a salesman.

A meter reader is electrocuted to death in the basement of Karen's mansion the day after Paul was messing around with things down there. Karen's car goes out of control while Christie is driving in it with a friend. Christie believes these were attempts on her mother's life that went wrong. There's no doubt that Paul is a jerk - writing in her diary, Christie describes him as both an "incompetent murderer" and a "total asshole", but could he be a killer? Christie follows him around town to find out... and is able to confirm that he's having an affair.

Christie gets two classmates wrapped up in her investigation; her friend Janey (Sandra Clark) and Janey's boyfriend Josh (Corey Parker). Janey and Josh are introduced into the film while having sex, which allows Winner to put in one of a few instances of gratuitous nudity. Janey will soon confide in Christie that she's pregnant. And then Janey is almost immediately killed off in a hit and run. I'm not sure Janey's funeral has even been held by the time Josh stops by Christie's house and convinces her to have sex with him because he misses Janey. This is Christie's first time, and she doesn't find it to be pleasant. And yes, Winner makes sure to show us that there was blood.

There are a lot of scenes in this film that are so melodramatic that it comes off as amusing, there are a lot of oddball character interactions (like Josh and Christie having sex), and things are accompanied by an overblown, occasionally incongruous score composed by former Led Zeppelin member John Paul Jones. Winner had previously gotten Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page to score Death Wish II and 3.

Most of the running time focuses on Christie's investigations and attempts to thwart Paul before one of his murder attempts can be successful, then the film shifts into a completely different gear for the last 35 minutes. As soon as Christie writes the words "At least now it's all over" in her diary, there's a music sting that accompanies a great shot that promises things are about to get cool and intense. And they do.

Another director could have taken Holland's script and brought it to the screen as a straightforward, serious thriller, but it's so much more entertaining that the Scream for Help script was filtered through Winner's sleazy, silly sensibilities. This movie is a lot more fun that I ever would have expected it to be.


In the 1980s, Eric Red and Kathryn Bigelow wrote three screenplays together. Two of those screenplays ended up becoming films that were directed by Bigelow - Near Dark and Blue Steel. The first script they wrote together, Undertow, took a while longer to make it to the screen. It's surprising that this one got held up for a while, because it should have been the easiest to bring to life. The entire film centers on three characters who are stuck in one location. It's the perfect "director's first feature" set-up, and required less of a budget than Near Dark and Blue Steel.

The plan had always been for Red to direct Undertow, and if the movie had gone into production when originally intended it would have been his feature directorial debut. Instead it ended up being his third feature, after he had already directed the much more complicated Cohen and Tate and Body Parts.

Lou Diamond Phillips plays the character we follow into the story, a drifter named Jack Ketchum in homage to the author of Offspring and The Woman. When he crashes his car in a storm, he finds himself stranded in the backwoods home of threatening middle-aged man Lyle Yates (Charles Dance), who has been living in isolation with his attractive younger wife Willie (Mia Sara) for years. You already know where this is going - Jack is going to risk the wrath of Lyle by having sex with Willie, despite the fact that Lyle makes it obvious that he's perfectly willing to kill Jack at any given moment. He has stuck guns in Jack's face more than once by the 20 minute mark, and that's before he even has any reason to want to harm him.

While tensions rise inside the Yates home, the weather gets worse and worse outside, with a destructive hurricane blowing in.

Undertow tells a familiar story and it is a step down from Near Dark and Blue Steel... so maybe I shouldn't be so surprised that it was the last to get made after all... but it tells that story in a way that held my interest for the film's 93 minutes. Phillips, Dance, and Sara all did fine work here. Red only had three roles to fill, and he did an excellent job of finding actors for those roles.


Director Michael Storey's Fear Island is a glossy movie with a cast headed up by veterans of CW, Disney, and ABC Family shows, which is probably enough for a lot of horror fans to write it off immediately. But while it's not on the level of its 1980s predecessors, I did find the movie to be a decent slasher homage that tells an intriguing mystery through the use of flashbacks and an unreliable narrator.

That narrator is Jenna (Haylie Duff), who is suffering from amnesia after surviving a nightmarish experience on a private island where six of her friends were murdered. Jenna gradually pieces her memories together while being questioned by the police, and the information she provides doesn't always match up with reality... so it's not clear she's remembering any of this correctly.

The story Jenna tells is that she went out to the island to party with a group of friends that included her ex-boyfriend Mark (Aaron Ashmore), douchebag Tyler (Kyle Schmid), Tyler's brother brother Kyle (Jacob Blair), Kyle's girlfriend Ashley (Jessica Harmon), Ashley's little dog, and a young girl named Megan (Lucy Hale), a stowaway on the boat they took out to the island. There was also a caretaker on the island, Jim Thorburn as Keith. If you were keeping count, every one of those people were dead by the time Jenna made it to the police station. The question is, how and why were they killed?

By the end of the movie, all has been made clear, as we find out the identity of a killer who was seeking revenge against some of these people for past bad behavior that resulted in a tragedy.

The script written by Jack Harry and Jeff Martel jumps back and forth in time, but like in any good slasher the cast is whittled down one-by-one. Don't expect any impressive gore in this one, but I found the story interesting enough that I didn't mind the lack of awesome kills. Fear Island is good for a couple of viewings.


Over the last few years, Samara Weaving has earned a lot of fans with her performances in The Babysitter, Mayhem, and episodes of Ash vs. Evil Dead, and she certainly didn't let her horror-loving fans down with her choice to star in directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett's fun little bloodfest Ready or Not.

Written by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy, the film stars Weaving as Grace, a young woman who was raised in foster homes and has always dreamed of being a long-term part of a family. We meet Grace on the day she marries her boyfriend Alex (Mark O'Brien) and is welcomed into the Le Domas family - which would be a great family to join, as the Le Domases have made a fortune from the gaming industry over the last 150-or-so years. The problem is, everyone who marries into the family must play a game at midnight on their wedding night. They draw a card from a box, and whatever game is listed on that card they have to play. Usually the game is something innocuous, like backgammon, croquet, checkers, chess, or Old Maid... but there is one bad card that no one ever wants to pull. Hide and seek.

That's because the Le Domas family doesn't play hide and seek by the normal rules. As Grace finds out, since she pulls the hide and seek card. She hides in a dumbwaiter with no intention of "winning" the game by staying hidden until dawn. When she emerges from that dumbwaiter after just a few minutes, she finds that her husband's family - which includes members played by Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Adam Brody, Nicky Guadagni, Melanie Scrofano, Kristian Bruun, and Elyse Levesque - are searching for her while armed with weapons. Rifles, pistols, a crossbow, a speargun, a battle axe. The Le Domases are convinced that if they don't sacrifice the person who draws the hide and seek card before dawn, something terrible will happen to their family. As we gradually learn over the course of the film, this belief has something to do with the origins of the family's wealth.

Despite being a "blonde twig", as Alex's father describes her, Grace proves to be quite good at playing this violent, deadly version of hide and seek. She causes more trouble for the Le Domas family than they have ever encountered in their years of playing twisted games.

I hadn't paid much attention to Ready or Not when it was coming out, I just knew I wanted to see it at some point since Weaving plays the lead character, so when I caught it on home video I didn't really know what to expect from it. What I got was a really fun movie that presented a nice mixture of laughs and bloodshed. Once again Weaving did a great, endearing job in her role, and she had a terrific supporting cast surrounding her. All of the actors mentioned above have standout moments, as does John Ralston as the family butler Stevens. Brody especially has some intriguing scenes to play as Alex's conflicted, alcoholic brother Daniel.

If you've enjoyed movies like You're Next or Murder Party (as well as Weaving's other movies), I would strongly recommend checking out Ready or Not. And the less you know about it before watching it, the better.

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