Note: Hi! This is Mike Q, and I’m not the one who usually writes here. I got this guest-spot because Katy’s fallen behind in writing up movies of late, so I’ve been called in to do some of the titles she doesn’t especially want to deal with.
In the aftermath 0f 31 Days of Horror, we’ve continued to watch horror movies. We were getting a bit wary of the pre-determined pile we’d set aside, though, so we turned to Netflix, where we found Screamtime, an ’80s horror anthology.
Apparently, Screamtime was made in 1983 as a British/American co-production, but not released until 1986. Also, apparently, one of the anthology segments dates back to 1981. It’s hard to imagine that a 1986 audience would have seen much appeal in material that seems to have already passed its expiration date as cash-in cultural ephemera; this screams out as a Night Train to Terror-esque effort to just dump some already-canned footage on the market. From 2014, though, its generically, amorphously 1980s aesthetics seem charmingly “period” rather than glaringly, unfasionably just-out-of-date. All said, though, there’s nothing here that’s better than a middling episode of Tales From the Darkside.
The frame story is set in the pre-Giuliani/Disney grimey New York City, where a pair of ne’er-do-wells shoplift some horror titles from a video store for an afternoon’s jollies, and then take them to a friend’s house to watch. The friend is a shapely lady, who we first find in the shower… Screamtime puts its skin in the first few moments, in the hopes that it won’t immediately lose its audience–seldom a promising tactic. Unlike the frame, which screams its “Noo Yawk” American-ness, the shorts themselves are all decidely British. The first segment concerns a beleaguered puppeteer who has no support from his wife, and is actively terrorized by his bratty teenage stepson. After the boy burns down his stepfather’s puppet stand, the Punch puppet begins to dispatch his master’s enemies… Next, a newlywed couple moves into a house, but the wife has increasingly gruesome hallucinations that no one seems to understand… Finally, in what is simultaneously the most delightful and most conceptually negligent segment, another band of ne’er-do-wells (this time, they’re motorcross enthusiasts) decide to rob a pair of old ladies who claim their great wealth is protected by fairies (and garden gnomes). The pleasures come there more or less exactly as you’d expect (though, sadly, if you connected the dots to gnomes on motorbikes as I iniitally did, you may be disappointed). The closing of the frame story was just as easy, but all the more delightful for it.
The belle of the ball here (aside from the climax of the fairy/gnome story) is the short bit at the beginning in the video store — having recently watched the documentaries Be Kind Rewind and Video Nasties, it was nice to see the Wild West-inside of a 1980s video store as though it was no big deal, and to have the shorts presented herein as though they were, in fact, in-story the fly-by-night cheapies that they really were. There was a clear implication that the filmmakers saw their prospective audience as the slimeballs they showed watching the stuff — the lowest denominator they could imagine. While I admire the honesty, if you’re in the mood for a lovably schlocky ’80s horror anthology, you’d be better served by Deadtime Stories or even the aforementioned Night Train to Terror than by what’s offered here.