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Old 03-19-2010, 12:16 AM
Scored: 6
Views: 12,078
Scream (1981)

Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: March 18, 2010

Released by: Media Blasters
Release date: 02/16/2010
MSRP: $19.99
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
Progressive Scan

inline ImageIt's hard to stand out in the slasher genre. Almost as quick as a fresh offering comes out, there are six imitators in its wake. Halloween hits and no holiday is unturned. Friday the 13th comes and camp grounds become ubiquitous. Scream bellows and soon every slasher has a post modern slant. It's a parasitic genre of sameness, but for many, myself included, it's the death scenes, the amateur personalities and the unkempt diversions between A and B that make the genre so interesting. Despite sharing a name with Craven's game changer, 1981ís Scream (or The Outing for those who'd rather have the film confused for a gay drama rather than a 90s slasher) has no trouble defining itself. It's one of a kind, that's for sure, and after an eternity's wait as the title, once a Code Red joint before they severed with Media Blasters, had been delayed for upwards of a year. It's here in my hands and I'm screaming with emotion. Is that out of incomprehensible pain or bad movie bliss? Well, maybe a bit of both.

The Story

inline ImageOkay, I'm devoting a paragraph to the prologue. Misplaced, surely, from a Bergman film, we see a long dolly shot across a mantle. There we see an oil canvas of a ship battling the waves at sea. Dong. Dong. The clock chimes midnight. Three clay figures, one a butcher, one a baker, and one a candlestick maker. I know, you were thinking nightmare maker, right? Anyway, after juxtaposing shots of a clock and a toy face, we see that the baker and the candlestick maker are missing their heads. Dong. Dong. At this point you'd be forgiven for thinking this is an arthouse Puppet Master predecessor. Don't bother trying to make sense of it though, because sense and Scream go together only in alliteration.

inline ImageLeaving the inexplicable mantle aside, we pickup with a group of backpackers taking to the Texas water for a weekend of tranquility. With no hillbillies or banjo players around, they raft to a quaint little ghost town atop a hill. "It must be over 100 years old" someone who must have been privy to the prologue pipes. It's a few cabins made from untreated wood - it's 30 years old, tops. Anyway, this isn't your typical troop of teens. It's a bunch of thirtysomethings and an amazing proportion of old men. So rather than do what those Crystal Lake teens do and party (and dance to Lion, who are we kidding?) they sleep. Seriously. They get to the shacks around mid day and next thing they are going to bed. No drinking, no drugs, no sex. This is the only slasher where even the killer can't even surmise a motive.

inline ImageStill, the killing happens. But Scream is not your ordinary slasher, and these aren't your ordinary kills. The killer is never seen throughout. The coverage of deaths are done almost entirely on weapons, with the blades seemingly brandishing themselves. Is this just a clever way to conceal the killer? Nope. As we find out first through a sequence where the first person POV is able to turn off a boom box, there is some supernatural fooling afoot. When a grizzled man, Charlie Winters (John Ford vet Woody Strode, Keoma, Vigilante) trots in through the smoke with his horse and Rottweiler (hey, why not?), he gives us about the only exposition this film ever gets. Apparently there was a vicious sailor from ages ago whose spirit still lurks (somehow in rural Texas) and it apparently wants to wreak vengeance on a bunch of old, homely, boring campers. It kind of does, I guess, hurtling people in slow motion through various falls (the director was a stunt guy from the John Ford school) until eventually we go back to the Bergman-esque mantle for a closing bout of amazing pretention. FolksÖIíve only just scratched the surface.

inline ImageScream is an amazing lark of a movie Ė so seemingly out of touch with the parameters of the horror genre, or hell, any genre. Director Byron Quisenberry claims he just wanted to make a horror movie despite never particularly liking them or having seen any of them. Makes sense to me. So weíve got scenes that are on paper designed to be scary Ė a woman is chased through a ghost town at night, or a man is thrown by an evil force off a balcony, but instead of shooting it to scare, Quisenberry and his DP Richard Pepin (whoíd go on to shoot the solid desert slasher Blood Frenzy) shoot it to alienate. The camera just sort of wanders around most of the time in these long, aimless tracking shots (Quisenberry explains how they had a dolly the entire production, and dammit, they were going to use it!) Again, you donít see the deaths Ė instead, youíll see a long tracking shot going from building to building at night and hear a scream. Or you track along wallboard for awhile before seeing an axe slowly taken off the wall. When a dolly moves you think it is going somewhere, but in Scream the only place it takes you is to restless insanity.

inline ImageItís not just the dolly shots that are drawn out, either. Every single shot in this film, and this is no word of a lie, has about 2 to 3 seconds of dead space before and after each take. I suppose we could argue Quisenberry was going for a Bresson-ian fourth wall technique, but no. Just no. The movie clocks in at shy of 83 minutes, but if you were to lop off every moment of dead space, the movie would probably only be 50 minutes. Itís way too drawn out, and donít expect any of the R-rated trimmings to bolster this one up, either.

Itís actually kind of a wonder that Scream was ever financed or picked up for distribution in the first place. Letís just do a little checklist here:

-The killer is never shown
-No gore, hell, no deaths even on screen!
-No nudity and certainly no sex
-Bodycount consists entirely of old, slovenly males
-The Final Girl Guy is a shlub who wears one of those three color ballcaps

inline ImageItís almost like some kind of feminist experiment, reducing each kill to phallic shots of weaponry and replacing your typical female victim with a man to illustrate the inherent chauvinistic masculinity of the genre. Given the film was originally called ďThe OutingĒ one could surmise further that this was Quisenberryís way of peeling away the sexuality constructs of the genre, to ďoutĒ all that gay repression that Robin Wood wrote of so passionately. Itís sad, then, when Quisenberry reveals a total disinterest in the story and that the reality of the making was that he and a bunch of industry-pals were given 11-days on a Paramount back lot to just sort of piecemeal a movie together.

inline ImageNow Iím probably totally wasting my time trying to deconstruct the logic of the film here, but letís spend a moment on the story. Again, itís been previously established that the killer is some sort of ghost given that it is able to move objects without any physical presence. Okay, but then how the hell is Charlie, and I guess this is a spoiler, but considering Quisenberry doesnít even know what any event in his own film means I suppose there isnít anything but conjecture to spoil Ė how is Charlie able to shoot the ghost with a shotgun and stop him from scything off the remainder of the backpackers?

inline ImagePerhaps the bigger question, though, is why the hell everyone would stick around this ghost town if itís clear thereís a killer loose. Itís not like this happens over one night Ė theyíre there for a few days and even come in contact with some bikers (one of which is Ethan Wayne, son of John) and the man on the horse. Never once do they ever ask them, you know, if they could hitch a ride or leave. Itís like they know they are in a horror movie, and if they leave the ghost town, then the movie would be over. Considering how out there the prologue and epilogue are, though, I donít think any of their actions would have ever mattered. Hell, maybe thatís the theme of the film Ė no matter what you do, it doesnít matter, we are all preordained to suffering? Again, with an oddity like Scream, why not?

inline ImageScream is a one of a kind black sheep of the genre, comparable only to the Depression-era religious parable A Day of Judgment for straying so far from the standard slasher path. Itís not entertaining in the least bit, but itís certainly amazing, inexplicable, unbelievable. How could something like this even exist? Scream is not inept like bad slashers like Satanís Blade or Blood Massacre, itís made with a level of technical proficiency by a number of people who are no strangers to the business. They are just strangers to making sense, apparently. Scream is the kind of marvel that you couldnít possibly try to make. Like Troll 2 or Donít Go in the Woods, itís one of those life-of-their-own peculiarities that simply manifested out of the unlikely circumstances of production. Not really lightning in a bottle Ė maybe more like shit in a sack, but whatever it is, Scream is crazy and itís something every slasher fan needs to endure if they ever want to be taken seriously as a film buff. See it, hate it, never forget it.

Image Quality

inline ImageBill Olsen reveals in the commentary that the film was shot in 16mm and blown up to 35mm, which explains the myriad of grain present throughout. It doesnít explain the major light leak on the left side of the frame, though, that effectively messes up the contrast and consistency of the entire image. The left third of the frame is graduated brighter than the rest of the image, and considering there are so many scenes that play out in near total darkness, the projection/print issue is a very distracting one throughout. There are also plenty of white specs littered throughout to further mar the transfer. Itís presented 1.85:1 as projected in theaters, but Quisenberry says he shot the film specifically for 1.66:1. Why, when he was aware it would be cropped, is yet another inexplicable element that contributes to the mythos of the film. The transfer has a lot of problems, but considering its elusive history, itís nice to actually get it OAR, and with some pretty respectable color saturation. Itís out, and thatís what matters most.


The English mono mix included here, like the video, is far from reference quality. There is a lot of hiss and crackle to the track, sounding little better than grandmaís old LPs. Dialogue is flat, but audible. There arenít any dropouts, and the score, which itself sounds like a broken record of a few short melodies, does come through with decent presence. Not the best, but again, itís all there.

Supplemental Material

inline ImageOf all the films Iíve ever wanted a commentary for, Scream was probably top of the list. Code Red, bless their hearts, came through with the unsurmisable Ė they were able to wrangle in the director to finally talk about this forgotten obscurity. Finally, the bookend sequences could finally be demystified. The weighty pretention finally given a focus. The riddle solved. Sadly, this commentary with Byron Quisenberry, Code Red brother Bill Olsen and moderator Marc Edward Hueck, doesnít quite live up to the promise. Quisenberry turns out to be a dud of a speaker, mustering only single sentence responses to all the questions Olsen and Hueck throw at him. Thatís not to say they donít try their best to get him to talk Ė hell, at one point, almost out of exasperation, Hueck follows Quisenberryís tangent and starts asking him what it was like to be a publicist for a baseball team. Thatís when you know youíre grasping at straws. Other than knowing that the killer is a ghost, Quisenberry doesnít really know anything else about the story. He just keeps falling back on the ďwe were going for the European thingĒ whenever questions about plot, continuity or sense come up. Itís too bad more sense couldnít be made from the commentary, but you know what, itís like I said, sometimes a cult movie just sort of makes itself.

Other extras include a trailer and a TV spot. The spot has an alternate take of the tripping-over-a-string-of-Dr. Pepper-cans shot seen in the film. Also included are a few other Media Blasters movie previews for Just Before Dawn, Evils of the Night, Cop Killers and Zombi 5: Killing Birds. The entire disc is done up as a sort of travel brochure with thematic menus that fit well with the film.

Final Thoughts

inline ImageA true slasher oddity without any on-screen killer, no on-screen deaths and not even a single female victim, Scream definitely stands out from the pack. Itís slow, meandering and mostly nonsensical, with the most odd and out of place bookends any film has ever seen. Anyone of the sane designation should be bored silly by it, but slasher fans simply must see it as a sort of rite of passage. The video and sound are very weathered, but at the very least intact. The commentary with the director does little to explain any of the many peculiarities of the film, but itís all done up in a nice package from Code Red and Media Blasters. Itís been a long wait, but finally the ship has sailed on one of slasherís oddest vessels. Hopefully this isnít the final voyage for Code Red or Media Blasters when it comes to vintage slasher output.

Tick tock tick tock. ďMe and the captain we came here when they gave him nary another ship, they were cruel men, thems that run the ships, company men!Ē Ding. Ding. 1891.


Movie - N/A

Image Quality - C+

Sound - B-

Supplements - B

Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Running time - 1 hour 23 minutes
  • Unrated
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English mono

  • Audio commentary with director Byron Quisenberry, moderator Marc Edward Hueck and Bill Olsen of Code Red
  • Theatrical trailer
  • TV spot
  • Media Blasters trailers

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Old 03-19-2010, 01:15 AM
Do I want it?......I don't know.....
Don't be afraid, I'm gonna hurt you real good, baby..
Close your eyes, not your mind.....let me into your soul....

La Toya Jackson fan and proud!
Old 03-19-2010, 01:42 AM
Soul Stealer
Nice review rhett - you summed it up nicely. This is one of those movies that lives at the bottom tier of the early 80's slasher genre, but yet you can't look away as it possesses some sort of element all us horror fans respect. The atmosphere and setting is perfect for something great to be concocted, but that never really happens. It's one of those movies you'll watch more than once just to ensure you didn't miss something because it's such a head scratcher.
Old 03-19-2010, 02:16 AM
Hellbound Heart
Another solid review rhett! Even though the film is basically crap, I still have a soft spot for it.
"There are no heroes...in life, the monsters win." - George R.R. Martin

Old 03-19-2010, 03:34 AM
Rhett: Never ever knew about this movie but that "N/A" of yours is enough for me to buy it...no matter how expen$ive the DVD is!
Old 03-19-2010, 03:35 AM
I want this so much!

As for the end of your review...I love it!
I love how you didn't give it a D or an F...but a simple N/A...which in a way, makes a lot more sense, since that sums up the entire flick. Hehe
Old 03-19-2010, 02:17 PM
A movie reviewed with "N/A"? Now I HAVE to see it!
Old 03-19-2010, 09:31 PM
I enjoyed this movie, I'm disappointed the commentary apparently isn't that good. "Quisenberry doesnít really know anything else about the story." Wow. Maybe he wasn't there to direct. He might have just told the cameraman to "shoot whatever looks good".

Still I hope that I find this DVD for a cheap price
Old 03-20-2010, 03:50 AM
N/A=Must Buy!!!
tHaT dAmN dOcToR iS tRyInG tO sTaRvE mE tO dEaTh!
Old 03-21-2010, 08:40 AM
quantum physics
N/A= Needle & Alcohol?

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