Youtube Film Club: Night Screams (1987)

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Credit where credit’s due, dear reader: this movie managed the almost unimaginable, and in 1987, at the end of the first big run of slasher movies, did something original. Not in terms of acting, or direction, or character, or anything like that, but plot. It’s really rather impressive.

A couple of deranged escaped convicts find their way to a large house out in the wilds, where a group of teens have organised a party to celebrate winning a football game. At the same time, a mental patient who murdered their parents is released from hospital, and evidently has some sort of link to the gang.

 

Two different murderers, who don’t know about each other, taking on the same group of teens! It’s especially surprising, as that opening segment makes you think you’re going to get yet another “Halloween” ripoff; this isn’t to say the movie is good, of course. But it might be the best movie ever to be largely filmed and set in Wichita, Kansas.

 

After an opening theme of the cheesiest 80s disco, the sort of music I like to get me in the mood for teens being hacked to pieces, we kick off. This is yet another in perhaps the strongest of all the teen genres – “hold on, everyone in this movie is like thirty years old!” In fact, I feel like this one requires some proof, so check out the below screenshot of the guy walking in front of shot, who seriously looks old enough to have grandchildren. I appreciate there’s probably labour laws which make it tons easier to hire adults to play teen parts, but at least make an effort, guys!

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David (Joe Manno) is the star of the football team, and has just got a big scholarship to a famous University, but he’s got an unspecified issue which requires him to take medication every day, and it’s serious enough for it to be the only thing his parents are really bothered about when they go away for the night and let him have a party. He has a new-ish girlfriend, Joni (Megan Wyss), who’s sort of quiet and not like the cheerleaders who all basically assault him in front of their own boyfriends. One of the guys might as well have “future date rapist” hung on a sign round his neck, but it’s difficult to tell if the movie is supposed to think he’s a reasonable guy or not.

 

While these “teens” are going through their shenanigans, three convicts escape from the local jail and just go wild, stealing a car and murdering a shop full of people. I think the main guy’s name is Snake (this would be his only credit, an honour he shares with a lot of the cast), and he’s got a good line in insane monologues about sacrifice and so on; one of the other convicts questions all the killing so he gets thrown through a plate glass window and left behind for his trouble.

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So, the two remaining crims are hanging out in the cellar of the house (one of them says “it looks deserted” when he’s about half a mile away and couldn’t possibly tell), and the kids are upstairs. They kill one kid, but the majority of the murders are done by someone else…

 

Much like our recently reviewed “Delirium”, this is something that looks like a normal slasher movie, but was made far away from Hollywood and shares none of the mainstream smoothness or top-level cast (relatively speaking) of its more famous siblings. But that’s got its own interest to it, when you’ve seen one Hollywood slasher, you’ve seen ‘em all. As well as that slightly cheap grainy quality that comes from shooting on a very low budget in Kansas, you’ve also got some original kills. People get choked in bags and have stuff shoved through the tops of their heads and get fried on some weird American griddle which is right in the middle of the counter, and much more besides. Our killer is a person who doesn’t like to repeat themselves.

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This odd non-mainstream thing is perhaps most fully realised, though, in the appearance of the Sweetheart Dancers. They’re credited as “the nationally famous Sweetheart Dancers” and we get an entire routine of theirs, as they dance in front of perhaps the worst band ever to be recorded on film. That band? The Dogs, and amazingly according to Facebook, were active as recently as 2011, but I bet didn’t have two keytars (two!) then, like they did whenever this was filmed – it’s got a 1987 release date, but the band had split up the year before. Anyway, the dancers! They have very conservative sparkly tops on, and do a really poor little dance routine, the sort of thing that would get you laughed out of any regional talent show in the country nowadays (plus, they’re performing under their own name, as it were, so I bet someone paid for them to be in this movie).

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A word about nudity. Because the good Midwestern girls who made up the cast of this movie were clearly not paid enough to go topless, the movie gets round it in a slightly ingenious / sleazy way. They borrow a clip from early slasher “Graduation Day” which has a naked Linnea Quigley in it, and later on just some straight-up porn starring legend John Holmes. This footage is watched by the cast regularly, and often in complete full-screen so it’s difficult to tell if it’s supposed to be part of the movie or not (okay, it’s unlikely that John Holmes is going to pop up in “Night Screams”).

 

This was director Allen Plone’s (great name) first movie, and he went on to do lots of Earth, Wind And Fire videos and pretty much nothing else. Writer Mitch Brian created the character of Renee Montoya for the Batman animated show in the 90s, so depending on how his royalties work out he’s probably doing okay. They try! While it’s terribly acted and the twist is obvious and the ending is sub-sub Twilight Zone bad, it’s got some spirit to it, and you can watch it for free if you’d like.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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