Screamtime has a certain amount of last-gaspness about it - it's
possibly the last true British anthology (although it wasn't filmed as
such), it comes from a time long after the British horror industry had
ceased being a rampant success, and it's got David Van Day out of ill-advised
80s shit-rock duo Dollar in it.
But it's also very good - surprisingly so, in fact. And the extra bits
filmed to make the collection of three short films into an anthology (and
bring a bit of American appeal to the proceedings) are so fantastically
bad that they only improve the situation.
What it is is a trio of shorts (made during a time when everyone had televisions
but apparently preferred to watch low-budget 20 minute films at the cinema
still - yes, I don't understand it either) which have been spliced together
using an even lower-budget American linking narrative. The American stuff
has to be seen to be believed - it involves a fat bloke and a dwarf who
steal a handful of tapes from a rental store, go round to a girl's flat
and watch them. They all have broad Noo Yawk accents and the girl is only
there so she can take her clothes off and add a bit of sauce to the proceedings.
In her limited screen time she manages to take a soapy shower and shag
the fat bloke after they lose interest in the films and leave the dwarf
alone in front of the goggle box. Awesome stuff.
There's not a great deal of nudity once the British stuff gets going (a
good thing, really, considering we're talking about thespians like Van
Day and Bread's Jonathan Morris), but there is a surprising amount
of horror and blood.
The first tale involves a Punch And Judy man and "born loser"
called George who is getting grief from all sides of his family - neither
his wife or his stepson take his job seriously, and they want to move
to Canada (which for some reason will involve him burning all his puppets).
When the stepson (Morris - sample dialogue: "I should've been born
a fuckin' puppet!" - oh, the irony) accidentally sets fire to the
Punch and Judy stall during a fight (by knocking an unlit electric lamp
onto it), something snaps and people start getting bludgeoned to death.
"I know who did it..." claims the distraught George to a doctor
who's turned up apropos nothing. "I know, I heard his voice. First
the baby, then it's Judy... Then next it's always the doctor!" Oh-oh...
Mr Punch has always been terrifying, so you can overlook any dodgy effects
or plot holes when you see the little bastard looming out of the dark
screaming "What a pity! What a pity! Ho! Ho! Ho! Ho!"
So... so far, so scary. But the second story is better, involving a haunted
house scenario and looking and feeling like one of the better episodes
of the Hammer House Of Horror tv series. Sue (who wears the biggest
pair of specs this side of Sue Pollard) is having trouble settling down
in her new house. Blood keeps turning up everywhere, there's a spooky
child riding a Raleigh Chopper around her garden, and she keeps hearing
noises during the night. Then, in a spectacular "whoah!" moment,
a man brandishing a knife runs silently past her open bedroom door and
vanishes. Thinking she must be experiencing a haunting, she calls in a
medium - but the medium can't sense anything. What's going on...?
Not only is this a genuinely disturbing segment, it also has a great twist
ending and a really nasty death at the end, which wouldn't look out of
place in an Italian gore movie. Screamtime is worth seeing for
this bit alone...
"Preddy good, huh? Not that I get scared or nothin', cos I know they're
just actors..." mumbles our friend the dwarf as we get treated to
another gratuitous shot of his naked lady friend.
The final story involves David Van Day, a hard-up pretty boy yob who takes
a gardening job with a couple of old dears to earn a bit of spare cash.
He's soon realised that they have a lot of money stored in the house,
and decides to help himself. Unfortunately, he's not counted on their
addled tales of fairies and gnomes at the bottom of their garden being
true. If you can overlook the not-very-terrifying use of real garden gnomes
as an instrument of horror, this story too has its moments (usually when
someone meets a sticky end), and it plays like a weaker Amicus segment
(Torture Garden, I'm looking at you...)
All in all, Screamtime is a bit of a forgotten classic. The American
stuff is pure exploitation, but all three stories are intelligent and
well done (apart from the gnomes). I don't know what the shorts were paired
up with at the cinema back in the 80s, but I wouldn't have liked to have
come across the middle one without any prior warning....
I'll leave the final word to our hero. "Dey're Briddish movies -
I can tell by de way dey tawk!"