‘Scream for Help’ is a Beautiful Mess [So Bad It’s Great]
Welcome to So Bad It’s Great. This recurring segment will champion films that may not be good in the conventional sense that had their heart in the right place. The titles featured here will be overly earnest, unintentionally silly, and undeniably fun.
In the inaugural edition of this segment, we will be taking a look back at Michael Winner’s misguided horror-thriller, Scream for Help.
Scream for Help starts with a great premise: Christine (Rachel Kelly) believes her stepfather is trying to kill her and her mother to inherit her mother’s fortune. The young woman tries to convince anyone that will listen that her stepdad is a monster but no one believes her. The Tom Holland-penned script is brimming with potential. But Winner cut copious amounts of dialogue and settled for soap opera-esque performances from all of his leads. The result is a hot mess. But what a fine mess it is.
Christine narrates the proceedings as she reads aloud from her diary. It’s as if Winner was shooting for film noir. But the recitation of dialogue is overly eager and nearly impossible to take seriously. Accordingly, the voiceover narration only serves to start things off on the wrong foot.
Making matters worse, the film seems to have an identity crisis. It plays like an after-school special with full-frontal nudity. The film can’t up its mind as to what kind of audience it is targeting. Is it a skin flick?A teenage detective story? A coming-of-age tale? Or is it a warning on the consequences of teenage sexuality? Well, it’s all of the above. But the various pieces never quite blend together as a cohesive whole.
The film never establishes, let alone maintains, any level of suspense. Some of that stems from ineffective camerawork and editing that never frames the action properly. Case in point: A runaway car scene that should have the viewer on the edge of their seat comes across as almost comical. The out-of-place score, shoddy camerawork, and ineffective editing make what should be a climactic turn of events fall flat.
Beyond the aforementioned shortcomings, additional blame for the film’s failure to engage its audience can be attributed to lackluster performances across the board. No matter how perilous things become for Christine, it never feels like she’s in any kind of danger. Her performance and the showings from the supporting cast are stiff, overzealous, and out of place in a film that’s supposed to be chilling.
But that’s enough about why Scream for Help doesn’t work as a horror-thriller. Let’s talk a bit about why it’s so much fun to watch. The scenery-chewing performances from each and every lead may keep the viewer from ever taking the film seriously. But they certainly serve to entertain. Christine’s insistence on always referring to her friend Josh by his full name, Josh Dealey, never fails to amuse me. Especially when she shrieks it with nearly no pause between his first and last names, like Josh-Dealey.
I also appreciate that when Christine and Josh-Dealey are careening out of control in a car that Christine doesn’t have a license to drive, they both look unfazed. Like it’s just another day in the life of a typical teenager. They are supposed to be in unspeakable peril. But neither character appears to have any idea.
One of the film’s other charming quirks is that everyone seems to be singularly focused on sex. For these people, anytime is a good time for sexy time. Even if it’s with your dead best friend’s grieving boyfriend. Because, why not?
Each and every one of the film’s shortcomings is accentuated by a score that feels out of place at all times. The harrowing sequences are punctuated with orchestral music that feels like it was lifted from a completely different picture. The music is so mismatched to the sequences it accompanies that it almost feels like composer John Paul Jones was deliberately screwing with us.
The film is brimming with ineptitude but that’s precisely why it’s such a fun watch. This is the perfect flick to put on with a group of friends, whilst enjoying an adult beverage. Scream for Help is just asking to be lovingly heckled by a group of friends on a ‘bad movie night’.
Scream for Help is a great example of what happens when a director doesn’t quite understand how to captivate an audience but gives it the good ol’ college try anyway. And because of that, this is a brilliant example of a film that’s so bad it’s great!