The Bad Movie Report

Screams of A Winter Night

Oh, God. I tried to watch Screams of a Winter Night again. I really really really really really really really really tried. But it was too much for me. I threw in the towel, I gave up, I yelled "Uncle!" and ran away, crying like a little girl.

You see, I paid cash money to see Screams in a theater, for reasons outlined in my Making A Bad Movie section (and I swear to God I will someday write more on that). So soul-searing, so brain-blasting, so mind-numbing is this film, that I can still review it, twenty years later, as every hideous moment of it is etched with acidic bile on the walls of my memory.

But what I forgot was that, for the first eight and one-half minutes, Screams is actually a pretty good movie. And I wince even more because I now see how much of the setup of my own Bad Movie, Forever Evil, came from this flick.

The credit sequence is particularly slick. Not the graphics, that's just plain yellow letters on a black background. But they're small yellow letters - they don't give off much light. And there is no rich symphonic score for background. Instead, what we have is a radio show. Something is amiss on the farm - the wind is whipping up. something in the distance is howling, and the horses are going nuts. Somebody says, "It's back." The menfolk get their guns and go out over the protests of the women. The men scream. Guns go off. The howling is closer. Something is at the door....

Well, in a darkened theater, it was quite effective. It would not have been out of place in a radio version of The Dunwich Horror. Cool, I thought. Lovecraftian, sorta.

Then the movie begins. A vanload of young people is heading out to a cabin on Lake Durand for a weekend of drinking and (no doubt) doing what young people do in such circumstances (Time check: it is 1978, two years before Evil Dead and Friday the 13th, so they do not Take Off Their "City folk sure are weird."Clothes and Die, nor do they Read Aloud From The Book Of The Dead. What they do get up to we will address in a moment). They stop at a ramshackle service station filled with creepy rural types, one of which tries to warn them of "the things that happened up there", of course to no avail. Fine, you might think, we are firmly in Chainsaw Massacre or Hills Have Eyes territory. Sorry, my friend, you are looking at the wrong road map.

Once at the cabin, our host, the archetypal Weird Guy, tells his friends why the place is called Lake Durand - the Indians used to call it Coyote Lake, but the White Man named it after the family we heard get killed in the credits, 'cause they settled on some wind spirit's stomping grounds. Spooky stuff, hah? Cool, hah? Hah???!!!

Hell, yes, we love spooky stories! So our friends decide to tell spooky stories around the fire! And, as they tell each one, our friends become the characters in the story!

Behold!  The Legion of the Damned!Okay, you figure, we are not in Chainsaw land. We have ourselves an anthology film. Fair enough. The rule of anthology films is, one or two stories will be pretty good, one or two will be mediocre, and one will suck outrageously. Screams, however, blows this Bell Curve big time with its selection of tales:

Stop me if you've heard this one. A couple is out driving. They run out of gas. He sets out to get some gas, leaving her behind. But soon, there are scary scratching noises on the roof of the car! Eventually, we find out it's the boyfriend's feet, as he's been hanged over the car by a mysterious assailant. Perhaps the film should been titled Urban Legends of A Winter Night. In what is supposed to be a shock ending, a hook is not found in the door handle, but the girl is assaulted by Bigfoot. Or a hairy dwarf. Some damn thing.

Scared yet?  Hah?  Are ya? Some guys camp out in a haunted YMCA as part of a fraternity initiation. Scary sounds are heard, and a spooky green light is seen. One by one, the initiates wander off, either convinced that the treacherous frat boys are to blame, or looking for the guy that wandered off before him, until the last guy follows the green light and finds the first one who vanished.... clearly insane and dancing around a green light bulb! My God, are you sterilized with fear yet?

College girl's roommate is a repressed psycho. College girl goes out with a boy, wearing psycho's shawl. Psycho visits kitchen, appropriates large knife, and stabs college girl to death. Okay, okay.  Rip-off.Off-camera. Though we do see a bloody hand grab some venetian blinds and go clack-clack-clack down them in an hommage to Hitchcock (actually, if I have learned one thing from reviews of Forever Evil, it's that if your budget is over a million, it's called an hommage. If it's under a million, it's called a rip-off. So I guess this was a rip-off. Sorry for the confusion.).

The rest of the movie is the usual puerile filler crap, in which we get to know the kids better (as if we wanted to). The archetypes sound like a list from the first draft of Donovan's Atlantis: The Weird Host, the Rich Bitch, Her Servile Boyfriend, the Lovable Lug, the Serious Bearded Dude, and of course, Spooky Jukie. I kid you not.

Yep.  Reaaaaally scary.Gene Shalit was asked to review Screams....So after all the stories are told, it's found out that all those Indian legends were really true, the wind spirit does hang out there, and he kills all the kids. The end.

As mentioned elsewhere, I journeyed to the Big City to see this thing because I knew one of the actresses; I had even seen a trailer on TV! There were perhaps 30 people in the theater - one of those little crackerbox venues that prevailed in the late 70's - and by the end of the movie, this was reduced to me, my ride, and some guy who fell asleep. Looking backward, I see I should have inquired as to how many of those folks had heatedly demanded their money back, and how many just drifted to other movies in the googolplex. Just for future reference.

Short version: even if this movie were still available for rental or purchase, you should stay far, far away. It commits the cardinal sin that NO movie can overcome: it is, quite simply, boring. Any number of clueless made-My friend, Robin Bradley.  It wasn't her fault!  Give her a job!for-TV horror films (which were formerly the bane of my existence) are more entertaining than this.... this...... I'm sorry. Words fail me. Give me a second, just a second, I'll be okay......

My friend? I still love her. But then, she had the common decency to apologize to me.


Given a choice between seeing this and Bordello of Blood, choose suicide.

- February 2, 1998