In the era of the DVD, when video stores already pressed for space now find themselves in the position of having to clear out mucho shelf space to make room for both VHS and DVD copies of the newest Kate Hudson film, many odd and obscure VHS films that have sat for ages are now disappearing.
Sure, many of these films will probably be refurbished on DVD someday, but will these releases trickle down to the rental market? The answer to such a question could really hurt the horror industry in the long run.
For instance, how many people would buy a DVD special edition of "Screams of a Winter Night" if they haven't paid 99 cents to rent it first? If the answer to that is zero, like i think it is, than distributors who dare to spend lots of money attaining the rights to obscure films like this will end up taking a bath when no one buys them.
So, I guess it all comes down to the rental outlet. Which is where my interest in this movie began. One of my local video haunts is a semi-major chain, at least in my area. And it's one that has the biggest rep for stocking odd and offbeat VHS films. But I had noticed that within the last few months, many of these films were being sold off to make room for DVD's like I mentioned earlier. So, in and effort to see as many of these "targeted for deletion" movies before they were gone, I started renting them A through Z.
By the time I reached "Screams," most of these movies were already gone, either bought by geeky film dweebs like myself, or just carried away by the staff.
"Screams" caught my eye thanks to it's thick black clamshell VHS box (an increasing rarity) and odd picture of an indistinct monster trudging through the woods. The title of the film was written in a jagged font that remined me of those off beat comics from the 70's like Marvel's "Man-Thing" or DC's "House of Mystery." The text on the back promised an anthology film, and since I have always had a weak spot for those, I gave it a chance.
I'm glad I did. Over the course of around 90 minutes, I knew I had found that dusty, out of print VHS rarity: The nugget of gold amongst the dirtpan.
The Plot: A group of college students about to graduate travel to a woodland cabin for some R and R. Once there, many of the girls start to feel uncomfortable (something which I'll come back to) after which the guys start telling "true" horror stories they heard from someone who heard them from someone else.
The three tales include:
1. A couple taking a late night drive start hearing scratching noises on the roof of their car. 2. The best of the bunch, and oddly enough, the one people rag on the most, has three frat pledges fufilling their dare to spend the night in an abandoned hospital with a rep for having a haunted second floor. 3. A quiet and shy college girl turns out to be a psychopath, much to the surprise of her roommate.
What surprised me the most was the material in between the stories. There's something really unsettling about this gathering, and the way they all interact with each other. Has anyone out there ever been to a party of some kind where you could just tell the vibe wasn't right? Well, that's what this is like. From the way the girls seem to be uncomfortable around the guys, to the way that the guys seem to be divided into little sub-groups, there's just a feeling that their little trip wasn't going to go well even if evil, supernatural things didn't happen.
As for the stories, yes, that first one is real moldy by today's standards. But you have to keep in mind, that while talk of "urban legends" are pretty commonplace today, back in the late 70's, these legends were just that: Legends, not the stuff of Discovery Channel debunking programs, or community college courses.
It's the second one that really got me. Dark and dingy, with the characters pretty much spending the whole telling cowering near the stairway to the second floor, there's a real feeling of danger as each one of them goes upstairs and dosent come back. The director could have easily copped out and just not showed what the evil green light was, but he did. And while the revelation of the light is a common snickering point among reviewers, I have to admit, something about the unexplainable nature of the explanation has stayed with me to this day.
Add some colorful touches such as the opening sequence: A dark screen backed with increasinly nightmarish sound effects that follow a linear pattern (something which has been done recently in movies like Cabin Fever and the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and an impressive finale where chaos breaks out.
I've seen movies that try to scare by cranking up the wind machine and having the cast yell before. "Screams" is just about the only one where I really felt fear for the characters. These actors may have been amateurs, but when called upon, they really do make the ending of this one sing with apocalyptic passion. I almost expected at least one person to survive only to throw open the cabin door only to find a yawning black abyss.
"Screams" is no four star classic, don't get me wrong. But it is proof that not all zero budget cheapies are made equal. I can see I'm not alone on this one. The call for a DVD release here is small, but definitely there. Hopefully, we'll get what we want someday.
As for the copy I rented, I hovered over it for months, waiting for a "sale" sticker to appear on it. I showed up one day, and it was already gone. Oh well, I hope it found a good home.
As long as it didn't get bought by the same jerk who snatched "Her Summer Vacation" out from under me too. I'll probably never see that film again, no matter how popular DVD's become.
That's another story though.