Scream For Help (Home Video Review)

Starring Rachael Kelly, David Allen Brooks, Marie Masters, Lolita Lorre

Directed by Michael Winner

Distributed by Scream Factory


Michael Winner was a great director, and Tom Holland is a fantastic writer (and director), but sometimes great talents pair like oil & water – which is exactly what happened when these two entered into production on Scream for Help (1984). Winner was an action director, best known for his work with Charles Bronson on a handful of legendary pictures including the seminal 1974 smash-hit Death Wish. Holland, though, is more adept with horror/thrillers and was just coming off Psycho II (1983) with director Richard Franklin, who would’ve been at the helm here had he not committed to another project. This clash of styles was, unfortunately for Holland, a swift battle because as every writer who isn’t his own director knows once the script is in someone else’s hands it will be bent to that director’s will. The potential for Holland’s script is evident, though not entirely clear, but Winner delivered a film bereft of subtlety and suspense in favor of something ham-fisted and clunky.

Christina “Christie” Cromwell (Rachael Kelly) is convinced her new step-father, Paul (David Allen Brooks), is trying to kill her and her mother, Karen (Marie Masters), in order to collect on the latter’s life insurance policy. Christie narrates the story, illustrating her case and providing evidence of Paul’s misdeeds. Her friends think she’s nuts. As one of them mentions, Christie did see a shrink for a while… Undaunted, Christie stalks Paul relentlessly, watching his every move and even following his associates. When an electrical short in the house fries a technician, Christie claims it was part of a trap meant to shock mom to death. Paul seems like a nice enough guy and his biggest sin seems to be taking the place of Christie’s departed biological father, which may be cause enough to dislike him but to accuse the man of premeditated murder?

Without getting into super spoiler-y territory, Christie’s concerns are confirmed in a moment that pretty much deflated the rest of the picture for me. You see, from the onset it seems like Christie is a bit off. Kelly plays the role like she’s got a screw loose and a raging case of confirmation bias. Sure, Paul seems like a ‘80s douchebag but a killer? Nah, not likely. The angle I saw being set up was Christie being the one behind it all, masterminding a brilliant series of coincidences too strong to ignore eventually setting up Paul to be arrested/killed/shot into space. This is not that movie. Kelly’s perceived nuanced acting is really just stilted, and Brooks plays Paul with too much mustache twirling to believe he isn’t nefarious. Later, when the real goons behind the plot are revealed, relegating Paul to Second-Banana-in-Charge status, the picture seems ambivalent about whether or not we should empathize with Paul. We don’t and we wouldn’t. In fact, there really isn’t a sympathetic character in the lot, protagonists included.

The best bits (read: deaths/gore) don’t occur until the finale, which means the bulk of the picture has to rely on building tension and playing the cat-and-mouse game between Christie & Paul. As mentioned, Winner was not the right director to deliver these elements. His strengths are more visible during the climax, when all the cards are on the table and characters can act with less concern for being inconspicuous. Paul, “his” side fling, Brenda (Lolita Lorre), and her “brother”, Lacey (Rocco Sisto), invade Karen and Christie’s home and begin a lengthy assault that is pockmarked with brutality and cruel acts. This sort of cinema is within Winner’s wheelhouse and the movie takes a sharp turn from at-a-distance meddling to something frighteningly real, with Christie largely unprepared for what her actions have unleashed. But as the film shows, Christie is resourceful and sneaky, if nothing else, and with a home field advantage the odds are evened out a bit for the showdown between these two women and a trio of terrorists.

Scream for Help makes its disc debut with Scream Factory’s 1.85:1 1080p image. The print is mostly clean, with virtually no signs of damage or dirt. Colors are stable and well saturated. Fine detail looks best close up and with strong lighting (no surprise there); the majority of the picture sees detail and definition at an average level, neither highly impressive nor poorly presented. Although I would describe this presentation as “average”, that distinction also suggests there is no weird post-production tinkering, DNR, compression problems, etc. So while this isn’t reference-quality material (nor should anyone expect it to be) it is faithfully reproduced and definitely the best this film has looked since it debuted on screen over 30 years ago.

An English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is provided and it packs a bigger punch than expected. Winner used Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page to score Death Wish II (1982) and this time around he grabbed another band member in bassist John Paul Jones, whose score here is an absolute monster. Jones clearly didn’t know or care what kind of film he was scoring because this beast is brash, booming, and laden with big band moments. It has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the knee. Weirdly, despite the score having such a big sound the themes Jones composed almost sound like they’d be better suited on television. Also, the main theme song is super lame. Dialogue is clean, though it sounds a bit canned in some places. Subtitles are available in English.

There is an audio commentary track with podcast duo The Hysteria Continues!

Cruel Intentions – Screenwriter Tom Holland – This was my favorite part of the disc, with Holland unloading on his script’s handling, clashing with Winner, and how his experience on this film led to his decision to start directing.

Stepfather of the Year – Actor David Allen Brooks – Expect to hear the standard set recollections and his thoughts on some of the players he worked with on the film.

A theatrical trailer is also included.

Special Features:

  • NEW 2K REMASTER OF THE FILM
  • NEW Stepfather Of The Year – An Interview With Actor David Allen Brooks
  • NEW Cruel Intentions – An Interview With Writer Tom Holland
  • NEW Audio Commentary featuring Justin Karswell (Hysteria Lives!, The Slasher Movie Book) and Amanda Reyes (Are You in the House Alone? A TV Movie Compendium).
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature
Scream For Help (1984)
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