Cult Criterion: “Scream” for Michael Winner

The sleazy, glorious melodrama of “Scream For Help”

I don’t know if there will ever be another director quite like Michael Winner. Mostly known for directing “Death Wish” and the first and second sequel, he was a journeyman director whose credits included comedy (I’ll Never Forget What’sisname) Horror (The Sentinel) period pieces (The Wicked Lady) and…other films with Charles Bronson (Chato’s Land, The Mechanic and The Stone Killer) He eventually retired from directing, becoming a crabby restaurant critic instead, but his films are what he’ll always be remembered for. Movies that usually seemed to mock the mere ideas of decency and all around humanity for something much seedier.

Then there’s Scream For Help (available on Blu-Ray thanks to the good folks at Shout! Factory) Written by Tom Holland (who went on to direct Fright Night and Child’s Play) it was originally meant to be a tense suspense driven tale…until Winner directed it, and allegedly didn’t know what he was doing during filming. What he ended up making wasn’t a terrifying experience. Instead he made the most Michael Winner movie of all time. A sleazy, mean spirited blend of scuzzy exploitation and tawdry melodrama that throws all signs of subtly and good taste out of the window.

Our film is the story of Christie Cromwell (Rachael Kelly), a teenage girl with the usual teenage problems. You know, boys, puberty and the fact she believes her step father Paul (David A. Brooks) is trying to kill her and her mother. So nothing out of the…wait, what? Trying to kill them? Is she right?

Deciding to go sleuthing for clues, and with the help of her best friend (Sandra Clark) and later her best friend’s boyfriend Josh (Corey Parker), discovers she may be on to something. Especially when it comes to a lowlife couple that have some things up their sleeves. Needless to say, home invasion, double crosses, violence and ridiculous dialogue (choice example: “I just wanted to lose my cherry to anybody…even the mail man!”) all ensue. Who will win? Depending on who you are, the viewer will be the real winner.

The above premise doesn’t even fully do this cinematic trash justice. This is a film where about 85% of the characters are assholes, and everyone either makes dumb decisions or doesn’t act like a normal human being. Where a woman casually talks about getting an abortion and is then run over by a car less than a minute later. Where sex is a filthy thing and John Paul Jones scores the proceedings as if it were a large budget soap opera (complete with the goofiest closing credits song imaginable.)

So depending on who you are, this is something to be avoided or a must see. Thankfully, I’m writing this for the latter crowd, as this is a masterpiece of cinematic garbage. Where as prior Winner films such as “Death Wish” and it’s first sequel or “The Sentinel” had melodrama in them, here that factor is turned past the dial. Everything about this is blown up to over the top proportions, especially the performances. Everyone here is like a caricature, especially our lead, who says such bon mots as “Sex is just horrible!” and “Not only is he an incompetent murderer, he’s a total asshole!” (funny how a murderer would be a jerk) Combined with the fact that she’s the exploitation version of Nancy Drew, and you’ve got something special

Then there’s the way the film treats sex and violence. These elements of course, have always been cornerstones to much of Winner’s work. “Death Wish” and especially it’s sequel deal uncomfortably with sexual violence and the bloody vengeance that follows. “The Wicked Lady”, in spite of being a studio film, is ultimately a sexploitation movie. Here the violence-in particular once the inevitable home invasion starts-is actually quite disturbing. In fact, it’s probably the thing that works best here. It’s obvious the director actually understands that the violence should be brutal-at least when the villains are committing it. When they aren’t, it’s wild electrocutions and over the top explosions.

Oh, and of course the sex factor. It’s actually early on that Christie walks in on her best friend having sex, and this being a Michael Winner movie, we do get female nudity. Or when she photographs the lowlife couple (who in a particularly sleazy twist, have convinced Paul that they are cousins and he doesn’t know they are fucking) bumping uglies. Why? Because she needs proof that things aren’t what they seem…and because the director wanted shots of the actors performing simulated doggystyle sex.

That however, is nothing compared to when Christie loses her virginity to Paul. The whole scene at first is as awkward as they might think. However, it’s what Christie does afterwards that puts this into “holy shit they actually went there” territory. That’s when after the deed is done, she puts he hand on her crotch and finds blood. While this happens to every woman after they have lost their virginity, it’s the mere act of vaginal blood on her hand that puts this into over the top territory. A part of me wonders if this moment is meant to symbolize something beyond the act of a woman having sexual intercourse for the first time, though I’m pretty sure the end result is really just Michael Winner being Michael Winner by diving head first into sleaze.

So, is “Scream For Help” worthy of your time? Well, it depends. If you can’t stomach sex and violence sometimes being portrayed in a filthy, sometimes disturbing and oftentimes just plain weird manner, than this isn’t for you. If unintentionally hilarious dialogue and odd character decisions is a turn off, then you should stay away. However, if all of that, and the idea of Michael Winner making the film he was probably born to make and that only he would make is something that appeals and that you can stomach, then congratulations, this is absolutely for you. It really is the definition of exploitation stupidity, and it’s delicious at that. Give me a big ol’ plate of it please.

 

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