How in the world can I still have a trauma to confess after all these years? I’m pretty sure I did go on about this one in our comments section back in the day but I never got around to doing a proper post. That is because when I tried to watch it again, I found it lacking which is weird considering it stars RAUL JULIA whose peepers can usually carry anything. It’s O.K. though, my trauma isn’t about the whole movie; it’s only about the scary opening scene. The opening scene of DEATH SCREAM (1975) remains a tense view for me even if what follows is deadly dull.
The first scene of DEATH SCREAM is based on the real murder of Kitty Genovese who was raped and stabbed to death outside her apartment building as she was returning home for work in 1964. Weeks later her death became national news when it was reported that her attack was witnessed in one form or another by thirty-eight neighbors who did nothing to aid her. Exactly how many witnesses and exactly how much they may have seen would later be debated but the fuse of the story had been lit and public outrage followed. It’s not the numbers or the confirmed details that make this story horrify though, would it be half as shocking if there were only nineteen witnesses? The fact is you could probably turn on the news tonight and find a story that involves bystanders turning a blind eye. I know because watching the news the other day is what made me remember this trauma.
I know I saw this made-for-TV flick when my family was living in California and since we left in ‘76 that means I must have seen it the night it premiered on September 26, 1975. Yay for me! I was eight. Why was I watching this movie when I was eight? (Sorry, I gotta go down this rabbit hole) That means this trauma actually predates my SATAN’S TRIANGLE trauma by a few months and that’s the one I’ve always cited as my first. Hmmm, well, I’m not changing my plea. There’s really no comparison when I think about it. DEATH SCREAM was more of a “horrified by human ugliness”- trauma whereas SATAN’S TRIANGLE was more of a “Oops! Your soul is damned for eternity!” type of thing. Apples and oranges.
Let’s move on before I start telling you about how my mother left me unattended on a beach when I was three. You won’t believe the cast of DEATH SCREAM. Besides RAUL JULIA being a cop whose daughter is HELEN HUNT and whose love interest is KATE JACKSON, they also somehow crammed ED ASNER, TINA LOUISE, CLORIS LEACHMAN, ART CARNEY, DIAHANN CARROLL, LUCIE ARNEZ, SALLY KIRKLAND, TONY DOW and NANCY “Quicker Picker Upper” WALKER (among others) into this cinematic psycho clown car.
The first scene has THE HOWLING’s BELINDA BALASKI playing the role based on Kitty. She’s arriving home from work but must first make her way through an eerily empty parking lot. If you’re a kid from the seventies, this might appear to be any number of cop shows. We’re talking clanking high heels on asphalt and cats toppling over trash cans before a trench coat wearing shadowy figure lunges. What’s especially harrowing about this attack is how many times BALASKI’s character nearly escapes and how that relief is repeatedly denied. Frustration reigns too as we are constantly torn away from her plight and into the apartments of the building’s residents, being untimely forced to hear their weak justifications for inaction.
To be honest, it’s not quite as nightmarish as I recall. In my mind’s eye, I’ve always remembered NANCY WALKER hanging out her apartment window 227-style casually looking down upon the proceedings. Thankfully, it appears I made that creepy LYNCH-vision up in my head. Look, I’m not saying I’d be running down the stairs with grease paint under my eyes carrying a bazooka either but I’d like to think I’d do something. What, nobody’s got a potted plant to throw? All right now I just envisioned a DONKEY KONG style video game where you’re NANCY WALKER dropping plotted plants out of a window to ward off murderers. I share that not to make light of a grizzly scenario but to illustrate how unhelpful my brain constantly is. Now I feel bad. This is based on a real tragedy and all I can think about is how well NANCY WALKER rocked her Zira from PLANT OF THE APES hairdo. I’m going to utilize my side-step to identify another clear current of queasiness; it’s not like they picked nameless shmoes to play the cowardly bystanders in this flick, these are my TV pals! It’s like that famous quote,” The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for both Grants Ginger and Lou to do nothing.”
I’m now hopped up on chewy Spree so it’s best that I go. The scene in question is below. It freaked me out as a kid and what it says about humanity still makes me barf today. Kitty Genovese, I’m so sorry. NANCY WALKER, I miss you.