Have You Seen The Unseen? (1980)

Do you live in New York City? Can you find a way to get there? On March 16th, at 10:30 p.m., Kindertrauma is teaming up with 92YTribeca to bring you a special screening of the 1980 goosebumper THE UNSEEN! Have you not seen THE UNSEEN? Isn’t it time that you did? And what better way than on an actual movie screen and on real solid 35mm film!? Even better, this 92YTribecca joint has a bar downstairs and with your ticket you can get 2 dollars off a beer! Don’t chug it! You can take that very beer into the theater and nurse it in a civilized fashion while enjoying the film! What could be better? Not much.

THE UNSEEN is an old school spookfest from director DANNY STEINMANN (he of the LINDA BLAIR classic SAVAGE STREETS and good ol’ FRIDAY THE 13th PART 5: A NEW BEGINNING.) It stars the lovely BARBARA BACH as an ace reporter who gets stuck in a weird town with her sexy pals and has to spend the night in an awesome old house. Little does she know that the folks offering her a roof over her head may be offering her a lid to her casket as well! Expect an exceptionally creepy performance from SYDNEY LASSICK (who you might remember as an obnoxious teacher in CARRIE) who’s keeping a startling secret within the basement of his home. A sort of mash up of later flicks AMERICAN GOTHIC and HUMONGOUS, THE UNSEEN deserves to be seen; it’s an eighties slash-classic that offers as much campy fun as spooky chills. Find out some more about this incredible kinder-event HERE!

Slashers 101

UNK SEZ: If you happen to be a slasher fan or a comics fan or a fan of people who get creative and make stuff, I need to point out something special to you! Stacie Ponder of the perennial hot spot FINAL GIRL has gone and made a mini-comic called SLASHERS 101 and it is a hysterically informative primer on, let’s face it, the best movies ever made.

Ponder knows her stuff after racking up years in the VHS salt mines and her illustrations are wonderfully expressive. For one Abe Lincoln (five bucks) you get the comic alone and for two Abes (ten bucks), Ponder will illustrate the back for you with an original drawing of your request (within reason)! For more details on how you can get your hands on this little treasure just jump on over HERE!

Dante Tomaselli’s Top Ten Horror Scores

UNK SEZ: You guys remember our pal the multi talented DANTE TOMASELLI (Interview HERE). Well, DANTE has just concluded scoring his latest film TORTURE CHAMBER so I asked him what movie scores were his favorites and influenced him the most. Below are his favorite top ten scores alongside some fresh images from his forthcoming film (Check out the official site HERE)! Thanks for sharing this with us Dante, You’ve got great taste!


I experienced Halloween in theatres at my birthday party in 1979. I just turned 10. My childhood friends were petrified and some of are still traumatized. It’s hard to describe the impact of this movie to the younger generation because you really had to experience Halloween in theatres. It had a ferocious grip on audiences. I haven’t seen anything match its power. To this day, most critics and fans declare Halloween the ultimate horror film and I wholeheartedly agree. The music is 50% of the film’s equation. Halloween’s heart-pounding, anxiety-inducing theme is so powerful. It’s become the anthem for classic horror films, and definitely something you can’t escape around October. I can’t escape it. It’s been the ringtone on my phone for years. Analogue synthesizer music was popular during the 60’s and 70’s in sci-fi and horror films but Halloween took that kind of sound design to a whole new level. This is a landmark horror soundtrack. Flickering and glowing like a devilish jack-o-lantern, the music is sinister and playfully evil. I’m forever influenced by this motion picture and its soundtrack. Thank you, John Carpenter.


I saw this film in my late twenties, during post production of my first feature, Desecration. How did I not ever see it? I remember the commercial on TV when I was 7-years-old. There was a seductive woman brushing her hair…her back to the camera. We hear her child-like voice. Roses are red. Violets are blue…She’s telling a poem. She swings around. Her face is a skull. Then a man’s voice says, ‘You can run from Suspiria…but you cannot escape…Suspiria.’ It was a whispery, evil voice…S-U-S-P-I-R-I-A. Somehow, where I lived in New Jersey, Suspiria wasn’t distributed. Eventually, though, I do remember seeing the title in video stores, and oddly ignoring it. I guess I was in my own fog at the time. When I finally watched the film, I felt like it was a religious experience. The same feeling I got while watching The House with Laughing Windows. It’s the kind of movie that must be properly viewed at night, in darkness, in stereo. Any other way diminishes it. The music by Goblin is so dense and multi-layered. Synthesizers, rhythm guitars, real instruments, all kinds of drums. You can get lost in its labyrinth design. Especially the beginning of the Suspiria theme. It starts off with a child’s lullaby, actually beautiful and soft but then these obscene whispers crash in and the drum beats more insistent.


My mother and I saw The Fog in theatres in 1980. I was 10. We were already fans of Carpenter’s Halloween. The theatre was called Totowa Cinema on Route 46 in Totowa, New Jersey. My father owned a Jewelry and Bridal Store in the mall where the movie played. I remember my mother was slightly disappointed by The Fog, I guess because she was comparing it to Halloween, but I absolutely loved the film. Everything about it. I was electrified. I was completely obsessed with the images and sounds and murky ghost storyline. The Fog. I’d illustrate the title, in its own special font on my grammar school notebooks. I always loved typography. The music in this film totally jumped out at me…just like Halloween…and there’s a mysterious knocking at the door. TAP. TAP. TAP. TAP. I used to mimic that all the time on different doors….There was a wood burning stove in our garage and I used the stoker to strike the door, pretending I was one of the ghouls. Around this time, I played an electronic organ. I’d sit home and fantasize. Low tones. Also, I played the pounding beat on electronic drums in my basement. I’d pound the drums, in a trance, over and over. It’s that section of the film where the fog is chasing everyone through the streets. Ahhhh. I love that. Nothing beats the Moog synthesizer analogue soundscape. It just pushes my button. When I purchased the soundtrack to The Fog I listened to it non-stop. You get the feeling that something is chasing you…and it’s coming closer and closer….The film has state-of-the-art moody electronic sound design.


It was 1982. I was 12 and I couldn’t wait for its release. The commercials on TV were striking with a spider crawling out of an old hag’s mouth accompanied by nightmarish music. I was so excited. The Night No one Comes Home. Perfect tag line. Then I saw the film. I already read the tie-in book, so I knew what to expect…Robots. I liked the film but didn’t love it. Still, I admired its fresh approach and loved its Dean Cundey widescreen cinematography. Mostly, mainly, I was ecstatic about the music. What perfect electronic horror music! I bought the album and listened to it endlessly. I still do. While nothing beats the theme to the original, overall as an album, this is definitely a better listening experience…and with the widest selection of doom-laced worlds. To me, it sounds like it would be a very dark solo album from Greg Hawkes, the imaginative keyboardist from The Cars. For example, Drive to Santa Mira…it has the distinct John Carpenter low toned vibe while incorporating a new dreamy organ with lots of reverb. Every single track stands out as an example of haunting mood music. John Carpenter and Alan Howarth created magic here. This is synth horror heaven and should probably be number one on my list. I could just listen to Halloween 3: Season of the Witch until the end of time.


This is actually not a movie but a horror sound fx album. It was played around Halloween in the 70’s and 80’s…and in many different funhouses as background music. Halloween was every day for me, so I’d listen to Sounds to Make You Shiver all the time, especially from 1st to 6th grade. The album consists mainly of moans and screams and thunderstorms. First we hear a woman groaning in pain and a man sadistically laughing with a chain clanging in the background. You feel like you’re in a dungeon. I got lost in the howling wind and thunderstorms and creepy, thick atmospheres. In a trance, I would listen…My imagination lighting up. Side 2 has variations of screams, witches cackles, cats, growling dogs and more moody and violent storms. Midway through, the sounds morph into an ambient, almost experimental piece with dreamy piano, guitar and bells…mixed with echoed footsteps…and a chain dragging on a castle floor.


At times you can hear devils giggling. I used to scare my younger brother just by playing the music. This spine-tingling score by Wendy Carlos, a pioneer in electronic music, has an almost demonic power. I swear it’s transmitted straight from hell. The opening theme is expertly constructed…so delicately woven…It’s bone-chilling. Atmospheric, psychedelic, macabre and surreal…It floats on another plane. There is nothing like this Moog synthesizer music, it creates its own space. I love Wendy’s score for A Clockwork Orange too. Her sound is so otherworldly….


My cousin, Alfred Sole’s film, doesn’t have a soundtrack that’s released and it should. Stephen Lawrence conjures one of the most dreamily sinister themes I’ve ever heard. I’m referring to the sparkling lullaby mixed with the menacing tones and breathy vocals. It’s cold and sleek and evil as can be, just like the movie. The swirling violins are unnerving and in-your-face. I love all the small interludes with haunted piano and reverb. The opening titles music is surprisingly reserved and reminds me of a warped version of The Godfather. Very Italian…family tragedy….On the DVD copies, you can find a montage of the film’s old stills…and the music playing over these images is the breathy, ice-cold theme to Alice, Sweet Alice…extended. I loop it over and over….


Howard Shore scored The Brood and Videodrome, also favorites. He’s an expert in somber, deadly serious soundscapes. You don’t just hear them, you feel them. The trancelike electronic music here is percolating, staccato, moaning in pain. He captures emotional violence. In fact, my first short film was called Emotional Violence. It got me into Pratt Institute, the film department. It was a non-linear montage about a suicidal girl with an abusive boyfriend and mother. My mother, an actress, played the mother. I had Scanners music throughout. How could I resist? I know I could never sell it. I can’t find the film now.


This soundtrack reminds me of being in high school and listening to the cassette on my walkman. I’d get completely lost in this gorgeous, classy horror music. It’s amazing how Ennio Morricone was channeling John Carpenter, intentionally or not. Sometimes it really sounds like him. I love Morricone’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage too. That should be on this top 10 list. The Thing’s theme, with its pulsating electronic tone, is genuinely hypnotic. I can play it over and over and over. There’s something off-kilter, almost avant garde in its repetitiveness. It’s minimalist. But not all of the soundtrack is like that. There are violin compositions that are spacious, warm, lush and eerie. There are also some screeching violins that are all-out terrifying.


Cold and pristine, John Carpenter’s Christine score is embedded in my psyche. Just like the soundtracks to Halloween, Halloween 2, Halloween 3, The Fog and Prince of Darkness, Christine has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. A bit clipped, which makes for a jumpy listening experience. But it’s not really meant to stand on its own, even though it does. John Carpenter is all about scoring to picture. It’s thin and glacial and it works. The throbbing baritone employed throughout is pure old-school Carpenter. I love it. The scene where Arnie says, ‘Show me’ and that electronic bell pierces through the atmosphere…followed by the galloping low tone…cinematic magic. It takes my breath away and sometimes brings a tear to my eye. I’m in awe of the way the music changes the environment, how it completely elevates and transforms the scene. The chase compositions are melodic. There’s that propulsive beat that feels like all early Carpenter themes wrapped into one.

Dirty, Filthy Horror

So I came across a German trailer for THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (1976) sneaking around YouTube and it got stuck in my head. The trailer is so dark, damaged, scratched up and weathered that it feels like an unscalable wall of gloom. I’ve never seen the film look shabbier and I’ve never seen it look as intriguingly sinister or lurid either. Maybe I’m experiencing a rubber band effect from being exposed to too much slick high definition lately, but it got me thinking about the movies I enjoy that gather strength by the fact that they revel in their own grunged-out grittiness.

PSYCHO (1960)

PSYCHO may seem like a starkly handsome film now but when you compare it to HITCHCOCK’s earlier flashier flicks, it’s obviously a deliberate step away from artifice and glamour. Marion Crane stumbles into a world that is rotting and falling apart and HITCH’s emphasis on keeping it candidly real went so far as to showcase the first flushing toilet seen in American film. PSYCHO is nothing if not about the blemishes and stains that can’t be scrubbed away; not even in the shower.


Some folks might assume NOTLD’s shabby chic aesthetic is due to its age but if you consider the fact that it was released the same year as ROSEMARY’S BABY, you get a better idea of just how scrappy and low brow this production is. The film’s non-existent budget surely influenced the end result, but director ROMERO’s blunt news footage approach turned the minus of poverty into an integral plus. NOTLD’s public domain status insures that a dingy looking copy is never more than a Google search away.


Remaster it, put it on DVD, smack it with a Blu-ray high definition stick, hire a zillion cherubs to polish it with Jesus’ tears, it doesn’t matter. TEXAS CHAINSAW will always look like it’s been dragged through the mud since the beginning of time and that’s why I love it. No need for blood, the ultimate horror here is derived from committing the unspoken American sin of looking under the carpet where the trash has been swept.


Here’s another example of a limited budget being an asset. SNBN is dark, cold and grey throughout and it utilizes its authentically well-worn locations to their creepy fullest, but it is the film’s cracked and crusty sepia toned flashback sequences that really chill the bone.


I may have just created a portal to hell by including CATHYS CURSE and PSYCHO on the same list and I’m fine with that. CATHY’S CURSE’s heap of garbage, ratty demeanor is not an artistic choice but the result of brain damaged filmmakers and the reality that nobody would want to remaster the film due to the process involving having to watch it. I stand convinced that every repulsive rust and avocado hue from the seventies dived into this celluloid cesspool to die. That said, one of my favorite aspects of this abomination, besides its doctrine of non-stop nonsense, is the fact that its base fugliness is heightened by its shredded, war torn ill kept state. What a Mess-terpiece!


I’ve never seen a copy of this movie that doesn’t look like hell and I don’t think I want to. Huge chunks of it are completely indecipherable but that’s part of what makes it work for me. SOAWN goes beyond delivering nicked and damaged visuals; it offers a wave of crunchy crumbling sound too!


Here’s an underrated movie with no shortage of atmosphere. D&B has several shockingly gruesome set pieces but for me there’s one ragged insert that shadows over the others. In it, one the main characters is revealed to be not quite what they seem via a battered and dingy amateur home film, the texture of which contrasts with everything else we’ve seen.


Finally available on DVD, I was initially disappointed when I threw NIGHTMARE’s disc in my player and noted the extensive scratches and damage that it still retains. My chagrin dissipated quickly when I realized that NIGHTMARE’s sleaze trash, grind house nature was in fact perfectly framed and amplified by the scourge of visual imperfections.


I have to include this recent discovery. One of the great joys of watching COT is basking in its ramshackle mangled mahogany state.


How ironic that when Hollywood jumped at the chance to capitalize on BLAIR’s success with a sequel that the first thing they jettisoned was the original’s coarse and crude threadbare look. C’mon, the film’s ace in the hole for igniting imaginations was its unrefined, vague as the shroud of Turin visuals.


From the kaleidoscopic channel surfing static strewn barrage of HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES to the acrid dusty rust heaps of THE DEVIL’S REJECTS to the swirling melted Jolly Rancher bag of his HALLOWEEN re-duo, ZOMBIE’s visuals are never not rug burn raw and bursting with imperfect unkempt energy.


Hey, so that was an eclectic (sloppy) assemblage of films wasn’t it? I almost included SE7EN(1995) and PLANET TERROR (2007) but decided that rather than earning the holes in their jeans, they bought them pre-weathered at designer stores. Maybe I should have separated the films by those that were scruffy on purpose, those that were ratty due to budget and those that were torn up due to not being well preserved but I didn’t. I mostly just wanted to talk about the wondrous effect that the marred, sullied, untidy image has on me when I watch a horror film and what can I say? I like things a little messy. It’s a matter of taste.

Looking Back At The World Trade Center

UNK SEZ: My big plan was to grab all the images of the World Trade Center that I could find in horror films but mid way through my endeavor I discovered someone had beaten me to it. Many of these images come courtesy of the site WORLD TRADE CENTER IN MOVIES which catalogues shots of The Twin Towers found in films of every variety. Check it out HERE. I know you don’t need another person telling you to remember the Towers today so instead allow me to point out how adept movies are at capturing what is missed.

Kinder-Spotlight :: Inside

What’s this? Two Sundays in a row without Kindertrauma’s “Stream Warriors” feature? What gives? Well we are still nursing the wounds inflicted upon us by Netflix’s sneaky price increase. We had forgiven them for destroying bricks and mortar video stores but this new bait and switch is just too much! Someone has gotten too big for their britches! Why should we use coveted Kindertrauma real estate to promote those cheap ingrates when it can be better utilized by wonderful sponsors like Intel and Toshiba? Yes, the following is a sponsored post, paid for by Intel and Toshiba!

Are you sick of passively streaming dullsville movies on Netflix and have you ever asked yourself why the heck can’t I get involved with the events that happen in the film I’m watching? Do you wish to be a participant in something new and exciting rather than just an observer? You’re prayers have been answered and not by Netflix either, they have been answered by the good folks at Intel and Toshiba.

Starting tomorrow YOU will be able to take active part in a movie! INSIDE is a film that stars EMMY ROSSUM and is directed by the guy who did DISTURBIA (DJ CARUSO) and another person called YOU! Folks will get a chance to alter and experience INSIDE as it happens thanks to the help of social media favorites like TWITTER, FACEBOOK, and YOUTUBE! You can learn more HERE and from the embedded video below.

Kinder-News :: Evil Children Double Feature!

UNK SEZ: Possibly the most Kindertraumatic double feature of all time has been put together by our pal KEVIN MAHER! Folks who attend will delight in both the twisted wonder that is the 1980 cult favorite THE CHILDREN and one of my favorite TV movies ever DON’T GO TO SLEEP! There shall be trivia and there shall be prizes! This festival of fiendish tots will be held Thursday, July 7th at 92Y Tribeca, 200 Hudson Street in the land of NY, NY! Failure to experience this event will result in tears! Get more info at THISKEVIN and buy your tickets HERE!

Special Report :: Christmas TV History’s Joanna Wilson on “Edith’s Crisis of Faith”

“Edith’s Crisis of Faith” features the character Beverly LaSalle, a transvestite and female impersonator, played by Lori Shannon. Beverly appeared in two earlier AITF episodes, “Archie the Hero” in 1975 and “Beverly Rides Again” in 1976. A friend of the family, Beverly returns to the Bunker home in “Edith’s Crisis of Faith” in order to invite them to her scheduled performance at the prestigious Carnegie Hall the week before Christmas. The Bunkers are happy to see Beverly and accept her invitation while Edith, who considers Beverly to be “like family,” returns the gesture and invites the performer to Christmas dinner at the Bunker home.

What comes next is disturbing and unexpected. Though the action takes place off camera, we learn that son-in-law Mike Stivic and Beverly are mugged. Eventually we see Mike in the hospital in bandages–he was beaten but will be fine. Mike describes the mugging saying that Beverly had successfully defended him against the gang of violent attackers but then the gang turned on Beverly with a lead pipe. Mike says, “I guess they figured out what he was and they just started smashing him with the pipe.” A doctor tells Edith and Archie in the waiting room that Beverly has died. “Just because he was different,” Gloria later adds. The rest of “Part 1” sees Edith numb in her grief at Christmas time.

The storyline continues into the following episode “Edith’s Crisis of Faith, Part 2” where we see more fully how deeply Edith is affected by the death of her dear friend. Not only is Edith unable to put aside her grief, she finds she can’t even be happy at Christmas for the sake of her two year-old grandson Joey. Even worse, Edith who is usually a person of unwavering faith now questions her belief in a God that would allow someone as kind, gentle and good as Beverly be so tragically murdered. She won’t go to church at Christmas and even suggests that she may never go back. Archie encourages her to return to church but Edith’s disillusioned response is: “Why? What good does it do?” Edith’s family is beside themselves trying to cheer her up but Edith is inconsolable. She even runs out of the room when Archie offers a prayer over the family’s Christmas dinner. Eventually, Mike is the only one able to offer any comfort to Edith. Mike reminds her that we can’t always understand everything. Though Mike’s answer is simple, he is actually making a complex point that a crime such as this is beyond reasonableness–it may never make sense. Watching a character as gentle and decent as Edith suffer so terribly is torturous and emotionally draining.

What many may find difficult here is that this deeply emotional and tragic episode occurs at Christmas–the one time of year most people want to feel uplifted, optimistic and hopeful. That may be the exact point the writers of this episode may have been communicating–juxtaposing this sad episode with the usual bright spirit of the holiday. It also makes it difficult to re-watch year after year as we all so often do with Christmas TV sitcom episodes.

However, the tone of this painful episode is handled correctly. AITF had perfected the appropriate manner in which to handle the sensitive issues of the day in previous episodes that dealt with topics such as racism, bigotry, war, politics, cancer, and more button-pushing issues one wouldn’t immediately associate with family sitcoms. Even other Christmas episodes of AITF took on hot topics such as Edith’s breast cancer scare, the divorce of Gloria and Mike, and my favorite: 1976’s “The Draft Dodger” where Mike’s friend, a draft dodger on the run, comes to Christmas dinner to share a table with Archie’s friend who’s son was just killed in Vietnam.

Yet, Christmas may just be the most appropriate time of year to remind ourselves of our desire for a world filled with peace. Hate crimes such as these unfortunately still exist and occur all too frequently. Part of what makes AITF such a groundbreaking show is the fact that its take on subjects such as this are still relevant today. Perhaps the depth of emotion felt in “Edith’s Crisis of Faith” can serve as an annual reminder to grab our loved ones even closer and find compassion and acceptance for everyone.

Though a situation comedy, the jokes are never at the expense of the social issue but are aimed squarely at the insensitive fool, Archie Bunker. This show so successfully tackled social issues that many other TV series in the 1970s and 1980s went on to try to do the same thing with varying degrees of success.

UNK SEZ: Thanks so much Joanna for sharing such a wonderful post! I have a strong recollection of this episode as well and you really captured what made it so memorable.

Folks, not only is Joanna one of Kindertrauma‘s favorite people in general but she is also the author of the books THE CHRISTMAS TV COMPANION and ‘TIS THE SEASON TV. You can pay her a visit at her official home base CHRISTMAS TV HISTORY!

Night Gallery Tale :: Brenda

I just caught another NIGHT GALLERY segment that I found just as intriguing as the brilliant “Silent Snow, Secret Snow.” It’s not particularly scary but it ended up building a little nest of perplexed disquiet in my head anyway. It’s called “Brenda” and it is the second half of the seventh episode of season two. It’s based on a short story by female sci-fi author MARGARET ST. CLAIR. I point out her gender because during a time when most female genre writers hid behind gender neutral pen names, Margaret was all like, “Aw hells no!”

is about a fruit loop named Brenda who could write a book called “How to Lose Friends and Aggravate People.” The girl is a brat, such a brat that she purposely destroys a sandcastle and not just any sandcastle, mind you, but a sand castle constructed by America’s sweetheart PAMELYN FERDIN. Who the hell is obnoxious enough to do that? Brenda is, that’s who! Although I somewhat hate Brenda, her zero concern about popularity and the perceptions of others I find absolutely thrilling to behold. Actress LAURIE PRANGE is way too old to be playing the part but that just makes her behavior appear more outrageously asinine and underlines the aggravated arrested development that fuels the tale.

One day while strolling in the woods and basking in her own awfulness, Brenda bumps into a creature more horrific than herself, is frightened and then profoundly captivated. In fact, she meets my all time favorite type of monster, a shambling pile of mossy tethers who skulks around like Bigfoot. I love swamp monsters! I’m not sure if it stems from the KOLCHAK “Spanish Moss Murders” episode, D&D, or SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT but my admiration is such that I have painted many a portrait of these amorphous archetypal beasts. In other words, Brenda and I are remarkably on the same page at this point of the story. At first Brenda traps the creature in a giant hole and sparks a realization that everything going on here kind of resembles the Kinder-fave movie entitled THE PIT (1981). Eventually she aids in its escape and devilishly leaves her front door open so that the weird thing can follow her home and terrorize her parents in the middle of the night. Hey, I’m starting to like this girl!

After a night of wreaking somewhat passive havoc across the island community Brenda and her parents are vacationing in, the monster goes back to the pit, covers itself in a stony cocoon and hits the hay. Brenda is heartbroken by the creature’s retreat and the knowledge that her family will be splitting soon and may never return. Seasons come and go, a year passes and Brenda returns more mature and less impish and scampy. You’ll find no shocker twist here, just Brenda hugging the stones that represent her once animated friend and declaring her eternal love and affection. I don’t know what to think except that the monster is a physical representation of the self-alienated Brenda’s charged relationship with her own crazy imagination. It goes into hibernation as she becomes more adult but she is thankful and secure in the knowledge that it lies waiting if needed.

In a way I feel this entry is a perfect companion piece to the previously mentioned “Silent Snow, Secret Snow”; I can’t be 100% sure about the address of its final destination but I know it’s on the corner of Lonely Lane and Insanity Street. I love this type of horror/fantasy storytelling; it backs up my theory that if you want to learn what it means to be human, your best source of information is a monster.


It’s easy for me to forget how much I was rooting for SCREAM to be a success when it was released way back in 1996. I recall WES CRAVEN and DREW BARRYMORE doing the talk show rounds and I was there on opening day. I watched as it climbed the charts in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY and its word-of-mouth staying power victory felt like a personal justification of sorts. The slasher film had finally risen from the grave just as I always hoped and prayed that it would.

One day I had to realize that the Audrey 2 plant I was pointlessly watering was towering over me. The publicity machine behind SCREAM was insatiable and ubiquitous. Eventually I awoke to every borderline personality fan boy nightmare, my lil’ pet movie was undeniably and irrevocably mainstream! Worse still, it had no interest in me and my nerd-flavored goodwill; it was courting a generation younger than me right in front of my face! It was like when Marcia Brady helped that wallflower out only to have the dickens surpass and usurp her. SCREAM wasn’t revitalizing my youth anymore it was pillaging it! What the hell was I getting out of this relationship? SCREAM was happy as a clam. I felt old and betrayed.

Then the wannabe clones arrived, each more vacant and dunderheaded than the last. They marched in wearing Urban Outfitter uniforms, their faces scrubbed and personality free. Smelling a market, Hollywood opened a cage and out they slinked each Friday with posters Photoshopped into oblivion with death scenes fluffier than MATLOCK. I started to hate the floozy named SCREAM, the two faced harlot, the instigator of mediocrity, the murderer of horror! Oh SCREAM, it wasn’t your fault. I had no right to claim you as my own. I’m sorry that I was secretly gleeful when your third outing turned out to be lamer than even I could imagine. That was the end of the millennium. Things were different back then and I’m ashamed at how easily I had forgotten just how original and refreshing SCREAM was upon first discovery.

Sometimes you just need a little distance. You need to clean your palate. You need to let other horror cycles take hold, eclipse, turn sour and fade away. It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten together with this past mercurial love. I think we did catch up a couple years ago and it was pleasant enough but nothing passionate. Yet there’s something in the air now, is it spring? I actually do feel a kindling spark of sorts still burning for what once was; both SCREAM and I are older now. Maybe it’s time for a new type of understanding to develop…

SCREAM (1996)

I have to admit this movie still has it going on in all the right places. The mystery of what’s under its hood has long been discovered but the opening scene still packs a bittersweet wallop. CRAVEN does more than simply unnerve with DREW’s inaugural attack, there is such a lovely tragic element to it as well. Armed with KEVIN WILLIAMS’ slightly overrated, yet inarguably innovative script, CRAVEN the director is at the height of his powers. There’s hardly a superfluous moment anywhere and the whole ride has a wonderfully smooth yet forceful momentum. Unlike many of its imitators, SCREAM looks crisp and clean without being too slick and losing its gravity supplying sense of the natural and every day. (Sadly director of photography MARK IRWIN and CRAVEN parted ways after SCREAM but funnily enough IRWIN did go on to do SCARY MOVIE 3.) So much of the look of SCREAM has been duplicated and parodied that it is easy to forget just how handsome a film it is. Maybe I’m just a sucker for grassy hills and sunsets.

SCREAM of course is famous for being self-referential and for pointing out at every turn the tropes and “rules” theoretically ingrained in slasher films. Personally many of the assumptions repeated about those films I find to be debatable broad clichés that limit our understanding of the genre. Having said that I think that I sometimes woefully miss the undeniable truth that SCREAM, in its heart of hearts, is a love letter and a reverent shrine to slasher movies and cinema in general and for that I want to kiss it all over its ghost mask. Really has one movie ever had a boner for another movie the way SCREAM has a boner for JOHN CARPENTER’s HALLOWEEN? There’s a big difference between tribute and condescension and although SCREAM’s playfulness can grate at times, it’s not the facetious lark I sometimes falsely remember it as. The truth is that even though it can be way too name-droppy and quipy for its own good, it does under its conventional mall-approved smile hide a genuinely perverse sadomasochistic streak.

I came away from watching SCREAM again with two major revelations: the first is that as far as “final girls” go I’m not the biggest Sidney Prescot fan. Her “sexual anorexia” and morbid martyrdom papers are in order but as portrayed by the perpetually strained NEVE CAMPBELL I find her difficult to believe and strangely unsympathetic. “I’m sorry if my traumatized life is an inconvenience to your perfect existence!” she spews and I just kind of want to wring her neck. Whereas most “final girls” have walked anonymously alone with survival their only reward, Sydney has the attention and concern of her entire community and it just kind of irks me. Plus I think partying on the one-year anniversary of your mother’s brutal death is tacky. Stranger than my newfound ambivalence toward Sid is my newfound, heart-eyed affection for the refreshingly direct persona of Gale Weathers (COURTNEY COX). I’m not happy about this development either but there it is. For me, Weathers is the most entertaining character in the lot and I appreciate that her disposition atypically softens rather than hardens. I know she is supposed to be a callous careerist but at least she can finish a sentence without a pop culture reference.

Even though Sidney Prescott affection eludes me I don’t have a hard time recognizing SCREAM’s classic status. It sets out to turn expectations on their head and it succeeds. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the series is its ability to stand without a consistent killer in its spine. The monster in SCREAM is fluid, an empty shell identity that any person or persons can inhabit. While we are here, why not let us take a cursory peak at the sequels that followed…

SCREAM 2 (1997)

The opening kill in SCREAM 2, set at a premiere for a film based on the events in the first movie not only kicks the meta to a new level but perfectly captures the excitement and enthusiasm that surrounded the bourgeoning franchise at the time. I’d love to give the series some props for confronting criticisms that it presented an all white universe by including African Americans in the sequel, but since every black character shown is presented the exact same way I’m not sure I can. Be that as it may this is a sequel that does a fine enough job of transporting the working elements of the previous installment into semi-fresh terrain. There is one scene that I always dread though. I live in fear of JERRY O’CONNELL singing, “I think I love you” on the cafeteria table. It upsets me more than any death in the entire series. I find it too embarrassing to withstand and I have to look away and cover my ears. Other than that, it’s mostly gravy. Sidney as “Cassandra” somehow works and I’m all about LAURIE METCALF & BUFFY. No matter its over bloated nature, I can’t say this installment isn’t fun.

SCREAM 3 (2000)

A huge step down for sure but I remember part three being a lot worse than it actually is. If the revelation of the killer was not so humdrum it might have been almost good. SCREAM 3 transports the action to Hollywood, which adds an alienating, navel-gazing atmosphere that the series could have done without. Cameos from the Weinstein stable in the form of Jay and Silent Bob set the tin ear tone. Dead Randy (JAMIE KENNEDY) showing up via videotape to spout complete gibberish as trilogy dogma and an initially amusing turn from PARKER POSEY that nosedives into screechy, flailing-armed stoogery don’t help matters much. Ironically the strongest element may involve Sidney finally digging into the dirt of her dilemma rather than looking down at it from miles above. Again I think that the character of Gale Weathers secretly holds the shindig together and her relationship with Dewey resonates as the closest thing to known human reality in the film. At this point SCREAM seems to have lost track of its horror roots and is happy operating as an ensemble version of MURDER SHE WROTE. Guns and explosions reign supreme and you may find yourself begging for anything that even remotely resembles the inspired garage door kill from the first film.


I’m totally psyched for the fourth installment. I know that may sound disingenuous after what I just said but I can’t help it. I don’t care that I hate and despise certain elements of the SCREAM series; for the most part it’s wicked nifty and I’m now, against my better judgment, grossly invested in the characters once more. Will my tolerance of Sidney continue to grow? What the hell’s going on with Gale and Dewey, I have to know! (Man, I wonder what kinda fucked up haircut Gale is going to sport this time…) I just hope that a lesson has been learned from past mistakes and from the litany of films that tried to duplicate SCREAM’s initial success and failed. The blurb that seemed to attach itself like a barnacle to the poster art was “Clever, Hip and Scary!” Do me a favor CRAVEN and company, don’t worry so much about those first two adjectives and concentrate on that last one. If the best scene in your entire series ends up being forever the first one I’d call that a steady downhill slide.

NOTE: Stab me if you want to but yes, I do think TORI SPELLING played a superior Sidney Prescot! I’m not proud of that admission either!