SCREAM (1981)
Director: Byron Quisenberry
Shriek Show/Media Blasters

Shot in 1981 but not released theatrically until 1983, SCREAM (aka THE OUTING, not to be confused with the 1987 genie monster flick of the same name) is yet another independently shot low budget horror effort released in a market flooded with endless slasher pics. Executive-produced, written and director by stuntman Byron Quisenberry, SCREAM fails on just about every level, and probably the only reason it’s still mentioned in small circles today is that there are devoted slasher completists out there that need to see and own every film of its kind released during the golden age of the early 1980s.

Two guides – Stan (Ethan Wayne, the Duke’s son, just 18 years old at the time of filming) and Rudy (Joseph Alvarado) – lead a group of people rafting down a river to their vacationing destination: a deserted old ghost town in the middle of nowhere. As someone thought it was a good idea to spend $100 bucks a head to campout on the cold, dusty rat-infested floors of some bordered up old saloons and general stores, the group settles in for the night, but one of their party is found hanging to death. Soon, other hapless campers are quickly picked off as the remaining survivors smoke cigarettes, drink coffee and Dr. Pepper, and try to determine what their next move wil be. Help soon comes in the way of two disoriented dirt biker dudes and later, a mysterious dark stranger on horseback, but their presence doesn’t really solve anything. Who is the unseen attacker? Is it a ghostly presence from the past enacting some kind of age-old revenge?

Bad movies will always have their fans. We’re talking about the onslaught of campfests landing in the “so bad they’re good” category that always have enough distinctive ingredients, leaving moviegoers with something to find enduring or amusing about them. On the other hand, SCREAM is just an awful film with virtually no fans. Shot on the Paramount Ranch (the set for numerous television shows over the decades) for an atmospheric ghost town and with the intent of being something beyond your typical "slice n dice" fare, the film falls short of any kind of style, pacing, thrills or suspense (with boredom always in tow despite a number of victims crashing through doors and such). The music by Joseph Conlan is all wrong, but pre-establishes the types of dramatic TV scores he would soon flourish in (not long after this film, Conlan got the gig on “Simon & Simon” and you’ll constantly be reminded of the chords from that show while watching this).

Though it was Quisenberry’s intent not to make a typical slasher film, SCREAM really could have used some decent special effects (the killings, sans for one, are extremely weak and underplayed) and perhaps a bit of T&A. Those factors don’t necessarily make or break a film, but here is an example where they desperately needed it. You would think the appeal here would be upped by the appearance of a few veteran character actors (including Western legend Hank Worden and “Green Acres” star Alvy Moore) but their screen time is very limited. The quirky character great Moore (no stranger to horror, via his involvement in THE WITCHMAKER and THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN) has such a quick part (and with no close-up) you’ll have to take my word that he’s actually in the film. Woody Strode (KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS) plays the dark stranger on horseback, but his ambiguous, fleeting appearance comes too late, at least to drum up any interest in the film’s remaining moments. The lead actor is Pepper Martin (the guy who beat up Clark Kent in SUPERMAN II), but he seems out of place as a cankerous middle-ager, especially when romantically linked to a woman half his age. Joe Allaine is given the most characterization (in a film where most of the stiff players stand around worrying and waiting to be knocked off) as Lou, a quiet, pudgy loner type stereotypically obsessed with food, but his semi comical scaredy cat antics quickly grate on the nerves (Lou Costello, he certainly aint).

Shriek Show has done a fine job presenting SCREAM on DVD for the first time. The film was shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm, resulting in a lot of nicks and debris, as well as grain (and the film is technically substandard to begin with). Having said that, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer still has enough detail (far better than the overly dark Vestron VHS release from the 1980s) and colors hold up well, despite looking a tad muted in some sequences. The mono audio has the expected flaws, but overall the track comes through well enough.

Extras include an audio commentary with executive producer/director/writer Byron Quisenberry moderated by Marc Edward Hueck and William Olsen (of Code Red DVD). Quisenberry is a really nice guy as well as an interesting subject, not only touching upon every aspect of the hasty making of SCREAM in less than two weeks time (and he’s very proud to have gotten Woody Strode), but he also tells stories about his stuntman days and working with some very well known Hollywood directors. Other extras include a still gallery, the original theatrical trailer and TV spot, and trailers for other Shriek Show DVD releases (JUST BEFORE DAWN, EVILS OF THE NIGHT, KILLING BIRDS and COP KILLERS). (George R. Reis)