‘The newest thing in nightmares!’
Screamtime is a 1983 British/American horror anthology film produced and directed by Stanley Long [as Al Beresford] from a screenplay by Michael Armstrong (The Haunted House of Horror; Mark of the Devil; House of the Long Shadows). It was released in 1986.
The film is comprised of edited versions of three Stanley Long shorts that has already been issued theatrically in the UK as support for features, plus some wraparound footage shot later in New York. The shorts are:
- Dreamhouse (1981)
- That’s the Way to Do It! aka Killer Punch (1982)
- Do You Believe in Fairies? aka Garden of Blood (1982)
In the book X-Rated: Adventures of an Exploitation Filmmaker (author Simon Sheridan, 2008), Long explains how Screamtime came about: “Each of my little horror films was primarily made to go out as a second feature to American horror films, and to claim a portion of the Eady Fund money. However, my productions proved so successful that I was persuaded to edit them into one feature, in a similar style to the Amicus horror anthology films from the 1960s and 70s […] I’ve called the making of Screamtime a bit of a ‘kick bollock and scramble affair’. Everything was done in a huge rush and not without incident.”
Long goes to recount how the $150,000 cash for the Stateside lensed footage was nearly lost when his brother left the briefcase containing it at the New York heliport. Amazingly, it was still there when the desperate filmmakers returned in a speedily hailed cab!
The film starts relatively promisingly with some lovely shots of New York’s 42nd Street. Two men enter a video cassette superstore.
Faced with an Aladdin’s cave of VHS goodies, the men make off with a handful of tapes and make their way back to their friend Marie’s horrid flat where they settle back to shovel nondescript food into their mouths and enable the filmmakers to shoehorn some nudity into the film in a paradoxical shower scene that makes you feel dirtier than before it started.
All of this nonsense allows for the watching of the three stolen tapes of course, which disappointingly for the thieves, only last twenty minutes each.
First up is ‘That’s the Way to Do It’, the tale of a henpecked Punch and Judy puppeteer being given the choice of burning his beloved puppets and moving with his wife and stepson to Canada or, well, not. Production values are miniscule, ‘straight to video’ in this case being as threatening a label as ‘Typhoid Mary’.
Regardless, we are introduced to the three characters of most interest, Jack the puppeteer (TV stalwart Robin Bailey), his wife, Lena (Ann Lynn from The Black Torment) and eternal fop, Jonathan Morris (playing stepson Damien). Excitingly, Morris is NOT the worst actor in Screamtime.
Prowling round the seaside town with his ‘gang’, the disaffected Damien terrorises the locals by kicking over deckchairs and wearing poorly manufactured jeans. Saving most of his ire for Jack, he burns down his Punch and Judy cabin to the ambivalence of the watching old folk; Jack manages to save his beloved (although slightly scorched) puppets and events take a murderous turn as it appears the squawky-voiced Punch has gone on a killing spree.
Next up is ‘Dreamhouse’, which plays out exactly as you would expect a poorly-made segment of an anthology film with that title would. A woman wearing a staggeringly large pair of spectacles has recurrent visions (possibly connected to her glasses, would have made for a better plot) after moving into a new house, even going as far as to hire a medium to check for ‘restless spirits’. Given the all-clear, the images become ever more grisly until they eventually move out, leading to a twist ending that really makes no sense at all but delivers quite a good jump.
Saving the best until last, bringing up the rear is ‘Do You Believe in Fairies?’ a reprehensible tale of a novice motorbike racer desperate for funds and taking at part-time job at kindly old dears Emma (perpetual kindly old dear Dora Bryan) and Mildred’s (equally kind old dear Jean Anderson from The Night Digger) large house doing odd-jobs.
The clueless and dotty ladies witter on about fairies in the garden and let slip that there are an awful lot of valuables in the house. Our bike-riding odd-job man plots to steal the items at the dead of night with the help of his scrawny brother and his mechanic boss, only to find the treasure is guarded by, um, fairies and gnomes.
The lead rogue in this tale is played by singing sensation David Van Day from pop chihuahuas Dollar and skirt-whipping rotters Bucks Fizz. His acting style can best be described as ‘challenging’ and his posturing as a macho sex symbol is genuinely hilarious. The tale is jaw-dropping from concept to execution (witness a giant gnome attacking Van Day, no attempt made to even match fake fair with fake beard) but does it cross into the category of ‘so bad it’s good’?
Having watched the film and it’s equally awful wrap-around conclusion for the third time, I’m firmly of the belief that this is life-affirming goodness, with not a bad bone in its body, although with plenty of poorly made ones.
Armstrong, best known for his work on Mark of the Devil and The Black Panther, both amazing bodies of work, clearly had a couple of bills to pay; Long has more of a track record of schlock (Eskimo Nell, the Adventures of films) but neither created anything else quite like this.
Daz Lawrence, HORRORPEDIA
NB. Dreamhouse was a 1981 short that played in British cinemas as a support for feature films. It was remade as a feature film in 2010 with the title Psychosis.