Death Screams - Death Screams( Blu Ray) [Arrow Video - 2021]
Death Screams is an early 1980’s North Carolina set slasher- featuring corny ‘n’ camp dialogue/ characters, some neat brooding stalk scenes, and in its later half some rewarding kills. Sure it's derivative as hell, and at times feels like a bad F13 knock-off/ ropy squeal, but it’s a hella-a lot of creepy/ campy fun, and if you dig golden age slasher- you’ll get a big kick out of the picture. Here from the folks at Arrow- both in the UK & US- is a new Blu ray release of this lesser-seen stalk ‘n’ slash. It features two commentary tracks- one from the film’s producer & effects artists, and one from the always great slasher loving podcast The Hysteria Continues, along with a making-of, and few other extras.
Death Screams( aka The House Of Death) appeared in the year 1982. It was the third film helmed by NYC actor-turned-director David Nelson- in all he had just four feature-length credits to his name, though as an actor he had bit parts of the likes of Up In Smoke (1972) and Cry Baby(1990). Films he helmed moved from Easy To Be Free (1973) a doc which followed Ricky Nelson on tour, Last Plane Out (1983) an action thriller set during the Nicaragua civil war featuring Jan-Michael Vincent, and Rare Breed (1984)- which was a drama about a kidnapped horse. So he doesn’t have any real grounding in the horror genre- but on the whole Death Screams is a cheap-if-competently made film, with a good blend of creepy stalking and camp characters. The gore/ murders are largely found in the films last quarter, but when they do appear it’s all done well enough.
The film is set in a small town in North Carolina, that's getting ready for its annual carnival/ funfair. The whole thing kicks off with a pair of lovers making out on a motorbike, nearby a train line and a river- the guy wants to wait to dip his wick until the train goes by for the ultimate thrill- but they both get more than they bargain for- as they get garrotted, then thrown into the river- and we see their bodies( sometimes as naff looking dummies) through-out the film. Sadly this first kill is extremely murky, and then we get murky/ dark underwater over the overlong credits…but don’t let that put you off, as when it gets underway thing improv. We get your typical/ fairly cliched group of teen friends- we have the joker, the slut, the innocent nice girl, the jock and his buddy. And as we move towards the big carnival/ fair night we get some nicely tense/ creepy POV/ stalking scenes, and at the fair, it’s itself in the daytime, an arrow through the shoulder-then-bag over head, before left to spin round a merry around kill. The main of the slashing occurs in the films last half-an-hour or so- when it’s nighttime, and the group find a few neat locations to get slaughter at- a graveyard, candlelit creepy house in a rainstorm, and skinny dipping in the river. And in this portion of the film we get a few neat decapitations, a nude throat slash, both hands lopped off and left to twitch, blown up head, and a few other machete fuelled kills.
The films score switches between most effective bass bound/ synth hover 'n' brood, and full bombastic orchestrated soundtracking which at points very much mimics the big/ brash parts of Harry Manfredini's score for the early F13 films. The acting, as expected in very mixed, moving between awful-to- campily hammy- though there are some memorable characters, and some great campy amusing lines throughout. On the whole, I was most taken by Death Screams- but that is coming from someone who unashamedly loves old school slashers- so do take that in mind.
Moving onto this new Blu Ray- and we get a good selection of extras. We get two commentary tracks- the first is from producer Charles Ison and special effects artist Worth Keeter, with the whole thing moderated by filmmaker Phil Smoot. This is a chatty, and at points rather busy and voices overlapping track- which has its moments of interest, though does get somewhat muddled. The three talk about actors, on set memories, locations, effects set-ups and general/ chat banter- it’s an ok track, but of the two on offer here I’d say it’s the lesser
The second track is from slashing loving podcast The Hysteria Continues- and as always this is both highly informative and entertaining. The guys start by talking about how and when they first saw the film and their first impressions of the film. Moving onto talk about it's two different VHS covers in the US, and its release on Vipco in the early 2000s on DVD, where the film's scenes got put out of sequence. They discuss the unusual/ uneven pace of the film, talk about various actors- many of whom were either local actors/ and or models. They compare certain scenes to both F13 and Halloween, move on to discuss why there is always a butterball sheriff in the 80’s slasher, discuss similar slasher films of the period, and much more. We get a thirty-two-minute making-of doc- and this is a good in-depth/thorough affair, featuring a host of cast and crew now- giving a good oversight on everything connected with the film. Lastly, we get TV and radio spots, an image gallery, Alternate VHS Opening Titles and Two versions of the screenplay under the original title of Night Screams.
It's certainly great to see Arrow Video releasing this lesser-seen Slasher from the golden age of the genre- and giving it some much love and care with the extras, and the cleaned-up/ though still murky print. If like me you can’t resist cheesy and campy slice ‘n’ dice, with some neat creepy stalking, and some impressive kills/ gore- you’ll be needing to pick up this release of Death Screams.Roger Batty