In the 1970s, Britain had a grand tradition of anthology horror films, but, with the exception of the sublime 'All through the house' from TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) (where Joan Collins is menaced by a killer Santa) the slasher movie was paid short shrift. However, SCREAMTIME readdresses the balance somewhat, with at least two of the stories having more than a nod the slashers of the early 80s.
In the grand tradition of the anthology, SCREAMTIME has a wrap around story. In a treat for fans of big box, clamshell horrors of yore a pair of New York hoodlums steal three terror pix from a pre-Disneyfied Times Square video store (it's right next to a porno theatre with John Holmes gurning out of a poster besides a bevy of busty ladies). The two take their bounty to their own big breasted friend (who's having a shower, natch), and they settle down for a night of chills and thrills ...
The first story has a brow beaten puppeteer Mr Grimshaw (Robin Bailey), whose seaside Punch and Judy show is loosing money hand over fist (for our American readers, Punch and Judy are puppets who reenact violent fun for children, with Punch bashing everyone over the head with a plank). His wife is threatening to leave him and take her delinquent son with her for a new life in Canada. Grimshaw is even more despondent when his stepson and his friends burn down his puppet theatre. Soon someone is stalking the cast with a ruddy great stick, braining them and screeching, “That's the way to do it!”.
Punch and Judy puppets are pretty spooky, and this episode makes the best of their grotesquely exaggerated features. There's also a well staged chase after the son's girlfriend around an industrial yard, that could have been lifted from any slasher of the age. However, it's the next installment which will be of interest to most fans of the subgenre.
A young couple move into a large suburban house. However, their excitement is soon tempered when Sue (Yvonne Nicholson - looking alarmingly like serial killer Rose West, with her pudding bowl hair do and glasses with lens the size of dinner plates) starts to suspect that not all is right with their new home. At first her husband, Tony (Ian Saynor), is sympathetic to her concerns. But when she starts seeing visions of a family being butchered by a knife wielding maniac in their house he begins to worry for her sanity. His concerns deepen when as a psychic Sue brings in tells her that there is no bad history to the place, and suggests to Tony that she should see a psychiatrist. However, Sue's visions prove to be more dangerous to them than they could ever have realised.
Topped off with a clever twist, this is undoubtedly the best segment in SCREAMTIME. Most definitely influenced by American slasher cinema, there's some surprising gore including an effective slit throat and a child killing.
SCREAMTIME closes with the least slasherific of the lot, but it's worth a watch to see the 'star' of 80s pop band Dollar – David Van Day – plays a bad boy motorcyclist who falls foul of a psychotic garden gnome and an Elizabethan ghost who rips his clothes off with her telekinetic powers!
Sadly, British cinema didn't really cash in on the slasher movie boom, which is a shame – especially as Pete Walkers' 70s proto-slashers laid much of the groundwork for what was to come. The only other one from this period that springs to mind is Michael J. Murphy's THE LAST NIGHT (also 1983), where a group of thespians in a theatre are killed off one-by-one by a pair of escaped loons.
The wrap around story in SCREAMTIME ends badly for the characters (as they always do), with one of them suffering a RING-esque shock many years before that Japanese shocker made it to the screens. Of course, it serves them right for saying dialogue such as, “They're British movies – I can tell by the way they talk!”.
Finally, an interesting fact: Michael Armstrong, who co-wrote and co-directed this was the man behind the infamous witch torture sickie MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970).
BODYCOUNT 14 female:2 / male:121) Male beaten to death with plank