Death Screams is the latest old-school horror movie to get a new Blu-ray release from Arrow Video, but don’t feel too bad if you’ve never heard of this little known 80’s schlock horror.
Set in a small town in the US, the local population are celebrating the end of the summer, with a group of teenage protagonists preparing to head off to college and ending their summer with a bang by attending the local carnival. Whilst at the carnival these very horny teens come up with a plan to head up to the river come nightfall, to drink, smoke weed, and generally have a fun time. But little do they know that the river was the location for the brutal murder of two other teens, and that their killer has set his sights on them.
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The plot for Death Screams is generic at best, and when you learn in the special features for the film that it was written in just a single week it will come as no surprise. The film follows many of the 80’s slasher tropes, and seems to be a paint by numbers approach to film-making. You could put together a bingo card for 80’s horror cliches and pretty much all of them would get ticked off watching this movie.
The characters are given very little time on screen, and other than one or two people who actually get some scenes to build up their characters before the killing starts, most of them seem to be bland caricatures of teen slasher movie stereotypes. There’s the shy one, the jokey one, the slutty one (though most everyone in the film comes across as very horny so that doesn’t mean much), the sporty one, and the disabled one. Okay, that last one isn’t exactly a big stereotype for horror films, but this film does include a mentally disabled teen, although only as something of a plot device.
As for the killer and their motivations, it’s all a bit nebulous really. I actually had to rewind the end and watch it through again to understand who the killer was, and even after going back to look, their reasoning why wasn’t exactly clear. It’s not until you watch the extras that you discover their actual motivations, and this is kind of crappy writing really.
Whilst the writing is pretty uninspired,the killings at least try to be a bit creative, with some very dodgy effects work coming into play to show decapitated teens and people getting limbs cut off. You can tell that the filmmakers were trying their best with what is clearly a very limited budget, and the low quality effects actually help the film in some regards. It adds to the low budget, friends getting together to make a film over a week feel of the film, and whilst you won’t be scared or grossed out by any of the kills you might find yourself having a laugh or two.
Despite the film itself being something of a let down the disc is still pretty well put together. In addition to the newly improved film there’s a decent half hour ‘making of’ documentary that gets some of the cast and crew together to talk about the film, as well as a couple of audio commentaries. These commentaries were actually the more enjoyable way to watch Death Screams.
One of the commentaries features producer Charles Ison, special effects artist Worth Keeter, and filmmaker Phil Smoot; the three of them go into the film in surprising detail, giving titbits of information about the people in front of and behind the camera. The second commentary features the hosts of The Hysteria Continues podcast, who bring their love of the genre and this film to the table; they offer insight into the film, as well as other horror of the time, and really show the love they have for these types of movies.
Overall, Death Screams is not a film that will be on many people’s list of great movies, and I’m sure even those who enjoy it will admit it’s pretty flawed. However, there’s a lot of fun to be found on this new release, mainly in the extras over the actual film itself. If this film is one of your guilty pleasures then this is an absolute must have for you, but if not you might find some aspects a little disappointing.
Death Screams is out now on Limited Edition Blu-ray from Arrow Video.