Night Screams (1987) Review
Night Screams contains what might just be the most "80s" opening of all time as we see a stereotypical eighties couple (the male sports a mustache and a mullet; the female has huge hair) sitting on a sofa while watching the 1981 "classic" Graduation Day (the cool part is that we actually get to see clips from that movie, yet the incredible pole vault and football death scenes are sorely missed). The husband goes outside to grill some burgers and we get a killer POV shot of someone getting a knife out of a drawer. The woman turns around, sees the unknown assailant, let's out that token line ("Oh, it's you!"), and get stabbed in the back. Her husband comes back inside and meets a similar fate. After that double-homicide, the killer decides it would be appropriate to head over to their piano and bang out a round of "Chopsticks." Cue opening credits and uber-cheesy synthesizer!
"The patient has shown signs of violent behavior in the past, but these have been brought under control. With the proper medication, the patient can function normally and productively in society. I hereby order the patient released," says a doctor at a mental institution who's about to regret ever uttering those words. Cut to the big high school football game where David (Joe Manno) has just scored the winning touchdown as well as a four-year athletics scholarship to Oklahoma University. As a reward, his parents lend him their house for the weekend, but with one rule: "No wild-ass parties!" Psh! As if! Yes, David does indeed throw a party but with only a few friends. The girls are constantly throwing themselves at him, but he's already going steady with the new girl in town, a ginger named Joni (Megan Wyss). Well, as you would imagine, someone begins bumping off the partygoers one by one in gruesome ways. Could it be the escaped convicts hiding out in the basement? Or is it David, who needs to take a special medication or else he completely flips his shit? Or could it be a third party?
Night Screams is one of those movies that gets a lot of hate, yet I can't really see why. Yes, it is a bad movie in most respects, but so is nearly every other slasher movie from the late eighties! This is an unabashed body count movie in every way, and in those regards, it is a complete success. There's a kill count of over twenty, and most of them aren't bullshit offscreen deaths. Yes, the gore quotient in this movie is above average. It doesn't quite reach the heights set by something like The Mutilator, but there's still enough karo syrup/red dye mix splashed around to keep the gorehounds satisfied. The kills are all varying and some are inventive as well, and some of the best include a hot tub electrocution, an axe to the head, impalement with fire poker, and, my personal favorite, one poor sap getting his face shoved on a hamburger he's grilling and then gets neck surgery via fork! The acting ranges from horrible to pretty-good-all-things-considered, with the worst actor probably the mullet/mustache man from the opening. Most of the female characters are complete bitches, while most of the male cast is pretty likable (the comic-relief fat guy actually apologizes to one girl whom he offended with one of his jokes).
Now, don't get me wrong and think that this is the long-lost slasher classic that's going to dethrone Halloween in the slasher sweepstakes. The film does have a lot of small flaws that I will proceed to nitpick at. For one thing, I really liked the idea of two convicts hiding out in the basement. The problem is that they really don't do anything besides serve as the film's red herrings. Maybe if they had come out of hiding near the end and then ended up getting stalked by the killer as well as the teens, that would have been great. Another thing is that the script is really, really weak. While they did make some likable characters, there's no interesting dialogue or even attempts at that, aside from a subplot where it turns out David does not want to go to O.U. that goes absolutely nowhere.
The film has a lot of cheesy moments, but that's not a bad thing in the slightest. We get a live band (their music sucked, though; it wasn't even good in a cheesy way), a so-horrible-it's amazing floor show by the "nationally famous" Sweetheart Dancers, the aforementioned inclusion of clips from Graduation Day, the killer using "Chopsticks" as their post-killing song of choice, a love scene between two characters intercut with clips from a porno, the classic synthesizer opening credits theme, the comic-relief fat guy's love of "expressionist" dancing (which looks more like he's having some sort of seizure), and, of course, the breathtaking fashions. And then there's the ludicrous twist ending, and since it's near impossible to discuss Night Screams without delving into the ending, here it is. So if you've already seen the film or have already decided that it's definitely not for you, click below:
So in the end, it turns out the maniacal killer is...Joni, David's ginger girlfriend! She then gets on top of David (who got the shit beaten out of him by one of the convicts) and attempts to stab him. A cop comes in, tells David to drop the knife, and fires his gun. We then see David's parents apologizing to Joni for David's outburst and "all she's been through." Okay; here's my beef. First of all, how could this little 2'6" girl with noodles for arms murder over fifteen people? And even though David was bruised and bleeding, how was there even a struggle? David could have just taken the knife away no problem, or rolled her into the fire right next to them (they were by a fireplace). And second, how could the cop who came in not have seen that David was the one bleeding profusely, Joni was the one on top, and Joni was the one holding the knife in David's direction? And given that we're supposed to assume David has been shot, shouldn't his parents be broken up about this?
However, I do like some things about the ending. For one, I enjoy the role reversal of a muscular male being attacked by the female killer, and I at least admire the filmmakers' attempts at creating a downbeat ending. But if you want to see a downbeat ending done to perfection, just watch The Dorm that Dripped Blood again. Anyway, this ending leads me to the conclusion that the moral of Night Screams is that gingers are, indeed, out to get us.
I went into Night Screams expecting exactly what I got: a fun slasher with its head up its ass and its heart in exactly the right place. Night Screams has almost everything I'd want in a slice 'n' dice picture, but falls just short of greatness. There are some likable characters, pretty good acting, a good amount of grue, a high body count, explosions, synthesizers, a brisk pace, a live band, Sweetheart Dancers, mullets, an obvious killer (you'll guess who it is about thirty minutes in; guaranteed), "Chopsticks," a recap of some of the murders as well as outtakes during the end credits, poetry-spouting criminals, a comic-relief fat guy, bitchy girls, stupid characters, and more all in one jam-packed thrill ride of eighties excellence. A stupid twist ending and brief moments of tedium bring it down but aren't devastating to the film. Night Screams has been released on DVD by Image Entertainment, yet it is unfortunately a bare-bones release. I own the Walrus Pictures VHS and I'm perfectly fine with it. However, if you want the pitch-perfect 80's experience of Night Screams, try and find the Prism Entertainemnt VHS of the film (pictured above). It has better cover art and you get to see the classic Prism logo at the beginning that could have only belonged to that fantastic time period. But hen again, that's just me. I've seen a lot of hardcore slasher fans call this movie average at best, so be forewarned before making any pricey purchases, because if you come whining to me, your cries will fall on dead ears!
The Verdict: Night Screams is a fun romp through the annals of what made 1987 such a great year, and it keeps it up until a disappointing end. Cheesy, humble, and an altogether great viewing experience, especially on VHS. Well done, Kansas.
Score: 8/10. Almost a classic, but not quite. Buy it whenever you come across it.
Don't trust my judgment? Here's four other opinions:
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