Scream At The Devil

There’s a certain rollercoaster that can come as a hazard of the socially connected world.

“Oh, hey, Shari Shattuck’s on Twitter! Loved her in Body Chemistry 3! I’ll follow her.”
“Well, she’s been retired for a while, wonder if she’s been raising kids or stage act—”
“Oh, she followed me back! How nice!”
“Look at this: She’s got a new movie coming out called Scream at the Devil. Groovy.”
“Wow, that trailer—that’s a surprisingly cool trailer. I’ll tweet that.”
“She RTed my tweet! Neat.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing this.”
“Crap. What if I don’t like it?”
“Remember Sturgeon’s Law. And for horror movies, it’s more like 95%.”
“Uh oh. Written, produced and directed by her husband.”
“Who’s only done two other movies I’ve never heard of.”

Thus ends Act I of “A Nice Guy Goes To The Movies”.

Act II Spoiler: It’s pretty good.

*sigh of relief*

Actually, there are parts that are great, but more on that in a bit.

Scream at the Devil is the story of a woman (Shattuck) trying to repair her marriage after a severe breakup/mental breakdown, as she and her husband move into an isolated home (that looks like it might be in the Montrose area) far, far away from working cell phones and expensive locations and extras.

What follows is a sort of Rosemary’s Baby meets Repulsion, as Mirium, our heroine, starts to go-crazy-or-does-she? imagining demonic presences while she refuses her medicine and rages at her husband.`

A movie like this rests on a few things. First, and most obviously, the acting. Happily, Shattuck is more than up to the task. She is, by turns, vulnerable, agonized, bitchy, furious, haunted, grieving, determined, and just downright crazy.

Second, less obviously, is style. When you think about it, the plot here (as in Repulsion or Black Swan) is “woman goes crazy”. Not a lot to hang your hat on. But Joe Stachura (Mr. Shattuck, if you will) sells it, and sells it with full conviction, using a full raft of camera angles, cuts and moves. There are a couple of great dutch angles in here, for example, sincerely and effectively done which give a nice unsettled air to things.

I’m assuming this was very low budget, but the cinematography and overall energy does yeoman’s work in hiding that. In fact, if there’s a fault here, it’s that the director oversells certain things, leaving me to think at times, “Something sinister is going down…but I have no idea what!”

So, you have these great elements, what keeps this movie from being great? Well, what keeps most movies from being great?

Suspense, of course. Or rather, lack thereof.

In the case of horror movies, the most common culprit (I believe) is the desire for the “shocking twist”. The temptation is to straddle the fence on what’s going on (real horror, or a Scooby Doo tearaway mask) so that you can surprise people at the end.

Not to continually trash Something Wicked, but it’s a near perfect example of trying to create tension by presenting three simultaneous “plausible” explanations for the story, lying to the audience, all in an attempt to create a surprise ending.

There’s an interesting side-effect to the crazy/possessed dichotomy here: Shattuck is convincing enough as crazy, you end up having a sympathy for her (and her husband, played by Eric Etebari) that’s more appropriate for a more serious film. But the movie whipsaws between this and literal presentations of demonic presences, which means:

1) She’s either crazy beyond hope.
2) She’s possessed beyond hope.

But the audience has to have hope for there to be suspense.

This might be one place where being low-budget tripped things up: A rather odd couple in the form of Tony Todd and Kiko Ellsworth show up very near the end, as a couple of police detectives. These scenes are rather stilted, except for the chemistry between Shattuck and Todd (whom we’ve occasionally seen misused, as in the Final Destination series and The Graves).

But it suggested a potential avenue for hope, if there had a been a second storyline involving them trying to unravel the crazy-or-possessed mystery. Instead, they, too, end up as swept up in the events as Mirium.

The odd assortment of creepy neighbors and service people (again reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby) was also weird and stilted, but it’s supposed to be, and is rather effective in setting the tone here.

But the Boy pronounced it “solid” and solid it was, and we would definitely queue up to see more from this husband-and-wife team.

Oh, one thing, though: When the movie’s over, just roll the credits, okay? If you feel you must, you can put a “The End” or a “Fin” in, though, note you’re making a commentary. Never, ever put an ambiguous ending title in: Not “The End?”, not “The End…or is it?”, and for Heaven’s sake, not “The Beginning”.

We all saw the movie. If there’s more to the story potentially (and there’s always potentially more), we all know it. Spelling it out is just plain hokey.

Anyway, check it out: Overall, it’s lots of fun.

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