“It was 1989, horror films were huge, there were four horror magazines, and we thought there was no way this film couldn’t make money.” – Rolfe Kanefsky, director
Well, guess who was wrong. Rolfe certainly couldn’t doubt the fact that by the late 80’s horror films and their numerous sequels were very popular, with horror franchises in their heyday and bringing in fantastic box office. However this one came out at the end of the horror boom and sadly faded away with all the other movie fads that have come and gone.
The plot of this no-budget horror flick is one that has time and time again proven to be successful, as Rolfe was well aware. A group of teenagers, played by college students posing as high schoolers, go on a weekend holiday to one of the boys’ summer house and find out there’s a monster in the woods who wants to eat the boys and mate with the girls.
After the obligatory dream sequence, a car crash sets the plot in motion as the kids later pass the scene of the accident and discover the victim wasn’t found. It’s at this point one of the kids, Mike, is convinced he’s in a horror film. And he’s right. Mike is portrayed by standout Craig Peck, the horror-obsessed geek who can tell all phases of a horror film and the cliché ‘s therein. With the best lines and a solid performance despite the silliness of it all, he stands head and shoulders above his co-stars.
Being the first of its kind, the self-references in the film are kept to a minimum, forcing the rest of the movie-played straight-to be downright boring. The entire concept of Mike watching every horror film in existence is passed over with a throwaway line about Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and no other horror films are mentioned. Such missed opportunities could’ve foretold its box office fate, though bad luck in New York (Superbowl plus a blizzard) and Los Angeles (the ’92 riots) prevented this movie from being successful.
The back of the packaging proclaims: “If you laughed at SCARY MOVIE, then this movie will have you screaming!” While this marketing ploy is half-accurate, the better tagline would be: “If you thought SCREAM was original-check this out!” While self-reference horror was brought to fruition in Wes Craven’s wonderful film, the seeds of which began here.
One moment I’d like to point out is a fantastic segment near the climax of the picture. John Carhart, playing Nick, is stuck in a corner and swings to safety using the boom mike-yes, you read that correctly, the boom mike. This wonderful and original comic moment was almost nixed by the crew, who were totally against it. Probably the most innovative move in the entire movie, this is a prime example of what could’ve been-and should’ve been-done continually to take this film to the next level, that of a cult classic, and not just a cult fave as it stands today.
What some call “Scream ½,” this film is a cute romp of a horror film, the first to self-reference and also the first to only half-realize the potential of such a novel idea. With a few good one-liners and a handful of great moments, this cult film might stay that way, but will now have a great DVD edition for those interested.
VIDEO ^ The Super 16 high-definition transfer was created for this DVD release, originally framed at 1.66:1 and cropped to 1.78:1. Considering the source material, it looks very good. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the print is clean but soft, with grain in select shots and some horrid compression that shows the lack of care given to the video side of the disc. A 360 degree view of the summer home was so bad I was about to grab the Dramamine.
SOUND ^ Presented in tinny 2.0 Dolby Stereo, the film sounds like matrixed mono. Saying it has a limited soundstage is an understatement. With no directionality and sub-par bass, the film succeeds only in producing the loud sharp sounds for the jump scares, clear dialogue and title sequence music that will rumble through your subwoofer.
EXTRAS ^ Image Entertainment knows that extras sell DVDs, and this one doesn’t disappoint. A plethora of extras run rampant on this disc, including some that aren’t even listed on the package!
Feature-Length Audio Commentary with Director, Producer, Cast and Crew ^ This commentary features the director, Rolfe Kanefsky, producer Victor Kanefsky, actors Craig Peck, Mark Collver, and crew members John Kim and Gene Masse. This fun romp of stories and jokes and on-set troubles is a good listen, with non-stop chatter throughout, though with some muffled questions and answers due to poorly miked participants. One of the better commentaries I’ve had the pleasure of listening to.
* One note here: All of the other extras feature director and cast commentary on the second audio track, but this isn’t mentioned anywhere on the disc, or on the packaging. It’s really unfortunate that it isn’t, since the commentary illuminates this mish-mash footage quite well.
Animation Test Footage and Work Print Outtakes (3:29) ^ An interesting look at early animation footage created for the great title sequence and some quick deleted scenes are found here. The footage is culled from very rough material, presented full frame in scratchy, bleeding, spotty video and camcorder-provided production audio. The commentary will tell you just where all this footage fits into the final film.
Pre-Production Video and Video Storyboards (7:00) ^ A week before actual footage began, Rolfe took all of the actors to the house where filming was to take place and shot the entire movie on home video. This is some of that footage. Parts of the video store sequence and second act of the film are presented here while on the lower-right section of your screen the final scene from the film is shown for comparison. Surprisingly, most of the shots match up pretty well, showing what kind of forethought and planning went into the movie. A somewhat boring extra, it’s worth watching with commentary.
Bloopers and Rehearsal (11:00) ^ While not very funny, thankfully the chatty commentary with tongue firmly in cheek help these outtakes rise above the average line-flubbing chuckles.
Screen Tests (Original Cast Auditions) (10:00) ^ Shot on video, the original cast does the profiles, the dialogue readings and the round-table script run-through. The commentary basically explains the process of casting the roles and how great it was to work with the actors, etc. The best part is the ending, featuring a tit-shot from the foreign-language actress in the film.
Production Still Gallery (4:15) ^ A few dozen photos of the production in various phases, as well as on-location shots, while the film’s bouncy, techno soundtrack plays in the background. The insightful director’s commentary on track 2 is recommended to describe what’s on screen.
Theatrical Trailer (2:17) ^ The film’s theatrical trailer is presented in full frame and mono sound. What took me by surprise was, apart from the lame ‘spooky’ voice-over work, this is a pretty damn good trailer! It sets up the premise quickly, includes both horror and comic elements and builds nicely to a conclusion. The director commentary tells how he saw the trailer play out in a packed house for The Hand That Rocks The Cradle and was well received.
Excerpts of an article from the July/August 2001 Issue of Femme Fatale Magazine ^ A short three-screen segment of a longer piece, the very recent article details the similarities between “There Is Nothing Out There” and the “Scream” characters. Only a few pages long but hinting at much more, it’s a quick enlightening read.
Filmographies ^ Filmographies are included for the director, producer, Mark (Craig Peck), and Jim (Mark Collver, now on CBS’s CSI).
OVERALL: ** – 2 Stars ^ DVD Ratings ^ VIDEO: **1/2 – 2.5 stars ^ AUDIO: * – 1 Star ^ EXTRAS: ***1/2 – 3.5 Stars