Like many a horror fan whose genre life was crafted in the 1980s, I have an automatic affection for the anthology. Hence, when my pal and Fozzie Bare (he of the fine Walking Dead/True Blood/Other Stuff podcast Fozzie & Tina) recommended one that I’d NEVER HEARD OF streaming on Netflix Instant, I was there before you could say ‘killer doll segment.’
And then, Christmas repeated itself in January when I learned that not only does Screamtime include a violent puppet chapter, it ALSO boasts a KILLER GARDEN GNOME STORY.
Yes, I played the lotto that day.
Quick Plot: Like most anthologies, we begin with a wraparound. Unlike most anthologies, this one is superior to almost everything that’s ever happened in the world as we know it.
A pair of New Yawkahs slips into a video store. Despite the VERY tempting poster for The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, the fellas instead swipe a trio of VHS tapes, hop on the R train, and barge into one of their gal pal’s apartment’s because “we just wanna watch some mooovies!”
So they do.
The first segment follows a British puppeteer with an unsupportive wife and delinquent stepson. As you can probably guess, his Punch doll takes matters into his own tiny wooden hands with a giant wooden paddle. It’s both adorable and slightly creepy, especially since Punch makes some strange chomping giggle noises as he beats his enemies to death.
Story 2 is surprisingly eerie, as a young married couple get torn apart by the wife’s strange visions of a bloody massacre. To say more begins to spoil the twist (a typical trope of any anthology segment), but the segment has some decently staged jump scares, as well as some kickass oversized glasses and a wonderfully mod Twister-like comforter that kept me distracted any time our characters were under the covers.
The final tale is about a down on his luck young man who takes a gardening job with a pair of wealthy but kooky old ladies. Just as the story begins to drag, The Greatest Thing Ever takes place: our villainous thief of a main character gets attacked by a little person dressed like a garden gnome.
At this point, I obviously did what any rightminded movie-lover would do: paused Screamtime to rate it 5 stars on Netflix, and then resumed to watch the conclusion of the brilliantly out of place wraparound. I was not disappointed.
Screamtime is surprisingly mysterious when it comes to research. The film is credited to director “Al Beresford,” though IMDB lists its makers as Stanley A. Long and Michael Mark of the Devil Armstrong. I don’t know who handled which story, but there’s clearly a divide between the fairly professional feeling segments (all British) and the wonderfully hilarious New Yawk framing device. It’s possible that the segments were abbreviated full-length films or aborted television pilots, and it’s probable that the wraparound was smacked on the finished project during someone’s lunch break. The result is uneven (particularly following the well-executed second story) but overall, more enjoyable than a whole lot of straight to video purgatory genre films made during the ‘80s.
I don’t JUST say that because stuff like this happens:
Okay, *maybe* that has SOMETHING to do with my possibly unreasonable love for this film, but what can a doll-fearing, anthology loving, shortie-embracing blogger say?
I do mean it when I say that the second story is GENUINELY a good little horror story
It ultimately doesn’t matter because it has GARDEN GNOMES COMING TO LIFE IN THE FORM OF AN ANGRY LITTLE PERSON IN A POINTY HAT, but for some time, the third story drags
British bystanders are the least helpful
You can tell a movie is British by the way they talk (or tawk)
Nervous breakdowns are very sad
Random Burst of Meta Commentary
A radio program playing during one of the stories makes a passing reference to Mary Whitehouse, that uninformed beacon of misplaced good intentions who foolishly crusaded against the Video Nasties of the 1980s
I’m not quite sure I’d never heard of Screamtime, but darnit am I glad I did now! The film is currently streaming on Instant Watch, and at just 90 minutes long, it’s a pretty fun way to buzz through an evening. Especially when you consider the tragic rarity of garden gnome horror movies.