It Came from the Camcorder: The Screaming

Cheap, irreverent, gory, and gloriously stupid. If there are four descriptors essential to a successful SOV horror flick, those are it. Prolific shitty movie writer/director/producer Jeff Leroy’s 2000 flick, The Screaming, has all of those, in decent proportion. Although, I don’t think it would have hurt matters any to have a bit more gratuitous nudity. But, that’s a personal preference.

The Screaming stars Vinnie Bilancio (who also has a producer and production design credit) as Bob Martin, a Marlboro enthusiast and graduate student in anthropology at an unnamed southern California university (the university was played by CSU, Long Beach). Like many graduate students, Bob is flat broke, and thus has to take the cheapest off-campus housing he can find. In this case, it’s a single room in the back of a house owned by blonde bombshell Crystal (Wendi Winburn).

Crystal is a member of the Church of Crystaltology, a Scientology analogue that in this film’s universe was founded by horror fiction writer R.R. Deepak. Early on, when we’re not watching Bob, viewers are treated to ersatz ad spots and interviews about Crystaltology, and its seminal text, Crystalnetics, similar to what was on basic cable television at the time. Crystaltology has a darker history than its real-world counterpart, however, and that’s saying something.

The crystal folks were chased out of Germany a few years previously after a series of mysterious deaths associated with the new-fangled religion. That was for good reason. Deepak is a demon/vampire of some sort. He and his followers’ bloodsucking ways were frowned upon by local authorities. So, the next logical destination was SoCal, where cultish, hedonistic nonsense barely raises an eyebrow, making for a good cover story.

Crystal is a longtime member of the religion, first hooking up with Deepak many, many centuries ago, and maintaining her youth with a rigorous routine of morning jogs and ritual sacrifice.

Her closest contemporary in the cult is Elizabeth Barris, as Manny, who is also an ancient vampire. This is Barris’s final IMDb credit, but her story does not end here. I won’t go into detail, because mocking someone’s personal struggles is beyond the scope of this site, but I will mention that Ms. Barris has one of the more interesting ballotpedia pages one will ever read.

Whether she meant to or not when Bob took the room, Crystal begins to recruit Bob into being the cult’s next victim. She begins a cleansing ritual with him, convincing him to stop smoking and drinking, and joining her on the morning jogs. For Bob’s part, why The Screaming VHS boxwould he refuse? His cute landlord is showing an interest, which is hard to come by for a thirty-something, destitute grad student who looks as if he hasn’t seen the sun in months.

Eventually Bob wises up to what’s going on with the cult, leading to a finale at the cult’s headquarters (played by the Walter Pyramid on the CSULB campus) that leaves a pile of dead bodies and pools of blood.

There’s the plot. What makes this a worthy SOV horror flick, though?

There’s the minimum requirement, of course. Leroy shot his movie on videotape. He had a budget measured in the thousands, and it shows. But it’s the scattered moments of unapologetic, bad moviemaking throughout that really endear this movie to the viewer.

For instance, it appears that after principal photography had wrapped, there was a need for some reshoots. That’s all well and good. Vinnie was available. But, he had gotten a haircut. Other filmmakers would then fit their actor with a wig, to at least approximate the cut they had before. Not Leroy. He filmed Vinnie as-is, meaning there are multiple times in the movie when Bob’s hair changes length in the same scene, sometimes from shot to shot.

There wasn’t much cash in the effects budget, so viewers get a cheap-looking monster. That wasn’t enough, though. Leroy needed his foam rubber creature to do things, like move around. His solution was to have a second monster made in miniature claymation, which, at no point melds seamlessly with the larger model.

All the other things, like the limited number of locations, the dead reads from cast members, the jokes that fall flat, and the filler, all piles up over the course of the movie’s 83-minute running time into an amalgam of shitty moviemaking. Yet throughout it all, Leroy keeps things from grinding to a halt. Go ahead and make your bad movies, you prospective filmmakers. Make a movie that 99% of the population would shrink from, like a roach after the kitchen light is suddenly flipped on. But, also like Jeff, make sure your movie never slows down for long enough to let the viewer get bored. It was a close-run thing, but Leroy managed to keep me from reaching for the phone, and that says something in this day and age.

The Screaming stinks. I’ve given it more plaudits than it probably deserves. One must remember the kind of movies I’ve been watching for this month, though. It could have been more extreme, but I write that about most of these SOV horror flicks. Freed from the constraints of industry censorship, I’m surprised by how often moviemakers like Leroy choose to toe the line, and make something that would earn an ‘R’ rating.

At least this is a movie that one can follow, and doesn’t make one suffer through endless scenes of improvised banter. I’m looking at you, Sledgehammer.

The Screaming takes over the #324 spot from Stanley. Look at that. 900 words about how much I enjoyed this movie, and I still cast it down into the nether regions of the Index. Such is life.

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