Scream for Help (1984)

Viewed June 6th


When a teenage girl tries to convince others that her stepfather is out to kill her mother, the stepfather gets very angry.  

I wouldn't argue with anyone who views Scream for Help as bottom-of-the-barrel 1980s horror schlock, but, for those open to it, the film could also be seen as a paradigmatic work of cinematic postmodernism. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, Death Wish director Michael Winner approaches each scene as an opportunity to push the content beyond the preposterous to a sort of parodic surrealism, or pastiche. More than it functions as a plausible narrative or set of character interactions, the film is a meta-analysis, acting as a catalog of cinematic effects & tropes of the slasher-suspense genre. Even the title Scream for Help feels like a poeticized reduction meant to suggest the genre in a nutshell. In this sense, the film could be considered alongside something like Airplane! which breaks down the disaster-action genre to a set of tropes and pushes them to the point that it creates a new form of comedy. Scream for Help (and Airplane!, for that matter) were produced at a moment in cultural history when almost every art form was experimenting with similar processes, forgoing sincerity for an ironic critical evaluation of its given tradition. Now, that's not to say Scream for Help is good postmodernism. The Film Stills series of Cindy Sherman was postmodern because it reframed tropes of classic film, creating a catalog of female "types" found in classic Hollywood and European film & publicity stills. But that's not all there was to Sherman's project; on some other level, her photography still conveys a certain emotional and moral depth. That depth just manifests in a different way than it would have in a previous era. Scream for Help, meanwhile, only remains on the surface. It would require a film like David Lynch's Blue Velvet, produced two years later, to operate on the level of postmodern pastiche of the suspense genre and emotionally/morally resonant art.