By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Screenwriter alienates his family.
Steven (Stephen Young) is a successful screenwriter of horror movies who’s becoming tired of churning out the same old formulaic schlock. He wants his next screenplay to transcend the genre by delving more deeply into the psychological realm, or as he puts it ‘the ultimate horror’, but his producer Burt (Marvin Goldhar) is more interested in what sells and doesn’t want Steven to deviate from what has already proven to be popular. Steven then takes his frustrations out on his family by ignoring their needs and becoming more indulgent to his own, which eventually leads to tragedy.
I applaud any movie that wants to tweak the horror formula and on that level this movie succeeds and is genuinely fascinating. Too many horror films act like there has to be a madman with an ax, or some ghost or vampire to make it frightening when really some of the darker aspects of life run far deeper and although this one isn’t a complete success it still ends up making a few keen observations along the way.
What I didn’t like is the way it overstates the importance of a screenwriter, which just doesn’t ring completely true. I admit a good script is always a vital element, but the movie world is still a director’s/producer’s medium and if the scriptwriter gets a smug attitude like he does here then he’d be quickly dropped as there are no shortage of other writers around. With the exception of Charlie Kaufman most films do not hinge on the marketability of the screenwriter’s name to sell it, a big name director or star sure, but never the writer, so the fact that the movie here plays like the main character’s presence is instrumental to getting the movie made seemed to me quite dubious and only when it’s examining Steven’s frustrations with the business and his feelings that his talents are being stifled does it then become on-target.
However, the more it goes on the less like a horror film it seems. One could almost categorize this as simply being a drama looking at the personal pressures of the movie world, the challenges of being a working screenwriter and trying to attain the work/life balance, which in that area it’s insightful. The theme though is too existential and ultimately plays like an experimental film that lacks any scares.
That’s not to say there aren’t some good moments that the average horror fan could still enjoy. The scene where a woman drowns inside a tub of blood is good as is the twisted sequence where a grandmother gets set on fire by her own grandkids. The segment dealing with a group of old nuns who tie a man up, cut out his heart and then pass it around while taking turns biting into it is memorable too, but the climactic finish where all the writer’s dark creations come to life to attack him gets disappointingly underplayed, which ultimately hurts the film.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: February 12, 1984 (Filmed in 1979)
Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes
Director: Mario Azzopardi
Studio: Pan-Canadian Film Distributors