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Review: Scream (1981)

Writer: Richard Mogg


When I mention this little oddity to friends, they usually snicker and half heartedly ask me “You mean there was a Scream before Scream?”. Well the answer is yes, though it has absolutely nothing to do with prank phone calls and masked killers. Unfortunately however, and much like Wes Craven’s 1996 blockbuster, this Scream is really more of a laugh.

A group of co-workers go mountain climbing and water rafting for the weekend. Along for the ride are two ‘tour guides’ (cue the cowboy hats) who bring our co-workers to a deserted/abandoned Old-West town where they spend the night… and the next night… and the next night. That about sums up the plot, save for the random and totally bizarre murders peppered into the film’s 84 minute runtime. Though it’s never explicitly made clear, there is a strong suggestion that the Old-West town is haunted by some sort of pirate/gunslinger from the late 1800’s. This pirate/gunslinger bit of exposition is largely implied in the film’s opening and closing sequences which show an old painting, some figurines with their heads broken off, and an old-fashioned clock stuck in the midnight position. Does it make any sense? Not really. Of course if you wanted to watch a haunted slasher that DID make sense, then you’re barking up the wrong tree here.

What Scream (also known as The Outing) does have going for it, whether purposefully or not, is its sophisticated sense of comedic timing. If you actually can get through the seemingly-endless scenic and nighttime shots (of which there are many), you may find yourself bouncing on the couch in a laughter fit. One character stares out a window for what seems like hours (the camera pans outside and spends about 3 minutes of screen time fading from one outdoor shot to another) only to finally turn towards the camera and state that he needs a beer. One of the main male characters (played by James Caan look-a-like Pepper Martin, the diner bully from Superman II) screams at a co-worker to “shut-up” because he “won’t let some female tell him what to do,” only to completely fall mute later on when help actually comes, forcing the women to do all of the talking. Midway through the film, and after at least a couple of the crew have been killed off, help arrives in the form of two sport-mountain bikers (covered head to toe in product placement). Naturally, one would think that our characters would yell, scream, at least jump out in front of these bikers to get them to stop, but instead everyone just stands limp and watches the bikers ride on by. And when the bikers finally turn around and make their way back, they stop for a momentary game of ‘chicken’ before they ride almost completely on top of the idly standing vacationers who (you guessed it) continue to stand blindly in front of the racing cycles.

So who needs murders with all this insanity you’re wondering? Well this wouldn’t be much of a slasher (not that it is) without some bloodshed so we are treated to at least one mildly effective killing. In victimizing the old and the annoying (a running theme throughout Scream), one of the worst of these two categories gets 1) his head smashed straight into a wooden wall, 2) his body thrown from a second story ledge down to the first floor’s floorboards, and 3) his head completely lopped off by a large axe. All of it bloodless, mind you. And you never get a glimpse at the killer, though it is (again) suggested that he is shot dead in the finale. All of the other deaths throughout the film are even less dramatic, as they don’t even show the victim’s body receiving the deadly blows. Another character (looking just like Scatman Crothers) arrives during the second night on horseback, though disappears after smoking a pipe and mumbling a ghostly tale to our supposedly helpless characters. He returns again on the third night, but it’s all shown so randomly, you never really get a sense as to who he is or what he’s doing (or what he was smoking).

Does any of it make a lick of sense? Not at all, but it had me roaring on the floor with all the nonsense going on. Sure it fails as a slasher but I’d still give it a passing grade for trying. Having never been released on DVD, the film is a little hard to come by now a days, though I’m really not sure if anybody would be interested in seeking this one out. Could you stand the insanity?



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