Screamtime is one of the forgotten horror anthology films from the 1980s. Supposedly the three main horror tales were originally filmed as individual episodes of a British tv series. Depending on which source you use either the series was cancelled (or never picked up) OR the episodes were deemed to be of too poor a quality.
The trio of horror stories were then edited into movie format for theatrical release with a wraparound story set in New York City. The oddity of the hard-assed New Yorkers watching three veddy, veddy British horror tales is part of the fun of this lame but bearable film. VHS it ain’t. Hell, it’s not even Beta.
First up in the wraparound footage a pair of unlikable New York dudes steal three VHS movies from a video rental outlet and this by itself is good for some laughs since those things are mostly a thing of the past. For added laughs the irate video shop owner is listed in the credits as Kevin Smith but can’t be THAT Kevin Smith because this guy was old and grey-haired in this 80s product.
The duo go to the home of one of their girlfriends. This woman is played by Marie Scinto and she does some nudity in the film. The three New Yorkers watch each of the upcoming British shorts as if they are the VHS tapes stolen from the store. We revisit the trio in between each installment.
The first British short is titled That’s the Way to Do It and features an elderly Punch and Judy puppeteer whose wife and teen stepson are fed up with the life provided by this less-than-dynamic career of his. The wife nags him to take a full-time job in another city or she’ll leave him. The stepson is a little prick who enjoys needling the old man about what a loser he is.
The dementedly spiteful stepson even goes so far as to burn his stepfather’s puppet booth, singing the puppets too. Where this is all headed is very obvious since similar stories have been done in horror shorts and features for decades. The only real question is: Are the puppets animated supernaturally when they start killing off their “master’s” tormentors or is he just plain nuts and is using them as props when he kills?
Up next – after a brief visit with our New Yorkers – is Dreamhouse, which is probably the best story in the bunch. A new husband and wife are living in a home that was given to them as a gift by wealthy parents. The wife begins seeing graphic visions of bloody murders being committed in the home and starts losing her mind. Since this short is competently staged and has a good payoff I’ll refrain from spoiling the ending.
Back to our New Yorkers, where by this point the sexy Marie has lured her boyfriend’s pal into bed with her, while the clueless boyfriend simply watches the final “movie” he stole.
This closing film short was originally titled Do You Believe in Fairies? but goes by Garden of Blood on some copies. An obnoxious teenage dirtbike racer gets a side-job doing garden work for a pair of incredibly old women who live in a plush house. The ladies seem senile because they treat their dozens of lawn gnomes like they’re human beings and insist that fairies live in the house.
Those fairies supposedly killed off the lovers of a horny female ancestor of the two old women and enslaved their souls. The bodies were buried in the back yard … by the lawn gnomes the women claim. The nutty old ladies are wealthy but don’t believe in banks so they stash all their cash and jewelry in a chest in their bedroom.
Everyone can see where this is going so I won’t be spoiling anything by confirming the obvious. The dirt bike racer, his brother and a friend of theirs break into the old women’s house late at night to steal the valuables. The lawn gnomes come to life and attack them alongside the fairies.
When the lone member of the trio to survive the attack succeeds in leaving the house he is finished off by the reanimated corpses of the female ancestor’s lovers, all wrapped in winding sheets. NOTE: Some reviews of this movie mistakenly claim it’s the lawn gnomes who kill him but they’re not paying attention. They’re clearly full-grown bodies who emerge from the dirt so they have to be the aforementioned buried lovers of the ancestral slut.
SPOILER: The wraparound story now comes to a close with the New Yorkers getting bumped off by figures from the horror installments. The boyfriend in the living room gets killed by one of the zombified lovers, who emerges from the tv screen, while Marie and her boyfriend’s horny pal get beaten to death by the puppet Punch while basking in the afterglow.
Screamtime is good for some laughs, but is not really a bad movie classic. Since the movie is so comparatively mild for horror its best use might come from watching it with friends or loved ones who are squeamish about horror films and won’t watch the harder stuff.
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