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  Death Screams First, The Funfair
Year: 1982
Director: David Nelson
Stars: Susan Kiger, Martin Tucker, William T. Hicks, Jennifer Chase, Jody Kay, John Kohler, Andria Savio, Curt Rector, Josh Gamble, Hanns Manship, Helene Tryon, Mary Fran Lyman, Monica Boston, Mike Brown, Sharon Alley, Larry Sprinkle, Penny Miller, Bill Ison
Genre: Horror, TrashBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Just outside this smalltown there runs a river, and that is where tonight this young couple have met for a canoodle on top of the male half of the duo's motorcycle. He has picked this spot because he wants to be at the crucial moment with his girlfriend when the train goes by, but as he prepares, he gets his manhood caught in his zipper, and then, even worse, a passing maniac throws some razor wire around their necks and strangles them with it. The killer proceeds to push the motorbike down the embankment and into the water, where the bodies float on the surface as they gently make their way downstream...

Death Screams, also known less imaginatively as House of Death, was what is called a regional horror movie, a phenomenon that is still around today, where budding filmmakers away from Hollywood and slap bang in the states away from California and New York would pool their resources to create a little something for the local drive-ins and grindhouses. Most of these are lost to the mists of time for all but the most dedicated shocker aficionado, but every so often one makes the grade and bursts through into fame, or notoriety: you may, for instance, have heard of Night of the Living Dead or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

It is safe to say this particular item had a snowball's chance in hell of making that sort of name for itself, and therefore has slipped through the cracks, but examples such as this can be a personal discovery for the prospectors of horror, who try to give almost anything vaguely interesting-sounding a try in case there is a gem on offer. That could be a whole scene, or more rarely the entire movie that is worth checking out, and with Death Screams it was the last ten minutes of mayhem that would apply. The trouble was the eighty minutes that took up the rest of your viewing, um, pleasure (?) which may test the patience.

Indeed, there were long stretches where you would be wondering if you were still watching a horror flick, or whether director David Nelson had become possessed with the spirit of the nineteen-fifties sitcom he used to appear in and was having a go at recreating the humour and setting of that. After his initial fame as one of the sons of Ozzie and Harriet (early rock star heartthrob Ricky Nelson was another, and more famous it had to be said) he moved into direction, with decidedly under the radar results - one of his projects later in the eighties was a short sponsored by a fundamentalist Christian ministry that somehow roped in President Ronald Reagan. Such was the career of a former child star trying to branch out into other areas.

Back at his slasher effort, he showed very little interest in killing off his cast until he really had to, preferring to have them play out homespun humour and spend an inordinate amount of time at the fairground. Not to mention giving everyone in town a line to say, which presented as much padding as any reasonable gorehound could tolerate. And yet, once in the last act, the murderer, who has in the meantime killed a victim with an arrow and a plastic bag on a merry-go-round and that's it, steps up his campaign against the overage teenagers, who included Susan Kiger, the rare starlet who used hardcore porn to break into the mainstream via Playboy magazine. Also here was Andria Savio, a one-time wife of Tony Curtis, but mostly regional types trying to break into the industry and making the mistake of appearing in this with that aim in mind. Anyway, all you can say to the horror fan was keep watching, as the final ten minutes went completely bonkers in the cartoonish violence, and if you could work out the killer's motive, consider that a bonus. Listen for the bizarre library music Nelson thought appropriate.

[Available on Arrow. Click here to join the Arrow Player website - there's a free trial available.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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