Thursday, July 15, 2010

Screamplay (1985)

Screamplay has got to be one of the most unique films I’ve ever seen. It is filmed like a washed-out, grainy black and white movie from the silent era mixed with sparse, geometric set design of German Expressionism and all pulled together by a murder mystery. I’m surprised more people don’t know about this film because it’s a very creative and mesmerizing effort from filmmaker (he co-wrote, directed, edited, did the visual effects, etc. for the whole film) and actor (he also plays the lead!) Rufus Butler Seder.

It has been released by Troma, the only studio that would pick up the film (originally, New Line expressed interest but pulled out when the film received a bad review from the Boston Film Festival). However, it is definitely not a “typical” Troma blood and boobs B-movie and I don’t think it was fairly marketed back during its release. So since then, the film has pretty much languished in obscurity…

I happened to chance upon it while browsing through Netflix and decided to give it a shot. The premise sounded pretty interesting:

“Aspiring screenwriter Edgar Allen (Rufus B. Seder) works as a janitor for room and board at the Welcome Apartments, a run-down building filled with freaky characters and bizarre plot twists that wriggle their way into Edgar’s horror movie script. Reality blurs with Edgar’s vivid imagination, driving him into a state of creative madness.”

So, I decided to give the film a whirl and had no idea how intriguing it would turn out to be…however, within the first few moments of seeing the simple sets and stark black and white film I was hooked. Screamplay has its faults and isn’t the best film out there, but its artistic merit more than makes up for its few problems.

Let me just say that I love the story (ok, that’s not a problem, but give me a minute…), written by Ed Greenberg and Seder! Basically, the writer’s creations on the page on coming to life and all the murders look like he perpetrated them. Great premise, right? Right. However, the interactions between characters feel a bit stilted and the dialogue doesn’t really grab you, causing the pace to drag at times. Even Seder admitted his film was “kinda boring” and that “When it gets to the point where the actors are acting, just sitting talking in a room, the scene pretty much goes dead” (from an excellent Movieline article on the film).

However, the film does have some very memorable lines (“You f*cked Karloff?!”), kooky, well-written characters and a storyline that speaks to every struggling creative talent in Hollyweird. In fact, anyone who has ever had any experience with the fickle entertainment industry can appreciate the many clever jabs the film makes at the expense of “the industry”.

The film’s biggest draw besides its fun storyline is its aesthetic. Filmed in washed-out black and white, with the appropriate scratches added to make it look even more vintage, the film reminded me of silent classics like Nosferatu or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. In fact, the sparse, simple and inexpensive (they used Plexiglas to mimic a pool) sets, with their sharp corners and minimalist decoration, tended to echo German Expressionist films like Caligari. In short, the visuals of the film were entirely mesmerizing and Seder did an astounding job with the art direction (yup, another task he took on!).

Further cementing the comparison to silent films were the melodramatic performances from the oddball characters that included a sleazy landlord (played by underground film legend George Kuchar), an aging but lustful actress, a starlet, a prophetic ex-rock star and a couple of noir-like gumshoes tracking down the killer. I especially liked Seder’s performance of the manic screenwriter, who looks like he would fit perfectly with any of the silent film stars with his over-exaggerated facial expressions!

Though Screamplay won’t be a film everyone will enjoy, those that appreciate a good surrealist slasher with silent film-like aesthetics will no doubt fall in love with the underrated and little-know Screamplay. Go check it out!

Available on Amazon!

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