An oft tried and true method for independent or low-budget filmmakers to conceal their lack of studio funding is to hide behind a creative conceit. This allows directors and their teams to both cover the cracks and ample opportunity to play with storytelling technique, both narratively and technically; typically this means employing shaky cam found footage, but another common strategy is going full meta to the point where the produced story becomes parody rather than nuanced commentary...
...In the case of writer-directors Alexander Churchyard and Mike Holiday’s I Scream on the Beach!, playing at the Horror on Sea Film Festival and adapted from an original story by Max Davenport, it’s the latter: a film so steeped in homage and cloaked in mimicry you can’t quite discern if you’re watching a bad film hidden behind cheap tricks and stolen style or a brilliant meta masterpiece. Perhaps it’s somewhere in between. Either way, it’s one hell of a fun ride.
Quirky young barmaid Emily Tresscott (Hannah Paterson) has maintained for years that her missing father (Rob Shaw) did not run out on Hannah and her mother (Tess Gustard), as the whole village of Mellow Coast maintains, but rather that he was murdered on the beach by a gas-masked assailant and his body taken away somewhere or washed out with the tide. When a string of mysterious slayings start plaguing the small seaside town in the days leading up to Halloween, including some of Emily’s friends, Emily becomes convinced that the current murders are connected to her father’s disappearance, and she sets out to uncover the town’s secrets, get to the bottom of why her father was taken from her, and find out who is lurking behind the gas mask.
I Scream on the Beach! is a twenty-first century sleazy slasher with a dash of gialli and a sprinkle of Troma meant to evoke the heyday of direct-to-video slice-and-dice slashers of the 1980’s. The film is even presented as though it were a VHS tape from the 80’s, complete with trailers for other gimmicky low effort horror fare, tracking marks, unsynced sound, and other various nostalgia-fueled glitches. Think the intro to the latest season of American Horror Story: 1984, only stretched into a feature film. It’s a cute, interesting premise on which to hang a movie, and a clever solution to mask budgetary restraints, though as the film is essentially one long in-joke, the VHS effect can start to wear, particularly during the final third of the movie. Certain moments hammer home the aesthetic to the point where the viewer wonders if the filmmakers didn’t trust their audience to be savvy enough to click with the film, and thus overextend themselves attempting to be deliberately bad.
Those moments aside, however, still leaves I Scream on the Beach! as an excellent popcorn-and-party movie. The cast, including Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman in a cameo role, are game, clearly enjoying themselves, and must have done their research into the retro slashers of yesteryear. Not to mention that their enthusiasm comes through to the viewer with such ease it’s hard not to maintain a steady smile during the film, and there are more than a few beats that earn a guffaw of genuine, warmhearted laughter. The story also stands strong and manages to keep the viewer’s interest piqued until a third act that will knock your socks off in all its Troma-inspired glory.
Though the VHS effect can feel a bit gimmicky at times, and not every joke lands, I Scream on the Beach! is still an amusing, effective film full of silly heart and odd humor perfectly at home in the bygone slashers of which it emulates. There’s a warm, willing cast and enough decent gags to make it worth a watch, and I’m certain it would be a smash hit if watched with like-minded friends at an 80’s horror themed social gathering. So bust out your polyester button-ups, roll those jeans, and give it a chance. It’ll be a scream.
I Scream on the Beach! makes a splash tonight when it premieres at the Horror on Sea Film Festival.
By Craig Ranallo