Thursday, December 16, 2010

'Screaming Dead': When Misty Mundae
started keeping her clothes on

Screaming Dead (2003)
Starring: Rob Monkiewicz, Rachael Robbins, Joseph Farrell, Misty Mundae, and Heidi Kristoffer
Director: Brett Piper
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A sadistic photographer (Farrell) isolates a trio of young models in a house and proceeds to subject them to abuse and psychological torture. His evil manages to awaken the ghost of the madman who built the house, who then picks up where he left off and sets about torturing the women to death slowly.

Although that summary may make "Screaming Dead" sound like yet another piece of offal floating in the stream of torture porn movies--and with Misty Mundae starring, one might think the film to be literal torture porn--but it's more of a " sexy girls in a haunted house" movie in the mode of the cheap and sleazy European horror films from the 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately, like the worst of those, it spends too long on the wind-up, not getting interesting until the movie is half over, and not getting to the reason most of us would be watching this film: the haunted house stuff. (The rest are going to be even more disappointed; the nudity quotient in the film is very, very low for a Misty Mundae movie and the lesbian nookie is even lower. One of the films better moments even makes playful fun of the lesbian softcore scenes that are a staple of the horror-themed sex comedies that Mundae and the producers behind "Screaming Dead" initially made their reputation on.)

The greatest flaw of the film is the unbelievable nature of its lead villain, the abusive photographer played by Joseph Farrell. A misogynistic, sexual sadist like this character might have been believable in a film made and/or set 40-50 years ago, but no matter how supposedly famous and well-respected he is as an artist, he would have been sued into the poor house or sent to prison long ago. Unless he paid his regular employees many hundreds of thousands of dollars in hush money--and with the repeated insistence that his models were working for free that seems unlikely--and his models even more, someone would have put a stop to his real-life "torture porn" long before the film started. No one could get away with abusing a model in this day and age of scandal-hungry, ever-present tabloid media the way he does in the film's opening scene, where a busty young lady is strapped to a table as a spike descends to impale her. Roman Polanski's celebrity and time lets him obscure the fact that he's a pedophile rapist, but if he had behaved that way in 2003, especially if he had beaten the girl instead of "just" drugging her, he'd be as reviled as Michael Jackson. (Of course, if he disposes of the models in a permanent way when he's done, the problem is lessened, but there is no indication that he is an out-and-out murderer, just a sadistic sociopath.)

The film's hero, the real estate company employee played by Rob Monkiewicz, also comes with his own unbelievable qualities to make the plot work. A rough-around-the-edges tough-guy with a chivalrous attitude, he is present at the photo-shoot by order of his employer to make sure the location the photographer has rented isn't damaged, and that the photographer isn't doing things that will expose the real estate company to liability. Within fairly short order, he witnesses several acts on the part of the photographer that his failure to report the photographer to the authorities exposes no only himself but his employers to lawsuits of mind-boggling size, especially when he points out to anyone who will listen how dangerous and illegal locking people in their rooms or chaining them to beds is to anyone within ear-shot. It is not believable on any level that a character drawn as a man of action like this one wouldn't do something to stop the abuses he sees long before he does, even if it means calling the police. While he is set up as a shady character, I also have the impression that he wouldn't be above using either the law or some of his unsavory contacts to shut down someone he finds as disgusting as the photographer. But for the character to try this, the film would either have needed a bigger budget--as it would require more cast and possibly additional locations--or a script that had been better thought out and which got to the point faster.

These problems with the hero and main villain of the film arise from a combination of a desire on co-screenwriter and director Brett Piper is giving us characters with a little depth to them, and the fact that he spends too much time dithering why trying to draw that depth. It takes entirely too long for the real ghosts to arrive on the scene and for the characters to be trapped inside the house. If Piper had move more quickly with introducing his torture-obsessed ghost, none of the problems with the reality of the film would have been an issue, because reality would have been suspended much sooner. And the fact that the film is really clever in the way in mixes the supernatural and hi-tech once, not to mention that it gets pretty scary in its final 15-20 minutes, shows that Piper is capable of delivering the goods... when he finally puts his mind to it. I really wish the first 3/4ths, because the horror that eventually comes deserved a better lead-in.

As for the cast, cinematography, and special effects, everything here is about what you might expect from a Shock-O-Rama/Seduction Cinema film. No one is going to win any awards for their work on the film, but no one needs to hang their shame over their efforts, either.

Farrell and Monkiewicz, as the evil photographer and heroic rental agency rep respectively. Both are as excellent in their roles as can be expected given the dialogue they are called on to deliver and the flabbiness and badly structured script they are performing. Farrell in particular shines in the one truly horrific scene in the movie where Misty Mudae's character is slashed to ribbons by an invisible force as he takes pictures. That same scene is where Mundae has one of several opportunities to show that she actually has a great deal of talent for acting.

But, in the end, "Screaming Dead" neither has enough screaming, nor enough dead, to make it worth checking out. It's of interest to big fans of Misty Mundae as it marks the beginning of her ascension from softcore porn and ultra-low budget movies to more serious-minded horror flicks, as well as the dawn of Pop Cinema as a multi-faceted, modern-day exploitation film production company, but most will be underwhelmed this film. As well done and horrific as the scene of Mundae's character being violated and mutilated is, what leads up to is simply too weak to be worth bothering with.


  1. You're certainly entitled to not like the movie --- I personally consider it a failed experiment --- but your objections that the behavior of the villain wouldn't be tolerated in real life are simply wrong. In fact many (if not most) of the non-supernatural incidents in SCREAMING DEAD are taken from actual events. Life's strange, isn't it?

  2. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It's always nice to hear from the creators themselves.

    It's not that I don't doubt the behavior of the photographer couldn't happen. It's just that I found it hard to believe that he could get away with behavior that extreme over and over in the sue-happy, publicity-hungry United States in this day and age. Certainly, people DO behave like he does and get away with it. Just look at the extended Kennedy family as an example... or Roman Polanski.

    I don't doubt that most of the non-supernatural events in "Screaming Dead" are taken from real life, but if there's a person out there who is even close to that photog doing all those things on a regular basis without blow-back, life is not only strange but far nastier than I would like to believe.

    (BTW, I really enjoyed "Shock-O-Rama." :) )