The Curse of the Screaming Dead (1982) (part 1 of 9)
I just want to say right from the start that this zombie-themed Rogues roundtable wasn’t my idea. There’s no way in hell I would have picked a topic that finally forced me to review The Curse of the Screaming Dead. Let’s just say that as I watched this film, there was plenty of cursing and screaming going on, but it definitely wasn’t coming from the dead.
As regular visitors to this website will remember, a little less than six months ago I reviewed a film with much of the same cast and crew, the Baltimore-filmed Night of Horror, which may not be the worst movie ever made, but is certainly a worthy contender for the title. Recalling moments from this film is like compiling a list of everything you’re not supposed to do in a movie.
I mean, who could forget not so “special” effects that consisted mainly of shining car headlights through dry ice fog? Or the glacially-paced “ghost” voice that took longer to finish a sentence than Quentin Taratino takes to make a movie? Or the soundtrack that consisted of the same three chords pounded on a keyboard so many times that you thought your ears would bleed?
And who could forget the long, static shots that showed us nothing but two actors from the back for minutes on end? Or the dark, dingy, discolored Super 8 cinematography? Or the warped, muffled audio that made much of the dialogue nearly indecipherable? And most of all, who could forget the sheer number of klieg lights that ended up reflected into, or directly pointed towards the camera?
Impressive, no? And that’s just the first five minutes.
Add to that an interminable four-minute segment of a camper crossing a bridge, a seven-minute musical montage of random Civil War footage that had nothing to do with the rest of the story, and a dark smudge on the lens that stayed there for over six minutes and was the movie’s sole highlight, and it should be clear to anyone that very few films even approach the level of awfulness achieved by Night of Horror. And as bad as that film was, somehow, some way, director Tony Malanowski (the Agony Booth’s latest Repeat Offender) and nearly the entire cast and crew returned one year later to make another movie, The Curse of the Screaming Dead.
Incredibly, after I posted my Night of Horror review, Tony Malanowski himself stopped by in the Agony Booth forums to offer insight into how both of his films were made. I’m not sure what motivated him to respond on my site, but probably the fact that I mentioned the name “Tony Malanowski” about fifty times in my review (and in mostly derogatory terms) might have had something to do with it.
You can read his comments in this thread, but the gist of Tony’s defense of these two films is that he was well aware of how bad they were while he was making them. Certainly, I have to give him credit for at least being able to acknowledge that, but saying, “I knew the movie would suck” isn’t a defense; If anything, it makes things even worse!
I can look at a movie like, say, Plan 9 from Outer Space and realize that Ed Wood wasn’t trying to make one of the worst movies of all time. It just turned out that way because he didn’t know what he was doing. That’s part of what gives that movie its “charm”. But on the other hand, when a filmmaker is well aware of just how bad his movie is, then I’m sorry to say he and his film deserve all the critical lashings they get.
And so I must soldier on and review Tony’s second (and thankfully final) directorial effort, The Curse of the Screaming Dead. Unfortunately for this website, this film is nowhere near as awful as Night of Horror. (Though I have to say, that probably isn’t even possible.)
But yet, it’s still infinitely worse than most of the movies you’ve seen in your life. I’ve shown this film to a number of people that I knew could never withstand Night of Horror, and their jaws drop. Their eyes glaze over. Less than halfway into it, they’re all desperately coming up with excuses for why they suddenly need to leave. I can’t say I blame them, either. Very few films are this poorly acted, this ineptly filmed, or this incoherently plotted. We might not be in “worst movie ever made” territory, but we’re not very far from the border.
However, unlike Night of Horror, this film actually does have a plot, and is (dare I say it) almost fast-paced towards the end. Unfortunately, it’s much like Malanowski’s previous outing, in that we first have to sit through banal interludes where we get useless background information on characters we would much rather see die horrible, gory deaths. Thankfully, this time around, most of them do die horrible, gory deaths. (Oops. Hope I didn’t spoil anything.)
It also appears that Malanowski has decided to take things in a fresh, new direction. He was able to include honest to God real-live Asians in his movie! Apparently, the success of Night of Horror meant he could afford to hire the only two Asian actresses in all of Baltimore. Unfortunately, they don’t add much to the proceedings, except to prove that, regardless of race, people are all truly equal. Which is to say, Asian characters in a Tony Malanowski film are equally as irritating as the white characters.
I pointed this out in my previous review, but I should also note that Tony Malanowski was eventually able to sell the rights to this movie to Troma Studios, who repackaged it as Curse of the Cannibal Confederates. (The version I’m reviewing here is the original Mogul release.) According to those who have seen that version, the print that was used for the Troma release is much, much worse, with visible dirt and hair constantly on the film. I’m almost sad that I don’t have this version of the movie, because this is one film where I certainly would have appreciated the entertaining distraction of a Camera Smudge.
As expected, the opening credits of this film alone feature enough shoddy production values to make you immediately want to rip the tape out and run screaming back to the video store. First of all, the title appears in front of a what looks like a giant pawprint. (What is this, Blue’s Clues?) Then we learn that this movie features none other than Steve Sandkuhler and Rebecca Bach, both in their greatest roles since Night of Horror. (In a brief moment of Video Box Idiocy, the cover spells Rebecca Bach’s name as “Rebecca Baach”, but that pretty much comes with the territory.)
Then there’s a credit “Introducing Mimi Ishikawa”. As far as I can tell, neither Jim Ball nor Judy Dixon appeared in any movies before this one, either, but for some reason they don’t get “introducing” credits. Comically, we also learn from this credit that she’s appearing “As Blind Kiyomi”. Then we find out that, just like Night of Horror, this movie is another “Original Story Concept by Tony Starke”, which I eventually learned is one of many aliases that Tony Malanowski uses in these credits. (Actually, in Night of Horror, “Starke” was spelled without the “E” at the end, but again, that comes with the territory.)
Then we learn that among this film’s associate producers are people by the names of “R. Sommerwerck [!!]” and “Dick McLung [!!!]”. I’m sure the Sommerwerck and McLung klans must be very proud to see their kin participating in this film.
We open with the camera inside an RV, pointed through the windshield as it heads down a country road. The trees are nearly devoid of leaves, so it looks like winter (although this will fluctuate considerably over the course of the movie). After several close-ups of the stripes on the road and more useless shots of trees, the RV eventually pulls over.
Steve Sandkuhler is at the wheel, and he’s drinking beer [!]. We see that sitting next to him is a redheaded guy who looks like one of the Allman Brothers, and then we pan over to some guy with a handlebar moustache who’s seriously overenunciating every word. Taking into account both his looks and his mannerisms, this guy reminds me of a young Weird Al Yankovic. Steve and Weird Al banter a little about how much longer it’ll be until they reach their destination, and then Allman Brother asks for a sip of Weird Al’s beer [?]. Weird Al says the cooler is right underneath him, but Allman Brother only wants a sip, and not a whole beer.
Without giving him said sip, Weird Al starts quizzing Allman Brother about “this Sarah chick”, who I guess is his current girlfriend. Allman Brother monotonically explains that he’s known her for three weeks, so Weird Al is unendingly amused that she’s “already got him on the wagon!” Steve, however, sees the bright side of Bill giving up beer:
Steve: Maybe he’ll lose some weight.
Then Weird Al cracks open his beer right in Allman Brother’s face, spraying foam all over him. Allman Brother and Steve both take the opportunity to call Weird Al a “Jerk!” But Weird Al assures Allman Brother that he can slip out of the car before Sarah “even catches a whiff!” Allman Brother insists that he and Sarah have an honest relationship, which for some reason prompts Weird Al to lie back and seductively describe Sarah as “Rrrrrrrr…. Woof! Woof!” Yes, Weird Al, she is a total dog, as we’ll soon see.
Allman Brother doesn’t react at all to these lascivious comments about his girlfriend. Actually, given the rest of his performance, it seems “reacting” is not one of his strong suits. Anyway, Steve looks pissed off, so Weird Al insists that most of the beer ended up on Allman Brother, or as he’s known in this film, “Bill”.
Then they segue into a time-wasting argument about how far away their destination really is, and Steve and Bill totally beat down Weird Al’s assertion that their destination is just over the next hill. Seriously, they use the phrase “over the next hill” at least fifteen times during this discussion. Finally, Bill spots a ring on Weird Al’s pinkie and asks, “Blew a whole unemployment check, huh?” Actually, I think he only blew a quarter, because the ring looks like the kind that comes in a plastic egg out of a vending machine.
Weird Al won’t come clean about where he got the ring, so the other two guys take turns asking, “Didja swipe it?” Then Bill alludes to an incident in the past where Weird Al got caught with a stolen motorcycle. Weird Al gets all defensive and yells, “I got off!” Steve tells him he “got lucky”, and Bill asks again if he stole the ring, leading Weird Al to pound his fist on his leg and make a face like he’s about to burst into tears [!].