November 1985 (USA)
Ed Greenberg and Rufus Butler Seder
Rufus Butler Seder
Rufus Butler Seder as Edgar Allan
Eugene Seder as Al Weiner
George Kuchar as Martin
Katy Bolger as Holly
M. Lynda Robinson as Nina Rey
By James “Crypticpsych” Lasome
HOLLYWOOD! The home of glitz, glamour, and a slew of high hopes and dreams. Edgar Allan (Rufus Butler Seder) has dreams too. He wants to be a screenwriter and plans to write the next big murder mystery. Of course, like all people who head to the city to live their dreams, he needs a place to stay and a job. He finds both at the Welcome Apartments, working as a janitor under the landlord, Martin (George Kuchar). While there, he meets up with the complex’s eclectic tenants, including the forgotten film legend, Nina Rey (M. Lynda Robinson), her actress protégé, Holly (Katy Bolger), and the bizarre, paranoid guru, Lot (Bob White). While Edgar works, though, he finds himself overcome with morbid and macabre ideas for his screenplay, writing violent deaths for his fellow tenants that are written to be committed by a mysterious black-gloved killer. Still, it’s just a script and nothing more… right?
Screamplay is possibly the best Troma movie you’ve never heard of. In fact, in Lloyd Kaufman’s memoir, All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned from the Toxic Avenger, the list “Troma’s Unsung Classics: 5 Movies You Don’t Know About But Want to See” includes the film. Troma’s distribution of Screamplay is quite surprising because it’s almost completely unlike anything else typically associated with the company. Troma was built on copious nudity, gallons of blood, and a sense of the anarchic and the surreal. Here, though, we have a black-and-white movie with next to no nudity made in 1985 that, with very few exceptions, would feel right at home on a double bill with the classics from the twenties, thirties, and forties it so lovingly homages.
Director Rufus Butler Seder’s movie is similar to taking a film like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari orNosferatu and filtering it through the 80s (much like Grindhouse did with the 70s and 80s). The final product is a black-and-white horror film with light dark comedy that uses camera tricks, skillful shadow and light manipulation, various visual techniques, and a perfect score to create a world that is fully convincing as being from the early days of moviemaking. The film stock looks the part, full of grain and a bit over-white at times, yet simultaneously clear enough that it’s almost like being in a movie theater in the first half of the 20th century. The 80s influences are then blended in, including a bit of profanity, a bit of nudity, and a few violent kills that are well-done and would never have even occurred to most filmmakers back then.
The acting in Screamplay, while a touch over-the-top, feels “right” for this movie. There are a few performances that deserve special note, though. Rufus Butler Seder is both endearing and deeply creepy in his scenes, a perfect fit that brings to mind Anthony Perkins in Psycho. Katy Bolger plays perfectly off him as a love interest and also effectively shows her darker side a few times during the film. George Kuchar’s performance as the landlord is spectacularly sleazy, the kind of role you love to hate. Bob White’s “Lot” may be one of the most bizarre, yet effective riffs on the “Crazy Ralph” archetypes ever and is instantly memorable. Hell, even Seder’s own father, Eugene, is good as a comedic down-on-his-luck agent for whom Edgar might be the only salvation.
The only issues with Screamplay are minor. First, the introduction of the other tenants moves a bit slowly when compared with the rest of the film. However, once Rufus starts interacting with them individually and having his script ideas, the script picks up again and holds it’s pace the rest of the way. The character of Kevin Kleindorf (a tenant who wants fame and fortune from riding others’ coattails) feels out of place in the complex, though not enough to take enjoyment out of the film. Finally, there are a few times where the dialogue doesn’t quite match with the actors mouths well. However, the old Hollywood atmosphere of the film minimizes the impact of that so much that feels like it’s supposed to be there.
In the end, Screamplay is entertaining, creepy, and effectively nails the atmosphere of the early Hollywood and German horror movies that it pays tribute to. Multi-hyphenate Rufus Butler Seder, and some of the cast, never made another movie. However, the flair for innovation and the visual medium he shows here could have been a precursor to his later career as he is now inventor of a process that turns glass murals into moving pictures without electricity or moving parts. He’s even turned the technology into an award-winning, best-selling series of children’s books. Troma’s original DVD of the movie included footage of one of his murals so we can see how far he’s come.