HOLLYWOOD! The home of glitz, glamour, and a slew of high hopes and dreams. Aspiring screenwriter Edgar Allen (played by Rufus Butler Seder, who also directed the film) also has high hopes as he arrives in Hollywood carrying his most valuable possessions: a battered suitcase and a typewriter. 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 assorted tenants, including the over and done film legend, Nina Rey (M. Lynda Robinson), her actress protégé, Holly (Katy Bolger), and the out of the ordinary, paranoid guru, Lot (Bob White). While Edgar works, though, he finds himself overcome with morbid and macabre ideas for a 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?
1985’s Screamplay is possibly the greatest Troma movie you’ve never heard of before. Obviously, the film didn’t get a wide release. In fact, Troma was the only studio that would even 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 it’s safe to say that it wasn’t fairly marketed during its initial release. So since then, the film has pretty much languished in obscurity.
As you probably surmised from the opening paragraph, this film follows a writer, Edgar, who has some serious anger issues. Whenever someone frustrates him, he pulls out his typewriter and writes a death scene for them. Though, there’s a twist. See, these deaths he’s writing start to actually take place. Lot burns to death just as Edgar envisioned. Nina drowns and her yappy dog is fed hamburger filled with broken glass. And Edgar is understandably the prime suspect.
As the barrier between fiction and reality grows increasingly indistinct, Edgar attempts to solve the murders. This results in a hysterical frame story around the main narrative in which Edgar on the spur of the moment writes out the majority of the film in explanation of what happened as the killer is creeping up on him. The killer, at least the one creeping up on him, turns out to be Martin; Holly beats Martin’s head in with a hammer, thus rescuing Edgar…or does she?
Screamplay has got to be one of the most unique films you’re likely to come across. It’s entertaining, creepy, and effectively nails the atmosphere of the early Hollywood and German horror movies that it pays tribute to. Speaking of which, the film’s biggest draw besides its fun story-line is indeed its aesthetic. Filmed in washed-out black and white, with the appropriate scratches added to make it look even more vintage, the film will quickly remind you of silent classics like Nosferatu or The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari. In short, the visuals of the film are completely mesmerizing – a loving tribute to the Expressionist cinema of Weimar Germany.
Moving beyond the stylistic effectiveness of Screamplay, the story of the film is quite engaging and clever, and the film moves at a fairly rapid pace so it doesn’t bog down at any point. There’s also enough twists and turns and “maybe” events to keep the viewer thoroughly enthralled and guessing.
The acting in Screamplay, while a touch over-the-top, feels “right” for this movie. The characters themselves are so over-the-top that they circle back around to making you think they’re normal. This cinematic world is created fundamentally of this surreal/expressionistic Hollywood where the people are such products of their emotions that they can’t help but be hammy in their real lives and the “bad acting” seems more like a purposeful piece of direction that takes the characters to a different level.
Screamplay is indeed a work of moving art. While it’s disappointing to see that director, writer and star Rufus Butler Seder has not made any other films, it’s not surprising to see that he is living as an accomplished artist today. He has also published several books on the topic, including Star Wars: A Scanimation Book: Iconic Scenes from a Galaxy Far, Far Away.
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 this underrated and little-known gem. And seeing as though Troma’s head honcho Lloyd Kaufman is pretty liberal when it comes to giving away content. You can actually watch the film in its entirety (for free) on Troma’s official YouTube channel. With that, do yourself a favor and check out Screamplay in all of its extended glory in the video below.