Michael Winner’s Scream For Help (1984) is a thoroughly enjoyable – as well as nutsy – hybrid of a Nancy Drew style mystery, a psycho-thriller that has gas lighting on the agenda and a contemporary slasher (which were all the rage during the early to mid-eighties). From its opening line told in voice over from the film’s spunky protagonist Christie (Rachael Kelly) (“My step father is trying to kill my mother”) right into the final act which plays out like an explosively violent cat and mouse home invasion film, the piece powers through with a sturdy cast, dynamic screenplay from Tom Holland and an inspired visual and tonal approach from director Winner who had just come off his remake of the 1945 classic The Wicked Lady. One of the young stars of Scream For Help was Corey Parker, a talented teen who does not share this scribe’s views on what Winner intended with the style of this psychotic step-father story. “It was a fairly simplistic approach to telling the story”, says Parker, “I don’t think it had very high ambitions in any aesthetic sense.”
Scream For Help would be Parker’s first feature film after working in television on the series As The World Turns. Parker recalls, “I had studied at the High School of Performing Arts in New York City. I had done a lot of theatre in New York. Michael Winner seemed nice when I auditioned. I think I had three callbacks for that role.” Originally, director Richard Franklin was meant to take the lead on churning out the film after he and screenwriter Tom Holland worked wonders together with the critically acclaimed Psycho II, however, that would not come fruition. Holland has since gone on the record to say that he wished Richard Franklin directed the film (instead of moving on to do his killer orang-utan film Link), because he felt Michael Winner completely changed the tone of his script. Parker adds “The tone of the script that I read and what we shot seemed to be similar to an after school special that had gone down a dark alley, it was not reaching for any lofty goal that I could see.” Parker also recalls that working with Michael Winner was not a pleasant experience, and before production had not seen Winner’s cult favorites such as the Death Wish films, or his ventures into the horror genre such as The Sentinel.
On the subject of his character of Josh, Corey Parker says, “He was innocent and was forced into a traumatic situation when he had not tools for dealing with it. That was how I saw him anyway. He was a part of me. He was the naïve and kind innocent who was just starting to learn about life, he still had one foot in childhood. He had a good heart. Just no clue on what to do with the situation. He became heroic ultimately and that was good for him and for me. He developed courage.”
The lead, Rachel Kelly, truly embodies the essence of a complicated teen written by super talented writer Tom Holland. She and Corey Parker share a wonderful dynamic – here is this girl who is incredibly smart, resourceful and energetic but also completely nervous about intimacy. She’s a multi-faceted and perpetually interesting character and being younger than the general older teen in 80s slashers makes her somehow less vulnerable because she has such unashamed spunk and zeal. “Rachel was great”, recalls Parker, “an authentic person, nothing phony about her at all. We had a good relaxed connection. No problems. I was glad to work with her.”
As the film’s villain, David Allen Brooks makes a perfect psychotic and one of the most fascinating features is that he isn’t the masked “boogeyman” you’d find in most slasher films of the time. Here is a guy who is handsome, athletic and “together”. Parker remembers, “David was really a sweet guy. It was interesting to watch his transformation. He was totally committed. He was like a mentor to me on that. He had done a lot of soap opera. He had an amazing apartment on the east side of Manhattan. He was really a good guy.”
When asked about the most memorable sequences to shoot, Parker recalls, “Eating peanut butter out of the jar. Michael Winner started the camera rolling and told me to eat peanut butter as fast as I could, but he never called “cut.” He used a thousand foot magazine on the camera and had me try to eat an entire jar of pb in one session. It was sadistic and ultimately painful as hell. The sex scene with the other young actress, I can’t remember her name. She was 16 and I was 18. Her mom was on set. They were nervous about the scene, she would be topless. I was on top of her, trying to be a sensitive lover or whatever and Michael W. started yelling obscenities at me that I needed to “F*** her HARD!!” he was crude and abusive. It was a nightmare. I did like rescuing Rachel from the fire. After the production Michael Winner gave me round trip tickets to Paris (we shot in London mostly). I think he knew he’d been awful.”
Another addition to Scream For Help that makes it such a unique film, is John Paul Jones’s score which has such a soap opera feel to it adding to its endearing “strangeness”. “I got to meet John Paul Jones,” says Parker, “so that was certainly a dream for me. I grew up in NYC listening to Led Zeppelin. His music surprised me but it was appropriate. I have the album. Jimmy Page played on it too.” Parker would go on to appear in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, however the young actor was not strictly taking roles in horror movies. He says, “I wasn’t consciously going for horror movies, just an actor hoping to book a job. I auditioned for Fri the 13th in L.A. Danny Steinmann directed and we had great fun on that shoot.”