David Nelson broke out of his family’s show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in the movie The Big Circus, in which he was a disturbed man who may be a murderer. He also directed a few episodes of the aforementioned TV show, as well as its spinoff Ozzie’s Girl, the Linda Evans movie Childish Things (co-directed with her husband at the time John Derek), and kept acting, showing up in movies like High School U.S.A. and Cry-Baby.
It might surprise some people therefore, when one of the Nelson kids ended up making a slasher.
During the last night of the carnival, the local kids decide to sleep down at the river, despite a bunch of murders just a few nights before. That killer — carrying a machete and a need to work out his past pain by killing everyone that he or she can — has followed everyone back to their campground and wants to make sure that no one leaves alive.
Waitress Lily Carpenter is played by Susan Kiger, a three-time Playboy cover girl (March 1977, November 1977 and April 1978) and January 1977 Playmate of the Year. She was also in plenty of great exploitation and horror movies throughout the 70s and 80s like H.O.T.S., Angels Revenge, Seven, The Happy Hooked Goes to Hollywood, Galaxina and The Return. Several of the actors in this also appeared in Tales from the Third Dimension, like Helene Tryon (Edna Sharpe in this, the evil grandma in that 3D anthology) and William Hicks (who was a cop in this and is in “The Guardians” chapter of Tales) and a few were in other North Carolina movies like A Day of Judgement and Rottweiler 3-D (AKA Dogs of Hell).
This may seem slow, but stick with it. Nearly every kill is in the last fifteen minutes, as all manner of insanity goes does, like two decapitations, hands chopped off at the wrists, a throat-slashing and even someone chopped in half in a moment that had to have inspired Michele Soavi when he made one of the best slashers with the dumbest cops ever, Stagefright. Do not gather in an abandoned house by the cemetery and tell urban legends with twenty-something teens or you will die.
If you’re wondering, how good is this movie? It has the same cinematographer as Carnival Magic, Darrell Cathcart, who also worked on Trucker’s Woman and Final Exam. Speaking of that other slasher, it also shares several crew members with this movie, including editor John A. O’Connor, makeup artist Barbara Galloway, production manager Mike Allen, assistant director Dawn Easterling, second unit director Charles Reynolds and stuntman Jere Beery. There’s also plenty of crossover with Savage Streets, as most of this film’s producers made that movie.
From that, you should see the pedigree of this. It’s junk, but great junk, the kind we checked off our slasher rental list in the 80s. Here’s to regional slashers! And for those looking for both full frontal female — and male — nudity you get some of that as well. Sure, the killer can teleport and do a lot of things in not so much time while not being terribly interesting when you discover who he or she is, but you know, it’s better than any slasher that will come out after you read this.
The music in this is bombastic and feels like it belongs to a way bigger and more expensive movie, too. It’s by Dee Barton, who also did the music for Play Misty for Me, Every Which Way But Loose, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, High Plains Drifter and, there it is again, Tales of the Third Dimension.
The Arrow Video blu ray of Death Sceams features a brand new 2K restoration from the only existing 35mm print, as well as two commentary tracks, one by producer Charles Ison and special effects artist Worth Keeter moderated by filmmaker Phil Smoot Brand, as well as another commentary by The Hysteria Continues. There’s also a new making of documentary, radio and TV commercials, two versions of the screenplay and the alternate VHS House of Death opening titles. You can get this from MVD. Here’s to Arrow releasing more underseen slashers!
Death Screams will also be a future selection on the ARROW player. Head over to ARROW to start your 30 day free trial (subscriptions are available for $4.99 monthly or $49.99 yearly). ARROW is available in the US, Canada and the UK on the following Apps/devices: Roku (all Roku sticks, boxes, devices, etc), Apple TV & iOS devices, Android TV and mobile devices , Fire TV (all Amazon Fire TV Sticks, boxes, etc), and on all web browsers at https://www.arrow-player.com.