Screambook II (1985)

Director and writer Joe Zaso was on a tear in the mid 80s and early 90s, making Screambook, this movie and It’s Only a Movie, all three filled with moments of the typical SOV moments that keep normal people from enjoying these, such as long stretches where nothing happens, lighting that can charitably be referred to as murky and no regard at all for keeping the audience entertained at times unless they know when to entertain themselves. Unlike so many other SOV films, Zaso also has talent and there are stretches of his films that feel so close to being great.

Unlike the first movie, this is not all made with teenagers with the lead and it kind of gets away from slavishly wanting to be Creepshow. Then again, Zaso was just 15 when he made this.

The copy on YouTube starts with glorious tracking static and that blue screen that always showed up when you dubbed something, along with the kind of blocky type that was all that was possible for when you made a movie yourself. It follows that up by showing King Video, an old mom and pop with a magical blue color scheme and white swinging adult room doors.

Follow that with a young couple deciding to rent Ants for the evening and you have a place that I would like to live inside. When they get to the front counter, they discover that they’re about to be waited on by either a clown, a mime or a demon. I’d say juggalo but this was 1985 and Shaggy was 11 and Violent J was 13 at the time. And you know, guys.

She also scream laugh talks everything she says like Margaret Hamilton mainlining helium and offers them a copy of Screamtape 2. I imagine that this was how Zaso got people to watch his movie, just hiding in a video store like a cackling demon.

“Till Death Do Us Part” starts with an entire family all smoking and drinking as they learn that one of their number has a secret past, not that you’ll be able to hear much of the dialogue through the recorded through the camera mic and sounds of cars rolling through the streets all around them. Yet in the midst off this is a very video era Andy Milligan feel, as this story is about a family that absolutely hates one another and isn’t shy about letting everyone know about it. Unlike Milligan, some of that screaming is because you need to be heard over the truck mufflers blasting away mere feet away and the way too loud library score. There’s also a Sweeney Todd-reference apron-wearing woman dealing with a husband whose voice is more distorted than a doom band who she cuts and then appears outside a play whose stage door is totally the one to the living room. Yes, Elizabeth Welcher is killing all over the place and yeah, the camera is shaky, but what 15-year-old has a movie with “It Had to Be You” on the soundtrack? An awesome one, that’s who.

Also: wood paneling everywhere, monologues all over the place and a zombie ending that you’ll see from the first few minutes, not that Screambook didn’t also have a straight-up cover of “Father’s Day” from Creepshow. This one does too, but instead of a cake, the old lady’s head on a plate with an apple in it, kind of like the poster for Tales That Witness Madness.

“Silversweets” starts at a funeral for Amanda, who died from lung cancer, so all of these old ladies all talk about women who “smoked and smoked their brains out.” I may have heard the exact same speech from my wife about how much she loves to smoke and how no one will change her.

Anyways, this lady has a husband named Brewster who is a monster — but pronounced mahn-stah — and he runs her life like an army sergeant. It feels like Zaso branched out here from Romero and watched either Terry-Thomas in Vault of Horror or the antismoking moments in Cat’s Eye. He tosses her cigarettes and forces her to stay home to watch sub-Rockette footage on TV while strange music plays on the soundtrack. She goes to the basement to sneak a smoke and a furry arm attacks her to a music cue from The Time Machine plays and Fluffy pretty much emerges from his wooden carton except its so dark you can barely see him and instead you get closeups of plates on the wall like a good Italian house should have.

I totally love how this one ends with a nice old man cooking a nice meal for a monster and the camera fixating on a light fixture.

“Birthday Wishes” is very similar to “It’s a Good Life” from Twilight Zone: The Movie in that a young kid named Michael who gets powers that his entire family is powerless to stop. The kid in this gets his from Shana, a holy man, when he asks for the power of revenge over his family and friends. He gets chanted over and he is given the gift, the power of revenge and is only asked that he never gets angry and must be cautious.

Then Michael goes off at his birthday party, canceling all the guests, setting his sister on fire, making his father throw up blood, forcing another relative to shoot himself and becoming zombified. I mean, if someone made a cake for me that looked that flat, I would go off as well and I don’t have reality-destroying abilities. I really love the bald old man that pulls a gun at this birthday party. Who comes packing to a pre-teen party?

By the end, the entire house has turned against Michael’s mother as we get some effective stills of each room and her bathed in green light.  Oh yeah — there’s also a zombie arm chasing her. Dig that lattice in the dining room.

For everyone who keeps making movies they say feel like the 80s, I want you to watch this segment. See how beige and dingy everything looks? That’s what the 1985 really looked like.

“A Grave Matter” is about a series of murders and oh man, this old guy in this one has a Frank Rizzo voice which makes me beyond happy. A reporter keeps going back to a funeral home to learn if he’s the killer while the waitress that he fired goes back to find her glasses and she gets killed and then we come back to the newspaper the reporter works for and man, the exposition before she tries to go behind a curtain.

Everyone in this has such rich New York accents by the way.

Finally, back to the video store and our mime — well, she does talk plenty — before recommending another movie that’ll really make someone scream.

Also: That guy who snuck into the adult section? John Zaso, Joe’s dad, who also did the effects.

Screambook 2 is, well, it’s fun. It’s not great but there are enough moments and talkent shining through that you make it through.

You can watch this on YouTube where Zaso has posted several of his films.

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