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Case Number 03499: Small Claims Court

Buy Nightscream at Amazon


Artisan // 1997 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // November 6th, 2003

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All Rise...

The Charge

Her spirit will not rest until her murder is avenged…or you fall asleep.

The Case

Drew Summers has that unfortunate cinematic malady of looking exactly like a long dead plot point from the small town of Steventon, Oregon. When she mysteriously wanders into the middle of a citywide celebration over the opening of a frogurt stand, she raises a few eyebrows, not to mention a bunch of painful memories for Julie Ordwell, rich matron of the Northwest. It was her daughter, Laura, who was found wrapped in plastic along the waters…sorry, in her car, dead at the supposed hands of her supposed boyfriend Teddy. As Drew meanders about doing her living dead girl ghost routine, the citizenry are perturbed. They know that poor Laura Palmer…oops, sorry, Ordwell, is worm food and they don't like their open and shut prejudged law enforcement questioned as to their crime solving skills. So if Drew isn't Laura, or at least an identical facsimile thereof, who is she? Is she some scam artist trying to grift Ms. O into a place at the inheritance roundtable? Is she a reincarnated replica of the departed daughter, here to solve the still dubious case? Or is she just some nut with a fetish for faking that she's a phantom channeler? Whatever it is, it's safe to say that she's not working alone and that the first few people she meets at the beginning of this murder mystery are bound to produce a Nightscream or two when the credits roll.

Let's just call Nightscream Twin Peaks: The Crappy Version and get it out of the way, shall we? From its Pacific Northwest setting and implied incest storyline to the woefully convoluted narrative and ersatz "Wicked Game" Chris Isaak retread over the credits, this horrendous made-for-television travesty tries to sell a simple story of land grabbing and family friskiness in a multi-layered, topsy turvy five "W"s presentation of murder mystery as metaphysical mumbo jumbo.

And it doesn't work.

By the time the plot has taken its tenth convolution, all in an effort to keep the audience guessing as to "who done it" (versus wondering "why am I watching this dung?") you just throw up your expert cinematic detecting skills and say "fudge it!" Honestly, if you haven't figured out the guilty parties by the first fifteen minutes of this miserably muddled movie, no amount of spiritual hint dropping is going to help you. And yet every so often our lead lass goes into a trance to tell us in near indecipherable clues what really happened, hoping that the hocus pocus factor will keep you engaged, instead of enraged. Nightscream is one of those paranormal movies that doesn't play fair with either plane of existence. Spooks speak when it's convenient and then only in illiterate protoplasmic poppycock. Red herrings spring out of their sour cream sauce just long enough to stink up the saga and then settle back into their state of smorgasbord inactivity. And the minute we think we have a handle on the hackneyed hoo-ha we are witnessing, another unexplained character shows up with a different name and questionable M.O. to throw everything that came before it out like that smelly baby's bathwater.

Or maybe a better way to look at Nightscream is as a panacea to a fallen sitcom star. Let's say you're an aging teen queen who used to be on a surprisingly popular TV show about a "full house" of men and kids. Your brother, who once had Alan Thicke on his speed dial and posed as a Tiger Beat bo-hunk, is now a Bible thumping buttplug who makes Left Behind movies like they're documentaries. And let's say that over the years you've watched a couple of fair-haired twin titans turn Tinseltown on its head with their unbridled drive and desire to succeed. And let's say that you storm into your agent's office, copy of the Forbes 500 gripped in your irate hand, Mary-Kate and Ashley's empiric eyes staring up at you, and you demand equal time, or at least a job—any job. Well, Nightscream would be the result of such a "find me anything quickly" search. It would explain the sloppy piecemeal feel of this filmed fart. But it doesn't clarify why the story takes so many mixed up turns. Perhaps on the page (it's based on a novel) this kind of mistaken identity hidden agenda horse crap works. On the screen, even the small one, it's just confusing.

The main problem with Nightscream is its lead, the afore-slandered Candace Cameron Bure. She just cannot act, period. Nothing she tries—strong-headed determination, dopey-eyed spirituality, open-mugged innocence—is interesting. It all comes across as complete stone-faced cluelessness. This young woman may have been able to sell canned laughter snake oil to the TGIF viewing public, but her complete lack of depth as an actress is amazing. Everything about her Drew is wrong: the way she walks (like she has to remember the lessons she just took), the way she "feigns" sex and sexuality (she looks like she's shagging a grapefruit), even how she plays a corpse (she appears more "dead tired" than "dead"). A good way to see just what a pathetic thespian she really is comes whenever she is required to interact with a true talent, the multi-faceted Teri Garr (arguably the best things here). Garr brings such motherly warmth and a wounded spirit of depressed pain to her portrayal of a grieving mother that Bure is like a statue around her. Only when required to interact with another chiseled from granite goofball named Casper Van Dien do we see dueling static dipsticks attempting to emote. Then it's like watching dying topiary perform. Even though the script is about as tight as Jennifer Lopez's nether regions and the directing is as pedestrian as a streetwalker, it's the completely banal non-performances that kill Nightscream. Maybe with a name cast of first class talent this over-plotted pile of excessive pen strokes would entertain, yet it's hard to see how any Oscar or Tony winner could correct Nightscream's crocked course.

Instead of saying a bunch of elaborate expletives about how horrible a certain DVD manufacturer is (after all, how many different ways can one human being say "Artisan sucks dog ass"), let's just cut to the digital chase and get the bad, sad news out of the way right up front. The 1.33:1 full frame image is acceptable. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround is fine. There are no subtitles, and as usual with an Artisan product, there are no extras. So all we are left with is Nightscream the movie, which is a lot like saying that once you've been cured of your bout with flesh-eating bacteria, all you're left with is the horrible scar tissue. This is a movie that wants to trick and treat you to a double-crossing, family sexual murder tragedy and hopes that you hang on for dear life as it bucks like a bronco under the spastic convolutions it contrives. This Laura may not have been killed by Bob, or Leland, or even Teddy or whomever else this film wants to throw at us. But there is one thing for sure: Candace Cameron Bure sure slaughtered her career making this confused crud. The Nightscream you hear now is the sound of this ex-star's feet hitting the hot water after a day restocking at Safeway.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 44

Perp Profile

Studio: Artisan
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• None
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Bad
• Horror
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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