“Screamplay” (at the Fox International) is a cheesy, macabre comedy that has the air of a home movie made by thrifty visitors from the Planet of Cheap Special Effects. The blood (and there’s lots of it) oozes like tomato paste, the film stock looks as if it was processed at Walgreen’s and the prop budget probably wouldn’t pay for a cab ride from LAX to the Santa Monica Pier. Made by the Troma Team (who also did such epics as “The Toxic Avenger” and “Nuke ‘em High”), “Screamplay” follows the adventures of Edgar Allen (Rufus B. Seder), an aspiring screenwriter who comes to Hollywood, armed only with his typewriter and a crackpot imagination. Allen immediately goes to the movies, where a transvestite’s attempt to mug him in the men’s room is thwarted by Martin (George Kuchar), a beer-bellied slob who’s the Travis Bickle of apartment managers--he’s convinced all his tenants are “scum and vermin.”
Martin offers our rookie writer a janitor’s position at his seedy Welcome Apartments, whose occupants include an aging C-movie actress, an aspiring starlet, a conniving, bathrobe-clad movie publicist and a burned-out, Rasputin-like rock star named Lot. Edgar works them all into his murder-mystery screenplay, only to find his most deadly fantasies coming to life.
The biggest problem with “Screamplay” is that Seder, who co-wrote and directed the film, doesn’t take his premise far enough. Once he’s blurred the lines between reality and imagination, the film should kick into high gear. Instead, it loses most of its goofy charm in a series of dopey fantasy scenes and lame comic misadventures. It’s one thing to leave an audience confused, but Seder wanders so far away from the core of his tale that we just lose interest.
By traditional standards, the film is a mess. The acting is uniformly terrible, almost all the exteriors are tacky, back-projection footage and the lighting is strictly 40-watt--the sets look as if they were lit by the cameraman from “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (which even plays on TV during one scene). Of course, this amateur-hour nonsense has its appeal, and sometimes this cheap thrills approach pays off. The funniest scenes in the movie are often the ones that catch us by surprise--they unfold like botched rehearsals. But most of the time “Screamplay” (Times-rated Mature for its gore and occasional nudity) plays like clumsy student cinema.