Peter’s Retro Reviews: Scared To Death (1981)

October 11, 2018

Scared To Deathby Peter Nielsen

”If you’re frightened by the unknown… wait until you face reality!”

Scared To Death is a movie I’ve always been aware of, but for some reason never got round to watching back in the day! One of the reasons it’s stuck with me over the years, is the cover art on the VHS tape, of which I remember seeing two different versions… one is a close up of the creature from the movie, and the other is what I chose for this review!

A while back I was browsing YouTube for something… I don’t recall for what, and it doesn’t really matter either, does it? What matters is that I happened on Scared To Death, and decided it was finally time to watch it!

It was directed by William Malone, who’s also directed a couple of episodes of Freddy’s Nightmares (remember that one?), Dark Justice, Tales From The Crypt, Dream On, as well as a couple of movies… Creature (1985), Feardotcom (2002) and the remake of House On Haunted Hill from 1999.

With Scared To Death, he decided to make a monster movie, because he thought it would be an inexpensive way to make a “quick buck”. The budget was only $74000, and the first sale of the movie made them $90000, so he was kind of right!

But now… Let’s get to the main event, shall we? That is, after all, why you’re here, right? Ok! So…

Overdressed for chess?

Overdressed for chess?

Los Angeles is ravaged by a series of brutal murders, and the police think they have a serial killer on their hands. Since they’re not really making any progress, Detective Lou Capell, played by David Moses (The Daring Dobermans, Storm), turns to an old friend, and colleague, for help.

Ted Lonergan is an ex-cop, who’s now making a living as a writer of “pulp fiction”, or something like that. It’s certainly not high class literature, as his publicist points out… his last five novels has basically been the same story. Ted, on the other hand, feels that, since his books has paid for the publicist’s nice house and cars, there must be something to them, to make the public come back to his books again and again! And even though you’d never guess it by the shitty place he calls an office, it’s pretty obvious that Ted’s fairly well off too!

You want a piece of this, huh?

You want a piece of this, huh?

He’s actually a bit of a self-absorbed douchebag at the start of the movie, and also a chauvinist pig, as we find out when he meets Jennifer. Yeah, well, that’s kind of the vibe I got from him! Ted is played by John Stinson in his screen debut! You may have also seen him in The Hand (1981) or Like Father Like Son (1987).

Jennifer, the girl Ted meets, or rather backs into with his car, is played by Diana Davidson, and Scared To Death is the only movie she ever appeared in. She’s not overtly “impressed” by Ted’s manners after he dents her car, but warms up to him a little after he agrees to pay for the damages. Her falling for this guy is actually pretty weird, because he doesn’t treat her very well, and no, I don’t mean he beats her or anything like that… it’s just the way he acts around her… As I stated earlier, he’s kind of a chauvinist pig! He does like her though, and he changes as the movie progresses. Maybe it’s because of his background as a cop that makes him behave like that? We never really find out what happened to make him quit the force… maybe he was just burnt out from all of the crap he saw? Who knows… he sure doesn’t want to go back, and that’s why he, at first, refuses to help when his friend asks him to take a look at the case.

Awkward dinner!

Awkward dinner!

The case takes a turn for the nasty when they find out that it’s not a serial killer they’re hunting after all… at least not a human killer anyway. (To be fair, we as an audience know this from the start though.) It is a genetically engineered experiment known as the Syngenor (SYNthesized GENetic ORganism), which is living in the sewers underneath the city, only surfacing to kill, and suck the spinal fluid from its victims!

This is something Ted and Lou find out, after Jennifer has been attacked, and they team up with a woman who was an assistant to the scientist, who created the Syngenor in the first place. Her name is Sherry Carpenter and is played by Toni Jannotta. This is her only movie credit… other than this, she only appeared in an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man and two episodes of Cannon.

Sherry gets a hold of the scientist’s notes and we learn the origin of the creature, as she tries to find a way to kill it. Ted, armed with his .44 Automag, decides to venture into the sewers to finish this once and for all, and reluctantly, agrees to take Sherry with him.

The movie as a whole feels a little bit disjointed, or to be honest, more than a little… at times it feels like two different movies… other times it’s like there are scenes missing… and yes, I know all that boils down to the low budget, and the fact that most of the cast are “first timers”. Even the director is a “first timer”… Scared To Death was his big screen directorial debut! But don’t get me wrong here… I don’t really mind the low budget look, and feel, of the movie, because when it comes to the creature itself and the scenes where it’s stalking and killing its victims, it actually somewhat outweighs the dragging parts!

On the prowl!

On the prowl!

The Syngenor looks cool and was sculpted, and built, by the director, William Malone, himself! He had, apparently, previously worked at a place that made masks for Halloween, so he did have experience in the field. And him doing it himself, helped keep the budget down, I imagine!

As I mentioned, the scenes of the Syngenor stalking and killing its prey are excellent. The movie starts with one such scene, which was common for a lot of these early 80’s type of movies. You know what I mean, right? The shots from the antagonist’s point of view, as he slowly approaches a house, looking in through the windows at his unsuspecting prey… most often a woman in various stages of undress… And then we cut back and forth between the killer and victim… building the tension… until… WHAM! Oh, no! Screaming! Blood! And fade to black!

Another great shot involves a woman trying to get into her car and getting it started… and the Syngenor closing in on her… in classic 80’s slasher fashion! Great stuff! And this is where Scared To Death really works, you know, and you get your money’s worth, because I’m sure this is where the budget was spent… on the scares… and thrills! ‘Cause it sure wasn’t on dialogue coaches!

And there you have it! My thoughts on this slightly forgotten flick! So… would I recommend it? I don’t know really… If you’re not a fan of this type of movie, you should probably steer clear of it! But if you, like me, are a fan of low budget, early 80’s horror/thriller/sci-fi stuff… I think you might get a kick out of this one!

So, my friends… that’s all for now! Until next time…


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