Long a fan of John Farris' work (and having edited a collection of the writer's stories), director Tom Holland chose to direct a film version of Farris' short story “I Scream. You Scream. We All Scream for Ice Cream” for his first episode of Showtime's ongoing horror anthology series, with genre screenwriter David Schow (Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III) handling the adaptation, dialogue, and subtext.
Holland's work in features has been a mixed bag – his directorial debut with Fright Night in 1985 introduced a new kind of self-referential, nostalgic sub-genre to horror, but he stumbled with the horribly bloated Langoliers TV movie in 1995, and disappeared from the theatrical realm after Thinner a year later – and while he directed a number of Tales from the Crypt episodes (which pretty much everyone did, including Arnold Schwarzenegger at one point), “Ice Cream” marks a decent return to form, even within the show's limited budgetary constrains.
The simple story feels like a somewhat padded E.C. comics panel, but works as a B-movie shocker, exploiting the innate creepiness of clowns, and the theme of old sins passed on to the families of the clown's tormentors, whose practical joke resulted in his demise.
The effects by K.N.B. are appropriately disgusting – a hot tub scene renders the clown's lead tormentor into a mush of melting flesh and bubbling ice cream – and the effects intricacies profiled in the DVD's featurettes. The Making-of is the most interesting, since it includes interviews with actor William Forsythe, some of the child actors, and clips of the sets and locations.
The most informative extra is the commentary track, where writer and director have a lively conversation about their solid cast (Lee Tergesen, from Oz and The Wire, is the standout), some of the low-budget tricks that got the job done, and aspects of the story which they tried to emphasize, particularly the shifting morality as the clown's justified revenge goes too far in traumatizing the kids and families of his grown-up tormentors.
The finale is a bit hasty – even Schow and Holland point out some glaring absurdities (the remote control conceit is completely ridiculous) – but it's the leading theme of guilt, the performances, and the face to face scenes between Tergesen and Forsythe that make the endgame succeed. Holland's approach also emphasizes character scenes in place of gore and loud shocks, and makes his contribution to the series an appropriate balance between more the indulgent and extreme efforts by his colleagues.
Other filmed works based on John Farris' writings include the high school drama Because They're Young (1960), Dear Dead Delilah (directed by Farris himself in 1972), the TV movie When Michael Calls (1972), and Brian DePalma's operatic translation of The Fury (1978).
This title is available separately, and in a life-sized skull that houses the complete Second Season of Masters of Horror which includes "The Black Cat," "The Damned Thing," "Dream Cruise," "Family," 'Pelts," "Pro-Life," "Right to Die," "The Screwfly Solution," "Sounds Like," "Valerie on the Stairs," "The V Word," "The Washingtonians," and "We All Scream for Ice Cream."
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan