Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: William Forsythe, Lee Tergesen
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Still Gallery, Trailer, DVD-ROM Script
Anchor Bay's "Masters of Horror" anthology series has been decidedly hit-and-miss during its two-season run. One reason for this has been the inconsistent selection of directors. Director Tom Holland would probably not be ranked by most horror fans in the same league with veterans such as Dario Argento and John Carpenter, as his only significant contributions to the genre are 1980s fright flicks "Fright Night" and "Child's Play." Though popular, these films did not lead to a distinguished career. A pair of unpopular Stephen King adaptations in the 1990s ("Thinner" and TV's "The Langoliers") certainly did not raise his status, and his debut entry in this series is not likely to do so either.
"We All Scream for Ice Cream," taken from a short story by horror author John Farris, concerns a group of men who find themselves haunted by a terrible incident from their childhood. Years earlier, they played a prank that resulted in the accidental death of a mentally-challenged ice cream vendor named Buster (William Forsythe). Dressed as a clown, Buster was the delight of the neighborhood children, who looked forward to his clever tricks in addition to his tasty treats. Now, after two of the former friends mysteriously die with their bodies nowhere to be found, Layne (Lee Tergesen), the most remorseful of the group, starts to fear that someone is coming back for deadly revenge.
At first, he suspects Virgil (Colin Cunningham), the bully who put them up to the prank and who has grown up to be some kind of backwoods sociopath and apparently doesn't own a single shirt. We know from the beginning, however, that Buster has returned from beyond the grave and calls to the children of his killers in the middle of the night from his fog-shrouded ice cream truck, selling them ice cream voodoo dolls that will cause his old enemies to melt away. I know what you're asking, and no, the story doesn't get any clearer than that.
This story of ghostly revenge offers nothing in the way of true suspense, relying chiefly on the appearance of its clown villain to scare its audience. As he did with dolls in "Child's Play," Tom Holland takes full advantage of the inherent creepiness of clowns, and William Forsythe is indeed quite a sight in full make-up and rainbow wig. This, however, is not enough to sustain a full 57 minutes. The characters are all one-note and give the actors very little to do. As Layne's wife, Ingrid Tesch is saddled with some of the worst lines this side of an Ed Wood movie. The lack of character development and the downright silliness of the dialogue are especially problematic as the film is mostly driven by drama, with few scenes of extended action or violence. There is one big gross-out moment that involves Virgil in a hot tub, and it is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise mediocre episode.
William Forsythe, in what is essentially a supporting part, gives a fantastic performance as Buster. In the early flashback scenes, he captures the sweetness and innocence of the well-meaning but abused clown. Later, he is genuinely sinister as the vengeful ghost. Unfortunately, the script does not match his dynamic talent. Colin Cunningham is also memorable, chewing the scenery as the crazed Virgil. As already mentioned, his experience in a hot tub is one of the best moments. In general, however, this feature has the look and feel of an old episode of Nickelodeon's "Are You Afraid of the Dark?," which offered horror stories for pre-teens. It takes images from our childhood nightmares but cannot fashion them adequately to appeal to adult sensibilities.
Like the rest of Anchor Bay's "Masters of Horror" releases, this film is presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen and looks very good. The image is sometimes soft, particularly in darker scenes, but the transfer appears to be free of dirt and artifacts. Colors are rendered quite nicely, especially in the flashback scenes, which are given a warm palette and somewhat aged texture. Contrast is fine, with decent black levels and bright whites.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 surround. Since there is not much action, the surround does not come in to play very often, save for that one hot tub scene. Here, the music and icky sound effects are pleasantly spread around the rear channels for a sickly sweet experience. Voices are not as clear as I would like, but they are adequate.
Tom Holland and screenwriter David J. Schow provide what may be one of the most honest commentary tracks I have heard in some time. While they seem mostly congenial, the two do not hold back their criticism of the final product and, in fact, they both express their overall dissatisfaction with the way it turned out. Much of their disappointment has to do with the tight budget and time restraints they were forced to work under. Holland beats himself up a little about the "cheerful" colors of Buster's costume and make-up, though I have to say that was probably one of the reasons why the character was so creepy.
The 14-minute featurette, "Sweet Revenge: The Making of We All Scream for Ice Cream," offers some good behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with several crew members. Interestingly, Forsythe is the only cast member to grant an interview. Could this possibly indicate that the rest of the cast was also disappointed by the outcome?
"Melt Down: The Scoop on Visual and Make-up Effects" offers an eight-minute glance at the creation of the special effects used in the film. Lee Wilson talks about the (mostly unconvincing) CGI that was used throughout, while make-up artist extraordinaire Howard Berger shows us how the big hot tub gross-out scene was done.
A photo gallery and trailers for all of the "Masters of Horror" releases round out the disc, along with the episode's script available as a DVD-ROM feature. It's a pretty solid release for a so-so entry.
Tom Holland is no master, and "We All Scream for Ice Cream" is no masterpiece. Aside from William Forsythe's terrific performance, there is nothing here to recommend this entry in the "Masters of Horror" series. There is no suspense, and the story is ludicrous. Some interesting visuals make this an attractive release, but (to make a really bad pun) this revenge tale is a dish best not served.