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Evil Laugh   B

Program Power Entertainment

Year Released: 1988
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Dominick Brascia
Writers: Steven Baio, Dominick Brascia
Cast: Steven Baio, Tony Griffin, Kim McKamy, Jody Gibson, Jerold Pearson, Myles O'Brien, Karyn O'Bryan.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

Nearly 10 years before Scream took all the credit for inventing the self-referential horror film there was the ridiculous slasher romp Evil Laugh. As a masked killer with a wicked giggle butchers young medical students during a weekend at an old house, the horror geek of the bunch, Barney (Jerold Pearson), is ready with his indispensable wisdom. "You're going to have sex?" he asks his buddy, who has halted a little foreplay for a quick stop in the kitchen for some whipped cream. "Don't!" Barney says. "Every time someone has sex in a horror story they get murdered!"

As you might guess, the house that the students are staying at has a morbid history. It was an orphanage that was shut down a decade earlier when the custodian murdered all the children in residence. But none of the young folks (save for the horror geek) are frightened by the house's history. In fact, it's not long before the guys are trying to get the girls into bed and they're all cleaning house while boogying to bad '80s pop rock.

Make no mistake: Evil Laugh doesn't work as a horror film. But I'd be hard-pressed to name another slasher film this damn funny. I just wonder how much of the humor was intentional. In the interview with writer-director Dominick Brascia and writer-producer-star Steven Baio included on the DVD, they admit that the murder scenes are intentionally cheesy because they didn't have the budget to do anything truly effective. They also think that their movie is still scary, which I find tough to believe. This movie is 100 percent cheese. As such, it works wonderfully.

Take, for instance, the scene where a hole is slashed through a mattress by someone with a knife hiding under a bed. Two sex-crazed young adults enter, disrobe, and plop down on the bed, with the guy on top. Up through the hole comes a hand that starts fondling the guy's ass. He says to the girl that it's kinky for her to play with his butt. Surprised, she says she's not playing with his butt. Recalling the "If I wasn't holding your hand then whose hand was I holding?" moment in Robert Wise's The Haunting, the guy pauses and replies: "If you're not, who is?" Priceless.

While Evil Laugh may not offer any effective scares, its joyful exuberance is bound to win over many a fan of cheesy low-budget horror flicks. The cast has a chirpy enthusiasm, there's some nudity, and the murder scenes are often downright hilarious (the classic microwave death is my favorite). It isn't nearly as clever as Scream with the self-referential humor, but it should be noted as a possible inspiration for Scream scribe Kevin Williamson. Some of the similarities are uncanny, including a scene that mirrors the part in Scream in which Rose McGowan comes face to face with the killer, thinks it's a friend trying to scare her, and teases him by pretending to play the victim.

Luckily, Program Power Entertainment has released this long out-of-print film onto DVD with some fun extras to boot. Aside from the previously mentioned interview, the disc contains an audio commentary by writer-director Dominick Brascia and writer-producer-star Steven Baio (brother of Scott Baio of Happy Days fame). There's a behind-the-scenes photo gallery and the DVD-ROM extras include the original screenplay, one-sheets, video packaging art, press kits, reviews, and newspaper clippings. Yes, Program Power packed this DVD just like their Slaughterhouse and The Boneyard discs. Good thing, too. As far as cheesy '80s horror movies go, Evil Laugh is one of the long-forgotten gems.

Review published 04.25.2002.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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