Black comedy, when it works, can be delicious; breaking taboos with humour is a mother lode for film-makers, but it’s an alchemy hard won, and the trail is littered with well-intentioned failures. So serial killer comedy When The Screaming Starts is one that I approached with some trepidation; the poster suggests a Knives Out romp, but Conor Boru’s film is something rather different from that old –school whodunit. Co-written with Ed Hartland, Boru starts out with a mockumentry premise and goes somewhere rather different, although the darkness, gore and cringe comedy are all supplied in plentiful amounts.
So we start off with familiar elements; Aidan, played by Hartland, wants to make his mark on the world, and imagines himself as a Charles Manson-style Svengali who can nurture a team of killers to do his behest. With filmmaker Norman (Jared Rogers) in tow, Aidan starts auditioning for his crew, and soon assembles a motley bunch of misfits, from fishmongers to yogis, all of a similar bent. They carry out the first set of killings with elan, but keeping the team together proves difficult with Aidan’s limited feel for the human resources at his disposal.
When The Screaming Starts looks a bit rough-and ready at the outset; the lo-fi look synchs with the grimy subject and cringe comedy, but what’s really notable here is how well Hartland and Boru push through with the anti-social themes and create a complex, satisfying story that uses all of the feature length, leading up to a conclusion and a climactic confrontation that, like a passing cyclist, you probably won’t see coming.
An early reference to a pub called The Slaughtered Lamb gives a hint that John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London is a useful reference point here, as is Man Bites Dog; the violence is similarly startling, and the tone deliberately veers from comic to very dark. Well played by a game young cast, When The Screaming Starts is a surprisingly polished little film, best approached as a comic thriller rather than an out and out comedy, but genuine fun for those who can take it.
Signature Entertainment presents When the Screaming Starts on UK Digital Platforms from 26th September 2022, out now in the US.