Masters of Horror: We All Scream for Ice Cream (Tom Holland, 2007, 58 min.)
[Number] years ago, a bunch of [tormentors] tormented [victim] to death. Now, [victim]’s spirit is back to wreak horrible revenge that’s tied to the earlier torment. Countless horror films are basically mad-libs: fill in the blanks, and you have your plot. The results can be great: A Nightmare on Elm Street is the archetype here. They can also be godawful stupid, as if gas-huffing children did the mad-libbing, which is the case with this entry in Showtime’s “Masters of Horror” series. It has quite a pedigree—Fright Night director Tom Holland and The Crow screenwriter David J. Schow working from a John Farris short story—but the result has freezer burn.
The victim in this case was Buster (Rob Zombie favorite William Forsythe), a developmentally disabled ice cream man who dressed like a clown and did magic tricks. The tormentors were a bunch of punk kids. The torment was to accidentally run him over with his own ice cream truck. I’m not sure how many years ago it was. But now they’re adults with children of their own, he’s back, feeding their kids voodoo ice cream sandwiches that, when eaten, cause their dads to melt into puddles of goo. Lee Tergesen plays Layne, the guy who was bullied as a child into pulling the emergency brake that led to Buster’s demise, and he’s the guy who Buster decides to kill last.
I honestly think it would have been possible to make a good, fun, semi-scary short film out of this slim premise. However, that did not happen here: We All Scream for Ice Cream is most certainly the worst of the “Masters of Horror” films, and it might be one of the stupidest things I’ve seen all year. This is a ridiculous premise, and a little sense of humor might have saved the day. Holland seems to have understood the value of humor in his other projects, but the big problem here is that it takes itself completely seriously. Tergesen plays the whole thing stone-faced, even a ridiculous scene where he confronts his childhood nemesis, the bully who started all the trouble, in his hot tub concealed inside some kind of junkyard hideaway. It appears that Buster’s original ice cream truck is sitting in the same room, which one might imagine would prompt questions, but that bit of continuity was left on the cutting room floor, along with any elements of suspense or logic. The ending, in which Tergesen attempts no less than three methods of offing ghost-Buster before settling on the one we know will work (and he knows will work, because it was the subject of an entire scene of its own), feels like filler, as does the obligatory denouement where Buster’s ghostly song warns us that revenge is a dish best served chilled. There is a nice play on the idea that all vengeful spirits really want is an apology for the treatment they received, but it comes too little, too late to save this film.
After viewing somewhere around seven or eight episodes of the series, I can confidently say that “Masters of Horror” is representative of both of its chosen genres, television and horror films. When it’s at its best, as in John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns or especially Joe Dante’s Homecoming, it’s vital, well-crafted work that stands up to the best feature-length films. But when it’s at its worst, as it is here, well, it’s a bad popsicle. (Had to work in one more ice cream joke.)