In 2005, Showtime began airing an anthology horror series called Masters of Horror. New and emerging horror directors were invited to direct original one hour horror films with no restrictions. Season two pushed the show in new creative directions as everyone involved in the show seemed determined to tell bigger and stranger stories than the first season.
Something is wrong with the ice cream in a small town. When a cone is consumed, someone will literally melt into a pile of sticky goo. The adults in the town know why it’s happening, but no one is willing to discuss the truth.
We All Scream for Ice Cream is the kind of paranormal slasher film I expected to see when Masters of Horror was announced. Yes, horror is a wide genre spanning many styles of storytelling, and yes, most of the directors invited to participate in the series have directed at least one slasher (if not many more). I just didn’t think so many episodes would avoid actually playing with the slasher form in a meaningful way. The only other slasher entry in the series is Pick Me Up.
Tom Holland has had a long career writing and directing a mix of atypical slasher films and adaptations of challenging properties. He finds a way to make the blatantly unnatural feel real onscreen. He is the mind behind both Fright Night and Child’s Play. He is also the screenwriter on the surprisingly good Psycho II and the writer/director of The Langoliers and Thinner. Holland writes fascinating character arcs and interpersonal dynamics that ground absurd and unbelievable scenarios into a compelling reality. If anyone was going to direct a slasher film, however strange, it was Holland.
The whole conceit of We All Scream for Ice Cream is great. I’m all for a dense exploration of humanity, society, and the things that terrify us in horror. I like to be challenged. Sometimes, it’s nice to just ease into a concept that can be sold with a logline. “An ice cream man gets revenge from beyond the grave” is the kind of wild concept that defines the American horror film. The episode does go much deeper than that, but the throughline is easy to latch onto.
So much of what makes a good slasher film is the right match of story and director. John Farris’ story “I Scream. You Scream. We All Scream for Ice Cream” was destined to be adapted into a film one day. His stories that have made it to the screen have turned into excellent horror films, including Brian De Palma’s The Fury and the TV movie When Michael Calls. Holland found a way to make a talking doll into a knife-wielding serial killer and a bizarre Stephen King novella about unimaginable creatures literally eating our memories into an iconic horror miniseries. It really can’t be a surprise that We All Scream for Ice Cream works as well as it does.
The episode has a mix of a lot of different slasher setups. There’s a serial killer no one believes can be real who becomes a killer clown in death. The children are simultaneously in peril from a paranormal force and also a conduit for an undying source of evil. The town is also filled with a dark secret, where most people know what is causing the terror but no one is willing to discuss it openly. Lastly, the killer has a signature move that defines most of their attacks.
The most terrifying aspect of We All Scream for Ice Cream is that signature move. A child who buys an ice cream novelty from the mysterious truck that only drives at night becomes obsessed with eating it no matter what. One bite of the frozen treat will literally turn the nearest adult connected to the dark secret into a puddle of melted ice cream. You can’t reason with a child who spent their hard-earned money on the ice cream. Sooner or later, they will eat it, and someone will melt around them.
We All Scream for Ice Cream falls into that Nightmare on Elm Street/It style of generational paranormal horror. Mistakes made in the past haunt a town for generations. The lesson on these films is not that cruel children deserve punishment, but that those who refuse to take responsibility for what they’ve done in the past will inevitably be haunted by it.
content warning: foul language, gore, sexual violence (discussed)
Up next: S2E11 “The Black Cat” from director Stuart Gordon.