Tuesday, June 28, 2016

SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN

Gordon Hessler, 1970
Starring: Alfred Marks, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing

“TRIPLE DISTILLED HORROR... as powerful as a vat of boiling ACID!”

Based on Peter Saxon’s novel The Disoriented Man, this film is a bit disorienting and I’m not sure if a brief summary can really do it justice. There are essentially three plots that eventually converge: the first involves a man jogging in London who collapses and winds up in the hospital. Throughout the film, every time he resumed consciousness, he is missing a new limb, but the nurse attending him refuses to explain. The second plot involves a military official returned to London from some maybe fascist (?) country. He kills a number of superior officers by doing what appears to be an inspired interpretation of the Vulcan death grip. The final and loosely central plot is focused on a violent serial killer and rapist who preys on the city’s women and drains them of their blood. A detective hunts him down and investigates the deaths, which horrify the city’s police officers and morgue workers. The detective consults a strange doctor who runs an organ and limb transplant clinic... 

This co-production between American International Pictures and British studio Tigon is a huge mess and is indicative of the kind of bumbling interference on the part of AIP that also made complete messes of films like The Haunted House of Horror and, to a lesser extent, The Curse of the Crimson Altar. While The Haunted House of Horror was horrifically saddled with Frankie Avalon and The Curse of the Crimson Altar was blessed by the aged, wheelchair-bound presence of Boris Karloff (still on top of his game despite little to do in the film), Scream and Scream Again is nearly saved by the presence of the great Vincent Price, though he seems just as confused by the plot as I was.

And yet... as with Tigon's earlier lovable disaster, The Blood Beast Terror, I know it's a mess, I can explain to you why 
— and there's just really no reason to avoid the honest truth — but that doesn't stop Scream and Scream Again from being incredibly entertaining. The script does it absolutely no favors, as the three plots randomly stop and start and careen into one another, but despite that and a number of other flaws, it’s just so much fun. As with my thoughts on The Blood Beast Terror, I will fully admit that I'm just not trustworthy where this film is concerned. Though there are a fair amount of stylish sets and costumes, the movie has an undeniably grungy feeling — which feels strangely out of place and which I love — and is populated with unlikable characters and some very nasty violence. And what the hell is with the Nazi subplot? It’s actually very difficult to fully describe the plot without giving things away, as scene after scene reveals more and more ridiculousness. Personally, I don't care a bit about spoilers and usually dole them out with no warning, but it just seems wrong in this case.

Director Gordon Hessler made some lesser known films that built on Roger Corman and Vincent Price’s Edgar Allen Poe series, such as The Oblong Box (1969), Cry of the Banshee (1970), and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971). While I genuinely love all of these, despite their flaws, Scream and Scream Again is certainly his wildest and most interesting ride. Thanks is due in no small part to Peter Cushing, Vincent Price, and Christopher Lee, all of whom appear in this film, though not necessarily together and, much to my dismay, none of them really have a significant amount of screen time. While Cushing and Lee obviously had entwined careers and developed quite a beloved partnership — one that shaped the face of British horror — Price and Lee had only just worked together for the first time in Hessler’s previous film, The Oblong Box, where they also only shared one scene. Price and Cushing worked together on a handful of titles, namely the wonderful Madhouse. The three would work together again only once more over a decade later in Pete Walker’s unexpectedly delightful House of the Long Shadows (1983).

There are some other familiar faces, many of whom are quite welcome additions to the film, including Judy Huxtable (Die Screaming Marianne, no relation to Bill Cosby’s TV family), Yutte Stensgaard (Lust for a Vampire), Peter Sallis (Taste the Blood of Dracula), Christopher Matthews (Scars of Dracula), and British TV actor Alfred Marks. Marks is basically the star of the film and is quite likable as the head inspector. I don't know what it is about these Detective Inspector characters — perhaps a combination of watching British TV comedy and repeatedly reading Conan Doyle stories as a child — but I can't get enough of them. Marks is not quite on the level of John Williams in Dial M for Murder or Donald Pleasence's character in Death Line (who is, really), but he's a solid force within the film.

One of my favorite elements is the great score from David Whitaker, who used the kind of wild jazz much more frequently found in continental horror, such as the films of Jess Franco. Whitaker also scored Vampire Circus and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde — imagine what a triple feature that would make. Although, as much as I love the score, it makes a lot of the film seem even more ridiculous, namely a lengthy scene where the police chase the killer, first by car and then on foot. They capture him and handcuff him, but he gets away by ripping off his own hand, and the chase continues. I’m not making this up.

Scream and Scream Again comes highly recommended and I love the film, but it will really only appeal to a certain audience. Open-mindedness and a certain irrepressible joie de vivre is key. The film is available on a double feature, single disc DVD from MGM’s Midnite Movies along with Hessler’s more conventional outing with Price and Lee, The Oblong Box. (Though it's still pretty bananas, at least compared to more straightforward British horror fare.)

6 comments:

  1. Blu-Ray from Twilite Time with audio commentary, interviews, isolated score.

    http://www1.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/30017/SCREAM-AND-SCREAM-AGAIN-1970-SPECIAL-PROMOTION/

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    1. Thanks! I will definitely have to pick this up.

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  2. Yes, I find it very entertaining for those very reasons. It's the ultimate bodies-in-pieces horror film, in fact I'd call it a film-in-pieces, the parts never equal a symmetrical whole but seem to travel down parallel highways. It's a dense multi-linear work of Anglo American science fiction. I remember sitting through it for several consecutive matinee showings when it played theatrical here in 1969 and it seemed like a different film each time!

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    1. It's definitely interesting to think of it as being a science fiction film, which I guess I've never really done -- mainly because of the context in which I first saw it (with a bunch of other Vincent Price films). There really is nothing quite like it.

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  3. Am I nuts or was that Boris Karloff performing the autopsy on "the hand"? He was not in the credits.

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    1. I'm pretty sure it's not, but now I'm going to have to watch it again just to be sure (not that that's a hardship).

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