And Now the Screaming Starts! (1972)

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*. As if the title wasn’t stupid enough, they had to put an exclamation mark at the end. You know you’re in full low-budget exploitation mode when.
*. On the DVD commentary Stephanie Beacham calls the title a “travesty” and director Roy Ward Baker angrily remarks that it’s “a ghastly title, it just makes the thing into a kind of cheapo-sensational movie, which, as you will see, it is not.” Whatever you say, Roy. He goes on to express the opinion that this movie is unlike Hammer productions because it’s not shot in “any kind of horror-film style.” What he means is that it’s quieter, develops at a slower pace, and shows characters thinking more.
*. Well, you decide.
*. Originally it was to be Fengriffen (the title of the novella it’s taken from) and then The Bride of Fengriffen. Which, when you think about it, might have actually been worse. Another title mooted was I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream, a totally inexplicable borrowing from the notoriously litigious Harlan Ellison (the studio backed down immediately). Clearly no one had any idea what to call it. In the featurette “Inside the Fear Factory” producer Max Rosenberg admits to being the one who came up with And Now the Screaming Starts!, but brushes it off as “meaningless.”
*. 1973 seems awfully late to me for a movie like this. Essentially Amicus had set itself up in competition with Hammer and was doing its best to rip them off in terms of story, setting and even cast. Which was fair play, since Hammer had made its bones by ripping off Universal’s monster line-up. But surely this was the last gasp of gothic horror, which wasn’t something Amicus went in for much anyway.

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*. There’s a Rebecca-type opening voiceover with Catherine taking us back to her dream of a return to Fengriffen Manor, but we’re really just going back to Hammer’s familiar stamping grounds of Oakley Court and Shepperton Studio (exteriors of the manor house and interiors respectively). Apparently Oakley is a luxury hotel now. I feel like I know the place after all the time I’ve spent walking its grounds. Most famously, it was Dr. Frank N. Furter’s castle in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
*. I know he’s trying to keep quiet about the curse, but I still find it odd how Charles doesn’t let on that anything untoward is happening as people start dropping around him like flies. All just natural causes or the usual murderous activity among the crofters. No need to get too excited. Nothing to see here.
*. Notice that it’s the dog Catherine didn’t give the snack to earlier that breaks its chain and attacks her. That’ll teach her to play favourites!

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*. On both commentary tracks much is made of the terrible effect the loss of his wife, who died in 1971, had on Peter Cushing. Baker said that he became a shell, and Cushing himself described himself as just “killing time” after she died. He was still very professional, but it’s hard not to feel some of that despair and even listlessness here in his performance as the cadaverous Van Helsing figure, Dr. Pope. Though as the part is written he really has very little to do except to find out what is going on. And the fact is, he was always a very restrained and formal actor.

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*. Stephanie Beacham is the ultimate Hammer girl in a non-Hammer movie. All bulging eyes and heaving bosom, screams and dramatic décolletage. Ian Ogilvie: “with Stephanie you don’t need dialogue” (he meant that as a compliment to her “big” acting). Not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially as the role calls for nothing more.
*. I’ve made a couple of comments now on actors doing the best with the limited material they’re given to work with. Here’s Ian Ogilvy stating the obviou: “these parts, as written, aren’t tremendously profound, they’re fairly shallow.”
*. I wonder how many other movies have been made that quote from Milton’s Comus. Probably not many. What’s strange about it here is that it has no real thematic connection, as the virgin (Catherine) is immediately violated. I suspect they just threw it in for weight.
*. The gorey bits are laughable, almost bad enough to be good. The eyeless face is a poor mask and Silas’s birthmark looks like a Fruit Roll-Up that’s been stuck to his face. Charles smashing his grandfather’s corpse to bits in the graveyard is a howl (on the DVD commentary Ogilvie agrees, calling it “really quite funny,” and something a contemporary audience would “scream with laughter” at). The battery-operated crawling hand doesn’t look too bad, but when it performs like the killer bunny in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, leaping at people’s throats, the effect is hilarious.

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*. But I said “almost” bad enough to be good. The fact is, this is a cheap and stupid movie. What isn’t funny or stupid (or both) tends to just be repellent. I’m thinking primarily here of the flashback rape scene, which is ugly.
*. The one bit of interest I find in it is the “reproductive horror” angle. In this one way it was ahead of its time, coming after Rosemary’s Baby (1968) (a film Baker and Beacham, when asked on the commentary, are unsure if they’d seen at the time) but jumping the gun on such movies as It’s Alive (1974), Demon Seed (1977), The Brood (1979), Alien (1979), and Basket Case (1982). (I’d add The Entity (1982) just for its ghost-rape scene, but there’s no baby in that film.)
*. What is the essence of reproductive horror? I’m not sure it has a single source, but here and in a few other cases it’s closely connected to a fear of cuckoldry. We’re prepared for this by all the early talk of family trees and the gallery of family portraits. Bloodlines have been polluted, leading to the production of a monster.
*. Aside from that, I don’t think there’s anything remarkable about this movie at all. Indeed, given the talent involved it’s quite disappointing. It’s not scary, or funny, or terribly original. Rather, it’s only the last degenerate offspring of a tired family line.

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