And Now The Screaming Starts (1973 Britain)

This period horror film has all the right ingredients to be a success. It’s got atmosphere, nice sets, Peter Cushing, an experienced horror director, a severed hand with a mind of it’s own…but despite all this, it just doesn’t work as it should. One of the studio’s rare non-anthology movies, it suffers from a very uncertain script. The opening narration suggests a gothic melodrama along the lines of `Rebecca’, but it all-too quickly goes over the top. Familiar genre faces such as Patrick Magee pop up only to fall foul for a disembodied hand (a left over from the studio’s `Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors’) and the whole thing falters.

Being Amicus’ sole foray into full-blown Gothic horror, this film perhaps draws the most comparisons with their ‘rival’ Hammer films. And as such manages to keep its own in their company by virtue of its polished (if not expensive) production values – Denys Coop’s intricate camera-work, Douglas Gamley’s atmospheric score and Tony Curtis’ handsome sets – and its top cast, comprised of any number of renowned genre stars. Stephanie Beacham (who screams and faints like a trouper) actually manages to keep the audience involved in her plight, which is no easy feat seeing that precious little of the plot is revealed during its first half. Ian Ogilvy is an adequately brooding master-of-the house. Geoffrey Whitehead is a mysterious and vaguely sinister woodsmen who lives on the property (actually doubling as his own grandfather in the flashback sequence towards the end). Guy Rolfe and Rosalie Crutchley have small but fairly important roles in support. I have to admit that Roy Ward Baker is one of my favourite British directors from this era, alongside Terence Fisher. And while this is not his best, he delivers another solid piece of entertainment here.

However, the film belongs to three thespians and it seems that the producers knew this as well, given they were top-billed. Peter Cushing, whose belated arrival does not disguise the fact that he’s the true star of the show (nothing new for him here, really, but he’s always worth watching). Herbert Lom as a particularly nasty descendant of Ogilvy’s and whose misdemeanors have put a terrible curse over the entire house. Patrick Magee is the compassionate but weak-willed town medic (who’s regrettably thrown to the sidelines then dispatched once Cushing, with his analytical approach, arrives on the scene). The film features a number of effective moments: the hand bursting out of the painting; the many scenes involving the crawling hand (though a tired motif by now, especially since it was not a part of the source novel this is based upon). Likewise, the many appearances of Whitehead’s disfigured and spooky ancestor plus the all-important flashback involving Lom’s character – which is lifted outright from Conan Doyle’s “The Hound Of The Baskervilles.”

There is a brutal (if not too graphic) rape and symbolic mutilation, also featuring some brief nudity – unless I’m mistaken, a first for Amicus (in contrast, Beacham’s violation by the ‘ghost’ is presented in a lot subtler way which, by the end, only led to confusion for some viewers as to what had really happened to her!) The finale is quite interesting for this type of film (though, again, hardly ground-breaking in the broader scheme of things). Ogilvy goes mad a’ la Witchfinder General (1968) and literally digs up his grandfather’s corpse while Beacham, equally unhinged by this time, is perplexed by the presence of her new-born child who may or may not be ‘possessed’ (echoes of Rosemary’s Baby). The sight of Cushing presiding over this scene and realizing that all his ‘enlightened’ advice has brought only misery upon the couple lends the whole a rare, and probably unwitting, poignancy.

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Comments

  1. Excellent review! Definitely not one of Amicus’ best, but nevertheless has a few very effective moments. If you’re a horror fan, then it is worth checking out. 😈

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Much appreciated. 🙂

    Like

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