Monday, January 4, 2010


Dir Gordon Hessler. Starring Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Alfred Marks.

There was a period in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when British horror films took a serious and extended trip into the weird side of things. The gothic feel of Hammer was starting to become passé and the old monsters (particularly Frankenstein and Dracula) were showing a little wear around the cinematic edges (although, ironically, some of the finest Hammer films such as Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, The Devil Rides Out and Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter were made around this time) even the Amicus portmanteau movies had begun to look a little moribund (although again, films like Asylum and Beyond the Grave have a lasting appeal for certain aficionados.).

As a result, the British horror film diversified in an attempt to broaden its appeal and as a result threw up quite a few oddities.

One of the strangest of them all was 1969’s Scream and Scream Again – based upon the novel The Disorientated Man by Peter Saxon - a film for which the words ‘confusing’ and ‘compelling’ hardly do justice to the wild mix of science fiction, serial killer and police procedural contained within its hour and a half of strange doings, multiple plot strands and funky fashions.

Any kind of précis would be difficult to write in a few words, but here goes:

An athlete collapses in the street during the opening credits. He awakes to find himself in a hospital bed and to discover that his limbs are being removed one by one. A blood drinking serial killer is at large, targeting young women and dispatching them in various brutal ways. Simultaneously, strange experiments are being carried out in an unnamed European country (ostensibly East Germany but closer in appearance to a black-clad fascist state) while Dr Browning (Vincent Price) is also carrying out experiments of his own in his stately mansion cum laboratory. As the police begin to realise that their killer is more than human (difficult to stop, capable of tearing his own hand off in order to escape from handcuffs) the trail finally leads to Price and his convenient tub of acid into which the killer plunges himself rather than face capture.

The plot strands finally come together to reveal that Dr Price – aided and abetted by the homicidal Konrad (Marshall Jones) - has been creating a race of superhumans of which Lugosi’s Dr Vornoff from Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster would be justifiably proud.

The whole thing ends in a welter of acid as Price decides to destroy his creations rather than allow them to be used for evil and the viewer is left with the nagging feeling that he has just seen something so ludicrous that it is either the work of a genius or a madman.

Actually, Scream and Scream Again is a decent enough (if often confusing) potboiler and if one doesn’t think too hard about the various glaring plot holes that abound left, right and centre, it passes a decent enough ninety odd minutes. It has a mad charm all of its own and with the behind the scenes involvement of Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky is basically an Amicus movie masquerading under a different banner (much like Horror Hotel or the two Dr Who movies in which Cushing played the Doctor).

Although Price, Lee and Cushing are the ostensive stars of the movie, their various contributions amount to little more than extended cameos (Cushing in particular appears for just long enough to be dispatched by Konrad with a sort of Vulcan nerve pinch, while Lee’s appearance is not dissimilar to the part he would play in Death Line, as a sort of catch-all ‘Man from the Ministry’ character).

The real star of the movie is Alfred Marks, whose irascible Inspector Bellaver is one of that small but honourable group of irascible policemen who’s ranks include Donald Pleasance in Death Line and Robert Hardy in the similarly bonkers Psychomania (Marks’ brief soliloquy on the nature of a Police issue sandwich is particular fine: “Smells like cheese. Looks like ham. Oh, no problem, it’s chicken”) and there are enough familiar faces in the supporting cast to make it a fun evening of ‘what else was that guy in?’ for anyone who enjoys identifying British actors slumming it for the pay cheque.

Strange, confusing and wonderful in parts – Price in particular appears to relish his mad scientist role (although both Cushing and Lee, Lee in particular, appear to be slightly unsure as to what they are actually doing here) – Scream and Scream Again is something of a mixed bag. Not a classic by any means, but passable enough and any film that features Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in its line-up automatically becomes a must see for anyone who has an interest in British horror cinema.

And it all makes sense in the end. Sort of.

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