Classic Period Horror
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And Now the Screaming Starts (1973)
21st Jul 06
Virginal Stephanie Beecham is cursed from the day she sets foot inside the Fengriffin Estate, having haunting visions and a bit of how’s yer father with a ghostly spirit. Nice.
Shot under the title, The Bride of Fengriffin, Roy Ward Baker and his cast must have been mortified when the white-collared production team of Amicus renamed it …And Now the Screaming Starts. They were right to be disappointed. It’s a shit name, isn’t it? Please don’t let that put you off however, because if you like classy, British horror laced with the cream of acting talent, a solid story, a few scares and gory jolts, then this Hammer-flavoured offering may just be your bag.
Set somewhere in the West Country (judging by the accents) in 1795, Catherine (Stephanie Beecham) has come from London to get married to Charles Fengriffin (Ian Ogilvy) at his county estate. Unfortunately for her she is raped by an unseen spirit on her wedding night, thus losing her virginity in the way she least expects. Furthermore, she is having visions of an eyeless man at the window, a severed hand creeping around, and harbours a dark fascination for the painting of Charles’ grandfather (Herbert Lom). After local stethoscope enthusiast Patrick Magee confirms Catherine’s pregnancy, he falls victim to the Fengriffin curse whilst trying to explain the whole sordid affair to visiting shrink Peter Cushing. It is now up to Cushing to do all he can to get to the bottom of a 50 year old curse involving Charles’ grandfather and the solitary, isolated figure of Silas (not an albino monk, but rather a cross between Rhys Ifans and Jimmy Saville), who lives in a small cottage in the Fengriffin estate.
In all honesty, the first time I watched this Amicus offering on TV late one night, I wasn’t overly keen on it. Maybe I’d seen way too much period horror movies in that Hammer tradition. Maybe I just hated the stupid title. Upon Dark Sky’s DVD release however, certain things became apparent. Elements such as Baker’s experienced direction, Denys Coop’s assured, stylish cinematography and an accomplished cast really help to breath life into this old-fashioned affair. The story itself is also intriguing but you have to be patient for the plot to find its feet. To be more precise, you have to wait exactly one hour before you learn the significance of the birth-marked woodsman, during a scene where Charles tells Cushing’s shrink of his Grandfather’s nefarious activities 50 years ago, and more to the point, why the Silas bloodline has been allowed to live on the Fengriffin land since that time.
A word now about the cast. Perhaps producer Max Rosenburg chose to change the name of the film due to the amount of screaming coming from Stephanie Beecham’s general direction, but don’t let that annoy you – just be sure to turn the volume down a little as one of my flat mates commented on the screaming coming from my room when I was watching it this time (although I’m a bit surprised they commented at all given the fact that there’s normally such a racket coming from my den of pain and suffering. And bad movies).
That said, Beecham gives a sterling performance as well as giving us plenty of titillation on the ‘heaving bosom’ front. A fine front she most definitely has, and those old-style frocks sure know how to accentuate a lady’s finer features. Herbert Lom doesn’t get his tits out however, but nevertheless manages to cast an unwholesome presence as the depraved, cruel Henry Fengriffin. Sadly, Patrick Magee doesn’t get quite enough screen time for my liking but fear not, because Peter Cushing’s performance is mesmerizing in his finest possible tradition. By 1973 of course, Cushing was an honours graduate of the old school, and in Screaming, you will probably realise just why he is considered a true icon of classic horror cinema. He doesn’t become his character; he already is. A true professional of the best kind. And he was in Star Wars. Brilliant.
The special effects are good, old-fashioned trickery; look out for the Amicus clockwork-functioned creeping hand crawling around the place, making a general nuisance of itself and scaring the bejesus out of poor Catherine. Then the screaming starts. Also on show effects-wise is a plethora of frame dissolves, especially when it comes to Catherine’s visions of the eyeless man, and although these simple effects probably looked good in 1973, they look particularly old hat in this day and age. But that’s the kind of movie this is, so you know exactly what to expect. What’s more, CGI doesn’t come close to this.
Another great thing about …And Now the Screaming Starts is that the credits roll, all clinical and precise, at 90 minutes, but the extras provided means that your edification doesn’t have to end there. Dark Sky have kindly provided not one but two commentary tracks, the first with director Roy Ward Baker and Stephanie Beecham; the second with Ian Ogilvy. Extras sadly do not include any interviews or featurrettes but linear notes and biographies are supplied.
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