Friday, April 17, 2015

Scream and Scream Again

A classic 'What the fuck?' movie, 1970's Scream and Scream Again has achieved something of a cult status, in no little part due to the fact that it is rarely shown on TV in the UK and for years was unavailable on DVD.  The fact that it features all three top horror icons of the sixties and early seventies - Price, Cushing and Lee - a swinging London setting and an incredible opening chase sequence means that you'd be forgiven for thinking that it is some kind of horror classic.  But somehow it falls short of achieving such status.  Perhaps the main reason for this is Christopher Wicking's fragmented script, which jumps between several apparently unconnected plot lines and which ultimately explains little, leaving the viewer asking 'What the fuck?'  Interestingly, bearing in mind how much it disorientates the viewer in a narrative sense, the film was based on a novel by the pseudonymous and prolific Peter Saxon originally called The Disorientated Man

Whilst not providing the audience with any entirely satisfactory explanations, Wicking's script does allow director Gordon Hessler to create a kaleidoscopic ambience for the film, with the screen action constantly shifting and the plot elements likewise constantly combining and recombining into new patterns.  Indeed, the film is great to look at with some fantastic tracking shots as characters are followed through a scene.  Moreover, despite the fact that, despite sharing top-billing with Vincent Price, Cushing and Lee provide little more than extended cameos, some of the supporting cast give excellent performances.  Perhaps most notable are Michael Gothard as 'Keith', the mysterious sex murderer chased by the police in the film's opening sequence, and Alfred Marks as the investigating detective, Superintendent Bellaver - the film loses a lot of its focus and impetus following his demise part way through the story.  So, whilst not a classic, Scream and Scream Again is a highly entertaining piece of pulp, undermined by its lack of a clear resolution.  It's never entirely clear exactly why Price's shady surgeon is creating 'composite' beings from human spare parts - years after seeing the film the first time I tracked down a copy of the source novel on eBay to see if that would answer the question.  It did - the bodies are being constructed as receptacles for alien conciousnesses to allow them to exist on Earth.  Their energies would destroy normal human bodies.  Whilst furnishing this explanation, the book was otherwise a fairly standard pulp story of its era (the mid sixties), with none of the verve of Wicking's flawed script. 

Probably Hessler's best film, Scream and Scream Again actually did well at the box office when originally released.   Milton Subotsky, executive producer at Amicus who co-produced the film with AIP, could never understand this success - he apparently hated Wicking's script and tried to have it thrown out in favour of his own version, which was reportedly a straight adaptation of the novel.  However, as AIP was holding the purse strings, he was overruled.



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