The big selling point for this movie was the presence of Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, though in fact the three never appear on-screen at the same time. And despite the title it’s not much of a horror film either, so some fans may have felt somewhat gypped! While admittedly disjointed, this is an entertaining Cold War thriller with tinges of sci-fi. What is the connection between the murder of a politician in an unnamed eastern Bloc nation, the apparent heart attack of an Englishman and the brutal murder of a young woman?
The following is offered for Todd Mason’s Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme over at his Sweet Freedom blog.
Superintendent Bellaver: “Is it murder? Don’t be so bloody stupid!”
The Amicus company, from the mid 1960s, specialised increasingly in portmanteau films made up of several episodes (I briefly profiled these in my review of their 1972 film, Asylum) and were less well-known for single story features. Looking at this somewhat fragmented and episodic film, one can almost see the producers trying to make a single story feature but in the anthology format, with lots of great scenes and sequences, but which virtually never overlap until the end – which is what would also happen in the multi-story releases too. This film certainly doesn’t hold together very well as an overall narrative.
Based on the 1966 novel The Disorientated Man by ‘Peter Saxon’ (a house name in this instance used by Stephen D. Frances), it changes the novel by turning an invasion by extra terrestrials into a Cold War story involving the nefarious activities in the UK of an (unnamed) Eastern Bloc country with a decidedly fascist imprimatur.
Professor Kingsmill: Fastest transition in the world: from human to corpse. It doesn’t do to get the two confused, or you’ll never be successful.
Overall, this thriller has a very fragmented style, especially the opening section, which to me feels like a series of ‘cold open’ set-pieces for different movies or TV episodes – in actual fact, this can feel quite modern as we switch from various countries and seemingly unrelated plots. There is Keith (Michael Gothard) a serial killer knocking off young ‘dolly birds’ he picks up in discos; there are a series of mysterious deaths as part of a power play in an unnamed European dictatorship; and then there are the mysterious shenanigans of Vincent Price, who is actually fairly subdued as professor Kingsmill. And what about the man who keeps undergoing a series on unexplained and seemingly unnecessary amputations? And how does Christopher Lee’s British master spy fit into this – is he a double agent working with the East Europeans? And what is the big secret they all seem to be trying to protect?
It is only after the film is half over that we start to think that this more than just a thriller with spy overtones as Keith (Gothard) seems to exhibit almost superhuman strength. Alfred Marks as Bellaver, the cop tasked with tracking down the serial killer, steals the show and gets the cream of the film’s funny lines (he reportedly supplied several of them himself). For instance, here is is examining a sandwich back at the police station:
Superintendent Bellaver: “Smells like cheese, looks like ham… [bites] Oh, no problem, it’s chicken … [after swallowing] That bloody chicken wasn’t killed, it died of old age.”
The centre of the film is taken up with a really long car chase that is very well staged and excitingly executed. Overall, while Hessler’s direction is always elegant and dynamic, one can see how the approach to story might try most viewer’s patience as the plot only really comes together in the last 15 minutes or so. In the first 55 minutes, the ostensible three stars only appear in one scene each – indeed, Cushing is only in one scene at the beginning, long enough to get killed, and Lee only appears in four in total, only one of which he shares with Price. So horror fans will probably feel a bit let down by this – not least because, until the last 15 minutes or so, what we have is a pretty straight storyline, with fantastical elements only arriving toward the end – when, in fairness, the fairly cockeyed story does try to explains itself as the police investigation, the spy subplots and the mad scientist storyline more or less ‘come together’ (and yes, that is a bit of a pun). Well shot, well cast, with some funny dialogue too, this is just about worth 90 minutes of your time – and if you want more information about the film, please visit Anything Horror.
DVD Availability: This film is easy to find on DVD in decent, no frills editions.
Scream and Scream Again (1969)
Director: Gordon Hessler
Producer: Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg
Screenplay: Christopher Wicking
Cinematography: John Coquillion
Art Direction: Bill Constable
Music: David Whitacker
Cast: Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Judy Huxtable, Alfred Marks, Michael Gothard, Uta Levka, Anthony Newlands, Judy Bloom, Peter Sallis, Marshall Jones