Scream and Scream Again (1969) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

Scream-and-Scream-AgainThe 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 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 present 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 of 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?

Lee_Scream-and-scream-again

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, while Hessler’s direction is always elegant and dynamic, though 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

***** (2 fedora tips out of 5)

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This entry was posted in Amicus, Christopher Lee, England, London, Peter Cushing, Science Fiction, Tuesday's Overlooked Film and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to Scream and Scream Again (1969) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

  1. Hmm…it does sound a bit disjointed, Sergio. Almost as though there might have been three separate movies possible there (or perhaps the plot lines wouldn’t have been sustainable for a full-length film?). At any rate, much as I respect the work of the three ‘stars,’ I think I’d have felt disappointed, too. Still, elegant direction is elegant direction. Thanks, as always, for a thoughtful and candid review.

  2. le0pard13 says:

    Oh, I remember this! Went to the movie theater to catch this and did feel rather cheated. Still, if it were on TV I’d watch a re-run just to these guys performing in such roles.

  3. Colin says:

    I think it’s an interesting movie, although not an especially good one all told. I can imagine horror fans would feel more disappointed as it promises more in that direction than it delivers. Ultimately, for me anyway, it was the presence of the familiar faces that drew me to the film.

    • Yes I agree, it is the marquee value of the stars that invariably makes all the difference, though Alfred Marks really steals the show from under them as the non-plussed copper (I think he only worked with Price incidentally).

  4. Bradstreet says:

    You only have to see the name Christiopher Wicking in the scripting slot to know that the movie isn’t going to make sense. This movie, BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB, DEMONS OF THE MIND and the PROFESSIONALS episode DISCOVERED IN A GRAVEYARD, none of them make the slightest bit of sense. Apparently he wrote the original script for TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, but the director claimed that it was completely unusable. This move really is Alfred Marks’, although he doesn’t even get top billing on the poster. You do get the feeling that this wasn’t entirely the movies that Amicus were after, but like a lot of the companies non-multistory films, it is rather hit and miss.

  5. What a waste of those three actors – anyone with any sense would have had them in as many scenes together as could be written!

    • Well, I know what you mean Karen! Apparently Cushing was added as a last-minute after-thought and with Lee and Price it was probably just a question of scheduling (and, I dare say, teasing audiences a bit too).

  6. Sergio, I do like watching horror films from the 60s and 70s. The black-and-white films have a lot of class, I think. Even if this is “not much of a horror film,” it’d be a big draw for me on account of Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Haven’t see a lot of Price and Cushing, though.

    • Cushing was a terrific actor Prashant, in all kinds of genres, and a pretty good Sherlock Holmes too! This particular film is a bit 1960s and garish when it comes to fashions though the colour palette is pretty subdued.

  7. realthog says:

    Hm. I’ve always avoided this because I assumed it was a cheesy horror item. You make it sound more interesting . . .

  8. This sounds like one of those films that you have watched so that we don’t have to.
    However, intrigued by your mention of Jemima Shore in the comments – I loved books and TV series, and would love a reminder of the epi you are referring to…. a whole blogpost on the lovely Jemima would be even better…

  9. tracybham says:

    Since you have rated this so low I won’t go hunting it down, but “an entertaining Cold War thriller with tinges of sci-fi” sounds like it would be lots of fun.

  10. Mike Doran says:

    I saw this one in a suburban Chicago theater – Saturday afternoon, packed house.
    Mainly teens and just-past-that, who came to see Price-Lee-Cushing (sounds like an investment firm, doesn’t it?).
    And that’s what those three were doing there – to sell Scream And Scream Again in the USA, where nobody had ever heard of Alfred Marks.

    I recent years, I’ve been looking at British game shows, with special interest in celebrity panel games.
    Alfred Marks seems to turn up in quite a lot of them.
    Very smart, very funny man.

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