Directed by: Gordon Hessler
Written by: Christopher Wicking and Gordon Hessler
Starring: Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Alfred Marks and Michael Gothard
Filmed in 1969 and released in 1970, the enticingly titled SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN was a co-production between two exploitation studio stalwarts – the UK based Amicus Film productions and the legend that is American International Pictures (AIP).
Perhaps best remembered by crusty old school horror cinema connoisseurs as the film that first brought together the great noblemen of horror cinema Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee (long serving stablemates at Amicus) and Vincent Price (under contract with AIP), yet critically vilified for failing to place the vintage titans of terror together in one scene. That would come much later in 1983’s HOUSE OF LONG SHADOWS (where another horror icon, John Carradine, would join in the frolics).
Further inflaming critical outrage was the fact that, despite the prominent star billing of the icons of horror cinema, their roles would be secondary with Cushing’s single scene barely lasting 4 minutes.
Predictably, with Cushing, Lee and Prices’ names emblazoned across marquees and a gloriously gruesome ad campaign that shouted “Triple Distilled Horror…as Powerful as a Vat of Boiling Acid!” illustrated by images of dissolving bodies, SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN was, despite predominantly negative press reviews, a sizable money-spinner for AIP/Amicus.
So, just what is this very peculiar movie about? A sci-fi horror hybrid, the plot features synthetic indestructible humanoids infiltrating the shadowy echelons of a sinister government, wrapped within a conspiracy thriller with police procedural trappings (phew!). Well . . . kind of. Just what is the purpose of this sinister quasi-Nazi political totalitarian regime that appears to be puppet-mastering our good government ministers? Just what is their top secret operation K-718 all about? Don’t be fooled into thinking that watching this movie will reveal such answers. With such an anarchic screenplay peppered with a myriad of characters from cockney coppers, maverick morticians, killer robots, mad scientists and sadistic secret agents, it is unsurprising that film critics expressed exasperation at this unconventional piece of filmmaking.
The film’s central story thread – and there are quite a few threads here – follows a police investigation led by Detective Superintendent Bellaver (Alfred Marks doused in eyeliner and good ol’ Brit dry wit). The grisly deaths of several young women around London have been dubbed ‘The Vampire Murders’. The victims have had their throats cut, bodies molested and, ultimately, drained of blood. The investigation leads to a grungy backstreet nightclub The Busted Pot, where a police sting operation is undertaken. After a silk-shirted hipster (Michael Gothard with a zippy sports car) is witnessed drinking blood from the wrist of an unconscious undercover female officer, a high-speed car chase ensues. As the chase reaches its climax, the killer reveals his super-human abilities wrenching his handcuffed hand clean off before jumping into a vat of acid in a seemingly willful act of self-destruction. The plot thickens . . .
The movie is also interspersed with the deviously subversive dealings of a sadistic intelligence operative named Konartz (Marshall Jones) as he surreptitiously kills off his superiors. His death-dealing specialty is a lethal version of Spock’s Vulcan nerve pinch that causes the victim to gurgle blood. Konartz is out to confiscate and destroy any known documentation pertaining to ‘The Vampire Murders’, especially after an autopsy on the hipster’s remaining hand reveals it to be part synthetic cyborg. All of these dastardly shenanigans culminate in a climatic showdown at the medical practice of the sinister research scientist and surgeon Dr. Browning (Vincent Price).
Director Gordon Hessler, despite confessing an indifference toward horror and fantasy cinema, competently delivers an exceptionally taut film that retains a steady reign over an erratic screenplay structure that appeared to be intent on dismantling itself. Though it was a point of initial contention, Milton Subotsky’s original screenplay (which also managed to encompass an alien invasion theme) was put aside in favour of Christopher Wicking’s fast-paced adaptation. The eclectic screenplay followed, quite faithfully, the disjointed narrative of Peter Saxon’s pulp paperback novel The Disorientated Man. As any trash paperback fanatic will tell you, the Peter Saxon name was a well-used house pseudonym adopted by several pulp writers and low rent publishing houses. Peter Saxon’s authorship is even credited to the source novel of another BB&BC film favourite CORRUPTION (1968). The Disorientated Man was written in 1966 and republished as Scream and Scream Again in 1967, a title that undoubtedly tickled the spidey-senses of sci-fi buff Milton Subotsky. The man behind the pen-name this time is thought to have been Stephen D. France. The Disorientated Man, filmed as SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, would certainly leave more than a few disorientated viewers – a quirky book made into a quirky film.
Considering Amicus would become a specialist in applying streamlined linear narratives to the story segments of their celebrated anthology films like DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965), THE TORTURE GARDEN (1967), and TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972), there was undoubtedly an intention to adapt SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN within a fractured story structure. After all, it may have been considerably easier, and possibly more commercial, to have tidied up Saxon’s eccentric potboiler.
SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN is, in every sense, a cult movie by design; deliberately removed from the cinematic gothic aesthetics that dominated popular horror cinema of the day. These ‘Vampire Murders’ aren’t the grisly work of a fanged aristocrat in a cape but a predatory sex fiend who prowls discos. Likewise, there are no sweeping orchestral arrangements here to foment traditional ‘horror movie’ menace. The cinematic jazz arrangements of David Whitaker and a psychedelic title-theme song by Welsh rockers Amen Corner (“come on and scream…come on and scream…scream and scream again…”) illustrates the jockeying for cool hipness and cold horror.
Perhaps because it was panned by a generation of horror film reviewers, I have always adored this film. I remember my first childhood encounter with SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN. Despite the familiar faces of Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, this wasn’t a ‘safe’ horror film, leaving me cold. I’ve grown to adore its surreal other-worldliness, the bizarreness, and its hard-edged nastiness. Perfect pulp nonsense. SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN . . . it’s a scream!
Contributed by Tristan Thompson