From June 1-3, 2018, Vincent Price Legacy UK and Silver Screen Suppers are taking part in a fantastic blogathon celebrating all things Amicus and Hammer, hosted by Cinematic Carthasis and Realweegiemidget Reviews, and we’ve picked Scream and Scream Again and Madhouse as our two choices to blog about. Jenny at Silver Screen Suppers is serving up some ghoulish fare featuring recipes from Vincent Price and Peter Cushing , while I present you with this look back at the history of the making of Scream and Scream Again…
And when you are finished, find out what dish Jenny has paired with the movie HERE…
A ‘superb piece of contemporary horror’ or ‘a farrago of horrific nonsense’? Those were the kind of reviews that greeted Scream and Scream Again on its release in 1970. An ambitious mix of Franken-science, Cold War conspiracy thriller, gritty crime drama and vampiric chills, this AIP/Amicus co-production scored at the box office, but disappointed fans of Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing – whose first-ever team up was not the ‘Triple Distilled Horror’ they had hoped for. But, as Peter Fuller, reveals, the bizarre British horror is much more than the sum of its composite parts.
Kicking off with a jazzy opening theme tune filled with blaring trumpets, heavy bass and snazzy Hammond organ; Price, Lee and Cushing’s star names heading up the opening titles (all in trendy lower case); and shots of London’s iconic Routemaster as an athletic chap runs through a London park, Scream and Scream Again screamed ‘hip and happening’, but was worlds apart from the horror genre’s three leading men had previously appeared in.
Waking up in what appears to be a hospital ward after collapsing in the park, a jogger watches helplessly as an attractive nurse puts a feeding tube in his mouth before leaving the room in silence. Pulling back the bed covers, he sees his right leg has been amputated below the knee, and lets out one almighty scream… It will be the first of many over the next 95 minutes.
CHILL TO THIS STORY OF MODERN WITCHCRAFT
Scream and Scream Again began life as the 1966 Mayflower-Dell novel, The Disorientated Man by Peter Saxon, a name that was used by a group of writers who collaborated on a host of fantasy, supernatural and sci-fi tomes in the 1960s and 1970s. This round-robin team created the multiple storylines that would interweave the ‘black magic novel of terror’, and which would later drive the narrative of the film. This is how it went…
When a sex maniac is thought to be responsible for the rape and murder of a young woman called Jean Dexter, pathologist Dr David Pine determines that the killer has a vampire fetish for draining his victims of blood. Heading up the investigation, DCS Dale Keene uses policewoman Helen Bradford as a decoy to ensnare the killer, handsome medical student Kenneth. But the entrapment results in a wild chase to a large estate in Surrey where Kenneth jumps into a vat of corrosive acid. On questioning Kenneth’s father, Dr Malcolm Sanders, Keane’s suspicions are raised – for Sanders is same man who hired murder victim Jean as a nurse.
Meanwhile, behind the Iron Curtain, a hireling called Konratz is having a meteoric rise to power in the German Democratic Republic by eliminating his superiors. Establishing himself as head of the country’s secret police, Konratz heads to London to offer a deal to MI20 agent Freemont: the return of his pilot brother-in-law for all of Scotland Yard’s evidence relating to the ‘vampire murders’.
Linking the intrigue is the horrifying fate that awaits long-distance runner Ken Sparten. The missing person not only has his right leg amputated, but soon every other limb, body part and organ is cut from him, until only his brain is left in a glass jar. Why and by whom soon becomes clear. Looking for answers at Dr Sanders’ clinic, Dr Pine uncovers a plot by an extraterrestrial called Ytallie (in his human host of Sanders) to take over the Earth using synthetic robots created from human body parts. However, a second alien called Bruln (in the guise of Konratz) arrives to destroy Ytallie and his work…
SOON TO BE AN AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL MOTION PICTURE
Apart from some name changes and some tinkering with the novel’s themes, it’s interesting to see how closely the 1970 conspiracy thriller follows the pulp fiction. But it didn’t start out that way when Amicus’ Milton Subotsky wanted to bring the alien invasion story to the big screen.
Fashioning his own script, Subotsky sought out a production partner in American International Pictures, whose man in London, Louis ‘Deke’ Heyward, took up the challenge to the tune of US$350,000. But only after securing co-financing from Tony Tenser’s Tigon and on the condition that they use the same cast and crew as on AIP’s The Oblong Box. Having earned his directorial stripes on the 1969 Gothic thriller, Gordon Hessler took charge of the sci-fi horror that AIP had announced as Screamer. But he felt Subotsky’s script juvenile, so he called on screenwriter Christopher Wicking to start again.
Reading the Saxon novel anew, Wicking said its ‘perturbing vision of the future’ gave him goose bumps, while its crime elements and realistic violence were ripe for a very different kind of cinematic treatment than Subotsky had envisaged. So out went the aliens and in went what Wicking described as ‘a Don Siegel-styled horror that was going to be Coogan’s Bluff meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers’.
Now, how this was going to involve Oblong Box stars Vincent Price and Christopher Lee was anyone’s guess, but shortly before production was due to start, AIP’s Deke Heyward got the brainwave to add Peter Cushing to the bill so that the film could be exploited as the first teaming of the three stars.
Despite constant interference from Subotsky, who was later banned from the editing room, Scream and Scream Again (as it would now be called) was completed after a two-month shoot at Shepperton Studios and on location in and around London by June 1969. Eight months later it landed in cinemas on both sides of the pond.
Variety called Hessler ‘a low-budget, sado-masochistic Hitchcock’, while the Los Angeles Times regarded it as ‘more terrifying than any of the Gothic witchery of Rosemary’s Baby’. But what really counted were box-office receipts, and AIP/Amicus cleaned up with a chiller that struck a chord with young audiences, who embraced its crazy mix of genres, its action and violence, and its hip-tastic music, courtesy of Welsh rockers, Amen Corner.
WE ARE FOR THE FUTURE
By going back to the source material, Wicking and Hessler got a chance to unfold the novel’s themes of political terrorism and human experimentation but with their own spin. Again we have intrigue in a Fascist Eastern European state, psycho sex killings in London, and athlete Sparten undergoing regular amputation. And they all lead back to the film’s top-billing star, Vincent Price, and his mysterious cancer specialist Dr Browning (the Dr Sanders character in the novel), who is no longer a ‘blob from space’, but the designer of half-synthetic, half-human beings – and a composite himself.
Wicking has great fun fleshing out these scenarios, while Hessler cooks up two big set pieces that linger in the mind long after the end credits roll. Many of the novel’s chapters end with someone screaming, and this is also used to great effect in the film, hence its title. One of those screams seemingly belongs to Yutte Stensgaard’s political prisoner Erika when faced with a pair of pliers brandished by the power-crazed Konratz (Marshall Jones). However, the wail that’s heard on screen is actually Amen Corner’s Andy Fairweather-Low belting out the theme song, which segues into a discotheque scene (shot at Hatchett’s Playground Disco at 67c Piccadilly) where we are introduced to Michael Gothard’s ‘lovely mover’ Keith (aka Kenneth in the novel), the super-strong sex killer with a taste for blood.
His brutal assault on Judy Huxtable’s good-time girl Sylvia in a shadow-lit underpass provides the most harrowing scene of the movie. It’s also what probably ‘appalled’ some reviewers, including Penelope Mortimer (wife of Rumpole of the Bailey author John), who wrote: ‘Where was the moral censor?’ In another scene, Uta Levka, playing the mysterious mute nurse tending to amputee Sparten (Nigel Lambert), breaks the neck of another nurse with one almighty punch. There’s also a nasty lengthy shot of Gothard’s Keith strangling a helpless victim.
These graphic displays of violence, coupled with the crime procedural sequences, all lend the film an American action-thriller quality that the filmmakers were aiming for. Centering on a police investigation headed up by Alfred Marks’ DS Bellaver (Keene in the novel), it culminates in an exciting 16-minute chase sequence around the outskirts of London featuring some classic police cars (Ford Cortina MkII, Humber Hawk Series IV, Jaguar S-Type) and a bright red 1955 Austin-Healey 100/4. It ends with Keith ripping his right hand out of a pair of handcuffs and jumping into a vat of acid that also features on the film’s iconic posters and trailer.
It’s here that Vincent Price makes the second of his three appearances as Dr Browning. The first time we meet him, it’s quite a low-key affair, but he does get to wear a dapper velvet smoking jacket while answering questions about the murder of Eileen Stevens (the Jean Dexter character in the novel). Now, in a baggy sports jacket that looks like Price’s own, we get a flash of the Master of Menace we all love and know as he explains away Keith’s psychotic state of self-punishment as: ‘When you feel nothing, not even pain, then the body and the spirit are capable of limitless things’. On hearing that Keith’s hand is now in the possession of the police, Price gives us his trademark ‘eye rolling’. It’s a portent of strange and fantastic things to come.
MAN IS GOD NOW
Aside from the action-thriller elements, Hessler and Wicking pay homage to German expressionism, particularly the 1922 and 1933 Dr Mabuse films by Fritz Lang. This is visualised in the claustrophobic scenes set in the shadow-lit offices and isolation cells of the unspecified fascist state (whose emblem is a Nazi-inspired trident) and in the second big set piece, which takes place in Dr Browning’s operating theatre.
Excited by the discovery that Keith’s hand is made of an unknown synthetic tissue, inquisitive pathologist Dr David Sorel, played by Christopher Matthews (who looks every inch the blonde Aryan – which makes for a sly visual metaphor) is drawn into Dr Browning’s lair. It is here that composer David Whittaker’s avant-garde jazz score kicks in as Les Young’s camera pans over gleaming state-of-the-art instruments bathed in John Coquillon’s clinical lighting. Inspecting some freezer compartments containing body parts (including one familiar head), Sorel is startled by a grinning Dr Browning, who can’t wait to ‘show off’ his lab. And we can’t wait for Price to do his shtick, either.
Following Browning’s warning that: ‘Once you fully understand, your life will have to wind down a very different road’. Sorel (the Dr Pine in the novel) learns of the doctor’s designs for a super race that will be man’s destiny. This scene also gives Hessler and Wicking the opportunity to address issues of concern, including how man has turned all scientific advances into weapons.
Wicking summed up his take on the horror sci-fi in a 1998 interview for Eyeball as such: ‘I think in an odd sort of way we were trying to make a kind of warning movie. There was a sort of subversion we were trying to suggest existed. We were saying alright, it might be the swinging sixties, but the institutions are still in control. There isn’t anybody in that picture who is trying to break out of anything. You’ve got a whole series of institutional figures who in a sense are at war with each other, just because their systems are different. Vincent is the only person who thinks he’s doing the right thing. He is the individualist. He is the hero of the story, although he starts out as the villain, or you think he’s the villain.’
And by the end of the picture, you can’t help but feel sorry for Dr Browning. And Price’s expression when Konratz arrives to put an end to his operation is – well, priceless: it’s like a child watching a bully knock down a sandcastle he’s just taken great pride in completing. And here’s something else to ponder. While showing off his fabulous Fabricator machine, Price’s Browning explains how it allows him to ‘bend and shape the laws of surgery’. Could this be a reference to Amen Corner’s 1968 hit song, Bend Me, Shape Me? Or was it the reason they got to appear in the film in the first place?
TAKING THE PLUNGE
The teaming of Price, Lee and Cushing was the film’s big selling point, but it was a letdown. Despite having only a three-minute cameo (and being left out of the film’s trailer), Cushing showed he was ever the professional as the appalled Major Benedek who gets squeezed out (literally) by Konratz’s Vulcan-like death grip (which comes directly from the novel – via TV’s Star Trek, of course). Playing to type as the man from the ministry, Lee’s big scene with Price lasts only 50-seconds, but it’s wonderful.
The Hollywood Reporter felt the film was ‘a continuous guessing game as to what’s going on’, while Price wondered just which scream he was and often had a hard time recalling the film at all, saying: ‘the only thing I remember is that I die at the end by falling into a vat of acid or some such nonsense’. And indeed he did, courtesy of Lee who, through mentally telepathy (which was in the novel but never explained in the film), makes his nemesis take the plunge.
Recounting the scene, Price said: ‘I’ll never forget that stately figure, desperately trying to keep a straight face, and me, too, stepping back slowly and with great dignity, and then quietly sinking into a deep vat of noxious-looking liquid. But he never lost his composure. Of course, who would want to do that a second time?’
But they did indeed do the scene a second time, as Lee recalled. ‘I was a very fond of Vincent and had great respect for his acting skills, however the yellow tinge of the acid bath made it look like Vincent had suffered some terrible natural mishap on a grand scale, so the first take we did was completely ruined by our both laughing as we fought to the death.’
IT’S ONLY THE BEGINNING
I have often wondered if fans would have been more forgiving to Scream and Scream Again had Price, Lee and Cushing been billed as ‘guest appearance by’ rather than given top billing, because the real stars are Marshall Jones (marvellously malevolent), Michael Gothard (monstrously hip) and Alfred Marks, whose bellicose Bellaver is an inspired creation. Injecting his mostly improvised dialogue with lashings of potty-mouthed humour, he steals the show – even from serial scenery chewer Vincent Price. And I still chuckle every time I hear the line: ‘That bloody chicken wasn’t killed, it died of old age.’
Yes, it would have been fantastic to see Price, Lee and Cushing in more scenes together (fans had to wait until 1983’s House of the Long Shadows for that to finally be realised), but if you judge the film on its other merits, then Scream and Scream Again is one of the most inventive, compelling and unique British horrors of the 1970s and Hessler, Wicking and co should be applauded for giving fans an entertaining romp that continues to fascinate.
• This article was first published in We Belong Dead’s Unsung Horrors, and is reproduced here with permission by the author (which is me).