And Now the Screaming Starts
by Barry Meyer
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When you talk about old school British horror films, most likely the conversation travels towards the legendary Hammer Studios. It’s natural. They were a very showy bunch. But they weren’t the only creeps in town who were churning out genre flicks like a busy witch brewing up spells on Halloween. Amicus Studios was doing a fine job rivaling the efficient work of the boys at Hammer (not that they were bitter rivals at all) and making a pretty good name for themselves amongst horror fans. If Hammer leaned towards the literary monsters and late 18th Century gothic haunts, then Amicus was grounded more in contemporary times, with stories of revenge, adultery and murder—mostly tainted with a poisonous dose of the ol’ supernatural. Most noted was Amicus for their specialty—the anthology, a group of tormented tales stitched together in one movie.
Most of the Amicus anthologies find a group of unfortunate souls brought together in some kind of setting or circumstance (like on a moving train or trapped in a sealed crypt) where they are the captive audience to a sinister stranger who reveals to them, one by one, their fate. In And Now the Screaming Starts, Amicus departs from their usual brand of storytelling and, instead, goes the Hammer route, traveling back to 1795 England.
Newlyweds Catherine (Stephanie Beacham—yep, Dylan’s mom on Beverly Hills, 90210) and Charles Fengriffen (Ian Ogilvy from Upstairs, Downstairs) move into his ancestral family mansion, unaware of the strange curse that has been put upon the house and all of its inhabitants. On their wedding night, Catherine is raped by a malevolent spirit, and from that night on she is haunted by the image of a bloody faced man with a stump where his right hand ought to be. When she finds that she is pregnant, Catherine fears that she has fallen to the curse cast upon her husband’s grandfather, the disturbing Henry Fengriffen (Pink Panther’s Herbert Lom). As legend has it, the senior Fengriffen raped the virgin bride of a local woodsman, and then proceeded to cut off the poor man’s hand. The woodsman vowed that any virgin bride who enters the Fengriffen home would be punished. Worried that his wife has lost her mind, Charles calls upon a noted doctor (Peter Cushing) to help cure his wife. Instead, the curious Dr. Pope makes a grim discovery.
As in all the Amicus flicks the performances are top notch. Amicus founders Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg made it a key element through out there productions that they would cast only the most serious actors, and that their performances would not reflect the genre. They believed that the best horror performances would come not from camp, but with players who would give a more sobering performance. Wouldn’t that be refreshing to see in some of today’s American horror flicks?
Also spectacular are the sets and costumes (Art Direction done by Amicus regular Tony Curtis), and Denys Coops photography shows off the saturated blood reds splashed everywhere throughout the movie.
Dark Sky Films (part of MPI Video) has put together a great package for their Amicus flicks, including trailers, bios and some terrific cast and crew commentary. What’s most amusing is the gentlemanly British director Roy Ward Baker’s voice juxtaposed with all the blood and rape. Indeed!
Barry Meyer is a writer living in Jersey, under the spell of an enchanting little baby girl.
Barry Meyer is just another pissed off 40-something writer stuck in Jersey.
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