Based on title alone, one might reasonably assume that Scream and Scream Again is just another low budget horror-tinged 70s era release. While portions of the film may certainly fall under that umbrella, there are many aspects of this film that defy simple generalizations. Presented as a unique blend of science fiction, horror, crime thriller and drama, Scream and Scream Again stands apart from many of its relative counterparts. With its original UK release in January of 1970, the time is appropriately at hand to take a look back at this subtly groundbreaking film.
Throughout the 1950s and 60s, there were few low budget production companies with as much notoriety and success as American International Pictures and the British based Amicus Productions. Both companies focused heavily on young, teenage audiences and managed to both capitalize on trends while simultaneously establishing new ones. Therefore, it was simply a matter of time before the two companies would join forces in an effort to capitalize on their shared, international audience.
“[…] a truly deserving picture in the hallowed halls of horror cinema.”
While the shared target demographic, focus and operating style were certainly nice, the two companies also had three large reasons for collaborating; Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. By the late 60s, all three men were firmly established as leading men in the horror arena with dozens of films between them. And yet, never once had all three shared a film together. During this time, Vincent Price was a frequent employee of AIP, acting in films such as The Raven, The Masque of the Red Death and Witchfinder General. Cushing and Lee on the other hand, were frequent stars for Amicus in films like The House That Dripped Blood and Dr. Terror’s House of Horror’s. By co-producing a film together, both companies would benefit by creating an unprecedented line-up of top-billed stars.
Typically, Price commanded a respectable $75,000 from AIP for each picture he starred in. However, in order to afford fellow stars Cushing and Lee, Price was forced to reduce his rate to $40,000. This pay cut allowed the production to hire Christopher Lee for 3 days of filming and Peter Cushing for 1 day. As one might tell from these facts alone, this didn’t really leave a lot of time to utilize these three powerhouses to their full potential. In fact, Cushing and Price don’t even share any screen-time in the film at all. However, even with their limited time actually clocked on screen, the fact remains that Scream and Scream Again is the first time that all three icons of horror teamed up.
Now seems a good time to talk about plot. And yet, that concept in relation to this film is easier said than done. After reviewing the film upon its US release, Roger Ebert summed up the film this way:
If I attempted a plot summary you’d suspect I have a bottle of gin in my bottom desk drawer. Let’s say that a guy keeps waking up in a hospital bed, and every time he wakes up they’ve cut off another arm or leg. Let’s say a vampire is kidnapping girls and drinking their blood. Let’s say there’s a long cops-and-vampires chase halfway through the movie, but in for no better reason than to have a chase. (When was the last time YOU saw a vampire driving a Triumph?) Let’s say somebody goes to an unidentified foreign country on a sinister mission that is never quite explained. Let’s say that another guy grabs people by the shoulder and there’s a particular crunching and humming noise and that’s curtains. And let’s say that the movie leaves you completely mystified as to what, if anything, these events have to do with one another.
While Ebert’s synopsis is not wrong, time and distance allows us to look at the bonkers plot with a bit more understanding and context. As previously mentioned, both production companies had gained success with a young, teenage audience. However, this demographic was aging. With the aging of their audience came an added need for evolution and shift in subject matter. Globally, the 70s were a period of changing ideals, thoughts and world views and Scream and Scream Again is reflective of that. The overall political landscape was a huge concern for a lot of 70s young adults and AIP and Amicus chose a story that would tap into that concern. Based on a short story titled, ‘The Disorientated Man‘ by Peter Saxon, at its core, the film tells of an alternative future where science, politics and modified humans called ‘composites’ exist. These composites begin their assault on ‘normal’ mankind working from the inside out, gradually taking over positions of power and influence.
“The overall political landscape was a huge concern for a lot of 70s young adults and AIP and Amicus chose a story that would tap into that concern.”
When spelled out in such a way, the plot doesn’t seem all that strange. In fact, it’s fairly reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and other sci-fi thrillers that would become prevalent in later years. However, the way in which the film is structured offers a lot of viewers the largest hurdle to overcome. For years, Amicus had perfected and utilized the anthology structure of storytelling. It was a structure that they had achieved success with and proved incredibly efficient. For Scream and Scream Again, Amicus brought this idea to the production in an effort to engage audiences, build mystery and unite seemingly disparate storylines all at the last minute.
On a more practical level, it also allowed the film’s three large stars to all have their on-screen moments organized in a way that minimized the obvious lack thereof. Director Gordon Hessler (Cry of the Banshee, Murders in the Rue Morgue) was familiar with the general style idea due to his work with Alfred Hitchcock and his TV shows. With his clever direction, Scream and Scream Again brings several seemingly disparate stories together in a way that challenges, surprises and engages even 50 years later.
There are several other unique traits to the plot and execution of the film. For one, there is an incredible car chase scene involving the affable Detective Bellaver (Alfred Marks), his fellow officers and a mysterious young, vampire named Keith (Michael Gothard). While that may not seem all that impressive on the surface, not only is this particular car chase well shot, coordinated and executed, it’s also nearly 18 minutes long. Considering that Scream and Scream Again was shot on 35mm film, that amounts to two full reels of footage dedicated to Keith‘s pursuit. Even after Keith abandons his beautiful 1955 Austin-Healey, the chase continues on foot through some beautiful landscape shots and infamous cult horror moments.
This elaborate and elongated moment in the film provides not only an important sequence of action for the film, but a groundbreaking moment in cinema as well. Typically, chase scenes during this era would run 3-8 minutes long. By effectively executing such an incredibly long chase, Hessler and his crew not only rivaled similar film scenes, they left them choking on their vampire scented dust.
Another fun moment in the film reveals itself at the night club named the Busted Pot. As young adults dance about, the music is provided by real-life Welsh band, Amen Corner. An up and coming act in the late 60s, Amen Corner wrote two tracks for the film, including their stellar Scream and Scream Again anthem. Both this and the subsequent When We Make Love track would wind up on their 1969 album, Farewell to the Magnificent Seven released by Immediate Records. While anthems like this would become particularly popular in the 80s, in 1970 the act of writing a film specific anthem by a pre-existing band was a fairly new and uncommon practice.
During the closing moments of the film, Dr. Browning (Vincent Price) engages in a fascinating conversation with the young Dr. David Sorel (Christopher Matthews). What is so fascinating about the conversation is the incredibly blunt and forward-thinking of the subject matter. As Dr. Browning elaborates on the composite’s reasoning and process for world domination, Sorel questions and counters the Doctor‘s argument:
Sorel: It’s the old mad scientist’s dream. Let’s play God.
Browning: My dear young man, you know as well as I do that God is dying all over the world. Man invented him, but doesn’t need him anymore. Man is God now. And a matter of fact, he always was.
This very clear denouncement of religion and firmly established belief systems was quite a groundbreaking moment in film. It’s hard to imagine now, but famous movie actors simply didn’t recite dialogue like this in 1970. AIP and Amicus productions were pretty mainstream films during this period, and to have such a conversation occur involving one of their biggest stars was not only provocative, but indicative of a wider shift in public opinion. With Korea and Vietnam fresh in the minds of many young adults, science, politics, religion and authority were all very present and fluid topics. AIP and Amicus knew this and quite smartly used such a plot point to connect and engage with their target audience.
While there is plenty to love about Scream and Scream Again, it does have its less than stellar traits. For one, the film is extremely male dominated. There are characters played by notable actresses like Judy Huxtable (The Psychopath), Uta Levka (The Oblong Box) and regular TV actress Judy Bloom, but all are underutilized. The film lacks any sort of female character with substance and fails to have a woman embrace any sort of heroine role. There’s potential in the characters to be certain, but none are given the chance to shine. All three characters feel interchangeable and seem to serve no other purpose than to fill the role of a ‘woman in peril.’ Perhaps a victim of it’s time, but a sad and dated fact nonetheless.
Looking back with modern eyes, it’s pretty incredible how interesting and unique Scream and Scream Again remains. Even with Price, Lee and Cushing taking on semi-glorified cameo roles, the bulk of the film remains interesting and engaging. The strange and hazy way in which the plot is executed and sprinkled with seemingly random moments would pave the way for films in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension vein. A film like this could have easily snowballed into a disaster, and yet somehow retains a teetering balance of horror, science fiction and political thriller. With nearly 50 years under it’s belt, it would be easy to dismiss this international production as a gimmick or farce. But, if you give it a chance, Scream and Scream Again will prove itself a truly deserving picture in the hallowed halls of horror cinema.
What do you think about this Price, Cushing, Lee team up? What are some of your favorite AIP or Amicus films? Let us know on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!