Director: Roy Ward Baker
Dark Sky Films/MPI

In between helming some of Hammer's best early 1970s efforts, reliable veteran Roy Ward Baker delivered the entertaining Amicus omnibus films ASYLUM and VAULT OF HORROR. Baker was also responsible for this, Amicus' screen adaptation of the recent novel Fengriffen, a gothic ghost story that proved a worthy undertaking for Hammer's greatest rival.

During the end of the 18th century, young bride Catherine (Stephanie Beacham) arrives with her husband Charles Fengriffen (Ian Ogilvy), settling into their large English estate. Almost instantly, Catherine has reason to start screaming as she witnesses a bloody hand burst from a painting of Charles' grandfather Henry. But the worst is yet to come, as she is raped by an apparition of a man with his eyes gauged out and a stump at the end of his right arm -- a disembodied hand crawls about and wreaks havoc for Catherine and most of the cast. She realizes that the ghost of her nightmares resembles the estate woodsman Silas (played devilishly well by Geoffrey Whitehead), but she can't prove it's the same man since he looks normal (despite a rather large red birthmark on his kisser) and he has both hands.

It seems that anyone involved with the Fengriffen family are murdered by the ghost, all of whom appear to know some dark family secret. After the local physician (Patrick Magee) diagnoses Catherine as being pregnant, he suggests bringing in a psychology expert to tend to the girl's more severe problems. And who better to play Dr. Pope then Peter Cushing? Arriving more than 40 minutes into the film, Cushing (wearing the same curly wig he later sported in FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL), gives his usual elegant and commanding performance (Pope's ignorance of the supernatural brings on a real challenge). In an exceptional flashback, we learn about Charles' degenerate grandfather who brought debauchery to the Fengriffen house and is responsible for the family's tainted blood. On the night of his wedding, the woodsman (Silas' grandfather, again plaid by Whitehead) has his hand severed and has his wife violated by the elder Fengriffen (Herbert Lom being deliciously cruel in a great cameo).

Though nothing earth shattering, AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS is a fine slice of gothic British horror, only marred by a middle act that drags somewhat. This is Beacham's best genre performance, and she proves herself to be a fine actress and underrated scream queen (as well as delectable eye candy). Ogilvy also does his best with his part, as does the veterans Cushing, Magee and Lom. Rounding out the cast is a number of familiar character actors, including MR. SARDONICUS himself, Guy Rolfe, as the family solicitor. Baker's skillful direction is complimented by Tony Curtis' (not the actor) gorgeous set designs and Douglas Gamley's thunderous score (Gamley was Amicus' house composer). Surprisingly, the special effects and make up still hold up fairly well today.

Amicus' horror films where never as gratuitous as Hammer's had become in the early 1970s, and this film could probably get away with a PG-rating today. Even so, all previous U.S. video releases of AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS were culled from a heavily edited TV version (shed of any gore and a tiny bit of skin), with an okay looking DVD of the uncut version finally being released by Image Entertainment several years ago. Dark Sky’s disc is a vast improvement over that, being transferred in High Definition from 35mm vault materials, and looking quite stunning. The picture is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, and the lavish colors look very natural and well defined. Fleshtones are rendered distinguished and proper, and the image is sharp overall and free of grain or any print blemishes of any sort. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack comes through quite crisp and clear. Optional English subtitles are included.

A commentary (originally recorded for the Image Entertainment release) with actor Ian Ogilvy is moderated by Darren Gross (who has recently been instrumental in the restoration of the two "Dark Shadows" movies). Ogilvy claims to not remember much some 30 years later, but while watching the film, he is able to recall quite a few tidbits (saying only nice things about Baker, Cushing and Beacham) and Gross keeps things moving along by asking him a number of good questions and also throws in a lot of interesting facts about the production. The well-articulated conversation stays on track, focusing on the film in question, but naturally, Ogilvy also discusses working with the likes of Boris Karloff, Michael Reeves and Vincent Price. A second commentary track (originally produced for the Region 2 PAL Anchor Bay release) features director Baker and star Beacham, which is nicely moderated by Marcus Hearn. Both Baker and Beacham (who hadn’t seen each other since making the film) begin by stating how much the disliked the release title, followed by an informative conversation about making the film, including tidbits about co-stars such as Cushing and Ogilvy, some lively behind-the-scenes revelations, and much more. A still gallery is included, as is a trailer (though a bit disappointing, as it's an orange-tinged 60-second TV spot), as well as trailers for ASYLUM and THE BEAST MUST DIE (another TV spot), bios and filmographies on some of the main participants, and fine liner notes by Chris Gullo (author of In All Sincerity… Peter Cushing). This is one of the finest presentations of an Amicus film on DVD to date and comes highly recommended. (George R. Reis)