Adapting the 1966 pulp novel "The Disoriented Man," Christopher Wicking wrote the outrageous screenplay for SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, an Amicus/American International Pictures (AIP) co-production which has underrated director Gordon Hessler masterfully giving us a fascinating and chaotic blend of science fiction and horror circling around an offbeat plot about a mad scientist creating synthetic beings, a film we can easily say was “screaming” for a Blu-ray release!
In England, a seemingly healthy man (Nigel Lambert) is out jogging and collapses, waking up in a hospital bed to find his leg amputated (and soon the other leg, as well as his arms). Nearby, a girl is found raped and murdered, with her body containing two puncture wounds on her wrist. In an unnamed European country, an official of a fascist militia (Peter Sallis, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA) is killed by a simple squeeze to the shoulder by Konratz (Marshall Jones, CRY OF THE BANSHEE) an enforcer with super strength who soon transmits the same fate to the organization’s leader (Peter Cushing, THE CREEPING FLESH) in order to gain more influence and power. Back in England, a young woman named Sylvia (Judy Huxtable, DIE SCREAMING MARIANNE) is picked up at a mod discotheque by Keith (Michael Gothard, THE DEVILS), a charmer in a convertible who ends up doing nasty things to her. In an attempt to catch the sex murderer, Inspector Bellaver (Alfred Marks, VALENTINO) sets up a sting at the discotheque with undercover policewoman Helen (Judy Bloom) as bate, as she takes a ride with Keith, with the police discovering him sucking the blood from her wrist in the parked car. A long chase ensues, with Keith finally captured, only two free himself by severing his hand from the cuffs that bind him. All evidence leads back to Dr. Browning (Vincent Price, THE TINGLER), a nearby government-endorsed scientist with a vat of acid in his shed, who happened to have the first murdered girl under his employment. Apparently, there is a widespread conspiracy of synthetic super humans placed in situations of power, with the head of British Intelligence (Christopher Lee, CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD) also tied in. When the law gives up their investigation of the all-too-suspicious Dr. Browning and Helen goes missing, it’s up to a young police surgeon (Christopher Matthews, SCARS OF DRACULA) to take matters into his own hands.
At times during Vincent Price’s contract with AIP, it seemed as though they didn’t know what to do with the actor after the Edgar Allan Poe cycle had run its course. By this time, Price was making all his films for the company in England in productions headed by Louis M. “Deke” Heyward, who was running AIP’s London-based arm. Price, who is naturally given top billing, is given the most screen time during the climax. This expected “mad scientist” casting displays a form of parody since, in an out of control fantasy world, we would most likely visualize Price as the mad perpetrator of these doings. With his limited screen time, Price is able to underplay it by showing the character to be intense, yet reserved. This is best depicted in the scene where the police arrive at his home with the news that his cleaning girl has been raped and mutilated. The sorrowful look on his face is brought upon from him actually knowing who did it: Keith, one of his creations gone berserk. His disappointment is invoked by the fact that his experiment failed – he has no remorse for the dead girl.
The film manages to explode with confusion by shifting to seemingly unrelated, albeit entertaining, events: the collapsed jogger who is periodically dismembered, a humanoid who viciously takes over a Gestapo, the stuffy police who endlessly chase the vampire-like machine Keith, and Price’s sinister Dr. Browning, who is questioned from time to time. These scenes all seem fragmented while first watching the film, but they make better sense when the central characters interact with one another during the latter part. The stirring climax entails a showdown in Dr. Browning's operating room, where various beings – both human and humanoid – either escape or are pushed into an acid vat. It’s no news to anyone reading this that the film gained some approval from director Fritz Lang, likely since in Germany it was passed off as a “Dr. Mabuse” entry (“Die lebenden Leichen des Dr. Mabuse”), a long-running crime film series the director was largely associated with. So with the similarities to that unique series somewhat apparent, SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN could be considered the closest that British filmmakers came to their own Mabuse thriller. Adding to this is John Coquillon’s innovative cinematography, which is at its exemplary best when the camera moves with the actors, documentary style, through the various rooms of the police station, some 20 years before numerous TV cop shows were doing the same for a similar effect.
Along with Price, the presence of Lee and Cushing were for marquee value more than anything else (and all three were of course given top billing). Lee's role is small, and Cushing's scene is nothing more than a cigarette break. Lee is a British intelligence head and has a memorable confrontation with Price’s Dr. Browning, and Cushing is ironically cast as the leader of the pseudo Nazis who commands Konratz (Jones) to lessen his torturous habits, only to be killed by him. Jones showed up in Hessler's next two films, but he was best put to use here. As Konratz, he pretty much holds things together as the crazed synthetic being who wipes out anyone who interferes with his politically tyrannical intentions. Gothard is also well cast (looking somewhat like the Mick Jagger of Altamont) as the humanoid "vampire killer" Keith, stalking and mutilating women in fashionable mod England. Best of all is Alfred Marks as Superintendent Bellaver in a scene-stealing performance full of choice dialog. The cast also includes Uta Levka (DE SADE) as a “composite” nurse, Kenneth Benda (HORROR HOSPITAL) as a veteran police surgeon, David Lodge (CORRUPTION) and Julian Holloway (CARRY ON CAMPING) as fellow police detectives, and Yutte Stensgaard (star of Hammer’s LUST FOR A VAMPIRE) as one of Konratz’ ill-fated victims. The Welsh pop group The Amen Corner perform two great tracks (“Scream and Scream Again” and “When We Make Love”) and appear as the house band in the discotheque scenes, and although they had 1969 UK number 1 with “(If Paradise Is) Half as Nice”, they had already disbanded by the time the film was released. David Whitaker (VAMPIRE CIRCUS, OLD DRACULA) provides a jazzy score which couldn’t fit the film better.
British prints of SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN have slight differences than AIP’s American theatrical cuts (what is presented here), with the American version removing a few bits for the better (including Bellaver clumsily throwing a stone at the speedy cliff-climbing super-human Keith, and a bottle-swigging old drunk peeping at Keith and Sylvia fooling around in the convertible). The final shot of the British cut is also different, with the credits scrolling over a long shot of Dr. Browning’s lab heard over soundtrack music, rather than over a black screen while The Amen Corner’s “Scream and Scream Again” plays them off, which is what is offered in the American version. One thing omitted from the American version which is a shame is a brief but significant dialogue exchange between Price and Lee (“But what of the dream?” asks Price. “There is only nightmare” replies Lee). AIP tampered with all four films that Hessler and Wicking collaborated on for them, with the minor changes here making more sense than usual for the most part.
Twilight Time utilizes MGM’s HD master for their Blu-ray, which is presented in 1080p in the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The print source starts with a late 1960s/early 1970s AIP logo, with Orion’s fanfare heard over it, and then immediately into the opening drum symbol beats of the original score. The elements here have a few issues that include some scratches and other blemishes, but it’s never anything too distracting, with the high-def image looking quite nice overall. Colors look bright and stable, grain structure looks perfect, and fleshtones look realistic. Detail is fine, especially in close-ups. Scenes that looked too dark in previous standard def transfers are far more impressive here, and the clarity also dazzles, especially in outdoor shots as well as in the nightclub and climatic laboratory scenarios. Several scenes do look a bit on the flat side, but anyone upgrading from the previous DVD releases will be more than happy here. The English DTS-HD Master 1.0 channel mono track boasts clear dialogue and sound effects, and Whitaker’s score has never sounded better (it’s also playable on an isolated track). Optional English SDH subtitles are provided.
Filmmaker Tim Sullivan and writer/film historian David Del Valle do an audio commentary that’s quite engaging and it never drags. They share plenty of information about the film and its production, and thankfully defend director Hessler, pointing out everything he was up against from the AIP offices and why his work was always unjustly criticized (they also dedicate the commentary to him). Sullivan compares the differences between the movie and the original literary source (written by “Peter Saxon”, who apparently isn’t even a real person) and believes that the novel’s “alien” characters have been carried over to the movie, something which has never really been verified but definitely up for debate, since it’s more or less ambiguous in the film. “Gentleman Gothic: Gordon Hessler at AIP” (23: 21) is an excellent new documentary by Daniel Griffith and Ballyhoo Motion Pictures that includes interviews with Steve Haberman, Courtney Joyner, Jeff Burr and David Del Valle. The tight featurette covers Hessler’s early days of working as a story editor for Alfred Hitchcock to making his first film CATACOMBS (aka THE WOMAN WHO WOULDN’T DIE) and coming to AIP, first just as a producer but soon a director as well. Not only is SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN covered, but so are the other three films he did for AIP (THE OBLONG BOX, CRY OF THE BANSHEE, MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE) and Burr’s vital archival interview with the late Hessler (he passed away in 2014) is also nicely incorporated into the mix. “Uta Screams Again” (8:43) is a 2000 videotaped conversation with actress Uta Levka (in German with English subtitles) as she mentions making her horror films at Shepperton Studios, not getting along with Christopher Lee, and that she got on great with Price, who gave her a surprise birthday party at the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussauds in London with Lee also in attendance (Price and Lee were born on May 27 and Levka on May 26). Rounding out the extras are the original theatrical trailer (which inexcusably identifies Marshall Jones as Peter Cushing!), a radio spot, a diverse still gallery and the MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer in HD. The insert booklet contains liner notes by Julie Kirgo. (George R. Reis)
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