October 8th, 2011
|11:13 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: The Screaming Skull|
The Screaming Skull is the tale of a skull that won't stop screaming. It screams and screams, all day long and all night. It screams in the basement, and it screams in the attic. It screams in the library and under the stairs. It screams in every one of the closets, and the guest bathroom, and the observatory. Quite a pair of lungs on that skull, now that you mention it.
No. The Screaming Skull is a 1958 film directed by Alex Nichol for A.I.P. (remember A.I.P.?). You've never heard of Alex Nichol. He directed a few films and TV series, but mostly he acted in stuff you've never heard of. Actually, the only name connected with this movie that I'm familiar with is the soundtrack composer, Ernest Gold, who scored Exodus, Inherit the Wind, and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Otherwise, the actors are mostly has-beens and wasn'ts.
The movie opens with a special disclaimer from its producers:
The Screaming Skull is a motion picture that reaches its climax in shocking horror. Its impact is so terrifying that it may have an unforeseen effect. It may kill you. Therefore, its producers feel they must assure free burial services to anyone who dies of fright while seeing The Screaming Skull.Sounds pretty scary, right? Probably not a gimmick? Definitely not trumped up to fool you into thinking it doesn't suck?
Well, it does suck, and the worst thing about it is that every DVD transfer of this movie that I'm aware of has horrendously bad audio. It's difficult for most of the movie to understand a word anybody is saying. However, what I got out of it is this: Eric Whitlock has just married his second wife, Jenni, and she's about to move into the home he shared with his previous wife, Marion. Marion Whitlock banged her head on something and drowned some time ago, and the (probably) retarded gardener, Mickey, has been maintaining the estate as a shrine to her memory. We also meet Reverend Snow and his wife, who are cheerfully eager to get to know Jenni.
Some years ago Jenni witnessed the sudden death of her parents, and has a history of mental illness, which Eric casually mentions to the Snows. When Jenni starts seeing skulls and hearing screams, everyone writes it off as part of her "little problem," until actual evidence starts turning up, and it looks like Mickey might be terrorizing her. Or is Eric trying to bump her off for her money? Or is it possible that Marion was murdered, and is trying to avenge her death? What if it's a combination of all three?
Ostensibly, it's an adaptation of the short story of the same name by F. Marion Crawford. I've read other stuff by Crawford and like him, so I guess I'll read that one soon, but one of the first things you hear whenever anyone is talking about this movie is that it has nothing in common with the story.
For some reason, my brain shuts off when I watch a black and white, public domain movie with crappy sound and no subtitles. I have a hard time getting through old movies where everybody sounds like Miss Othmar from Peanuts. I made it though, and am pretty sure I got the gist of it. Probably would have been more interesting and watchable if I wasn't constantly working out the dialogue.
The nice thing about The Screaming Skull is, I guess, that it moves along at a good clip. It's only 67 minutes long, and in that time we get a twisty little psychological thriller. Oh, this isn't David Cronenberg territory or anything, but it's impressive for being just over an hour long. It was the top of a double bill with Terror from the Year 5000. It's nothing special, but it's very average for B-horror fare of its vintage. The production values are low, but horror movies didn't get any respect during the '50s, so the difference between high and low production values wasn't too impressive. The special effects tend to fall into two categories: double exposure tricks, and somebody off-camera throwing a skull into the shot. Exciting!
All in all, you could do much worse than The Screaming Skull, but you could also do much, much better. Is it worth your time? Probably not, but it is in the public domain, so you can watch it online.
Or there's always the trailer, which makes the film look more exciting than it is.