Review: Scream & Scream Again (1970)

Written by Christopher Wicking
Based on the novel by Peter Saxon
Directed by Gordon Hessler
Starring Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing
US Release Feb. 13, 1970
RT 95
Home Video Twilight Time (Blu-ray)
Classic Horrors rating = 6 (out of 10)

Watch the trailer on the Classic Horrors YouTube channel.

scream-and-scream-again-ii

Warning: review contains plot spoilers.

Although produced by Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky, Scream and Scream Again was not made through their company, Amicus Productions. The portmanteau films of the time were popular with Amicus, and Scream and Scream Again plays like one of its anthologies deconstructed. That is, through most of the movie, it feels like three different plots in three different films.

After a jazzy opening with 70s zooms and freeze frames as each credit appears, a man who was jogging wakes up in the “hospital” to find that one of his legs has been amputated. At different intervals, we return to see him, each time with another limb amputated, until he is left with none. While it’s the most chilling component of the movie, you don’t know what it has to do with anything else.

Next, we meet Konratz (Marshall Jones) who delivers a package to his superior, then gives him the Vulcan nerve pinch of death. This is the most confusing part of the movie and feels out of place for the longest. It takes place in some unidentified and, I assume, fictional, Eastern European country that evokes Nazi Germany, but has it’s own bizarre symbol on flags and uniforms.

Finally, Detective Supt. Bellaver (Alfred Marks) and his team investigate the murder of Eileen Stevens. Well, as he says, “She wasn’t just murdered, if you know what I mean.” Bellaver makes a lot of assumptions, but an autopsy later proves that she has two punctures on her wrist, the kind that might be made by a “meat skewer or knitting needle.” Plus, she’s been drained of blood.

As mentioned, for the longest time, I assumed Scream and Scream Again was telling three distinct tales that would converge at the end. It takes it’s time doing that, though, so that’s when I decided writer Christopher Wicking and/or director Gordon Hessler must have divided the three tales and interspersed them rather than telling each one at one time. Eventually the former is true, but just barely.

Wait, doesn’t the movie star Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing? …just barely, as well. Price gets the most sceen time as Dr. Browning, but most of it is not until the finale. Investigated in the murder of Eileen Stevens because she worked for him. In his first scene, he’s soft spoken and sincere. If you knew nothing about the movie, there would be no indication that he wasn’t innocent.

Lee appears in four scenes that total less screen time than Price’s. I’m still not clear what the role of his character, Fremont, really is. He’s definitely a bigwig who calls the shots, within some time of English political structure, I assume. It’s not important if you think about a sign that might rest on his desk, “the buck stops here.” Indeed, the last shot of the movie is a freeze frame on his face.

Cushing fares worst (or best, depending on how you look at it) with only one scene. His character, Major Heinrich Benedek, is another leader in the way of Konratz, who falls victim to his nerve pinch as he kills his way to the top. He’s at odds with the top brass over interrogation techniques used to gather information from… yeah, I don’t know who they are or what information they have.

Meanwhile, the police learn that “the vampire killer” has been picking up his victims at clubs. Policewoman Sylvia (Judy Huxtable) wears a wire and conveniently chooses the right club for the villain, Keith (Michael Gothard). This eventually leads to the longest scene of the movie, an at least-15 minute car/foot chase through London and it’s nearby countryside.

We end at the estate of Dr. Browning, where the superhuman (“It’s incredible; he’s only stunned!”) Keith takes a suicide jump into a tank of acid in the barn. Two of the stories are now connected as Browning’s role becomes more evident. Sylvia has ended up in the same “hospital” as the jogger, so her colleague Dr. David Sorel (Christopher Matthews) takes the investigation into his own hands.

The third story finally weaves its way into Scream and Scream Again as Konratz bursts into Browning’s lab just as Sylvia is strapped to an operating table and a gorgeous fembot nurse knocks Sorel to the ground when he tries to rescue her. It seems Browning has been using body parts of Keith’s victims to create a race of synthetic beings called “composites.”

As part of the obligatory mad scientist explanation, Browning tells Sorel, “As a doctor, I think you’re going to be fascinated by what I’m trying to do.” Showing him some of his equipment, he says, “This is my Activator and Fabricator. With them I can shape and bend the laws of surgery as you know them in my search for human perfection.” Sorel replies, “All of this is impossible!”

“No, only your acceptance of it.” When accused of having a God complex, Browning says, “God is dying all over the world. Man created him and doesn’t need him anymore. Man is God now. As a matter of fact, he always was.” His composites aren’t an evil super-race, though. He believes that somehow they will be “the saviors of humanity.”

Visually, Scream and Scream Again is compelling. At the police station and in the club, the camera follows it characters in tight, claustrophobic shots. As the gorgeous fembot nurse inserts a tube into the joggers mouth, we experience his point of view. In the club, the camera circles and gives us quick shots of potential killers in the dark, confined quarters.

What I make of its disparate parts is a statement about violence that makes it timely during events of recent years. One of Keith’s victims states, “You don’t have to hurt me,” when, yeah, he apparently does. However, Cushing’s Benedik states it more plainly, “License has been taken to unnecessary and gruesome extreme. Torture is torture no matter how you try to disguise it.”

Based on the novel by Peter Saxon, there could be some original intent for something meatier than is translated to screen in Scream and Scream Again. The result is one-third horror and two-thirds science fiction. It’s part Twilight Zone episode, vampire story and alternate timeline thriller. All of this is interesting, but it’s not all completely entertaining.

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