BR: Scream and Scream Again (1970)

March 25, 2016 | By

ScreamAndScreamAgain_BRFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Near-Perfect

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: Al;l

Released: October 13, 2015

Genre:  Horror / Sciemce-Fiction

Synopsis: Bizarre genre hybrid in which a serial killer investigation and a fascist country are tied to the use of human organs and body parts.

Special Features: Audio Commentary with film historians David Del Valle and Tim Sullivan / Isolated Stereo Score Track / Featurette: “Gentleman Gothic: Gordon Hessler at AIP” (23:20) / 2000 Interview with Uta Levka (8:43) / Still Gallery / Radio Spot / Original Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.

 


 

Review:

Scream and Scream Again may sound like an AIP co-production packed with a stellar Hammer Films cast, but this supposed ‘vampire killer’ thriller is really three seemingly disparate storylines that converge in the final act, each having nothing to do with vampirism, leaving the audience with a storyline that’s part Futureworld (1976) and Frankenstein(1931) with dollops of Ira Levin paranoia.

Based on a novel by Peter Saxon (a pseudonym for a series of horror books authored by several writers), Story #1 deals with a fascist neo-Nazi regime in some unnamed pocket of Europe, and a lead interrogator / torturer named Ludwig (slimey Anthony Newlands) who uses a Vulcan Death Grip to terminally incapacitate superiors (including one-scene-and-he’s-gone Peter Cushing) and gradually rise in the party ranks.

Teasing Story #2 involves a jogger (Nigel Lambert) who collapses in a park and regains consciousness in a minimalist hospital room. Each time a sexy nurse (wordless Uta Levka) visits, he discovers he’s missing another limb.

Story #3 takes up most of the film’s 90 min. running time, covering a straightforward detective search for a slender man (always creepy Michael Gothard) luring swinging sixties babes to a forested enclosure where he strangles, de-sanguinates, and sexually assaults his victims (in that order).

Somehow Dr. Browning (Vincent Price, in what’s ostensibly a modest supporting role) is tied to each story’s group of characters, including Fremont (Christopher Lee, also in a limited role), a ministerial bigwig who ultimately agrees to circumvent the vampire killer investigation for initially political reasons.

While not a political thriller, the conspiratorial elements should’ve been more developed to broaden the film’s scope, but film critic-turned-genre screenwriter Christopher Wicking (Cry of the Banshee, Demons of the Mind) seemed to know AIP’s budget was pretty tight (the sets in Story #1 are less than modest, with Cushing at one point peering out of a window with no cutaway for audiences), so director Gordon Hessler exploited the detective story with beautifully crafted chase montages by car and foot in stellar locations that nevertheless feel like narrative padding prior to some gruesome payoff.

The film barely makes sense and feels awfully disjointed, and David Whitaker’s orchestral jazz score (isolated in bouncy stereo on a separate track) sounds more like TV’s Batman than Hammer horror, but SASA has a strange aura that keeps it from total collapse, and genre fans will certainly relish its fine supporting actors, peculiar moments of nudity, and Jean Coquillon’s extraordinary cinematography that often features lengthy Steadicam-like, handheld takes.

Twilight Time’s substantive and qualitative array of extras make this a near-perfect release, giving it the level of admiration fans and defenders have wanted since catching this odd cult film in cinemas and on TV.

David Del Valle’s become the central cult film historian lately, having contributed to Synapse Films’ Blu-ray of Jess Franco’s Christopher Lee-starring Count Dracula (1970) and Twilight Time’s disc of the previously unknown 1969 giallo Satan’s Doll (1969), and the level of apocrypha shared between Del Valle and fellow commentator Tim Sullivan for SASA is insane, but in a good way. This is clearly a movie both men have researched and whose creative talent they know inside and out, guaranteeing a commentary worth revisiting. Most revealing is how Wicking junked most of the first script and apparently stayed faithful to the original novel, with one key difference being a reduction of the book’s sadism and graphic gore.

An excellent featurette on director Hessler – “Gentleman Gothic: Gordon Hessler at AIP” – gives this underrated filmmaker a revisionist portrait that’s certainly deserved, given he’s often been regarded as a hack because his AIP films were often subjected to the studio’s editorial whims. Les we forget, Hessler helmed Columbia’s outstanding fantasy actioner Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973).

SASA is indeed uncut and features the original Whitaker score which was removed from all prior home video and cable TV releases in North American when AIP’s music assets were sold to another company. Rather than pay the fees, new AIP owner Orion commissioned new synth scores by Kendall Schmidt. The affected films also included SASA, Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (1965), and Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968) – each of which has since been released with its original music. What made SASA especially problematic was a dance club sequence featuring the group Amen Corner who are shown singing, but never heard in the old video transfers.

(There were other films, and way back in 1988 and 1990, Randall Larson interviewed the composer about the unenviable task in re-scoring whole or parts of 10 films. The must-read article is archived at Soundtrack-CinemaScore online archive.)

Hessler’s background is pretty amazing: beginning in documentaries, he became a regular producer and one-time director for Alfred Hitchcock Presents before hopping off to England and producing & directing his feature film debut, Catacombs (1965).  He was eventually hired by AIP as a producer, and his entry into further directing chores began rather suddenly when Oblong Box’s original director, Michael Reeves, died from a barbiturate overdose. Hessler also handled the completion of the AIP’s big budget but disastrous De Sade (1969) after original director Cy Endfileld (Zulu) was fired.

SASA was supposed to be a rare non-classic monsters shocker set in the present day, assembling three of AIP’s biggest stars: Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing, but as each actor lamented to each other (and Price to Del Valle), they were often shoved into underwritten parts purely for marquee value, hence Cushing having one scene, and Lee and Price having their encounter at the very end. Lee also doesn’t appear until the midpoint, and one could argue his scenes with Price are so brief, Hessler could’ve done a Jess Franco and used body doubles to intercut separately shot footage.

SASA’s billing of three horror titans under one roof is a cheat, but Hessler managed to create a film that maintains a truly weird aura, and handling its suspense and action scenes with exceptional skill. His biggest asset wasn’t the cast, but cinematographer Jean Coquillon, whose compositions and epic handheld takes are jaw-dropping for their perfection.

Also packed into this set is a candid interview from 2000 with the ageless Levka, who recalls working with amiable Price and stiff Lee, and being assigned assorted film roles (Oblong Box, De Sade) because she was kept on a payroll courtesy of a lucrative deal brokered by the William Morris Agency.

After a cluster of theatrical films in the early seventies, Hessler moved into episodic TV and TV movies. His AIP films include The Oblong Box (1969), Scream and Scream Again (1970), Cry of the Banshee (1970), and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971). Although he passed away in 2014, Hessler’s final feature film is 1981’s Shogun Warrior / Kabuto, which co-starred Christopher Lee and Toshiro Mifune.

 

 

© 2016 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
 
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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