And Now the Screaming Starts! (1973)
"The dead hand that crawls, kills and lives!"
Newly weds Charles and Catherine Fengriffin move into the family estate to start their new life together. But shortly after arriving, Catherine is disturbed by ghastly visions of man whose eyes have been gouged out and is also tormented by a disembodied hand. However no one else in the house has seen these things and Charles begins to suspect that Catherine is going insane. When she becomes pregnant, Charles enlists the help of psychiatrist Dr Pope to get to the bottom of these apparent hallucinations. What becomes evident is Catherine is now the victim of a horrible curse which had been bestowed upon the Fengriffins thanks to the actions of Charles’ grandfather.
Known more for their anthologies back in the 60s and 70s, British company Amicus finally tried their hand at period horror in an attempt to muscle in on their rivals, Hammer, with And Now the Screaming Starts!. Ironically enough, Hammer had begun to move away from that tried-and-tested formula by bringing the likes of Dracula into the present day with Dracula A.D. 1972. So Amicus’ decision to do something that had been done to death over the years was a bit bewildering. So much so when you see how average And Now the Screaming Starts! actually is. Far from being a classic period Gothic horror, it just went to prove Hammer’s decision to move on to different material was a good one.
Director Roy Ward Baker directed a few British horrors around this time and he approaches And Now the Screaming Starts! as if he’s making some sort of low budget ghost train ride for a theme park. Portraits rattle against the walls. Windows blow open. Candles extinguish. There’s thunder and lightning. And that’s just the start of it – its hardly subtle horror, rather in your face scares. Baker relies on repeating the same scares over and over again for the first half of the film, with the eerie eye-less man leering through windows, a fake severed hand appearing and disappearing whenever someone mentions the curse and constant zoom-ins on one of the oil paintings which results in loud, sinister music being played. The effects aren’t convincing the first time around but they’re overworked like mad here as if Baker didn’t know how else to scare people. Despite his efforts, the film rarely conveys any sense of dread and as a result, the pace of the film slows to a crawl. You’re waiting for something to jump-start the film into life.
Thankfully the arrival of Peter Cushing half-way through the film is this required jump-start – not because he’s on the screen (though it makes a big difference to have him around) but because the story finally starts to advance and the characters begin to unravel the curse that is hanging over the Fengriffins. This leads to a nasty flashback and then the film moves swiftly on to its finale, peppered with a few twists and turns along the way. There are still a couple of the tacky scare sequences like there were in the opening half but at least the film is moving with purpose by this point and they don’t feel like they’re simply there to pad out the running time. Now they appear with meaning and relevance to the story. In fact the last forty minutes or so is pretty good. Though the direction of the story is predictable and the twists themselves are hardly nerve-shattering, And Now the Screaming Starts! provides decent entertainment.
Stephanie Beacham stars as Catherine and she’s got a massive set of lungs on her (in both the euphemism sense and the proper sense!). Obviously with a title like And Now the Screaming Starts!, there were going to be moments in the film where she was required to scream and boy, does she ever scream. Possibly one of the most ear-piecing and genuinely frightening screams I’ve heard, her character’s shock and fright is easily transmitted to the viewer. It helps matters greatly that she’s beautiful - like seriously stunning, one of English’s finest roses. The role requires her to scream a lot and wear low-cut dresses and she does both with equal aplomb. Ian Ogilvy doesn’t do have much to do as Charles Fengriffin so it’s left to the old timers Peter Cushing and Herbert Lom to deliver. Cushing only enters the film past the half way point and even though he’s his usual brilliant self, the role is virtually useless to the story and the actions that his character makes could easily have been written for Charles himself. Lom’s part is meatier, starring in a flashback scene as Charle’s debaucherous grandfather and showing us the reason that the curse was put onto the Fengriffins. Lom hams it up in his brief role and is arguably the best bit of the film. This sequence alone features rape and a nasty hand chopping to boot!
And Now the Screaming Starts! was not a success (shock, horror!) and so Amicus went straight back to their tried-and-tested contemporary settings after. Production values are decent, there are some atmospheric locations and there's the classic Gothic vibe flowing through the story but, given that 1973 also saw the release of The Exorcist, these old school British horrors were definitely showing their age.
And Now the Screaming Starts! isn't totally worthless. It could easily match up against some of Hammer’s lesser efforts with ease. It’s just that the terrible first half of the film torpedoes any sort of momentum the film needed to give the rousing second half any hope of winning the viewer over. I got the impression that it would have worked better as a shorter film in one of their specialist anthologies.
And Now the Screaming Starts!
Director(s): Roy Ward Baker
Writer(s): Roger Marshall (screenplay by), David Case (novel "Fengriffen")
Actor(s): Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee, Stephanie Beacham, Ian Ogilvy, Geoffrey Whitehead, Guy Rolfe
Duration: 91 mins