Carry on Screaming (1966)
"Carry On Screaming with the Hilarious CARRY ON Gang!!"
When beautiful young women are going missing in Hocombe Woods, Detective Sergeant Sidney Bung teams up with Albert Potter, the boyfriend of one of the missing girls, to get to the bottom of the mystery. Their investigation leads them to the mysterious Bide-A-Wee Rest Home, where the sinister Dr Watt is turning the women into mannequins to sell.
A quintessential national treasure during its heyday, the Carry On film series was the embodiment of the traditional British sense of humour at the time – saucy, but not overly sexual, and relying on puns, innuendos and double entendres for laughs. They pushed the boundaries of tastefulness just a little bit further than most but never crossed the line. Featuring a slew of stoic and sexually repressed characters, restricted by Britain’s conservative ‘stiff upper lip’ class-driven society and attitudes towards taboo subjects such as sex and drugs, coming up against British institutions and customs such as the NHS and the monarchy, the series spanned thirty-one films across thirty-four years and left a much-loved legacy when it ended. I know many people today look back on them in horror, saying they were embarrassing and cringey, but they’re a product of their time – harmless unsophisticated fun, not designed to offend anyone, and still relatively funny in the 2010s (though it depends on which of the film you’re watching) if you like that sort of bawdy humour.
Carry on Screaming was the twelfth entry into the series and is an affectionate parody of the Hammer period horror offerings from the 1960s, as well as having nods to some of the older genre classics such as Frankenstein, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and The Wolf Man. Like the Hammer films, they utilised the same ensemble cast and crew for the bulk of their output, with the likes of Carry On regulars Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale, Joan Simms, Bernard Bresslaw, and Charles Hawtrey all appearing in this one. The best thing about Carry On Screaming compared to most of the other films in the series is that it actually has a decent narrative to build the silliness up around – there is a story here and the laughs follow the story as it progresses, rather than being a series of silly set pieces strung together. Just like the classic horror films that it’s spoofing, the story builds to a climax as the evidence is gathered and events begin to unfold.
The key to making a successful horror-comedy is getting the balance right. There needs to be laughs and silliness but there also needs to be some chills and spills, as the horror elements need to be treated seriously enough. Carry On Screaming isn’t particularly scary but it is atmospheric and the Gothic vibe oozes out of every frame – this is one of the best-looking Carry On films going, with fog-shrouded woods and creepy old mansions belaying the limited budget, and the film delivers with Hammer-esque levels of furniture and props in its lavish sets, particularly in Watt’s Frankenstein-like underground laboratory. Even the two monsters that he has lurking around skirt the fine line between being bumbling idiots and terrifyingly scary. On first glance, you’d swear this was a Hammer film, such is the attention to detail.
The comedy elements are so-so, if you can stand a ton of corny jokes, but there a load of great sight gags and some of the parodying of classic horror is spot-on – Mel Brooks would have been proud. The Carry On series has always been about a ‘take it or leave it’ approach which some will find terrible but for those who were brought up in the dying embers of the British seaside resort era with their end-of-the-pier shows and naughty postcards, the humour will feel right at home. Characters’ names are meant to elicit a laugh or prove to be a pivotal accessory to a joke in the film – the name Dr Watt is used as a play on the old Abbott and Costello “Who’s on first?” routine to lesser effect.
The Carry On regulars are their usual selves here, which is that they play themselves pretty much: Williams all snooty-nosed, Dale the bumbling straight man, Sims as the battle axe wife, Hawtrey (pretty much a cameo) being himself. Series mainstay Sid James was unable to star in the role of Detective Bung and so Harry H. Corbett appears in his only Carry On film. Corbett is decent in the role, which had clearly been written for James, and, with no offence to James who I absolutely love in these films, it’s nice to see a different take on that type of lecherous, sex-starved middle-aged man who mugs a lot for the camera. There is a breakout performance in Carry On Screaming and that’s the gorgeous Fenella Fielding who vamps it up as Watt’s sister, Valeria. Fielding oozes sex appeal in a tight-fitting red dress which made her career and she deadpans her way through all of the jokes and crazy goings-on as if it were normal to her. The criminally underrated Peter Butterworth also has a brilliant part to play, as Bung’s bumbling Watson-esque assistant.
If there is one Carry On film you should see which is different to the rest of the series, then check out Carry on Screaming! Yes, there are the series’ trademark sexual innuendos and corny gags, but it works far better as a horror spoof than it has any right to do. In fact, it’s almost better if you pretend that it isn’t a Carry On film and avoid all of the preconceptions that come with it. Sit back and enjoy a loving homage to a fantastic genre.
Carry on Screaming
Director(s): Gerald Thomas
Writer(s): Talbot Rothwell (screenplay)
Actor(s): Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale, Harry H. Corbett, Charles Hawtrey, Fenella Fielding, Joan Sims, Angela Douglas, Bernard Bresslaw, Peter Butterworth, Jon Pertwee
Duration: 97 mins