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Sunday, December 17, 2017

AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS is part of "THE AMICUS COLLECTION" (Blu-ray 4-volume box set) from Severin Films.
(And Now the Screaming Starts/Asylum/The Beast Must Die/The Vault of Amicus)

The title of the original novel by David Case was "Fengriffen", with Roger Marshall's screenplay similarly dubbed "The Bride of Fengriffen."  To the actors' dismay and my delight, the title of this 1973 Amicus production ultimately became AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS (Severin Films). 

I find this not only more interesting-sounding but quite apt, as leading lady Stephanie Beacham (DRACULA A.D. 1972, "The Colbys") and various of her co-stars emit piercing, full-bodied screams every five minutes or so in reaction to some unbearable horror visited upon them by the script.

It all starts when 18th-century British nobleman Charles Fengriffen (genre stalwart Ian Ogilvy) brings his new bride Catherine (Beacham) home to the rustic but extravagantly elegant family estate in the country.  (Perennial film location Oakley Court provides the lavish exteriors, with equally elaborate interiors constructed and shot at Shepperton Studios.)

What Catherine doesn't realize--and which both Charles and everyone else take pains to hide from her--is that due to the heinous crimes of Charles' grandfather Henry against his woodsman Silas (Geoffrey Whitehead), there's a terrible curse on the house of Fengriffen that's to be visited upon the first virginal bride to reside there.  (For which she, to her grave misfortune, qualifies.)

This offers director Roy Ward Baker a chance to punctuate the formal, richly Gothic atmosphere with shocking flashes of lurid imagery as the horrified Catherine is subjected to ghostly visions such as a bloody hand plunging through Henry's portrait and glimpses of the disembodied but ambulatory hand making its way around inside the house while a spectral Silas appears intermittently at the window with gory holes for eyes. 

We're led to wonder if such visions are real or merely figments of her heated imagination--that is, until various household staff and others connected with the Fengriffens begin to die off in violent ways.  Catherine herself needs no more convincing after a spectral presence seems to force itself upon her sexually on her very wedding night, setting into motion what will become the eventual ghastly fruition of the curse.

Baker's surehanded directorial experience on such classics as A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, ASYLUM, and FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH comes into play as he moves the camera fluidly within the spacious indoor sets.  Lighting, costumes, and other production details also contribute to give this film a look beyond its relatively modest budget.

This look is similar to that of the earlier Gothic-tinged Hammer films, and indeed seems to be trying to fill the gap left by Hammer's move at the time toward a more modern image.  Yet it somehow retains what I think of as the distinctive, perhaps indefinable visual ambience of an Amicus production.

Even with its R-rating, gore is kept to a minimum although that severed hand stays quite busy and Silas' bloody axe gets its chance to swing as well.  A couple of implied rape scenes (one featuring second-billed Herbert Lom in a revelatory flashback as the evil Henry Fengriffen) and some brief nudity add to the adult content.

The closing minutes also contain a scene in which a grave is desecrated in such a violent way that it comes off as shockingly morbid, and almost makes everything that came before seem sedate in comparison.  The final twist is no less effective for its predictability--the fact that what we expected all along finally comes to pass is, in fact, somewhat satisfying.

Performances are fine, with the always-reliable Ogilvy and the wonderfully expressive Beacham aided by supporting castmembers such as Patrick Magee (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, ASYLUM) as a family doctor all too familiar with the curse, and the aforementioned Lom in his brief but effective flashback scenes. 

Distinguished genre legend Peter Cushing doesn't make his appearance until around the halfway mark or later, but he makes the most of his role as a psychiatrist who tries to make scientific sense of what's happening to Catherine and those around her.  Even in those moments when the film's stately pace begins to lag, he and the other leads are always interesting to watch.

The Blu-ray from Severin Films offers a lovely remastered print with only the occasional rough patch.  The bonus menu is nicely stocked as usual, with a lengthy, clip-filled featurette about Oakley Court hosted by horror authors Allan Bryce and David Flint, an audio interview with Peter Cushing (with accompanying photo montage), a review of the film by horror author Denis Meikle, plus a trailer and radio spot.  Two seperate commentary tracks are available, one with Roy Ward Baker and Stephanie Beacham, the other with Ian Ogilvie, and both are marvelous fun to listen to.

AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS is one of those simmering Gothic tales that might've been a bit slow for me in my younger days, but now it's just the thing for me to settle into and enjoy like a good book. Only turn the pages in this book and you never know when a bloody hand or an eyeless woodsman with an axe are going to jump out at you. 

Order THE AMICUS COLLECTION (Blu-ray 4-volume box set) from Severin Films
(And Now the Screaming Starts/Asylum/The Beast Must Die*/The Vault of Amicus)
*The Beast Must Die is exclusive ONLY to the boxed set.


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