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Posts Tagged ‘Alfred Marks’

One of the mistakes it is quite understandable that normal, ordinary people make is looking at any British-made horror or fantasy film from the 1960s and assume it was a Hammer production. It happened just the other night: the light of my life got home to find me watching Gordon Hessler’s 1969 movie Scream and Scream Again and said ‘Another Hammer horror?’ (I should explain that I have been trying to rectify some of the gaps in her cultural background by watching some of the House’s output with her – our domestic bliss was somewhat rocked when she gave Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde a higher score than Countess Dracula, but you can’t have everything.)

How does one begin to explain the subtle differences in style and approach that exist between movies by Hammer, Amicus, Tigon, and American International, to name just the major players? Actually, Scream and Scream Again is even more of an oddity as it’s effectively a co-production between Amicus (who were essentially producers Milton Subotsky and Max J Rosenberg) and American-International. Both parties brought along some of the top talent they had a history with, and the result is a film which sounds absolutely fascinating and intriguing on paper. But…

The movie opens with a man going for a jog somewhere in London. The picture abruptly freezes for a caption stating ‘VINCENT PRICE’. Confusingly, however, the jogger is clearly not Mr Price. Nor is he ‘CHRISTOPHER LEE’ (the next name to appear), ‘PETER CUSHING’, ‘ALFRED MARKS’, or any of the other people in the credits. This is bad form, credit-wise, I would say, but by making the viewer confused and probably irritable this early on it does quite a good job of establishing what they can expect from watching Scream and Scream Again.

The most striking thing about the film, in terms of its story, is the extent to which it happily runs with a number of wildly disparate plot-threads which seem to be going off in all directions, with no connection whatsoever. One of these concerns the jogger, who has some sort of seizure while running and wakes up in hospital. A sort of gruesome running gag ensues where he keeps waking up in the same room, being visited and ministered to by a beautiful nurse, and then discovering that he’s freshly missing a body part (first one of his legs is gone, then both of them, and so on – he eventually ends up as a severed head in a cupboard).

Also trundling forward is something about the various deeds of Konratz (Marshall Jones), whom we eventually discover to be a government torturer for a totalitarian state somewhere in eastern Europe. Just to make things extra baffling, the soldiers of this notionally Communist country all wear SS uniforms with the swastikas swapped out for an icon a bit like a trident. It seems that Konratz’s superiors aren’t delighted with him, something he deals with by doing a version of the Spock nerve pinch on them – at which point they take on an attitude of glazed paralysis before dribbling blood from their ears or mouth and dropping dead on the spot. This would be fine were they not played by actors of the calibre of Peter Sallis or Peter Cushing, both of whom are much more interesting to watch than Marshall Jones. Cushing has one short scene in the whole movie, despite being third billed.

Not doing much better is a second-billed Lee, who features in a few short scenes about international espionage and sending spy planes into enemy airspace. You can sort of imagine how this might end up linking up to the storyline with the mysterious behaviour of Konratz, but the connection doesn’t appear until deep into the third act.

The bulk of the film concerns another plot thread, which deals with an apparent serial killer at large in London – the killings end up being called ‘the vampire murders’, which is probably asking for trouble given the movie has Lee and Cushing in the cast. Leading the investigation is Alfred Marks, who in a sane world would be top-billed as he probably has more screen time than anyone else in the film. The trail keeps leading back to the private clinic of scientist Dr Browning (a relatively youthful-looking Price, certainly compared to his appearance in Theatre of Blood only a few years later), who swears to know nothing about them.

Time and some rather exploitative fem jeop prove him a liar, of course, as the killer – whose name is the not entirely menacing ‘Keith’ – is pursued back to Price’s lab. Keith is played by Michael Gothard, an actor with an interestingly angular face who did well in a few supporting roles like this one between the late sixties and the early eighties. Yes, Keith has been topping swinging dolly-birds and drinking their blood, although given he turns out not to be an actual vampire it’s not clear why this urged has gripped him. Vampire or not, he turns out to be a rather unusual fellow, and this proves to be key to all the various mysteries and confusions in the story. (My Former Next Desk Colleague once produced deep confusion in me when he described this film as ‘the one where Ian Ogilvy rips his own hand off’. I naturally thought he was mixed up and referring to Blood on Satan’s Claw, although in that one it’s Simon Williams who dismembers himself – easy to get all these leading men mixed up, isn’t it? Suffice to say he was thinking of… mmm, spoilers.)

Having lived through Scream and Scream Again the temptation is to look back on it as a relatively clever film which isn’t afraid to leave the audience in suspense as to what’s going on. But then your memories of any gruelling experience are likely to be coloured by relief at actually getting to the end of it, and watching Scream and Scream Again was pretty hard work. Quite apart from the disjointed nature of the plot – and the connection between the different storylines, when it comes, feels more like a slightly desperate ad hoc cobbling-together rather than a blind-siding revelation. It involves androids, acid baths, and the secret take-over of the world – apparently, at one point Subotsky’s script included aliens, but all explicit references to this were snipped out, leaving the actual identity of the villains obscure, to say the least.

Part of the reason that vintage British horror movies have endured so well is the fact that they feature such distinguish casts, people with the ability to lift and compensate for this kind of material. You would have thought that a film with Price, Lee and Cushing at the top of the bill would have little to worry about in this department – but none of them get much time on screen. Cushing is off by himself in his own little scene, and while Lee and Price do theoretically appear together, they’re only on camera at the same time for a matter of seconds. Even so, it’s an instructive display of different performance styles: Lee is all impassive intensity and playing it for real, while Price is basically just hamming it up with immense virtuosity. But it’s such a short scene it has no chance to save the film.

Scream and Scream Again feels shallow and chaotic, almost as if the people making it weren’t entirely sure what it was supposed to be about. There are certainly some talented actors involved, but never as much as you’d like them to be. The action sequences just about function, but the rest of it is fairly impenetrable and unrewarding.

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