Everybody knows that in the 1960's, the king of gothic horror movies was Hammer Films. However, even the top dogs had competition, most notably from Amicus Studios, whose series of Goth thrillers were on par with Hammer's. One of Amicus' most respected efforts - AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS - has finally been released uncut on DVD!
New bride Catherine is escorted by her husband Charles to his family's estate Ferngriffin, there to start their new life together. However, strange things start to happen once Catherine crosses the threshold - the poor girl has terrible bloody visions. She thinks it must be nerves or something, but later that night, while waiting in bed for Charles, Catherine is savagely attacked! Charles takes an axe to the locked door and finds a hysterical wife and ... nothing. He tells the snooping maid it was just her "imagination". Well, she keeps having visions of an eyeless man with a severed hand. Catherine definitely knows something is going on at Ferngriffin and that everyone is keeping the secret from her. It may have something to do with the odd woodsman Silas, who lives on the far edge of the estate - some boon his ancestor received from Charles's family. He has a keen interest in Catherine; she's creeped out by him. Desperate for answers, Catherine tries an appeal to the Ferngriffin solicitor Maitland. Of course, that signs his death warrant. The more Catherine tries to discover this 'curse', the higher the body count becomes. And then Catherine discovers she is pregnant. As her world spirals out of control, Charles has psychiatrist Dr. Pope (Peter Cushing - finally!) summoned from London. But can this man of science find the answers haunting the poor girl before Catherine goes completely mad?
AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS may have a lousy title, but is true to the Amicus gothic formula. Unlike their counterparts at Hammer, the Amicus films were more melodramatic thrillers than bloody horror romps, and they preferred not to lace their films with shock value nudity. However, these self-imposed limitations did not diminish their craftsmanship; even Hammer regulars such as Cushing and Lee jumped at the chance to work on an Amicus set. Noted director Roy Ward Baker (he helmed "A Night to Remember") uses a 'Hitchcockian" approach to AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS. Utilizing an elaborate two-story set, Baker lets the camera do most of the moving during scenes, not the actors. This creates a stage feeling without the stoic single point of view. This also allows Baker to focus the audiences' attention on what's important in each scene without interrupting the dialogue flow with lots of cuts. Story-wise, AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS is akin to TV's "Dark Shadows"; fairly innocuous drama mixed with creepy ghost images, occasional shocks, and an ironic (yet predictable) ending. The cast - mostly old hands at the genre (Cushing, Patrick Magee and Herbert Lom among others) - makes the most of the material, underplaying the drama and maximizing the supernatural suspense; you'll recognize many of the bit players as well. Stephanie Beacham gives a notable performance as the bewildered and frustrated Catherine - poor girl can't get a break! The location used for the mansion's exterior - Oakley Hall - will be very familiar to Monsters fans.
AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS has been remastered from an existing 35mm master print, and it shows. The picture is nice and clean, with no bad editing splices, bad audio crackle or other deficiencies we used to see during the '4 O' Clock Film' on UHF. That said, the film does have a very flat look because of the color palette chosen, everything seems to be muted in green and brown tones. The lighting also gets darker near the film's climax; the shadows deepen although the actors stay well lit. Maybe Baker was being subtle... The score is typical 'goth' - and sounded very familiar to other films of the genre. The special effects are fine - for their day. The notorious hand may have been shocking 30+ years ago, but now looks 'gimmicky' - certainly not scary by today's jaded standards. Fortunately, AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS relies on its talented actors and creative direction to pull off the story's suspense and terror, which they do with aplomb.
Dark Sky Films has released an unexpurgated print of AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS on DVD with some nice extras. There are two - count 'em, two - film commentaries. The first is a Q&A with Ms. Beacham and director Baker, filled with many anecdotes and history of Amicus Films. The second is a conversation with Ian Ogilvy, who played Charles, adding his own take on the movies' creation. Both are worth a sit-through. There are also the much-anticipated trailer, text bios of the major cast and crew, and a stills gallery.
The Goth Horror Genre has all but disappeared, replaced by trench coat-wearing vampire warriors and chicks in black eye makeup wearing stilettos. AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS is a perfect example of the original gothic film, with fine period details and a suspenseful dramatic story, starring the foremost character actors of the time. Baker's creative guiding hand makes AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS not a forgotten relic, but a solid reminder of a forgotten genre.