What the hell? It’s rare these days that I have that reaction to a film. By this point, I really have seen just about everything, and the one thing that keeps that from being a depressing revelation is that sometimes something will pop up to remind that I haven’t seen anything. This movie was apparently based on a book called The Disoriented Man, and while watching it, that was definitely an apt description of me. Scream and Scream Again seems for much of its running time to be three completely different movies. By the end, of course, things will be tied together, but not in a way that necessarily makes much sense. The end result is not unlike watching one of those Thomas Tang/Godfrey Ho ninja movies where they’d buy bits and pieced of a couple old Hong Kong films, splice them together with some scenes from some unfinished Italian action film, then stick in a series of newly shot scenes featuring white guys in red and yellow ninja outfits with headbands that say “Ninja!” on them and call the whole hideous Frankenstein’s monster a movie.
If I lean a little heavily on plot summary for this review, please forgive me. I do try and avoid that these days, but sometimes you just have to tell people what’s happening. Film number one in Scream and Scream Again begins during the opening credits, as a jogger sprints about London without a care in the world until he keels over and wakes up in some weird hospital room where a silent nurse in six pounds of make-up keeps insisting that he keep that spittle vacuum hooked to his lip. When she leaves, he struggles to sit up, throws back the covers, and realizes with horror that one of his legs is gone. Truth be told, it’s a comical but unsettling and effective way to kick off the film, which goes from there straight into the second film, in which the most British cop in the world, Superintendent Bellaver (Alfred Marks), harrumphs and mumbles like a character actor turned to eleven as he investigates a series of grisly murders in which young women are found to be completely drained of blood, though there’s no pool of blood at the scene.
No sooner have we been introduced to this plot thread than we pick up a third plot, in which agents of some make-believe Eastern Bloc nation modeled after East Germany sit around in a room discussing vague plans until one of them whips out the touch of death and kills his leader. Eventually this requires Peter Cushing to come into the room and smoke a cigarette before he, too, has the touch of death put on him. Now I’m going to probably get some of the series of events out of order as I forget at what point the film switches to one of its three plots, but it really doesn’t matter all that much.
Meanwhile, Bellaver goes to interview the former employer of one of the serial killer’s victims, and that turns out to be esteemed research scientist, Dr. Browning (Vincent Price). Then another girl gets killed. While that guy in Fake Germany is using his weird Vulcan Nerve Pinch to make Peter Cushing drip blood from his mouth, the cops set up a sting operation using an assortment of pretty female police detectives scattered around London’s swinging clubs in hopes that one of them will be picked up by whoever is doing the vampiric killing. Sure enough it works. But wait, I think maybe before that, the guy from the beginning of the movie woke up and found that his other leg had been removed as well.
The police find their vampire killer and engage in one of the longest chase scenes ever committed to a cheap nonsensical horror thriller. That the vampire killer is a young mop top in a frilly lavender Medieval Faire shirt make sit all the more fun. He leads the cops on a car chase, then a foot chase, then a climbing chase before finally falling down, getting handcuffed, ripping off his own hand, and starting the whole thing over again. Eventually he ends up in Vincent Price’s barn, where he escapes the cops by jumping into a giant vat of acid hidden beneath the floor.
But no, no, no! There’s so, so much more! That Fake German guy with the touch of death seems to be taking over the country in the easiest coup ever staged, since various people in his way on the path to glory just get invited into the room with him, where he kills them with his magic fingers. After that, no one seems to raise any questions as to why the leaders of the country keep dying when they go into a room alone with him. Eventually, Christopher Lee shows up to talk about this guy. Wait, no. Let me give them names. The touch of death guy is Konratz, the most Commie fake Russian-German name they could come up with. He’s played by Marshall Jones, who would also show up as a priest to help Vincent Price torture Pagans in Cry of the Banshee before finally having acid thrown into his face by Herbert Lom in Murders in the Rue Morgue. Really, you know one of the things I like about both Hammer and AIP films is that after a while, it’s all one big family and everyone becomes a familiar face. Christopher Lee plays Fremont, an agent in the service of the British secret police.
While we’re getting know them, that one guy wakes up and finds that now his arms are missing. The hell? And that nurse still insists that he keep the spittle vacuum firmly attached to his lip. This is the guy you’re going to feel most like while watching Scream and Scream Again. This is also a good movie for those who appreciate hot naked women in really baggy, ill-fitting bald caps.
How can this movie possibly pull together its three plots and five or six genres? Well, how about by revealing that the vampire killer is a superman who has been constructed in Vincent Price’s lab using various body parts collected from unlucky joggers is experiments funded by that weird Fake Germany country so that they can take over England and then the world with their race of supermen, that is unless secret agent Christopher Lee can stop them. Unless he, too, is a synthetic being. Or something. Man, don’t look at me. And if you are wondering why that one guy can make Peter Cushing spit up blood or why the guy in the purple poet shirt drinks blood or why the movie spent so much time on two people trying to escape Fake Germany (one of whom is Yutte Stensgaarde, who we’ll see much, much more of in Hammer’s Lust for a Vampire) when they have no connection whatsoever to any of the other plots, well then you’re just going to have to be happy with the fact that Scream and Scream Again managed to tie together as much as it did. To give the film some final sense of having come full circle, just about everyone in the cast who is alive by the final scene ends up in that pit of acid into which the vampire killer jumped.
Adding to the overall sense of chaos is the fact that there is no central character. With three horror heavy hitters in the line-up, you’d think at least one of them would be a main character. But Cushing is killed off in one scene, and Price and Lee have about an equal amount of time in their separate plots. Konratz isn’t really a main character, nor is Inspector Bellaver. I guess the closest thing we have to central characters are the young Dr. Sorel (Christopher Matthews, who would go on to battle Christopher Lee the following year in Hammer’s Scars of Dracula) and his policewoman girlfriend. Sorel is the man who shows up at the end so Vincent Price can give his mad scientist speech (and it’s a good one) as several of the disparate plots are loosely tied together, or more accurately, brought together in that sort of tangle that happens to the cord of your headphones when you take them out of your bag.
So while you can’t say it doesn’t make sense, since by film’s end it has drawn together in a wildly convoluted fashion, you can at least say it doesn’t make very good sense. If the plots aren’t enough to make your head spin, then take into account that it’s all set to a jazzy lounge score with occasional bouts of acid rock. That means nothing about this movie is menacing, and even what I assume were supposed to be suspenseful or heavy scenes come across as light ‘n’ breezy. At it’s best, Scream and Scream Again feels like something taking place in the Avengers universe, where a combination swingin’ 60s meets espionage meets horror meets sci-fi meets Frankenstein meets police thriller meets political caper would be right at home. The sheer weirdness of this movie makes it enjoyable, though there are a number of things that could tick off the ill-prepared viewer.
Chief among these annoyances is that they took three screen legends and once again keeps them separated. Cushing appears with neither Lee nor Price. As they would in The Oblong Box, Lee and Price have one scene together, again with minimal dialogue and only lasting a minute or so. But if you’ve ever wanted to watch Christopher Lee stare at Vincent Price in “hypno-eyes” fashion, then this is the moment for which you’ve been salivating. Lee has next to nothing to do and wouldn’t make an impression if he weren’t Christopher Lee. Peter Cushing gets to smoke a cigarette and talk about how important public relations are to a military dictatorship. Only Vincent Price gets a chance to strut his stuff during the aforementioned mad scientist speech. The rest of the cast performs in suitably hammy fashion. Inspector Bellaver in particular is in serious jeopardy of crossing into Monty Python’s Mr. Gumby territory as he Cockney’s his way through a variety of lines about san’wiches and ‘oi tinsel steel.
Given the utter absurdity of just about everything that happens, Gordon Hessler’s direction is shockingly pedestrian. He doesn’t do anything wrong. He just does everything so… competently. And competent is fine most of the time, but subject matter this ludicrous demands something more daring and innovative in the direction department. But then, maybe it’s Hessler’s matter-of-fact workman’s job of directing that makes the film seem even more unsettling, like some weird old man telling you the foulest, most twisted story imaginable but in a very sane and calm and rational sounding voice. Scriptwriter Christopher Wicking split his time between AIP and Hammer, and his work on both sides of the Atlantic was equally bizarre and uneven. In a way, he seems to have been the perfect match for Hessler, and the duo worked together on Scream and Scream Again as well as some other AIP gothics: The Oblong Box, Cry of the Banshee, and Murders in the Rue Morgue. His Hammer credits include the exceptional Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb and the film that is alternately known as “the film that destroyed Hammer” and “the film that showed us full frontal Nastassja Kinski nudity,” To the Devil… A Daughter.
If you’re not worried about a film making very little sense until the very end, and even then just barely, then Scream and Scream Again is a pretty enjoyable romp. It’s absolutely cracked in the head. As long as you’re not bothered by huge chunks of film that have nothing to do with anything else or big blaring questions that remain unanswered or the fact that the police catch a vampire killer then leave him unattended so they can all go stand around the captain as he calls in a report, then Scream and Scream Again will have you giggling with confused and bewildered glee. It doesn’t matter if you have high, low, or no expectations for this film. It will manage to confound them all.