Sunday, November 3, 2013

And Now the Screaming Starts! (1973)

          Proving once again that British production company Amicus was a poor cousin to its better-known competitor, Hammer Films, And Now the Screaming Starts! represents a failed attempt to emulate Hammer’s signature style of sexed-up Gothic horror. Although And Now the Screaming Starts! features the requisite components of heaving bosoms, lurid subject matter, and over-the-top gore—all wrapped up in posh costuming and production design—the movie is as silly as its title. UK starlet Stephanie Beacham stars as Catherine, a wide-eyed 18th-century lass who marries into the Fengriffen family unaware of a deadly curse that plagues the family’s estate. Soon after arriving in the estate’s gigantic main house, Catherine begins seeing visions of dismembered hands and of corpses with gouged-out eyes; she’s also terrified by a painting of her new husband’s long-dead grandfather, because the painting seems to watch her. Eventually, Catherine’s inquiries unlock a lengthy flashback explaining the sordid history of the estate, so the film shows the grandfather (Herbert Lom) heinously abusing a servant and his wife for psychosexual kicks; these misdeeds provoke the curse that plagues the grandfather’s bloodline. Alas, the manner in which the flashback ties into the “present day” storyline is highly unsatisfying.
          Furthermore, since Beacham is barely more than competent as an actress, she can’t generate enough emotional heat to sustain interest during the first hour of the movie, which is dull and repetitive. Most of the actors surrounding her are equally bland, delivering their lines with stiff formality. It’s worth noting that horror icon Peter Cushing has a small and inconsequential role, so his top billing is deceptive. Similarly, Lom is onscreen for less than 15 minutes. That said, he makes his brief appearance count, enlivening the movie with elegant sadism. Directed by UK-horror stalwart Roy Ward Baker, And Now the Screaming Starts! has the texture of a credible Gothic shocker, thanks to campy gore effects and shadowy sets, but the jolts are so clichéd that nothing quickens the pulse. Worse, the “twist” ending is undercut by an overabundance of exposition prior to the big reveal. Nonetheless, And Now the Screaming Starts! offers many things to please devoted fans of the genre that Hammer perfected, even though Amicus’ take on the genre is unquestionably second-rate. For instance, none could ever question Beacham’s ample qualifications for summoning the long power required to deliver on the movie’s title.

And Now the Screaming Starts!: FUNKY

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