'And Now The Screaming Starts!' comes out of the traps like a mad greyhound on PCP and, for half its running time is full of thrills, shocks and the marvellous décolletage of Miss Stephanie Beacham.
The pace is so fast and the film so full of incident that after about half an hour you start to wonder how on earth they are going to maintain it for another hour. Right on cue, a strange malaise sets in, the pace slackens and it loses focus and interest, before partially pulling it back in the dying minutes with a climax that could have been chilling if director Roy Ward Baker hadn’t botched it by using all the wrong shots. Still, hey and, indeed, ho, at least we have a decent thirty minutes.
The film is set in the eighteenth century, and takes place at a marvellous looking stately home which is, in the story, the ancestral home of the wealthy Fengriffin family (it’s actually a place called Oakley Court in Bray).
Lord of the manor is Ian Ogilvy who brings his comely fiancée Catherine (Stephanie Beacham) home only for her to immediately become hypnotised by a scary portrait of his long dead grandfather (Herbert Lom). Within the first ten minutes, all hell has broken loose – a severed hand starts crawling across the floor, an eyeless corpse appears at a window and the newly married Catherine gets sexually assaulted by the hand and an unseen assailant while waiting for her new husband to consummate their union. It’s all go and, for the next thirty minutes it’s all killer dogs, sinister woodsmen, misty graveyards and a series of murders that knock off the illustrious supporting cast (Guy Rolfe; Rosalie Crutchley; Patrick Magee) whenever they get close to revealing what they know about the toxic family secret that underpins all the supernatural shenanigans.
The film starts shuddering to a halt with the appearance of Peter Cushing as a psychiatrist brought in to help the increasingly unhinged (and now pregnant) Catherine. I have a massive amount of respect for Peter, but he has little to work with here and, unfortunately, just becomes a giant earhole to pour seemingly endless exposition into. The upshot is that Grandad Fengriffin did something awful fifty years ago, and now there is a curse upon the family, a curse that results in more death, a possessed baby, and a complete breakdown for Catherine and Lord Fengriffin, who ends up exhuming his nasty ancestors mouldering skeleton and smashing it up in a frenzy whilst Mr. Cushing looks on and shakes his bewigged head. Not exactly a happy ending, and not a particularly well executed one, unfortunately, but at least it makes some sort of narrative sense.
As a final note, this is now the third film (after ‘Witchfinder General’ and ‘From Beyond the Grave’) in which Ian Ogilvy attacks something with an axe. In fact, he attacks two things with an axe, a door and a grave. He’s rather good at it, so I suppose he just thought he’d play to his strengths.
As a final, final note, Oakley Court is now a four star hotel, so I might book a room, perhaps get a massage or a manicure or molested by a severed hand.