Known in its native Spain as “La residencia”, THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED remains one of the quintessential European horror movies, essentially owing to the past glory of PSYCHO and somewhat similar to the giallos being churned out of Italy one after the other during the same period (the film's thematic imprisonment and sadism also anticipated the “women in prison” sub genre, exploited cinematically throughout the 1970s). The first horror film by writer/director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador is a masterpiece of non-supernatural gothic horror; perverse and uneasy without being unpleasant or sleazy, and although Spanish genre films are not as well embraced today as they should be, THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED still has enough of a following from those who have seen it through the years, as well as its reputation as being a kind of precursor to the slasher genre. Living up to its brand name, Scream Factory adds another important genre rescue to their roster with a film that was destined to remain in bootleg hell in the U.S. had not been for this stellar Blu-ray release.
In 19th-century France, 18-year-old Teresa (Cristina Galbó, THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE) is sent to a remote all-girls boarding school. As the school is for troubled girls (up to the age of 21), Headmistress Señora Fourneau (Lilli Palmer, DE SADE) runs things as strict as can be, even taking measures of torture in the form of flagellations to unruly students, as given out by her headgirl Irene (Mary Maude, Norman J. Warren’s TERROR). Señora Fourneau also has a young son Luis (John Moulder-Brown, VAMPIRE CIRCUS) who is forbidden to speak to any of the girls or leave the house, but Louis in turn spies on them in the shower and engages in secret nightly meetings with a number of the students (he’s a charmer), including Isabelle (Maribel Martín, THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE), soon hacked to death and lumped in with a string of missing girls believed to have run away from the place. With the growing number of missing girls, Señora Fourneau does everything she can to make the house more of a prison (“If it isn’t one, we’ll make it one), even having the windows nailed shut, and although Irene acts as her right hand, she’s privy to tormenting new girl Teresa who is now looking to make her exit with the help of sheltered mama’s boy Luis, and a murderer is still on the loose within the confines of school.
Horror films in the 1960s were often defined by highly stylized gothics from England’s Hammer Film as well as our own American International Pictures (AIP), especially the Poe cycle of movies directed by Roger Corman. THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED arrived at the end of the decade, rich in period atmosphere as those aforementioned ventures, but with a different level or perversity and maturity if you will, and it is foretelling of the direction the genre would be headed in the ensuing years. The psychological horrors within are wrapped up neatly in a grandiose, impeccably-detailed setting; a massive house rich in old world ambience, full of secret rooms and a decaying attic which comes into play effectively in the final act. The ideal sinister and intimidating setting is enhanced by the characters, who are mostly of the frustrated or (obviously) disturbed type. Palmer’s nasty and cold headmistress is well executed by the seasoned sad-eyed German-born actress, as it’s apparent that she believes her cruel methods towards the girls and her repression and confinement of her young son are righteous things. John Moulder-Brown (who around the same time was getting good notices as another unbalanced youth in DEEP END) is perfectly peculiar as Luis and Cristina Galbó (who was a much appreciated Euro exploitation fixture before vanishing from the screen) maintains her character most sympathetic and expressive, attributes which can be witnessed in a number of her genre efforts. Mary Maude’s Irene is properly bitchy and acts as the film’s lesbian ringleader (fully intent on gaining Teresa’s attentions through ritualistic bullying), and hateable as she is, she does a full 180 full turn when she suspects the headmistress is endangering the lives of the students and might be responsible for the ones who disappeared, adding to the film’s unpredictable central characters. Those who follow Spanish horror films will easily recognize lazy-eyed bald-headed character actor Victor Israel (HORROR EXPRESS, NIGHT OF THE HOWLING BEAST, DEVIL’S KILL) as the school’s handyman, an oddball red herring if there ever was one.
Director Serrador (who here adapted Juan Tébar’s story using the screen pen name Luis Peñafiel) is the son of actor Narciso Ibáñez Menta (who was also affiliated with horror films such as Leon Klimovsky’s THE DRACULA SAGA) and has a genuine penchant for the macabre, topping this film a few years later with WHO CAN KILL A CHILD?, the best “killer kid” movie of all time. THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED not only excels in ambience, mood and convincing period execution, it has a subtle cleverness about it, such as the use of insects as a motif seen throughout the movie (a metaphor for repulsion and death?) up until the final scene with the unsettling sounds of flies buzzing. Juxtaposition is also used to great effect: going back and forth to a student’s relentless flagellation to the remaining girls saying their bedtime prayers, and likewise to close-ups of the girls’ lustful wet lips and a thread penetrating a needle hole against one of the girls arranged sexual encounters with a visiting wood delivery man (something the defiant Irene has secretly arranged, and the girls take random turns at). THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED also features some marvelously handsome cinematography by Manuel Berenguer (KING OF KINGS) with a sharp contrast from daytime to nighttime (when of course all the bad things occur) and the terrific score by Waldo de los Ríos (Gordon Hessler’s MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE) musically captures every nuance of any scene it spotlights.
Released in America by AIP in 1971 who gave it its well-known title, the film proved to be perfect drive-in fodder and it often played on bills with their other popular horror releases of the time (including THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT and MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE). It was first shown on U.S. television in 1973 on “The CBS Late Movie” and was then sold into syndication as part of a package of AIP titles, where (even in a heavily censored version), it shocked the hell out of any kid who caught it during Saturday afternoon or late night airings in the late 1970s and into the mid 1980s. Although it’s been released on VHS and DVD in other countries over the years, THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED has never had a legit home video release in the States, and we’re not even counting the Elvira-hosted “Movie Macabre” DVD version that Shout! Factory packaged a few years ago. Most recently, Shout! acquired home video rights to HOUSE in a package of titles they licensed from MGM, and were to release it on DVD under their “Timeless Media” umbrella, but due to a lack of any suitable transfer elements, it was cancelled.
After a number of fan requests for a Blu-ray release, usable elements were found for the American release version (an internegative) and now THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED has finally arrived on the format in two different versions. The AIP theatrical version (94 minutes) is presented in 1080p HD in its original 2.35:1 Scope aspect ratio. The image boasts excellent textures and grain structure is organic. Detail, especially in facial features, is also impressive and the color palette, even when it takes on a warmer hue, is distinct. Black levels are deep and inky, flesh tones remain natural and stable throughout, and there is very little in the way of dirt or debris on the print source. The English DTS-HD Master Audio (mono) track sounds perfectly fine, with the English dialogue being clear and the music being boisterous, even if some slight scratchiness can be heard on the track from time to time (no Spanish track included here, but keep in mind that the film was shot in English and later post-synced, with several of the lead actors’ genuine voices heard). Exclusive to the theatrical presentation is an opening “GP” rating (though it’s still hard to believe it didn’t get an R, even with some cuts), the AIP “sky” logo, and a brief teaser for THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (when it was still being called “Dr. Phibes”) at the tail end. The “extended version” (102 minutes) is sourced mostly from the HD transfer with a number of standard definition inserts including the Spanish opening credits, extended openings to several scenes and extra bits of dialogue, extra flagellation footage and two gorier murders. AIP apparently made cuts to keep the pace going, as well as removed some of the more sensational shots to secure that coveted “GP” rating. The dialogue in the extra footage is also in English, and although the image and audio quality drops significantly with these inserts, it’s not as jarring as you might expect. Optional English SDH subtitles are included for both versions.
Extras include an interview with the ageless John Moulder-Brown (6:12), conducted at the Munich Film Festival in 2011 by Uwe Huber, where the British actor says THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED was considered his first “adult” movie and mentions the film’s great success in Spain. He also discusses how he embraced the role, and talks about his director and co-star Palmer, his crush on Galbó, and he confirms that most of the interiors were shot in a studio (which shows the meticulousness of the set design). An interview with British actress Mary Maude (12:14) was conducted in front of an audience at the Festival of Fantastic Films, Manchester, in 2012. She mentions it being her first feature film, the audition she did for it (conducted in London) and then quickly getting a call to go to Madrid. She discusses the plot and her role in the film (including Irene's fate), the director (“he was bossy”), Lilli Palmer (“she was grand”) and she confirms the film had a higher budget, being Spain’s attempt to go more global. Also included is the original Scope AIP theatrical trailer (not in HD), a TV spot, two radio spots and a still gallery. There is alternate poster art on the reverse side of the cover. (George R. Reis)
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