Yes, it’s a thoroughly generic title that could have been applied to any horror film ever made, but then a more specific title would probably have been just as confusing as the film itself. Scream and Scream Again is based on a novel by Peter Saxon (a pseudonym used by various writers of horror and sci-fi fiction in the 60s) called The Disorientated Man, and that’s a pretty good description of any man who sits down to watch Scream and Scream Again. For such a thoroughly commercial movie – it was a co-production between Britain’s Amicus Films and Hollywood’s American International Pictures – it’s got a pretty ambitious narrative structure. We’re given seemingly unconnected events in disparate locations, and the connection between them only slowly becomes clear (for some viewers, anyway. Others are left scratching their heads as the credits roll). This approach is largely down to screenwriter Christopher Wicking, confusing scripts for horror films being his stock in trade: see also Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb and Demons of the Mind – but Gordon Hessler’s psychedelic direction plays its part in baffling the viewer too.
The puzzle pieces dished out to us: a runner (played, fans of cult TV may be interested to know, by Nigel Lambert, who did the voiceover for spoof schools programme Look Around You) collapses in central London and wakes to find himself in a private hospital ward complete with sinister/sexy nurse, and a new limb amputated every time we cut back to him (wonderfully bizarre, this). Also in London, Superintendent Bellaver (Alfred Marks) is investigating the murder of a girl whose body was drained of blood. The trail leads to her employer, the rather shifty Dr Browning (Vincent Price). And in an unnamed militaristic state (presumably in Eastern Europe somewhere) the seemingly superhuman Konratz (the rather wooden Marshall Jones, hilarious later in the film stalking the streets of London in a bobble hat) is letting nothing and nobody stand in the way of him seizing power, disposing of superiors who get in his way (including Peters Cushing and Sallis) with a deadly shoulder squeeze.
The international intrigue elements of the film are a bit dull – the London sections are much more interesting, greatly benefiting from a droll performance from Marks, playing one of a long line of disgruntled detectives who pop up in British horror films. The gold standard is Donald Pleasence in Death Line, but Marks’ splendidly gruff Bellaver comfortably takes silver. The film’s most memorable character, however, is the mysterious Keith (Michael Gothard) the man behind the vampire murders (sorry for the spoiler, it’s not much of one). A louche dandy with an enormous blond bouffant and ruffled purple satin shirt, he’s the world’s most Swinging 60s looking person. We initially encounter him in the regulation 60s nightclub scene, which is pretty impressive here – the club looks huge and it’s chock-full of people dancing extremely self-consciously in wonderfully absurd outfits. The Amen Corner (of “If Paradise is Half as Nice” fame) are on stage, and their set obligingly includes a catchy number called “Scream and Scream Again”. However, a few rather too close shots of the singer reveal he’s not even opening his mouth. This club is where Keith picks up his victims, who he then brutally rapes and kills. One of them turns out to be an undercover policewoman, and this leads to the film’s main set piece, an incredibly long but pretty absorbing chase sequence that dominates the whole middle section of the film. This sequence is so lengthy compared to the head-spinning speed of the first part of the film that it throws Scream and Scream Again off balance, with scarcely half an hour left to explain what the hell’s going on.
What the hell is going on? Well, I won’t spoil it for you – Scream and Scream Again is definitely worth a watch even if you can’t quite get your head round it. But it all winds up with a glut of exposition from Price (though there’s nobody I’d rather listen to a glut of exposition from) and a pretty perfunctory twist ending.
Scream and Scream Again’s main selling point was that it featured the big three horror stars of the time – Price, Cushing, and Christopher Lee – all together for the first time. It’s a con really, as only Price has more than a cameo (Cushing’s the worst served, with less than five minutes on screen before falling victim to Konratz’s deadly grip), and though Lee and Price have a scene together it’s more than a tad suspicious that they’re not seen in the same shot.
It’s difficult to see Scream and Scream Again as anything other than a confusing mess, but it is one hell of a confusing mess.