Thursday, November 16, 2017

#2,463. The Screaming Skull (1958)


Directed By: Alex Nicol

Starring: John Hudson, Peggy Webber, Russ Conway



Tag line: "WARNING!... This Ghost Will Haunt You Forever!"

Trivia: Though it is never credited, the film is based on Francis Marion Crawford's classic 1905 horror story of the same title








The Screaming Skull, a 1958 low-budget horror film, opens with a gimmick worthy of William Castle himself. 

A small set is decorated with flowers, and there’s a coffin smack-dab in the middle of it. A narrator then chimes in:

The Screaming Skull is a motion picture that reaches its climax in shocking horror”, he says. “Its impact is so terrifying that it may have an undesired effect. It may kill you. Therefore, its producers feel they must assure free burial services to anyone who dies of fright while seeing The Screaming Skull”. 

With that, the coffin opens, revealing a sign inside that reads “Reserved for you”. 

Well, despite this cryptic warning, I did survive my viewing of The Screaming Skull, and while it isn’t scary enough to give you heart palpitations, there are one or two moments towards the end that, at the very least, might make your pulse race a bit. 

Newlyweds Eric (John Hudson) and Jenni (Peggy Webber) have just arrived at Eric’s spacious country estate, where he once lived with his first wife Marion. Marion, it seems, died tragically a while back, and though Eric initially thought his heart perished with her, he found love again with Jenni, a kindly if somewhat timid heiress with a history of mental illness. 

Her personal demons aside, Jenni is determined to be happy, and even tries to make friends with simple-minded gardener Mickey (played by director Alex Nicol), who was very close with Eric’s first wife. 

But the longer they stay in the house, the more convinced Jenni becomes that something otherworldly is trying to scare her away. Is Marion tormenting Jenni from beyond the grave, upset that another woman has taken her place? Is Mickey causing all the chaos in an effort to keep Marion’s memory alive? Or is Jenni simply losing her mind? 

It takes a while for the real scares in The Screaming Skull to kick in (early on, the most frightening things that occur are a few bumps in the night, and a scene in which Jenni finds a portrait of Marion, which appeared suddenly in an upstairs room). In fact, I was able to figure out who was putting poor Jenni through the ringer well before the movie’s intense climax (I’m not bragging; odds are you’ll solve the riddle as easily as I did). 

What I can’t quite settle on is whether or not the film’s wild ending justifies its mundane build-up. The early scenes aren’t entirely devoid of thrills, but then the finale isn’t nearly as earth-shattering as that of Friday the 13th or Sleepaway Camp (for as slow as most of the movie is, though, the ending of The Screaming Skull is admittedly kinda cool). 

Ultimately, I’d say The Screaming Skull is worth checking out once (it’s a little more than an hour long, so the time commitment will be minimal). Just don’t expect to be blown away.







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