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

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

A coffin sits in the middle of a small room, which is decorated with flowers. A few seconds pass, and then a narrator chimes in:

The Screaming Skull is a motion picture that reaches its climax in shocking horror”, the narrator 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, as you can see, I did survive my viewing of The Screaming Skull, and while it wasn’t quite scary enough to give me heart palpitations, there were one or two moments towards the end that, at the very least, made my 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 believed his heart perished with her, he found love again with Jenni, a kindly if somewhat timid heiress with a history of mental problems. 

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 to Eric’s first wife. But the longer the couple stays 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? Is Mickey causing all the chaos in an effort to keep Marion’s memory alive? Or is Jenni simply losing her mind? 

Admittedly, it takes some time for the scares in The Screaming Skull to kick in (early on, the most frightening thing that happens - aside from a few bumps in the night - is when Jenni stumbles upon a portrait of Marion, which appeared suddenly in an upstairs room). Even the mystery surrounding the newlyweds isn't all that impressive; I was able to figure out who was putting poor Jenni through the ringer well before the movie’s intense climax rolled around (I’m not bragging; odds are you’ll solve this riddle as easily as I did). 

What I can’t quite settle on is whether or not the film’s wild ending makes up for the banality that went before it. As mentioned above, the early scenes aren’t entirely devoid of thrills, but at the same time the finale isn’t nearly as earth-shattering as, say, that of Friday the 13th or Sleepaway Camp (for as slow as most of The Screaming Skull is, though, the ending is kinda cool). 

Ultimately, I’d say this black and white frightfest is worth checking out once (it’s a little more than an hour long, so the time commitment is minimal). But, despite the warning issued at the beginning of the movie, don't expect The Screaming Skull to blow you away.

No comments: