England, 1795: the young Catherine has just married Charles Fengriffen and moves into his castle. She becomes the victim of an old curse that lays on the family. On her wedding night she is raped by a ghost and gets pregnant.
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In 1795, in England, the young woman Catherine moves to the house of her fiancé Charles Fengriffen in the country to get married with him. When she arrives, she feels interest in the portraits of the Fengriffen family, particularly in the one of Charle's grandfather Henry Fengriffen, which seems to have a sort of evil entity possessing it. While admiring Henry's face, a severed hand attacks Catherine through the picture on the wall. Later, she gets married with Charles, beginning her journey of mystery, eerie apparitions, secrets and deaths, and having her days filled with fear and the nights with horrors in a cursed family. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Amicus and Hammer studios were very much in the same market, even to the point of competing for the same stars and directors. A quick glance at the cast, crew and plot summary of `And Now the Screaming Starts' could mislead one to believe it was a Hammer production: Roy Ward Baker, Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom and Patrick Magee were all known for their contributions to Hammer history, and the Gothic premise of a late 18th century ghost story fits their profile well. Nevertheless, certain elements tag this as distinctive from the Hammer cycle, and make it of note to horror completists, although perhaps of less interest to general audiences.
The film was originally based on an obscure novella entitled `Fengriffin,' after the name of the cursed family line around which the story centers. Of course, a movie called `Fengriffin' would have been a weak seller in any market, particularly the lurid horror market of the early 1970's, (`Texas Chainsaw Massacre' came out only two years after), so it was inevitable that a splashier title would be selected. In choosing `And Now the Screaming Starts', the producers assured their film cult status and greatly embarrassed most of the actors, who had thought they were working on a more `serious' film. The title seems to fit well, however, as lovely Stephanie Beacham demonstrates her lung capacity often, particularly in the first third of the film.
The story follows a standard plot of Gothic decadence: a noble family is cursed for the libertine debauches of an ancestor, and the young generation pays the price. This is typical of a period in literature in which wistful nostalgia for the aristocracy was combined with growing class resentment and a sense that the nobility had `failed' in their responsibilities as leaders. Amicus updates this by including an axe murder, a rotten corpse-ghost with no eyes, a severed hand, and a somewhat overly subtle rape scene by said ghost. The rape is particularly typical of Amicus' approach to the genre, as compared to Hammer's. At the time, Hammer was doling out overt doses of sex alongside their blood, and frontal nudity was not uncommon. Amicus, however, shied away from nudity or sex almost prudishly, and refused to allow its stars to be seen as compromised. Why they would select a story that hinges on a rape they refused to show (or even imply effectively) is perhaps the greatest mystery.
The true star of this movie is the female victim, often the case in well produced Gothic drama. Top-billed Peter Cushing appears 47 minutes into the movie as her doctor, an `ahead-of-his-time' psychiatrist who wants to prove that the supernatural elements are all in her head. The filmmakers have given us a few too many clues at this point for there to be any real doubt, but watching him methodically seek a rational answer (and his excellent downplayed performance) gives the plot a new lease on life after it begins to drag a bit. Patrick Magee as the eccentric country doctor and Herbert Lom as the decadent ancestor are also excellent. A bit less convincing are Ian Ogilvy as the concerned husband and Geoffrey Whitehead as the outraged peasant.
Overall, the film is directed well, nicely photographed, and has beautiful sets and good effects, considering the low budget. Nevertheless, it seems to lack `something' that would make it worthy of repeat viewings. The sense of dread one associates with the best of Gothic drama is undermined somewhat by the romantic, upbeat score. Perhaps there are too many scenes shot in daylight, or the castle isn't quite gloomy and decrepit enough to transmit the sense of the curse. Whatever it may be, I recommend this more as a curiosity than a great film.
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