And Now the Screaming Starts, 1973. 8/10

A new bride brought to the family mansion runs afoul of an old curse. Gothic ghosts, shifty paintings, and unsettled ancestors fill the plot. As for the cast, the bride and groom are the Fengriffens, Catherine and Charles (Stephanie Beacham and Ian Ogilvy). Then there’s Charles’s grandfather, Henry (Herbert Lom ), and the good Drs. Pope and Whittle (Peter Cushing and Patrick McGee). Also, we have Maitland (Guy Rolfe) and a Woodsman (Geoffrey Whitehead). The Woodsman’s wife is Sarah (Sally Harrison).

Very convincing setting and atmosphere. First order of business at the castle is eye-balling the ancestral paintings. Cathy is somewhat taken aback when a bloody hand bursts through one of them; of course, with a second look back, it’s just a regular painting. Somehow though, a dismembered hand scuttles across the upstairs floor.

In her bedroom, Cathy appears to settle in for the night. (Nothing like candlelight supported by unseen electric lighting, but, whatever). The candles get blown out (now it’s sorta dark), and that hand is right up in her face. Charles has trouble getting in to help her.

He finds an ax to bust in. She’s pretty freaked; get a bigger ax next time, bro. Charles fixes up his will to make Cathy the sole beneficiary. Won’t do her much good if that face with the bloody eyes doesn’t get her first. It nearly does, an incarnated ancestor emerging bodily out of a painting.

She hastens outdoors; rather unwisely ending up in the graveyard. That means she bumps into the groundskeeper–who keeps morphing into the ghoulish dude in the painting. So far the action is relentless; plus, we don’t know how much is ‘really’ happening, and how much Cathy is ‘just imagining.’ If all that stuff isn’t bad enough, the dogs don’t even like her.

She duly comports herself to the woodsman’s cottage; to put him in his place, it would seem. She’s startled, as it first looks like he’s missing a hand. Ah, just foolin’! The real discovery, though, is that he’s really connected to the Fengriffens. At dinner, Cathy asks Charles about his grandfather. Then she asks Maitland about ye olde Woodsman, but mum’s the word with him.

The hand is on a window sill–or is it? Later, out on a ride, Maitland gets thrown from his horse. Out of nowhere we see a figure–the woodsman?–with an ax. Charles goes to check up on Maitland, finding only his horse. But then he comes upon the guy’s bloody corpse leaning against a tree. Meanwhile, Cathy is comfy at home reading Milton. Not for long, though, there’s that corpse-like guy; materializing through an open window.

Of course the window that the thing burst through wasn’t even blemished when Cathy looks back at it; likewise the bloody hand that grabs her as she flees for the door is just her husband’s gentle mandible. She feints, and the doctor’s summoned. Well, she’s pregnant. An heir!

Charles discusses ye olde family curse with Doctor Whittle. The worthies then grill Silas about Maitland’s killing. Back in bed, Cathy is afraid of having the baby–will it be a slow reader? No, but we still don’t know anything about that pesky curse. The maid seems to be jiggering with asa thingie behind a bookcase; it’s just a huge book.

The portraits start getting nutty on her–the gory ghoul guys keep popping out again like so many Chuckie Cheese puppets. At least this shows that Cathy is not the only victim of the apparitions. The severed hand is up next, basically causing the maid to fall down the stairs to her death. Anyway, Cathy takes a gander at the mysterious book: unsurprisingly, it’s of the family tree.

One branch of the family’s obscured and sort of dead-ends, obviously, a name’s been tampered with. When she gets back to her room, Cathy discovers that she’s being sent back to London–to have the baby, I guess. This chaperone isn’t very well-chosen though; as soon as she goes downstairs that intrepid hand chokes her. The help should get hazard pay in this place.

Charles wants to get rid of the woodsman he “disturbs my wife.” But the guy won’t leave for any lot of filthy lucre. That night, Cathy isn’t in bed, and it’s indeed dark and stormy out. She’s going up the staircase with one heck of a knife. Meanwhile, Charles is reading up on the curse; Cathy is slashing the nasty portraits.

She collapses on the staircase, having apparently been roused from a trance. Next day she’s fine, picking flowers. But one of the dog’s attacks her; only the quick intervention of the woodsman prevents serious injury. More nutty stuff ensues, as she throws away the medication (most likely containing laudanum, an hallucinogenic), only to find it undisturbed upon returning to her room.

Dr. Pope, a specialist, comes on board. He and Charles discuss her “dreams.” Pope settles in, but notices the woodsman outside toting an ax (well, he wouldn’t have a waffle iron, would he?). He looks around a bit more, discovering the conspicuous portrait-slashing knife. Finally, he looks in on Cathy.

“Charles thinks I’m insane” she says by way of greeting. Pope is a sort of proto-psychiatrist. She describes her otherworldly experiences. He then finds a book on sexual relations with demons (?!). Whittle is still reluctant to talk about the curse; when he mentions the woodsman to Pope, the hand creeps up and strangles him. Well, down to one doctor again.

Naturally, Pope goes to see the woodsman. That old boy says that if anything happens to her ladyship’s baby, he, Silas, will dispose of Dr. Pope, forthwith. Now the secret comes back to Charles; he claims to not believe the curse. But, nonetheless, Pope is on-the-money that they have convince Catherine that there’s no curse.

So, Charles relates the story of Henry, his ‘legendary’ debauched grandfather. We go back fifty years to such a scene: a bunch of craven peasants in a drinking game. Looks like fun–for the guys anyway. Silas (the present Silas’s father) wins the, err, trophy girl. Silas gives her a bath–but the gentlemen want to have a look too. Actually, an upper-class bullying game; they’re voyeurs, then just sickos.

Henry asserts his right to have his way with her, regardless of Silas (didn’t the guy win her fair and square?). Well, we can see where this is going…first Sarah comes at Henry with a knife, then Silas grazes him with his trusty ax. Looks as if Silas might get shown his place. That is, the place beside his freshly-severed hand. Well, hey, they let him wash his stump.

The outcome of all this is that Silas cursed the house of Fengriffen. Apparently, Sarah survived, but her child died, and she went mad. Silas’s son keeps the curse alive. Back in 1795, it looks like something similar is happening to Cathy; she tries to stab herself, but Silas’s wayward hand gets between her and the blade. The point (!) is to have an heir born, to avenge the loss of Sarah’s son.

Charles talks Pope into staying for the childbirth. That seems to go well, but that pesky glouhlish face returns to bug Cathy. We’re reminded that the curse (involving Silas’s vengeance of Henry) is not the same as the legend (involving the Demonic sexual act). Obviously, there’s a ghastly congruence of both. That is, the birth is the link–but will the baby merely be a baby?

Once again, a dark and stormy night, and, again, Silas looking in from the outside. Well, the birth occurs…but Charles gets the heebie-jeebies. What? Dr. Pope follows Charles to the lair of Silas. The Woodsman congratulates Charles on the birth of an heir. But he’s shot for his efforts. Is Silas the demon? Pope finds his corpse–yes, Silas is our bad guy, but he just hung out with the wrong crowd. Did he know that he was possessed?

Why is Charles in the graveyard, madly trying to open grandpa’s coffin? Nice skeletal remains, made slighty less recognizable by Charles bashing the bones to dust. The only remaining mystery is the baby itself. It’s ok, but a spitting image of Silas: gigantic birthmark and stump arm included. Ok. Sort of makes some sense. We see, from Scripture the connection: “Visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the sons” for generations.

That adds up. In fact, And Now The Screaming Starts! might as well have been called: Just Scream! It indeed starts strong, and hardly lets up enough to allow Catherine can catch her breath (to continue screaming). That’s not to say that her character is hysterical; we see someone desperately trying to cope with an impossible situation. Only Dr. Pope has a handle on what might be troubling her–and most of the movie elapses before he’s available.

This movie succeeds in the most fundamental way–it’s consistently entertaining. The two plot threads (the curse and the legend), though joined a bit awkwardly, nonetheless combine to build depth into what is, after all, a rather simplistic plot.

My only quibbles, other than a slight slowing in the middle-portion are visual. For all the excellence of a genuine (looking) gothic castle, it’s far too tidy inside. And other than the nicely-scruffy flashback scene, everyone looks a bit too fresh–especially Silas. The orange-ish blood is the weakest prop–most of the movies if this era seem to incapable is showing a simulated blood that’s even close to red.

None of these elements distract from the overall spooky, thrilling feel. Well worth a look. 8/10

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