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Author Topic: Scream of Fear (1960, Seth Holt)  (Read 1622 times)

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Scream of Fear (1960, Seth Holt)
« on: 19 Oct 2008 - 11:22 »

Probably my favorite of the Hammer PSYCHO thrillers (though I like the MANIAC, PARANOIAC, and NIGHTMARE because they are in black and white scope and PARANOIAC has a fun performance from Oliver Reed), the film opens with the discovery of a drowned girl's body in a Swiss lake.  Next we're in a perpetually overcast French Riviera as wheelchair-bound Penny (Susan Strasberg) arrives and is told by chauffer Robert (Ronald Lewis) that her father left suddenly on a business trip and could not be there to meet her.  Her stepmother Jane (Ann Todd) welcomes her into her home.  It turns out that Penny's mother has died a year before and her nurse and close friend was the drowned girl discovered in the opening credits.  That night Penny is attracted to a storage room by a light in the window and discovers the corpse of her father.  Fleeing the scene in her wheelchair she falls into the dark, disused swimming pool and is rescued by Robert.  Her stepmother and red herring family doctor Dr. Pierre Gerrard (Christopher Lee with the same character name he had in THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH) do not believe her when she says she saw her father's body and insist that he is still away on business.  Eventually coming to the suspicion that the two might be plotting against her, Penny leans on Robert to help her discover the truth.

By now the plot is rather predictable (and it would become extremely formulaic with the series including such unofficial later Hammer entries as FEAR IN THE NIGHT and in terms of low budget thrillers in general), Jimmy Sangster's script is reasonably diverting and has a great ending though its quite obvious Lee's guest star appearance is that of a red herring.  Strasberg, Todd, and Lewis are all quite good and come across as dimensional characters.  [spoiler]Although its obvious in the context of the genre that he's the co-conspirator, Robert's character is scripted by Sangster into diverting the audience into believing he's the good guy and Lewis gets that across without any of the cliche suspicious looks and inflections.[/spoiler]  With the exception of Leonard Sachs as the family lawyer, the rest of the small supporting cast are saddled with the French accents usually found in Hammer and other UK films set in France (including MANIAC).

Sony's transfer (as part of their ICONS OF HORROR 2 disc set along with THE GORGON, TWO FACES OF DR JEKYLL, and CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB) is in an anamorphic 1.66:1 and reveals that Columbia's gorgeous OOP fullscreen tape and TCM's recent fullscreen broadcast were actually cropped rather than open matte.  There have been some complaints about the transfer being inferior to the others in the set (its the only black and white film).  There is some telecine flicker and some of the usual grain during the dissolves throughout but I think the contrasts are appropriate (I think the people who did the transfer should be commended for not scrubbing the film free of grain).  This film is not lit in a noir style (though Ann Todd does get the high key light and eyelight treatment in certain close ups), it has the sort of off-white, gray look associated with European art films of the sixties.
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