Thursday, March 29, 2018

AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS (1973) (Severin Films Blu-ray Review)


Label: Severin Films
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 91 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0, Spanish Dolby Digital Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Cast: Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee, Stephanie Beacham

Gothic shocker And Now The Screaming Starts (1973) was directed by Roy Ward Baker (Asylum) and was a bit of a stylistic departure for Amicus in that it was not an anthology film and it's a Gothic period piece, which was first and only for them. Set in the 1700's we have Charles Fengriffin (Ian Ogilvy, The Witchfinder General) bringing his gorgeous new bride Catherine (Stephanie Beacham, Schizo) back to his ancestral home, there she is almost immediately spooked by a portrait hanging on the wall, one of Charles grandfather Sir Henry Fengriffin (Herbert Lom, 99 Women). She gets woozy at the sight of it and imagines a bloodied hand erupting from the painting... and that's when the screaming starts. When it turns out to be nothing her doting husband chalks it up to newlywed nerves and as they settle in for the night, when Charles steps out of the room for just a moment she is attacked in bed by a disembodied hand, and once again there's no proof of what frightened her and they move on as though nothing had happened.   

Elsewhere on the sprawling  property lives a woodsman (Geoffrey Whitehead) who lives rent free, telling Catherine that his grandfather was bequeathed the small property by Sir Henry Fengriffin himself, when she inquires to Charles about why the woodsman's family was gifted the land he refuses to say, but it has something to do with a dark family secret, which is revealed in flashback during the latter half of the movie, and boy is it terrible stuff. This might be one of Herbert Lom's most despicable characters, and that's saying something as he also starred in Jess Franco's 99 Women and Mark of the Devil!

Charles doesn't seem to believe his new bride's frightful visions are real - including an eyeless phantom who looks a lot like the woodsman - but nonetheless he calls in Doctor Whittle (Patrick Magee, Lucio Fulci's Black Cat) to assess the situation, but when he dies her must call in yet another doc, Doctor Pope (Peter Cushing, Frankenstein Created Woman) who both begin to look into the root cause of his new bride's frightful visions - and of course it all goes back to Sir Henry's debauchery fifty years earlier. . 

And Now The S Creaming Starts is reported to have been Amicus's most expensive production and it shows, this is the only Gothic period piece they did and they went all out, trying to out-Hammer Hammer with lush visuals, from the painterly rural locations to the atmospheric wafts of morning fog drifting across the property, this thing is dripping with Victorian melodrama and Gothic chills in every frame. The pace is a bit languid by Amicus standards which might be why this one is sort of relegated to lower-tier Amicus appreciation status in my opinion, it's just not a film I think gets it's due when one thinks of Gothic British horror. 

The direction from Roy Ward Baker (The Vampire Lovers) is top notch as usual, reuniting him with actors Peter Cushing, Partrick Magee and Herbert Lom who also appeared together in Baker's Amicus anthology Asylum (1972). I won't get anymore spoilery that I already have but Herbert Lom's character is absolutely the worst human being, he's the key to the curse that haunts the Fengriffin family and the comeuppance at the end is twistedly wonderful, I love the ending of this one and how it all comes full circle.  
Audio/Video: And Now The Screaming Starts (1973) arrives on Blu-ray from Severin Film remastered in 4K, and looking to have been sourced from a quality print, easily surpassing Ayslum (1973) in terms of picture quality. The grain is better managed, colors are more robust and the image density more uniform, with some scenes showcasing some very fine detail. There's some minor print damage by way of small scratches, white speckling and at least one cigarette burn I noticed, nut overall this is a very pleasing HD upgrade of this Amicus Gothic chiller. 

Audio on the disc comes by way of an English language DTS-HD MA Mono track, capably exporting dialogue without issue, the score from Douglas Gamley sounds great, the lush arrangements complimenting the Gothic visuals nicely. Also included is the option to watch the film with a Spanish-dub track presented in Dolby Digital mono, which is expectedly a much flatter audio presentation without the depth and separation of the DTS-HD audio. 

Onto the extras Severin have carried over the theatrical trailer and a pair of audio commentaries from the previous Dark Sky Films release, the first with Director Roy Ward Baker and Actress Stephanie Beacham moderated by  director Marcus Hearn (Marcus Hearn, Hammer Horror: The Warner Bros. Years) and a second with Star Ian Ogilvy moderated by film archivist Darren Gross. 

Onto the new stuff, the 15-min Haunting of Oakley Court is a look at the iconic filming location known as Oakley Court, a Victorian mansion used in literally hundreds of films ranging from Brides of Dracula, to Girly and the cult-classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show, one look at it and you will recognize it from multiple movies and television appearances, even if you cannot place the film you will know the unmistakable facade. The tour is a walk about the grounds with authors Allan Bryce and David Flint, walking and talking as clips from various movies made there play out, along the way they offer a history of the location, which was favorited by both Amicus and Hammer through the years. There's also a 12-min audio interview with Actor Peter Cushing By Denis Meikle that touches on his work with director Freddie Francis, Christopher Lee, and working with both Amicus and Hammer Films. Journalist Denis Meikle shows up for a brief 4-min dress-down of the film, he doesn't have a high opinion of it, speaking about the oddity of an Amicus Gothic production at a time when such things were on the down turn, as was the British film industry, also speaking a bit about Cushing's fragile state of mind following his wife's death. 

The single-disc release comes housed in a nifty black Blu-ray case with a single-sided sleeve of artwork, which looks to be the original VHS artwork, the disc features an excerpt of the same artwork. If I could have my everything I do wish we had a reversible option featuring the original movie poster illustration of a hand pulling back bed sheets, which Dark Sky used on their previous DVD edition. 

This release is also available as part of Severin's 4-disc limited edition of The Amicus Collection which also features the anthology Asylum (1972), the werewolf whodunit The Beast Must Die (1974), as well as a bonus disc stuffed with a complete set of Amicus trailers, TV commercials, rare interviews and more. The Beast Must Die and the bonus disc are exclusive to the limited edition set (of 3500) which is now sold out on the Severin site but still available for about $60 at various online retailers right now, so act quickly on this one if you want the 4-disc set, it's worth it, I'm glad I ordered mine the day that set went live at the Severin site!  
  Special Features:
- The Haunting Of Oakley Court – Featurette with Allan Bryce, Author of “Amicus: The Friendly Face Of Fear”, and David Flint, Author of “Ten Years Of Terror”, visit the classic horror film location (15 min) HD 
- Audio Commentary with Director Roy Ward Baker and Actress Stephanie Beacham
- Audio Commentary with Star Ian Ogilvy
- Archive Audio Interview with Actor Peter Cushing By Denis Meikle (12 min) 
- Horror Journalist Denis Meikle Recalls And Now The Screaming Starts – Featurette (4 min) HD
- Theatrical Trailer (1 min) HD
- Radio Spot (1 min) HD

And Now The Screaming Starts (1973) is an overlooked gem of British horror, a creaky Gothic tale of debauchery and ancestral revenge that is worth re-evaluating if you've passed it by previously, Lord know I have through the years. Maybe because I've acquired a taste for slow-burning Gothic chillers as I've grown older this played gangbusters for me, right up to the shocker finale that features a fevered desiccated corpse desecration. The new Blu-ray from Severin is the best this has ever looked on home video by a Gothic mile, so have no fear, this is worth the upgrade and some serious re-evaluation. 

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