Hammer Films have a tremendous catalog of horrific and suspenseful classics. It seems that no matter how many you watch, there is always another gem waiting to be discovered. One of my favorite podcasts is 1951 Down Place. Every month, Derek, Scott and Casey pick another flick from the vast Hammer vaults. They aren’t stuck in any particular genre nor are they going in chronological order. The films are chosen by either listener votes, whoever’s birthday it is that month or simply because it’s one they want to cover. And they actually have a plan so you have plenty of time to track down a film before the next episode.
Back in October, in episode 26, they reviewed Scream of Fear (1961). I had purchased this thriller some five years ago but had never watched it. So, I have intentionally been holding off on listening to the show since October and, after months of getting sidetracked (something many of my online movie collector friends know all too well), I spent my Saturday night going old school with a late night suspenseful horror film. The only thing missing was a horror host.
Susan Strasberg headlines the cast as Penny Appleby, a wheelchair-bound neurotic coming home to visit her father for the first time in a decade. Her parents had divorced and her mother had passed away some years earlier. After her caregiver died, Penny opted to return home only to find that her father was out of town on business. Penny is left in the care of Jane (Ann Todd, The Paradine Case), a stepmother she never really knew, and chauffer Robert (Ronald Lewis, Mr. Sardonicus and Stop Me Before I Kill!). Christopher Lee is Doctor Pierre Gerrard, a friend of her fathers who seems to be analyzing her every move. The first night in her new home, Penny discovers the body of her father in the pool house. However, when the others arrive, her father is gone. After seeing him again in her room and hearing him play the piano, she is convinced that fowl play has occurred. As a romance begins to develop between her and Robert, the mystery unravels in a way only Hammer could do.
I have a soft spot for anything Hammer but the 50s and 60s are when they produced their best efforts. As much as I love a good Hammer horror flick, I’m finding I almost enjoy the mysteries even more. Scream of Fear definitely has some horrific moments, including one scene at the bottom of the darkened pool. But it becomes evident early on that this is definitely more of a mystery than horror. Susan Strasberg does a wonderful job of playing Penny as a neurotic, leaving us to wonder if she really is going insane. And, of course, there is the wonderful Christopher Lee. His voice and facial expressions are unmatched with his performance here, although brief, enhancing the movie and adding a measure of credibility.
Originally titled Hell Hath No Fury (which almost gives away too much), the movie was released as Taste of Fear in the UK and Scream of Fear in the US. There are definitely some plot holes and inconsistencies that may leave some feeling cheated in the final 10 minute reveal. However, I found the movie incredibly enjoyable, especially loving the rich black and white presentation. Christopher Lee has gone on record as saying that it was the best Hammer movie he was ever in. Director Seth Holt only has nine films to his credit, including other Hammer classics The Nanny (1965) and Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971). His career was cut far too short upon his death in 1971 from heart failure at the age of only 47. Longtime Hammer writer Jimmy Sangster gives us another thrilling effort here, adding to his Hammer legacy.
Scream of Fear is easily available on DVD as part of the Icons of Horror Collection: Hammer Films. Check out the trailer on You Tube but don’t expect it to tell you too much about the movie, part of a great marketing
campaign. Then, make sure you listen to episode 26 of the 1951 Down Place podcast. Derek and the gang will get you hooked, so make sure you have an extra couple of hours every month to listen to one of the best and most well thought out podcasts out there today.