After the success of 1968’s The Conqueror Worm (AKA The Witchfinder General, with a deliciously evil Vincent Price), director Michael Reeves was assigned dual films: The Oblong Box and Scream and Scream Again. Unfortunately, shortly after pre-production work on The Oblong Box , Reeves died at the age of 25 from an accidental, lethal mix of alcohol and barbiturates, putting an end to a promising career. The film must have seemed cursed, because scripter Lawrence Huntington also died. Gordon Hessler replaced Reeves and Christopher Wicking replaced Huntington. Given Reeves’ high critical standing, Hessler was immediately criticized as being unable to fill the late director’s shoes. While there’s little doubt that Reeves’ idiosyncratic style would be impossible to imitate, he was unenthusiastic about the assignment to begin with. Thus, whether he could have made a better film is pure speculation. Despite starring Vincent Price and Christopher Lee, The Oblong Box can hardly compete with Roger Corman‘s AIP Poe series, but it does have an ambitious, somber, gothic style of its own and is well photographed by John Coquillon.
Of more interest is a genuine oddity in the AIP canon: Scream and Scream Again, which also starred both Price and Lee along with Peter Cushing (in what amounts to a cameo) and the same writing/directing team of Wicking and Hessler. Released in the U.K in 1969 and stateside 1970, Scream and Scream Again is one of the queerest horror science fiction extravaganzas committed to celluloid, which may explain why Fritz Lang proclaimed it among his favorite films. Wicking’s screenplay is an ambitiously brazen adaptation of Peter Saxon’s “The Disoriented Man.” Given that Hessler is a minor cult filmmaker, Scream and Scream Again is, likewise, a film with a minor cult reputation, one that deserves a broader audience. Although imperfect, it is creepy and perverse enough to be of interest to weird movie lovers who crave a challenge.
The fragmented plot (one of several) opens with a jogger in the park, keeling over from what appears to be a heart attack. He wakes up in a hospital bed to a nurse who won’t speak to him. After she leaves, the jogger finds that his leg has been amputated. He screams.
The corpse of a rape victim is discovered with two puncture wounds on her wrist.
In an unnamed European totalitarian state, a humanoid Gestapo soldier (a lurid Marshall Jones) murders his superior by squeezing his shoulder.
The jogger wakes up to find his second leg amputated. He screams again.
Inspector Bellever (Alfred Marks) of Scotland Yard sets up a sting to catch a serial killer (Michael Gothard) whose M.O. is biting women’s wrists and draining their blood after raping them. Bellever uses a policewoman as bait, with fatal results. A long, captivating chase follows and, after the modish killer in a convertible is caught and handcuffed to the back of a car, he severs his own hand and another chase follows the trail of blood.
The jogger wakes up to find an arm amputated. He screams again.
Vincent Price shows up as a mad scientist who specializes in “organ transplants” and happens to have a vat of acid.
A fascistic superior (Cushing) lectures the Gestapo soldier about his torture methods, which is followed by another shoulder squeeze.
The jogger awakes to find his other arm amputated. He screams again.
Price returns to an operating table, meets a British Intelligence officer (Lee), and that vat of acid comes in handy.
And so it goes. For most of the duration of the film, the vignettes seem completely unrelated, but there’s a fascist spy ring afoot, paranoid conspiracies about super humans, and a potential alien takeover of the government. There’s no real star, but Marks (who is quite good) has the most screen time. Price and Lee lend little more than marquee value, although Price does get an over-the-top scene for the film’s conclusion and, for once, his hamminess is apt. While the finale is a tad too neatly wrapped, for the first 90 minutes of its 95 minute running time, one doesn’t know quite what the hell to make of this seemingly erratic mess. It’s equal parts science fiction, espionage thriller, and traditional mad scientist horror yarn, evoking Lang’s Mabuse but with a late 60s disco number performed in a seedy club thrown in for good measure. Well photographed (by Coquillon), kinetically paced, strikingly bloody, and awash in enigmatic energy, Scream and Scream Again is impressive for its adventurously bizarre composition. Although uneven and saddled with a ho-hum title, it’s as difficult to dismiss this authentic original as it is to embrace it.
Larry Buchanan, the director of that famed classic, Mars Needs Women (1967), outdid himself with It’s Alive. Returning Buchanan “stars” Tommy Kirk and Bill Thurman prove gluttons for punishment in this dull stinker about a meanie (Thurman) who throws a vacationing couple, a paleontologist (!) and his assistant (Kirk) into a cave terrorized by a man-eating “aquatic lizard.” Thurman’s overacting as the imbecilic redneck is the most entertainment one might squeeze out of this schlockmeister’s opus. There’s lotza screaming, fainting, and evil laughter but none of it’s coming out of a bug-eyed monster.
Elsewhere in 1969, Jean Rollin made the second of his vampire trilogy, The Nude Vampire. Terence Fisher, close to finishing his Frankenstein assignments for Hammer, directed what many consider his best in the series, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, starring Peter Cushing and Veronica Carlson.
Both the women-in-prison exploitation and Nazisploitation genres got their first real start with Love Camp 7 (directed by Lee Frost), which has become something of a camp classic. It’s a howler of the first order and was enough of a hit to open lots of floodgates.
Al Adamson emerged as a “name” with a trio of films: Blood of Dracula’s Castle, an inept bore with John Carradine; The Female Bunch, which is an endurance test featuring Russ Tamblyn (in a long fall from West Side Story), usual Adamson leading lady Regina Carrol, and a dying-before-our-eyes Lon Chaney, Jr.; and Satan’s Sadists, which proved to be Adamson’s “breakthrough” film. Also starring Tamblyn and Carrol, it’s nihilism for the sake of nihilism. Tamblyn, who improvised his character’s memorable speech, convinces as the low-key, sleazy sociopath leader of a biker gang called The Satans. Carrol is the gang member who finds her conscience (after an obligatory erotic dance, of course). The film opens with the gang members descending on a rubbernecking couple whom they beat up, rape, set on fire, and throw off a cliff. They destroy a diner and its occupants and eventually try to terrorize a Vietnam vet (Scott Brady) who, unfortunately for the sadists, is a sort of precursor to Rambo, using a toilet as one of his weapons. This is often listed as Adamson’s best film. It certainly was his most financially successful one, via the drive-in market. Deemed excessively violent for its time, Satan’s Sadists may seem tame by contemporary standards, but it’s still entertainingly trashy, which is about the best compliment one could pay an Adamson film.