AKA: Bride of Fengriffen
In 1975, young Catherine has just married Charles Fengriffen and moved into the young aristocrats’ stately manor. The two are clearly in love with each other and Catherine is thrilled to finally be by her husband’s side. But unfortunately for Catherine, Charles has been keeping a big, dark family secret from her about a curse placed on his bloodline thanks to the actions of his debaucherous grandfather, a curse that was immediately set into motion the moment Catherine stepped onto the premises. It doesn’t take long before the now pregnant young bride starts seeing things like ghostly apparitions and severed hands bursting out of paintings. But despite her pleas, no one in the house seems willing to tell her what’s going on, and the few that do quickly wind up dead before they can tell her. As Catherine’s mind starts to descend into depression, Charles finally relents and calls in Dr. Pope in the hopes that he can somehow cure his increasingly disturbed wife. Despite his initial scepticism of the supernatural Dr. Pope quickly finds out that it may be long past the point where he or anyone else can help this burgeoning family.
Oh wow. We’re not even 5 minutes in. The Screaming got here early.
And Now the Screaming Starts! is a 1973 British gothic horror tale starring Peter Cushing and based on the novel Fengriffen by David Case. Despite what that may suggest to some people, this film is not, in fact, a Hammer production. Instead it’s a film by one of Hammer’s contemporaries, Amicus, a studio more known for their later anthology films like The House that Dripped Blood and Tales from the Crypt (and a couple early Dr. Who films) than it is for single-story features. But Amicus did indeed put out a few full-length feature films in their time, and though most of their single-story output leaned more towards the contemporary, And Now the Screaming Starts! is an example of one of their few period pieces.
If one went into And Now the Screaming Starts! without knowing the production company behind it, it would be hard to blame them for assuming it was a Hammer picture. Amicus and Hammer shared a very similar visual style in regards to atmosphere and color. On top of that, they also shared a lot of overlap when it came to production staff and actors, most notably in this case Peter Cushing and director Roy Ward Baker. Because of this, Amicus usually tried to shy away from period pieces in the gothic motif, but And Now the Screaming Starts! seems to be one of the exceptions. Though filmed in the 70s, you could easily share it with an unknowing friend and plunk it in with the Hammer features of the 60s and they’d likely be none the wiser. The only real difference I noticed was that the film is quite a bit more melodramatic than it need to be, and the colors, though often quite rich, aren’t quite as vibrant as their contemporaries.
Moments of occasional melodrama aside, the performances here are all quite impressive thanks to a vetran cast of capable actors. Stephanie Beacham (Catherine) is, quite understandably, the backbone of the entire feature. Beacham is the main cause of most of the overreactions, but even so her reactions aren’t entirely outside of the realm of believability. Catherine does not come across as a women prone to hysterics, but rather a well read, well rounded and well grounded individual who slowly descends into madness due to her husbands skepticism, and the fear and secretive nature everyone else in the manor has regarding the Fengriffen dark family secret. If you were surrounded by a bunch of people who knew what was going on around you and refused to tell you, you might go a little mad too. You also have Ian Ogilvy (Charles) as the kind, upstanding gentleman plagued by denial and eventually pushed past his limits thanks to the guilt he feels for ignoring all the signs going on right under his nose. Then of course there’s Peter Cushing who, though getting top billing, doesn’t show up until after the film’s half-way mark. But though his part may be smaller than some would like, he still inevitably brings an air of casual class and professionalism to a character whos scientific professionalism is about as cliche as cliche can be.
What’s not cliche about him is his horrendous hair. WTF did they do to you, Peter?
Yup. This is basically what she’s like the entire film. Poor dear.
Come to think of it, he looks like this for much of the film too…
The film’s greatest flaw lies in the plot. On the whole, there isn’t anything in the story that you haven’t seen before. If you’re at all familiar with gothic ghost tales than you won’t find anything surprising here. As this was the 70s and it was all the rage, there is a theme of exploitation strung throughout the film (I’m convinced they were trying to channel the giallo films of Italy with that long-ass title with included exclamation point), but the British censorship of the time keeps the film from ever rising above the realm of “risque”. Unfortunately the film also plods along for the first full half. Gothic tales in general aren’t really known for their action-filled plots, but this one feels like it’s moving at a slower pace than usual, slowly retreading the implication that no one can help Catherine by killing off any character that dares to try. But thankfully by the time Cushing rolls up during the second half the film picks up some speed.
Peter! Thank goodness! The plot was going in circles without you! And they covered your horrible hair with a hat. Thank god!
Then there are the plot-related inconsistancies. The film starts off strong with a lot of ghostly elements (ghostly apparitions, a severed hand…), but the longer it continues and the more you learn, the less sense a lot of them make when considering the greater whole. A lot is made of windows opening ominously, suggesting the films ghostly curse is sneaking into the house. But at the same time it’s made clear that the ghost is already in the house long before the first window opens, so what’s the point? There’s also a lot of focus on the ominousness of a portrait of Charles bastard of a grandfather, only for the film to ditch it about half way through. Why are characters who try to help Catherine in some way all conveniently knocked off one after another except, conviently, Peter Cushing’s character, who is clearly the most threatening of all? Sure, a lot of it might make nice visuals, but if you stop and think about most of them for more than a second, then they stop making any sense.
Stabbing. Sure. I mean, I find it more effective to burn haunted artwork, but that’s fine. You do you.
Ah! A window! It’s–….a very nice window, actually. Would probably look lovely in my front door….
In the end, And Now the Screaming Starts! is a perfectly enjoyable British gothic horror romp filtered through an exploitative prism. While the performances and visuals are lovely, the plot has enough bothersome holes in it to keep it from being essential viewing. But even with it’s faults it’s probably still entertaining and engaging enough for genre fans. If you like gothic horror films, you’ll probably find this interesting.
And Now the Screaming Starts! is available on several streaming services.
It is also available on Bluray and DVD as part of The Amicus Collection.