Monday, August 1, 2011

Monster Mash Blogathon: The Screaming Skull

The 50's Monster Mash at Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear.

You have to love any movie where the producers take the time to warn you away from their film at the beginning and guarantee you a free coffin if you happen to die of fright while watching the movie.  It is the kind of kitchy thing I associate with the 50s; horror before what would be the heyday of Hammer films.

The Screaming Skull is one such movie.  Though I can imagine the fine print on that "guarantee" does not cover dying of boredom.

I watching this film because a.) I was doing research on Screaming Skulls and b.) I had it on DVD with a collection of other Horror films.  Turns out the DVDs I have won't play in my computer so I ended up watching it on You Tube.  I guess the copyright has lapsed.

Newly married couple Eric (John Hudson) and Jenni (Peggy Weber) have come home to Eric's house.  Well it is not really his house. It is his late wife's.  Seems she had all the money and then died when she slipped and hit her head.    There are not a lot characters in this drama (which might actually make a descent high school play); the reverend and his wife and the creepy gardener Mickey.
Jenni almost immediately begins to fret when she discovers a painting of Eric's first wife.
There are many scenes of walking.  Walking to the pond. Walking to the house. Walking all over the place.
We finally get to something when Jenni discovers an old human skull.  She freaks out and tosses it out the window.  Later no one can find the skull and we learn that Jenni spent time in an asylum for hearing voices.
The skull pops up again and Jenni screams. We hear other screaming too, but Eric is quick to point out the peacocks outside.  Eric blames the somewhat mentally challenged gardener on all of this, Jenni thinks she is going crazy.  They decide to burn the painting and when it is reduced to ash there is the skull again.  Jenni screams and Eric claims he can't see it.  After she faints Eric hides the skull back in the pond.  Case closed right? Eric is trying to drive her crazy.  Well now the skull is after Eric, it flies up and attacks him, he runs, it manifests as a ghost and he throws a chair at it.  He tries to strangle Jenni, but in the end he drowned in the pool where he had been hiding the skull.  Leaving us to wonder was it a ghost or did Eric snap as well.
In the end we see the gardener talking to the skull telling it everyone is gone and everything will be fine now.

Again, I watched this for the Forgotten Classics blog, but this doesn't really qualify as a classic.  It was not bad, it just wasn't good or interesting enough.  Yes the central mystery of the skull was interesting on paper but the I am not sure the movie did such a great job of selling it to me. We should be able to watch Jenni's descent into madness more.  Eric's duplicity and Mickey's...well he was creepy in a way, but he only really just took up space. Coming back to Eric, the problem is we suspect him right away.  His first rich wife is dead and now his new rich wife might be going crazy.  The only mystery here is why can't the rest of the cast see it?

Of course there is not much here to connect to the myths of the screaming skulls unless you tie it in with the house more.  Marion, Eric's first wife and owner of the house, is like a screaming skull in that she wants everyone out of the house, but if she is in fact a ghost her desire is to murder Eric.

I would like to say more about this film, but there really isn't much to say.  Delete the scenes of people walking and tighten up other fluff you might an hour long movie.   I think a remake has the potential to be very scary.  Husband trying to drive his new wife crazy so he can get her money too and a potential real ghost in the mix, has the elements of a suspenseful movie, this one just isn't.  It's not good enough to give it a strong review and it is not bad enough to make fun of.  The acting is not bad and this group of actors went on to do other things. I suppose I should point out that Alex Nicol was both Mickey and the Director, but even that is not really enough.  Unlike some of the other choices for today it is not a classic either in a good sense or a bad one.

In the end you might have more fun with the MST3k version, but it was fun to watch this film for the the Blogathon.


grandoldmovies said...

Enjoyed your amusing post! Yes, I recall this film as one of the schlockiest, but the MST3K take on it is hilarious. Still, I do treasure that one scene of the Skull flying after the bad guy, clad in floppy hat and lacy dress, at least as much as a skull can be clad. BTW, I had a bit of a problem connecting to your blogpost (had to type its address separately on the address line), so you might want to check on the link to Nate's.

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Haven't had a chance to see this one but my interest is piqued because old-time radio veteran Peggy Webber is in it. I think that might be worth the price of admission. Great review!

Nathanael Hood said...

I have to admit that my first exposure to this film was through MST3K...but now I'm tempted to go back and watch it unriffed just so that I can get the "theatrical" experience. Thanks for a terrific review!

Aubyn said...

I think the actual legends of the screaming skulls sound better than the film here although I think you're right that it has re-make potential.

The whole dead wife/new wife plotline might have been more effective if they'd used the singing bones legend rather than the screaming skull one. I have a soft spot for the singing bones stories.

Wednesday's Child said...

I like the idea of making this one a high school play, and most movies are more fun with the MST3K treatment!