While notorious British filmmaker Pete Walker got his start making cheap sexploitation films, it's his horror movies that are best known as they had a tendency to be rather controversial with little regard for social taboos of the time. His first horror film, or more realistically his first thriller, was Die Screaming Marianne, a decent first effort that entertains but fails to fire on all cylinders such as better known efforts from the man like The Confessional.
The film starts off with a fantastic go-go dancing scene in which Marianne (the lovely Susan George of Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs) shakes what the good Lord gave her to the sounds of some fuzzy garage rock. She's a dancer who works in Portugal where a gang of tough guys are chasing her down. When she meets up with a British gentleman named Sebastian (Christopher Sanford of Clive Donner's Old Dracula) and he offers to take her back to his place, a safe distance away in London, she accepts and the two begin a romantic relationship together.
Soon enough, Sebastian proposes and Marianne accepts his offer. She's got her own motives, however, and when she messes with the wedding certificate to botch the wedding replacing Sebastian's name with that of Eli (Barry Evans best known for the goofy English sex comedy, Under The Doctor), the best man, it becomes obvious that something is up. It all ties in to a scheme in which Marianne's father (Leo Genn of Frightmare and A Lizard In A Woman's Skin), a judge of dubious moral standing, is attempting to swindle some money out of a Swiss Bank Account to which only Marianne has access to. Her father has long reaching ties and won't let family relations get in the way of scoring the cash and so he sets into motion a sinister plan to get Marianne back to Portugal, whether she likes it or not.
Full of a few red herrings and interesting bait and switch attempts, Die Screaming Marianne is a decent thriller even if there are a few too many loose ends for its own good. The plot is a little predictable in spots but the ending works well regardless and Walker paces the film fairly well, ensuring that even when the movie isn't necessarily good, it is at least interesting. The highlight of the film is George's lead performance. She's a complete sexpot in the film and easy enough on the eyes that she's able to carry herself well here, even if her performance isn't as good as some of her other work. The rest of the cast seems to sleepwalk through the picture, not coming across as particularly good or particularly bad, though Leo Genn is fun as the sinister father of our shifty female lead.
Those expecting the excess of some of Walker's better known and more notorious efforts are likely to be disappointed in Die Screaming Marianne's lackluster levels of sex and violence and at times the movie does feel very restrained when compared to more gratuitous fare such as Frightmare or The Flesh And Blood Show. On the other side of the coin, however, the movie looks quite good and features some great seventies mod culture oddities such as the go-go dancing opening and the swanky, posh, colorful sets used throughout the movie.
Media Blasters, through their Shriek Show line, presents Die Screaming Marianne in its preferred full-length ninety-nine minute running time (the same cut as the previous release through Image though longer than VHS versions released prior).
Die Screaming Marianne is presented in a decent 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation (the previous Image release was framed at 1.66.1 – it looks better on this new disc than it did on the old one). There are some scenes where the colors are flat and in a few darker spots the image is murky but for the most part the picture is pretty good. There is some mild print damage present in a few scenes as well as some grain but that's to be expected to an extent. The movie is always watchable and the compositions look dead on in terms of framing. Not a perfect transfer, but a perfectly acceptable one none the less.
The film is presented in its original English language without any alternate language tracks, closed captioning options or subtitles. You've got your choice of the original 2.0 mono track or a newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix, and both get the job done fine. Truth be told, there isn't a whole lot of difference between the two different mixes. The 5.1 track does throw some effects at you from behind which adds a bit of atmosphere and it spreads out some of the music a bit but the differences are minor. Both tracks sound fine, no problems in the way of hiss or distortion to report and the dialogue remained clean and clear throughout.
The biggest and best of the supplements on this release is another commentary track with director Pete Walker, moderated by Jonathon Rigby. Those who have heard Walker's commentary tracks before know him to be an intelligent man with a great, dry wit and this proves to be the case with this track as well. He details the history of the production, the trouble he went through getting the film made, the casting decisions and more in addition to talking about what it was like to work with Susan George at the time. It's an interesting and enjoyable discussion that is both educational and entertaining.
Rounding out the supplements are the film's original trailer, trailers for other Pete Walker releases available from Shriek Show, a decent still gallery and some production notes that detail the history of the film. Animated menus and chapter stops are also included.
A lesser entry in Walker's horror filmography, Die Screaming Marianne is never the less a decent thriller with a fun performance from George and a few stand out set pieces. Shriek Show's disc looks and sounds decent enough and the commentary is a nice touch. Walker fans will want to add this to their collection, for everyone else, this makes for a good rental.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.