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Scream and Scream Again

Twilight Time // R // October 13, 2015 // Region 0
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 9, 2015 | E-mail the Author

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...and Scream Again!

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Of course screaming would be on the agenda. Marvel at that gorgeous cover art with a woman's half-naked body dissolving in a vat of acid! Even more critically, this marks the first time that three of the most towering names in horror -- Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing -- share the same bill. ...and yet, Scream and Scream Again isn't a horror movie, exactly, and it's certainly worlds removed from the Gothic frights that spring to mind at the mention of any of those three actors. Cushing's role is a thankless one, limited to a single scene that runs all of three minutes length. Lee's role is nearly as brief and inconsequential, and though he is briefly pitted against Price, the two never actually appear in the same frame together. Though Price scores the most screentime of the three, he only rears his head in a handful of scenes, and most of those are well into the movie. The three of them don't star in Scream and Scream Again; they're just names on a poster.

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I'm sure AIP and Amicus were desperate for the marquee draw those three actors would bring; anything would help in marketing a film this defiantly uncommercial. In most movies, you generally know rather early on who the central characters are, how they relate to one another, what hurdles they're trying to overcome, and on and on and on. The storytelling in Scream and Scream Again is so fragmented that someone could watch the first seventysomeodd minutes and still have no clue what it's about. With no real rhyme or reason, it bounds back and forth between three completely distinct storylines: one revolving around a series of gruesome rapes and murders, another involving a Third Reich-esque totalitarian state, and a third with a man repeatedly awakening to find that another limb has been taken from him. As wholly disconnected as these storylines are throughout the majority of the film, they do ultimately intersect, and it's only in Scream and Scream Again's final moments does a proper plot summary begin to take shape.

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I respect how adventurous Scream and Scream Again is. I'd much rather watch a movie that takes these sorts of risks, even if they're not entirely successful, over something routine, formulaic, and forgettable. Friday the 13th knockoffs come and go, but I'll always remember a film that devotes fifteen minutes straight to a superhumanly strong, vampiric rapist being chased by the police. There are elements of horror, science fiction, police procedurals, political thrillers, and even a healthy dollop of comedy in here. Scream and Scream Again may be confusing at times -- akin to piecing together a puzzle without knowing what the picture on the box even looks like -- but it's certainly never boring. The performances are more fun and playful than I'd expect in a movie with 'scream' repeated in its title, most memorably Alfred Marks as a bitingly sarcastic police inspector. As squandered as Cushing, Lee, and Price's talents are here, they still leave an impression with what limited material they're offered.

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This is a challenging movie to watch and perhaps even moreso to review. Scream and Scream Again is, in a great many ways, a mystery, but the question isn't whodunnit? so much as whatisit?: how these various storylines could possibly weave together...what the driving force of all this madness even is. Trying to describe the premise in any comprehensible way reveals too much about the finalé and robs viewers of that sense of discovery. While many rightly feel cheated by its wildly misleading marketing, those who've come back to the film a second time often look back on it more favorably. Though Twilight Time's Blu-ray release marks the first time that I've experienced Scream and Scream Again, I'm very much left with the sense that this is indeed a movie that would reward multiple viewings. It's also worth noting that this is director Gordon Hessler's preferred cut of the film, not the slightly truncated one that was released theatrically, and that may smooth over at least some of its rougher edges as well. Admirers of Scream and Scream Again will surely find this Blu-ray release to be a worthy upgrade, and the healthy selection of extras go a long way to explaining to the uninitiated why this movie is what it is. Though the film itself is not easily embraced, this special edition from Twilight Time still very much comes Recommended.

Scream and Scream Again was making the rounds on Monsters-HD at least as far back as 2004, and it wouldn't come as much of a shock if that same aging master is also the source for this Blu-ray release. Nearly every frame of the film is peppered with nicks, specks, and assorted wear:

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There are even reel change markers, and I couldn't tell you the last time I stumbled across one of those on Blu-ray:

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The moderate judder at one point is difficult to convey in a screenshot, but the severe hit in quality is still readily visible:

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While definition and detail are adequate -- and, I'm sure, a considerable upgrade over MGM's 2002 DVD double feature -- at no point does Scream and Scream Again manage to impress, exactly. MGM's insistence on leveraging masters from more than a decade ago is to blame here, and to their part, Twilight Time has done the best they could with what they were licensed. Grain remains wholly intact, and the dual-layer Blu-ray disc affords its AVC encode all the headroom it needs. Still, when I see a collection as achingly gorgeous as Warner's Hammer boxed set, a lackluster presentation such as this is a disappointment.

Although this 24-bit, monaural DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack has scored rave reviews elsewhere, I have to admit to finding it rather cramped and extremely sibilant. The distinctness and clarity I've become so accustomed to hearing on Blu-ray is lacking here. Even a spray of machine gun fire and the exploding car that follows sounds flat and lifeless. It's a perfectly listenable track but doesn't hit the marks I'd hoped it would.

Along with an isolated score and a newly-recorded audio commentary, Scream and Scream Again also offers English (SDH) subtitles.

  • Isolated Score Track: Scream and Scream Again's isolated score is presented in 24-bit, two-channel DTS-HD Master Audio. Oh, and yes, Amen Corner's "Scream and Scream Again" is featured here again as well.

  • Gentleman Gothic: Gordon Hessler at AIP (23 min.; HD): Ballyhoo Motion Pictures contributes a fantastic retrospective into director Gordon Hessler's work at American International Pictures, featuring comments by David Del Valle, a parade of genre screenwriters and directors that includes Steve Haberman, C. Courtney Joyner, and Jeff Burr, as well as an archival interview with Hessler himself. Produced exclusively for this Twilight Time release, "Gentleman Gothic" charts Hessler's ascent through the industry, starting as a reader for Alfred Hitchcock and ultimately moving into production himself. Following director Michael Reeves' fatal overdose, several projects in the hopper were in dire need of a guiding hand that Hessler agreed to contribute. All four of his films for AIP are discussed at length here: The Oblong Box, Cry of the Banshee, Murders in the Rue Morgue, and, of course, Scream and Scream Again. "Gentleman Gothic" also touches on how Hessler attempted to make these movies his own, despite not having any say in the casting, often having to prepare without the benefit of a finished screenplay, and generally having his work ravaged in editing. This is an extremely insightful look at the work of Gordon Hessler, and it certainly gives me a greater appreciation for what he was able to accomplish under such trying circumstances. Well-worth setting aside a half hour to watch.

  • An Interview with Uta Levka (9 min.; SD): Conducted back in 2000, Uta Levka has long forgotten much of anything that happened in Scream and Scream Again as a movie, although her memories of Christopher Lee and Vincent Price remain vivid. After dismissing Lee as insufferably smug, Levka offers a number of warm remembrances of Price, including the wonderful way he surprised her with a birthday party at Madame Tussauds'. She also speaks about being a contract player and how she bristled at the press so constantly referring to her as sexy. The interview is conducted in Levka's native German.
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  • Audio Commentary: This commentary reteams David Del Valle and Tim Sullivan, although the rhythm isn't quite the same as their outstanding track for Count Yorga, Vampire. There are quite a few moments when they're both excitedly speaking at the same time, tripping over each other somewhat, and I don't recall them correcting one another as often throughout Yorga as they do here. This is still a nearly essential listen, noting how Scream and Scream Again stars two Bond villains, why Gordon Hessler wasn't permitted to record his own commentary over MGM's DVD releases, filling us in on the nicknames Ingrid Pitt gave her breasts, and, perhaps most importantly, comparing and contrasting this adaptation with the novel that spawned it, The Disoriented Man. Del Valle and Sullivan also make it a point to provide a proper perspective: what an impossible situation Hessler routinely found himself in as a director, AIP's crass exploitation of the likes of Christopher Lee and Vincent Price, and the transformation AIP itself was undergoing around this time.

  • Still Gallery: Scream and Scream Again's comprehensive, high resolution gallery features some seventy images, among them posters from across the world, lobby cards, production stills, ad campaigns, magazine covers and articles, art from novelizations and video releases, and even some shots of the Amen Corner.
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  • Radio Spot (1 min.): The inclusion of a vintage radio spot is appreciated, although it's so scratchy that it makes for a difficult listen.

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): The last of the extras is a high definition theatrical trailer that plays one of the film's final shots in reverse!

The cover art for this Blu-ray release is gorgeous, leveraging one of the era's most eye-catching posters. Scream and Scream Again also features a terrific set of liner notes by Julie Kirgo.

The Final Word
From its confusing, fragmented storytelling to the mishandling of three of the most iconic names in horror, Scream and Scream Again is about as deeply divisive as they come. The special edition release that Twilight Time has assembled here is a golden opportunity to re-evaluate a film that's generally accepted as rewarding repeat viewings. While the quality of the presentation leaves something to be desired, it certainly shouldn't deter those who are interested from picking up a disc that demands to be seen and seen again. Recommended.
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