And Now the Screaming Starts (DVD)
Starring Stephanie Beacham, Ian Ogilvy, Geoffrey Whitehead, Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Distributed by Dark Sky Films
The early 1970's was an exciting time indeed for horror fans. While those of us in the States were just being introduced to the macabre pas de deux of Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis that would continue for decades to come, British Gothic horror stalwarts Hammer and Amicus continued cranking out the goods for those whose tastes were on the more traditional side. Although their heyday would soon be over, these two powerhouse studios provided more chills and thrills than just about anyone else in the business. One of Amicus' strongest entries was And Now the Screaming Starts, whose cast reads like a virtual who's who of genre stars from the era.
Set in 1795, And Now. . . begins, as many such tales do, with an ominous voiceover provided by its beautiful heroine, Catherine (Beacham). The viewer sees Catherine, her aunt, and her fiancé, Charles, traveling by coach to Charles' country estate, where they are to be wed. It's fairly obvious that although blissfully happy now, our young couple is about to experience some rather unfortunate events. Upon arriving at the house, Catherine is instantly drawn to the portraits of Charles' ancestors, who, we are told, range from fox hunters to witch hunters. She's particularly intrigued by the one of his grandfather, Sir Henry -- that is, until a disembodied hand reaches out to her from the painting. So here we are, just minutes into the film, and already the screaming has started! A few days later Charles and his virginal Catherine marry and retire to separate rooms to begin preparations for their wedding night. The dreaded hand crawls into Catherine's room, locking Charles out and ensuring that she is deflowered not by her new husband, but by whoever the accursed appendage used to be attached to. More screaming ensues before Charles breaks down the door and comforts his terrified bride. All in all though, he doesn’t seem terribly alarmed by the turn of events, and within a short while the lovebirds consummate their marriage with Catherine, of course, becoming pregnant right away.
At about this point I found myself thinking how typical and predictable And Now. . . was. How nice it was to have figured everything out and be able to just sit back and watch events unfold. But David Case and Roger Marshall (the author of the original novel and the screenwriter, respectively) obviously had other plans. They threw a monkey wrench into my reverie by introducing the character of the Woodsman, an enigmatic and frightening young man whose family had been given permission by Sir Henry to live on the estate forever. Catherine is both repulsed by and drawn to Silas, the Woodsman, sensing he knows something about the history of Charles' family that might explain the strange experiences she'd been having. Whitehead plays the character convincingly, evoking just the right balance of pity and fear. Silas refuses to cooperate, but she continues pressing the issue with others, resulting in the death of anyone who even begins to think about helping her. The family doctor, fearing for Catherine's and her unborn baby's well-being, calls in an expert (Cushing) who does his best to remain neutral and determine if she is merely unhappy or truly insane.
In typical Gothic fashion And Now. . . offers up spooks galore: Dogs howl, candles are mysteriously blown out, cemeteries are shrouded in mist, and the score is oh so melodramatic. A sense of dread pervades the proceedings. Fortunately it rarely delves into cheesiness, even during its flashback sequence with Herbert Lom portraying Sir Henry (although, god love him, the man does do his fair share of hamming it up). It could have easily gone either way. Yes, it has more screams than just about any movie ever made, but it also has a lot to say about the conflict between science and the supernatural as well as issues of class. Charles' servants come and go with no interaction between them and the other residents of the house. They hear and see everything yet are invisible. It's no surprise that a maid is the first to die. Cushing's Dr. Pope is a man of science and reason confronted with evidence of ghosts and magic, and it's to the film's credit that it acknowledges his inner struggle to discover the truth at all costs. And Now. . .'s themes of rape and revenge are dark, and as mentioned, people die left and right. If I have one beef with the film, however, it's that Charles is too much of a lightweight. The whole time I'm wondering, "Dude, don't you even care that people are dropping dead all around you?" But ultimately it's Catherine's story, not his, so his character remaining on the sidelines makes sense in the end. And I'm telling you, if they ever do a remake, Hugh Grant would be a perfect Charles.
The disc provides not one, but two delightful commentaries. Roy Ward Baker and Stephanie Beacham are utterly charming in the first, and Ian Ogilvy is both amusing and brutally honest in the second. The commentaries are done Q&A style with Marcus Hearn interviewing Baker and Beacham and Darren Gross doing his best to keep up with Ogilvy. They are filled to the brim with information and, since there are many long stretches in the film with no dialogue, make nice companion pieces. For someone born in 1916 (if the IMDB is to be trusted), Baker is a wonder! He comes off as sharp and alert as ever, and Beacham (whom I'll always think of as Maxwell Caulfield's mother; sorry, Stephanie) is as loaded with class and elegance as you'd expect. Considering the state of Hollywood these days, I'm pretty sure most of us would agree with Ogilvy when he waxes nostalgic about the days when a film could just "slip out" and do its thing without the studios and critics examining every piece of it under a microscope. Biographies of the major players and a still gallery round out the extras along with trailers for this film, Asylum, and The Beast Must Die, collectively being released by Dark Sky as The Amicus Collection.
Which brings us to what is often the hardest part of any review: the rating. Judged against modern films, And Now the Screaming Starts could be considered somewhat laughable. Ogilvy even says that sure today's audiences scream at the film -- with laughter. I disagree. It might not quite earn the designation of a "classic," but And Now. . .stands the test of time and holds up quite well. The topics it tackles are just as relevant now as they were 30 years ago, and you'd be hard pressed to find a contemporary actress who could play the part of Catherine as convincingly as Beacham did. If you're willing to forego a bit of 21st Century polish for an atmospheric and moody period piece with true 1970's sensibilities, then check this one out and let the screaming start for you!
Commentary with director Roy Ward Baker and actor Stephanie Beacham
Commentary with actor Ian Ogilvy
Biographies and liner notes
3 1/2 out of 5