Movies from the “golden age” of black and white films (approximately the 1930’s through the 1950’s) almost invariably contain well-written dialogue and strikingly subtle humor, making them a favorite among many fans of cinema. The horror movies of this more subtle period in film history are therefore of a cerebral nature, primarily relying on the viewer’s imagination to generate the true sense of horror that modern movies generate through more visual means. It is these oft-ignored horror movies that will be the focus of a series of articles detailing the reasons why true fans of horror movies should rediscover these films.
With this 6th installment in the Forgotten B&W Horror series, we take a look at a little known movie with a couple of interesting twists.
The Screaming Skull (1958), with a cast of unknown actors, tells the tale of a widower and his new bride as they begin their lives together at the estate of his former wife. John Hudson stars as Eric Whitlock and Peggy Webber plays Jenni Whitlock. Along the way we meet Mickey the gardener (played by veteran Western actor Alex Nicol) along with the Reverend Snow (Russ Conway), who just might be Chrissy’s father from Three’s Company, and his wife, Mrs. Snow (Tony Johnson).
Jenni, recently released from an insane asylum, has trouble adjusting to life in the home of her husband’s dead wife Marianne. Marianne recently died in a freak accident on the estate. She slipped on a leaf and hit her head on a low rock wall, then tumbled into the estate’s pond. Mickey, who grew up with and obviously loved Marianne, frequently haunts the pond and the shrine where Marianne is interred. Jenni quickly begins to think she’s going crazy due to a series of screaming skull sightings and sinister sounds (try saying that real fast – okay, maybe it’s not that hard to say). Eric and his friends, the Reverend Snow and Mrs. Snow, try to reassure Jenni but the strange doings of Mickey the gardener indicate something isn’t quite right.
Why This Movie Has Been Forgotten
The Screaming Skull, while having attracted a minor cult following, is largely ignored by the horror crowd. Its actors are mostly bit players in television shows with the exception of Alex Nicol, who appeared in a ton of early westerns and even directed The Screaming Skull. The plot is poorly developed, although it is not a bad concept, and the overall affect of the movie is to leave you a little dissatisfied. Perhaps if it had been a touch longer (the entire film is only 68 minutes long) more effort could have been spent on developing the horror aspect of the movie and The Screaming Skull could have become a great horror film, but as it stands it’s merely “fun” as horror movies go.
Why Horror Fans Should Watch This Movie
- The opening “warning” with a lonely coffin at a funeral service and a narrator offering free burial services for any movie-goer who dies of fright while watching this film is not to be missed. I had to watch it three times before I could even let the real movie begin.
- The background music is almost distractingly funny. Such overly-dramatic “tense scene” music and overly-sweet “nice scene” music takes a while to get used to, but you eventually learn to ignore it.
- You simply MUST watch a movie with a poster featuring a floating skull threatening a scantily-clad woman in her bed. Admit it.
- Unfortunately for fans of the mad-scientist (like me), this is one of those rare B&W horror movies that does not feature a ridiculous laboratory with bubbling beakers and dripping glass tubes. You are, however, treated to a bubbling pond with scary wisps of smoke obviously generated by dry ice.
- This film is an earlier example of the whole “Is there a ghost or isn’t there?” type of movie. As the movie unfolds, it becomes evident that someone (Eric? Mickey? Chrissy’s Dad?) is trying to drive Jenni insane, but there also seems to be something supernatural afoot.
- Mickey’s character, while suffering from just a few uttered words in the whole film, still manages to bring the only true creepiness to this movie. With lines such as “They’re gone. Rest.” as the movie closes, you understand that Mickey believes the ghost of Marianne still haunts the estate.
- And finally, who can resist a movie with peacocks, self-ambulatory skulls, a lovesick but dim-witted gardener, lit candles by the bedside all night, and the horrific soft-core porn of Peggy Webber (Jenni) in her bra and a sheer backlit nighty.
The Screaming Skull is not the worst horror movie ever, but it’s probably in the running. That being said, true B&W horror fans will get a kick out of it. Unfortunately, I think that says a lot about all of us B&W horror geeks.
If you would like to watch The Screaming Skull, and who among you wouldn’t like to watch it, you may view it at this link.
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