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Movie of the Week: The House That Screamed (1969)



Interested in clearing something off my DVR, The House That Screamed (1969) piqued my interest one night last week, probably because I was aware that its director, Narciso Ibanez Serrador, had recently died. I happened to record it from Comet TV and figured its dark, muddy presentation was the best I could expect to see. A funny thing happened about halfway through, though. I liked the movie so much that I turned it off and immediately ordered the Blu-ray.

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It arrived two days later and I loaded it into my player. I knew the Comet TV version was heavily edited, but I still decided to start the Blu-ray at approximately the same place I stopped the recording. Then I got confused… I couldn’t find that exact spot. Long story short, I soon determined that an entire scene was excised from the TV version. This isn’t a surprise, even though it was a shower room scene that had no nudity (only sheer nightgowns). The gory murder scene before it was left intact.

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That’s enough about my silly personal difficulties. The good thing is that I watched the full version in a beautiful Blu-ray presentation, loved the movie, and consider it to be one of my greatest discoveries so far this year. I don’t believe it’s uncommon to find, but sometimes the good ones slip by. Finding something like The House That Screamed makes up for all the not-so-great movies that normally monopolize the time I spend in front of the television.

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One thing I liked about it was the heavy Psycho vibe, not particularly with its plot, but instead with its sexual undertones. Young Luis’s (John Moulder-Brown) mother, Sra. Fourneau (Lilli Palmer), is a little over-concerned about him mingling with the students in her all-female, 19th-century French boarding school. She tells him, “You’re not like ordinary boys. Someday you’ll meet the kind of girl like I used to be.” She then kisses him on the lips for an uncomfortably long time.

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The camera zooms in on their faces and the screen seems to “burn out” to an orange color. It’s just the transition to the next scene as the camera then zooms out from an orange stained glass window. It’s very stylish, as are several other scenes that range from simple camera movements to more complicated camera trickery. For the former, the camera moves alongside a long table during dinner. For the latter, the aforementioned murder scene involves slow motion and overlays.

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The scene ends with a simple stationary shot of the victim falling, her head hitting the ground and blood splashing out of her mouth. It’s quite effective. The movie’s biggest flaw is not providing clues for what turns out to be a shocking ending. Although it’s terrific, it comes more from left field than from a development of the story that makes it a true plot twist. It makes it seem pieced together. (If you’ve seen the movie, pun intended!)

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There also aren’t any other murder scenes. Well, I should say we don’t see any more murders. One of scenes stops at the point a knife is placed at a victim’s neck and another scene reveals the body of a victim after a murder. You definitely get the sense, though, that girls are missing and you definitely feel suspense as the heroine, Teresa (Cristina Galbo) tries to escape. Sra. Fourneau dismisses any disappearances by stating that this happens at boarding schools everywhere; girls run away.

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The House That Screamed, as well as its characters, are beautiful to watch, but can sometimes be mean. Sra. Fourneau is a strict headmistress that exercises cruel discipline. However, she’s not nearly as cruel as the other girls, with Irene (Mary Maude) as their ringleader, that taunt Teresa because her mother was a prostitute. The aftermath of that subplot is awkward and uncomfortable, as the experience of watching the movie might also be for you. However, you will feel at least feel something.

Written by Narciso Ibanez Serrador

Story by Juan Tebar

Directed by Narciso Ibanez Serrador

Starring Lilli Palmer, Cristina Galbo, John Moulder-Brown, Maribel Martin, Mary Maude Released January 12, 1970 (Madrid) RT 99 min.

Home Video Shout! Factory (Blu-ray)