I don’t get it. 1961’s SCREAM OF FEAR (TASTE OF FEAR in the UK) was apparently both a critical and commercial hit upon release, so why does it so frequently get overlooked? How is it that this film, still gripping and creeptastic today, is not mentioned alongside the usual classics? I’m serious, I don’t get it. It’s s-o-o-o-o good. It’s the title isn’t it? Folks you have to give your movies memorable titles! I can’t stress that enough. Just because my advice is half a century too late is no reason not to heed it.
SUSAN STRASBERG is wheelchair bound Penny Appleby. She travels to France to visit her estranged father and get a load of the stepmother she’s never met. Once there she is informed that her pop is away on business, which is believable enough until she starts coming across his wide-eyed corpse in every other room in the house. The set up is familiar indeed. Is Peggy a fruitcake or is somebody effing with her head? The large inheritance that hangs in the balance seems to suggest the latter. I guess I’m a mental slowpoke because as much as I thought I knew what was going on, I didn’t. This movie has more twists than a…think of something twisty for me….that!
What I find so exceptional about S.O.F. is the fact that even though it is a grounded in reality thriller, it huffs and puffs like a supernatural yarn and is just altogether haunting. The incredible black and white photography is partially to blame but the story itself leaves giant spaces for you to come to your own conclusions at times and you won’t be blamed for suspecting something otherworldly is going down. One scene in particular that involves Dad’s corpse being spied in a swimming pool is just a blaring punch of full-on horror. That scene should track down the scene from NIGHT OF THE HUNTER with SHELLEY WINTERS at the bottom of a lake and then propose marriage to it. They are the perfect couple because they both flip me out equally.
SCREAM OF FEAR is directed by SETH HOLT (THE NANNY 1965) and written by HAMMER regular JIMMY SANGSTER who deserves to be a household name in the world of horror. (Please just take a moment to gawk at his credits HERE.) STRASBERG is marvelous as brittle screamer Penny; ANN TODD, as the stepmom, is cool as a cucumber where most would have camped it up; RONALD LEWIS is top notch as the ever so helpful chauffer and guess who else shows up? CHRISTOPHER LEE. Man, I love seeing LEE in his earlier roles. Here he plays a French doctor who has the nerve to suggest that Penny’s wheelchair routine is all in her head. Yeah, tell that to the horse who fell on her and broke her spine in three places Doc! LEE is in this about as much as he’s in HORROR HOTEL (where he played an American) but as per usual, he’s all you can look at when he’s on screen.
This is a must-see thriller on par with the best and if you are a LEE groupie like I now realize I am or an appreciator of the glory of black and white, double that must-see. I tell you this because if you should happen to have the FEARNET Channel it’s on twice today both at noon and at 10 PM. See, I caught it a couple days ago and I saved this review just for today. How do you like that? I’ve always thinking of you. If you don’t have FEARNET you can find SCREAM OF FEAR shamefully hidden in a HAMMER DVD boxset. Why it does not have a special edition of its own, again, I have no frickin’ clue. It’s exemplary and I’m not just saying that because I love wheelchair movies.