Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Glutton for Punishment: THE SCREAMING SKULL

by JB
Today for Junesploitation, we have some very good news… and some very bad news.

We are all interested in ghosts, skulls, screaming, and screaming ghost skulls, for that is the stuff we use to fill the hours of Junesploitation… You are interested in the unknown, the mysterious, and the abandoned—that is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you the full story of some of the worst movies ever made. The absurdly low budgets, the tiny casts, the attempts at gas lighting—my friend, we cannot keep these a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. Remember, my friends: terrible movies such as these will affect you in the future!
Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release of perennial public domain eyesore The Screaming Skull is a cause for celebration… and pain. First-time director Alex Nichol never actually copyrighted the film, so it has seen release by half a dozen video companies in the last twenty years. I remember Svengoolie saying he’d like to put it on his show but could never find an acceptable print. Yes, I have seen bad-looking versions of this title, F-Heads. But that’s all over now that Scream Factory has released this pristine new transfer. It looks terrific.

The problem? The Screaming Skull isn’t very good. It’s tedious and clichéd. Director Nichol was a Broadway actor sick of the parts he was being offered, so he decided to make his own movie and give himself a part. Unfortunately, he isn’t very good. His performance is tedious and clichéd. The film resembles nothing so much as an earnest community theatre troupe doing a budget version of Cat and the Canary and being asked to stretch the material to five acts instead of three. It’s tedious and clichéd. And repetitive.
The Plot In Brief: Eric Whitlock (John Hudson) returns to his sprawling country home with his new wife Jenni (Peggy Webber). Eric’s first wife Marion died after a mysterious pond accident. Reverend Edward Snow (Russ Conway), his wife (Tony Johnson), and groundskeeper Mickey (Alex Nicol) are there to greet the newlyweds. We learn that Jenni has mental problems and spent some time in an asylum… and that she is very, very wealthy.

Mickey tells Jenni that Marion's ghost haunts the house. Jenni hears screaming from the titular skull. Is Marion’s skull haunting Eric’s new bride? And what is Mickey hiding in that basket? And why can’t anyone ever find Mickey when they need him? I swear that half of this film’s running time is devoted to other characters looking for Mickey. You’re the groundskeeper, Mickey—KEEP to the GROUNDS.
As if anticipating our disappointment with the film itself, Scream Factory has added some tasty extras. We get the complete MST3K episode in which Mike Nelson and the ‘bots watch the film for laughs. Daniel Griffith’s Ballyhoo Productions supplies a neat 15 minute documentary titled “This Film May Kill You: The Making of The Screaming Skull,” in which many of the talking heads interviewed remember seeing the film when they were kids and how much it scared them. Scream Factory even tracked down lead actress Peggy Webber for an on-camera interview in which she describes how she was tricked into appearing in The Screaming Skull and how disappointing she found the finished film. The supplements are a tasty dessert designed to end the “main course” of this feature film on an up-note. Tip your wait staff!

Should you purchase and/or watch this disc? It would be a great fit for today (“Demons & Ghosts”); this Thursday (“Free Space”); or next Thursday, June 28 (“Free Space”) during Junesploitation—but alas--there is no day devoted to “Tedious and Clichéd.” How about it, Patrick? Maybe next year? (Ed. note: Adding it to calendar...)
My friend, you have now read this column, based on my own sworn testimony. Can you prove that this film doesn’t exist? Perhaps on your way home, someone will pass you in the dark, and you will never know it, but that person is not a regular person, but rather a screaming skull person. Perhaps that person is a none-the-wiser Peggy Webber, and YOU can trick HER into appearing in YOUR mediocre horror movie! Many scientists believe that mediocre horror movies are being filmed at this very moment. We once laughed at the thought of wading hip-deep in murky pond water for the sake of art. So much laughter! And now some of us laugh at very bad movies. God help us in the soggy, high-decibel, “Where–the-hell-is-that-Mickey-when-you-need-him," skull-filled future.

1 comment:

  1. This movie scared the hell out of me when I was 9. I’d love a re-watch!