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Thursday, March 1, 2012

The House That Screamed (1969)

As part of my new series- called, "What Movie Wednesday," people who follow me on Facebook and Twitter got the chance to tell me what movie to watch and review.  The people chose the Spanish made 1969 film, "The House That Screamed"...

A young woman arrives at a French boarding school, and discovers a world ruled by a strict, uncompromising Headmistress, and a small clique of her "enforcers".  Mixed into this world is a the Headmistress' charming son, rebellious girls, and a dark figure stalking all of them one by one...

When I come across foreign films, my interest is always piqued, and "The House That Screamed" certainly piqued mine.  This Spanish film was originally released under the name, "La Residencia"- with the English release being called, "The Boarding School," and "The House That Screamed".

This film had a very gothic, moody, feel that reminded me heavily of the Hammer horror films from the same period.  The sets and costumes are excellent and reflect the personality of the Headmistress.  From the cold, impersonal nature of the shower room, to the claustrophobic, musty feel of the attic, the sets were just beautifully set up and dressed.  The Victorian costumes are just as fantastic- with each one fitting the character wearing them nicely.  The ones that really stand out for me were the ones worn by Lilli Palmer (the Headmistress), Cristina Galbo (Teresa- the new girl), and Mary Maude (Irene- the Headmistress' chief "enforcer").  Palmer's costumes evoked such a strong sense of her authoritarian personality and strength of will, that I could see her cowing men to her wishes.  While Galbo's expressed the character's attempts to rise above the origins of her birth by a cabaret singer.  The costuming of Maude is notable because when she the Headmistress' chief enforcer, the clothes emphasised her position of authority and coldness, but when she gives up that position, her outfits change to reflect her change of heart and her drop from a figure of authority to being on the same level as the other girls.

The acting was also quite good in this film- with the English dubbing actually fitting the feel of the dialogue (which is really rare, I find).  Palmer, Galbo and Maude all put in great performances- engaging your emotions appropriately- and giving depth and realism to their characters.  John Moulder-Brown as Luis- the Headmistress' son wasn't bad, though he wasn't as interesting to me- or as engaging, as the three main actresses.  I will say that his performance in the climatic scene was excellent.  The remaining supporting cast was quite good as well.

I felt that the premise was interesting and had a lot of potential.  Unfortunately, despite the fantastic sets, costumes, and acting by the three leading ladies, the actually plot fell a little short of my hopes.  The movie had three storylines involved:

  1. The rather strict Headmistress and her relationships with the girls under her charge;
  2. The slightly unbalanced relationship between the Headmistress and her son; and
  3. The stalking and killing of the girls one by one.
"The House That Screamed" finds itself unable to keep focus on one or another of the storyline... or even on all three as a single piece.  It was almost as if director Narciso Ibanez Serrador was trying to cram three feature length movies into one.  Because of this, all three plot lines lose any serious punch.  This is especially evident in the third plot I mentioned, since there are only three deaths in the entire movie.  I wanted to know more about all three... but was left feeling like I only got part of the meal I asked for.  Having said that, I did like the ending a lot- I was able to guess 1/2 of it, the other half was a pleasant discovery.

There's some really good camera work in this movie too.  I especially thought the death of Isabelle (played by Maribel Martin) was done very artisticly- using overlaid images to create a sureal feel to the scene.  The final splotch of blood bouncing out of her mouth when her body hit the floor was a nice touch too.  My only complaint with the visual work was the lack of grue in it.  There is very little blood.  I would've liked to have seen a bit more splattering in the kills.  Beyond that, the way the camera plays with light and shadow was great.

As much as I enjoyed the look and feel of "The House That Screamed," the fact that I was left a little disappointed with the treatment of the plots, I'm going to have to put this movie in "The Bad".

1 comment:

  1. I LOVED Mary Maude's character. Her look, her cruelty, and her semi-lesbian ways. She was so intriguing. The scene early on when she telling Teresa that she better do what she says or else while she clutches her hand under the running water. It's just so quietly perverted. I love women like that!