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The Oblong Box/Scream and Scream Again

review by Anthony D.

 

 

Running Time: 192 Minutes

Starring: Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Judy Geeson

Screenplays by: Lawrence Huntington & Christopher Wicking

Directed by: Gordon Hessler

 

Studio: MGM

Retail Price: $14.98

Features: Theatrical Trailers

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scenes (32 Scenes)

Released: August 27th, 2002

 

 

Something happened in Africa. Something not very nice. Some atrocity associated with tribal rituals. And it happened to Edward Markham. Now, Edward is confined to an upper room in his family mansion - dominated by his imperialistic brother, Julian. For, that horrible incident in Africa has left Edward in such a hideous condition, that Julian feels it is imperative to chain his brother up in that lonely room. When Edward makes an attempt at escape, Julian sees no recourse, but to murder his brother. Meanwhile, the family solicitor, Trench, has other plans for Edward. Trench conspires with an African, adept at the tribal arts, to concoct a potion which will render Edward's appearance to be lifeless, but Edward will remain alive. But Markham family tradition demands that Edward's body lie in state at the manse for the villagers to pay their respects to. Julian's own pride demands that the corpse the villagers see NOT be the scarred, ugly, non-noble corpse of his true brother. Julian blackmails Trench into supplying a clean corpse. Trench, with an associate, murders a young hostelier. It would seem that all is well, but, during these lean years of 1865, grave robbers are striking the English countryside; selling bodies to medical researchers such as the heroic Dr. Neuhart. It would be Trench's unfortunate luck that the breathing body of Edward fall prey to a nocturnal body snatching. When Edward's coffin-encased body is brought to the good Dr. Neuhart, one might say "all Hell breaks loose," as Edward extracts his revenge, seeking his personal retribution as a masked, marauding murderer.

Thus is the tale of "The Oblong Box," a 1969 American International Pictures production most notable for its charsima cast's creative characterizations. It also marked the first on-screen pairing of genre greats Vincent Price, who gives a remarkably controlled performance as Julian; and Christopher Lee, who seems at sea with the under-written role of Dr. Neuhart. Genre fans will undoubtedly be disappointed that Price and Lee DON'T share a single scene together. Peter Arne single handedly turns in the best male performance as the agenda-prone Trench; while Judy Geeson's blond charms are buried beneath a cascaded wig of brunette tones, she alone is the most sympathetic character. Geeson's Sally is a lower class maid, who finds comfort and comforting charms with the crimson masked Edward. "The Oblong Box" has an very good genre screenplay going for it, with quite a few unexpected twists and turns; which, unfortunately, the journeyman-like direction of Gordon Hessler can't keep up with. I couldn't help but wonder that a Hammer horror director such as Terrance Fisher, Byron Forbes, Freddie Francis or even A.I.P.'s own Roger Corman would have made a far faster paced, less gainly film out of Lawrence Huntington's Guignol demanding script. Quite obviously, even to a casual viewer, this script was mutating even as it was being lensed; the film's intended director, Michael Reeves (who gleaned the most brilliant performance from Vincent Price in "Witchfinder General"*) was suspended from the production because of his increasing drug habit. Actually, the behind the screen tales of "The Oblong Box" are possibly more interesting than what's onscreen: Reeves would commit suicide in the spring of the following year, Huntington would die even as the script was being revised; how's that for a cursed film?

In spite of its lackluster direction, "The Oblong Box" is an entertaining, often satisfying suspense tale, which should have been better. It should have also been featured with "The Conquerer Worm," rather than the Gessler directed confusion known as "Scream and Scream Again." This startling concoction to say the very least, is strange. Strange can be good, sometimes. This is not one of those times. I know that "Scream and Scream Again" has its share of supporters, but I wouldn't hesistate to say that they are a very silent minority. Trying to make any sense at all of this star-studded, but not star-driven, film is probably not possible since the film has several loosely threaded storylines, not all of which are tidily tied up as the final credits roll.

Here goes nothing: In Swingin' Sixties' London a Nazi-like military force, led by Peter Cushing in a rev-up for his appearance in "Star Wars: A New Hope," is seeking world domination. Great insignias with bombs instead of the Swastika are highly original. A vampire-like, Jack-the-Ripper-ish killer is taking off tarts left and right, but the police force (led by the marvellously deadpan Alfred Marks) cannot capture him; or when they do, the killer leaves his hand hand-cuffed to the police car. At the same time, a Frankenstein-like doctor (Vincent Price who is merely collecting a pay check) is actually creating life, or something like it. Even though Christopher Lee appears as well, once again, the triumvirate of horror icons are not sharing scenes; which makes the movie appear even stranger than it really is. I mean, well, if you've got Lee, Price and Cushing billed above the title, would'nt you think that the film revolves around them? The final third of the film is given mostly over to Price valiantly attempting to explain "the master race" and everything else that has supposedly gone before. This dippy, dopey flick may releive the boredom on a frosty, foggy night, otherwise, prepare to by stymied rather than terrified.

 

*known to U.S. audiences as "Edgar Allen Poe's 'The Conquerer Worm.'" And to bring the review to a personal level, way back in 1969, at the Liberty Theater in New Kensington, PA, I attended a Double Feature (yeah, on the BIG screen) of "The Conquerer Worm" and "The Oblong Box," as only a true genre maven would.

 

Fortunately for the viewer, both films are presented in a clean, but not perfect, anamorphically enhanced transfer. "The Oblong Box" looks like the films from the 1970s, with blushing flesh tones and a wide color palette (check out the prostitute's yellow dress with the purple feathers); but night scenes, though shot day-for-night, are all together too murky. Drabness never applies to the film's blood, which appears to be the standard British trademaked "Hammer Horror Blood." Relatively few scratches or signs of age mar the film. "Scream and Scream Again" also boasts an anamorphic transfer which I found a little wan. None of that psychodelia normally associated with Carnaby Street and the Brits around this time. Far less blood is on display in "Scream and Scream Again," and unlike "The Oblong Box," the day-for-night shots are quite convincingly portrayed. Flesh tones are soft, but firm, and rarely is there any color distortion.

 

A two channel Dolby Digital Mono track rarely opens the soundtracks up beyond the center of the soundstage, but, distortion is rare, making for a non-spectacular track. Just wait till you hear The Amen Corner's cover of the title tune for "Scream and Scream Again;" it's one of those annoying little three chord rockers that will stay stuck in your head, long after the memory of the film itself has faded.

 

The Oblong Box's" original theatrical trailer, programmed on the same side of the disc, is an oddly constructed piece, with a lot of vim and vigor not evident in the lethargic pace of the film itself. The trailer for "Scream and Scream Again" at least makes as much sense as the film it sells.

 

Face the facts, these MGM Double Feature discs are great, whether or not the material is. Horror nuts such as I, are already have a field day. I highly anticipate each new slew of titles from MGM's horror/suspense library, since they seem to be taking a lot more time and effort on these cheaply priced discs than they are on some of their classic films (what MGM did to Otto Preminger's "Exodus," John Wilkes Booth was accused of doing to Lincoln).

 

(Oblong Box)(Scream and Scream Again)