Friday, April 23, 2021

Review: The House of Screaming Death (2017)

We found this film on Amazon Prime, and with no expectations, decided to give it a whirl.

It's always something of pot luck with films on Amazon as they seem to have no quality control at all, and so many is the time that we've started and then failed to finish a film. With The House of Screaming Death, at least we managed to stay the distance, but it was a struggle.

The good points first. The title is superb. Except that when you watch the film, there is no screaming ... plenty of death though. Ian McNeice, playing The Architect, is superb. A quality actor, with a smashing voice which brought back fond memories of John Houseman telling the story of the fated smugglers at the start of The Fog. He acts as the Storyteller here, introducing the four tales which make up the film. The sequences are well staged and shot, and promise much ...

Then we have the four short stories which make up the film. And this is where the problems start. None of them are particularly coherent, falling into the trap of low budget filmmaking of having them way too drawn out and talkie. There isn't much in the way of action, and characters spend interminable amounts of time standing and talking to each other ... and the dialogue is often not up to scratch too. There are several anachronisms scattered throughout. For example, in a sequence set in 1974, one character laughs off that his partner is scared by saying 'I see dead people all the time', which is of course a line from The Sixth Sense, released in 1999. A better line would perhaps have been 'They're coming for you Barbara', from the 1969 Night of the Living Dead

There are also one too many stories here - the film is overlong and needed to have half an hour at least cut from it - so the first story, 'The Lady in Grey', where a voice-over narrator tells us a tale while a chap mopes around the house, should have been cut completely. It's the weakest of the four.

Next is 'The Witch in the Mirror' which shows more promise, but which falls down as it is so complicated. A stern edit could have sorted this one out. But the acting is mostly dire and stagy, and believability is a real issue.

'The Vampyre' is third, and while it seems modelled on an M R James-type scenario, is nowhere near as good. The effects are also poor - the vampire's make-up has unfortunate visible lines in it - and the talking ... the endless talking ...

Finally we have 'The Diabolique' which is another talkie tale, virtually indistinguishable from the others. So much so that I'm struggling to remember anything about it!

The film purports to be an homage to the great days of Hammer and Amicus, and portmanteau films like Asylum and The House that Dripped Blood. But the filmmakers needed to have a good close look at what made those films work: simple stories, a camp sense of fun, and an outrageous tone in the horror which presented true surprise scares and endings for the audience.

I suspect that no-one will be surprised by the end of The House of Screaming Death, except to wonder what it all means and why all the dead bodies are there ... It is, to be fair, a classic anthology ending, and McNeice plays it for everything.

It's always saddening to have to give a poor review to something into which an awful lot of time and effort has been put. I wish the filmmakers had had the courage to step away from their own scripts, and to take advice from elsewhere, or to adapt extant stories from the plethora of British horror anthologies which exist. A good script editor would also have been a boon here. However, I have to say that this is nowhere near the worst film that we have tried to watch ... there is a lot of promise ... and even getting a project of this scope completed is a major achievement!

One thing the makers did get right is the publicity. Looking online there are loads of teaser trailers, posters and imagery which promise something far, far better than they actually presented. A case of their ambition outstripping their resources perhaps. I hope they get something together to do another film, and next time, keep it simple, keep it fun, and get in a really good scriptwriter!

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