If you’re looking for a review of an obscure British film of the early sixties then look no further. The IMDb classifies Scream of Fear under the plot keywords swimming pool, little girl, father and corpse. It also provides the cheesy tagline:
For maximum thrill . . . we earnestly urge you to see this motion picture from the start!
And they’re absolutely right. You just need to enter the spirit of that tagline to enjoy this entertaining film. And remember – at the time people would often wander into cinemas halfway through a screening. If they liked a film they would stick around until the feature started all over again so that they could watch the beginning. This was allowed for years – I can remember watching Star Wars in this back to front fashion. In fact, Alfred Hitchcock banned or attempted to ban people from doing this when Psycho was released, so disturbed that the film’s impact would be ruined.
Scream of Fear (aka Taste of Fear) was directed for Hammer in 1961 by Seth Holt. It stars Susan Strasberg as a wheelchair bound girl menaced in a house on the French Riviera, thinking she is going crazy when she keeps seeing the corpse of her father. It’s in black and white – not out of the ordinary for 1961 but unusual in our memory of Hammer films; full colour blood and Christopher Lee is what normally springs to mind.
Hammer produced a series of monochrome and more psychological horrors in the early 60s (I’m still waiting to see the repeat of the brilliant Paranoiac featuring Oliver Reed, who served his acting apprenticeship under Hammer). These films have all but disappeared. Pleasingly for me, Scream of Fear was shown in a late night slot on the BBC recently and was introduced as the best Hammer Horror. It’s only a B-movie really, but yes, it’s one of the best. I can imagine it in a double feature as a warm up to one of Hammer’s more colourful exploits of the period, such as Curse of the Werewolf. I can also imagine couples sitting in their Odeons – when Multiplexes weren’t even yet a dream – and sipping their Kia-Ora. The more seasoned leaning over to the other and whispering “don’t worry darling, the real horror is yet to come!”
For the seasoned horror fan of 2007, Scream of Fear will appear terribly dated. It’s a very talky film, with the Strasberg character going over and over the strange things that are happening to her, and it’s really more thriller than horror, more twists than scares. Some of the acting, especially Strasberg’s, is quite wooden, but I have a special fondness for this film. I first saw it years and years ago and found it suitably creepy. Look out for those swimming pool scenes – they’re still very effective. Worth checking out.