And Now The Screaming Starts
1973 / Roy Ward Baker
Formed in the early 1960s by two American expatriates, Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg, Amicus Productions quickly became a worthy competitor to Hammer Films, thanks to their low-budget, but entertaining horror anthologies. By 1973, Amicus had become well established as the deviser of the British portmanteau horror film with classics such as Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (UK, Freddie Francis, 1965), The House that Dripped Blood (UK, Peter Duffell, 1971), Tales from the Crypt (UK, Freddie Francis, 1972), and Asylum (UK, Roy Ward Baker, 1972), all collecting fiendish tales together, and bridged by an omniscient narrative that will often gather, and pull them toward a stinging climax. When Subotsky and Rosenberg decided to adapt ‘Fengriffen’, based on a novella by David Case published within a collection of short stories two years earlier, it put Amicus into outright Hammer territory for the first time with the unusual push into the singular narrative, feature-length gothic, and away from the contemporary setting.
Opening in 1795, the film sees Charles Fengriffen (Ian Ogilvy) bring his fiancé, Catherine (Stephanie Beacham) to live on the family estate. It isn’t long, however, when Catherine is haunted by terrifying visions of a birthmarked, eyeless man with a severed right hand. Frankly, gaslit by the denial and quiet of those around her, Catherine’s traumatic experiences up the ante on her wedding night where she is attacked and raped by an apparition with a bloody stump for a right hand, and shortly afterwards is pronounced pregnant by Dr. Whittle (Patrick Magee) who insists that Charles tell his new wife of the dark family secret. Charles, in deep denial, ignores this, certain that Catherine requires psychiatric treatment, and enlists the help of Dr. Pope (Peter Cushing) who stays at the Fengriffen home and approaches the mystery with a degree of fair-mindedness.
Eventually confronting Charles, Pope learns the truth behind the Fengriffen family curse and learns that Charles’s grandfather, Sir Henry Fengriffen (Herbert Lom) was responsible for an attack on the local woodcutter, Silas (Geoffrey Whitehead) and the rape of his new bride, Sarah (Sally Harrison). Silas promises revenge on the Fengriffen family promising that the next virgin bride to enter the Fengriffen House would be raped and her child tainted, and those attempting to avert such circumstances will die in the process. As Charles’s mother was widowed before marrying his father, the next virgin bride to enter the home is Catherine and the tragedy begins to unfold just as Silas promised and predicted it would.
Filming began on 17 July 1972 utilising the exteriors of Oakley Court and its grounds on the banks of the River Thames near the village of Bray, and the interiors were studio-bound at Shepperton Studios. Fantastic set design and art direction, by Tony Curtis, helped the film remain, economically, within the home of Fengriffen utilising a large, and beautifully designed space. ** Adapting David Case’s original story is a screenplay by Roger Marshall, an established writer in television who has written for ITV Playhouse (1967-1982), Shadows of Fear (ITV, 1970), and, throughout his long career, would go on to write for Zodiac (ITV, 1974), Against the Crowd (ATV, 1975), The Gentle Touch (ITV, 1980-1984), and London’s Burning (ITV, 1986-2002). The direction was undertaken by Roy Ward Baker who was well established within both the industry, and the genre having previously helmed A Night to Remember (UK< 1958), Quatermass and the Pit (UK, 1967), The Vampire Lovers (UK, 1970), and Scars of Dracula (UK, 1970). For Amicus, he had previously directed Asylum (UK, 1972) and The Vault of Horror (UK, 1973).
A stellar cast headed by Peter Cushing (top-billed but only appearing in the last 45 minutes of the film) works well to deliver this story. Cushing had lost his wife Helen just over a year before and was noted to be a markedly different man to one that had gone before as Assistant Director, Derek Whitehurst recalls ‘I can’t say Peter became difficult to work with, but you had to be careful. There was never a question of his grief interfering with a film or a part. He would always learn the script, which was a rare thing, but he became very concerned about eye-lines. When he was acting, if he caught someone’s eye behind the camera, even me, who’d worked with him before, it would put him off. In the end, everybody had to duck out of sight so that he wouldn’t see them… It became a bit of a routine. Perhaps it stopped him from working with people who didn’t know him. But there wouldn’t be any drama.’ * Cushing’s portrayal of Dr. Pope brings a welcome relief to proceedings which have been forever grim in the lead-up to this, as he gives a portrayal of a man of kindness, insight, and honesty that may have the ability to cut through the baggage of a fifty-year-old curse. As such, he becomes a beacon of good and hope, for Catherine and Charles, amongst the sordid family ghosts, and grim vaticination.
Ian Ogilvy returns to the horror genre once again following his role as Richard Marshall in Witchfinder General (UK, Michael Reeves, 1968), and having just completed his role as Lawrence Kirbridge in ITV’s popular drama Upstairs, Downstairs (ITV, 1971-1975) earlier in 1972. Ogilvy began his acting career in the early 1960s, appearing in small parts on stage and screen. He made his film debut in 1964 with The Bargee (UK, Duncan Wood), a comedy film in which he played a minor character. In 1965, he starred in the BBC television series Theatre 625 (BBC, 1964-68), portraying the character of Marcus Andronicus in ‘Titus Andronicus’. Ogilvy made guest appearances in notable series such as The Prisoner (ATV, 1967-68) and The Avengers (ITV, 1961-69), the latter marking the beginning of the actor’s journey into the world of spy-fi television.
It was in the 1970s that Ogilvy’s career took off. In this decade, his versatility as an actor became even more apparent as he navigated between both light-hearted and sinister characters with impressive finesse. He appeared in a range of television shows, including I, Claudius (BBC, 1976), where his portrayal of the character Germanicus showcased his capacity for drama rooted in ancient history.
However, it was his role in the cult British series Return of the Saint (ITV, 1978-79) that granted Ogilvy international acclaim and established him as a household name. Stepping into the shoes of Simon Templar, he struck a perfect balance between suave sophistication and action-packed heroism throughout the show’s 24 episodes. This series drew a dedicated fan base, and the character of Simon Templar, a creation of writer Leslie Charteris, became intimately associated with Ogilvy.
Stephanie Beacham had recently worked on The Nightcomers (UK, Michael Winner, 1971) with Marlon Brando, Jason King (ITV, 1971-1972) for television, and with Cushing again on the Hammer production Dracula A.D. 1972 (UK, Alan Gibson, 1972) Stephanie Beacham emerged as a notable figure in horror and suspense film genres in the 1970s, and continues a success career of stage and screen to date.
Playing a triple role of Silas, Silas, son of Silas, and metamorphosis of both ghost of past and future, Geoffrey Whitehead (best known to modern audiences as the long-suffering father of Lucy in the Lee Mack sitcom Not Going Out (BBC, 2006- present) made a name for himself in British television and theatre, where his extensive and varied career garnered him significant recognition. He initially began his career in television by playing guest roles in popular series, including Z-Cars (BBC, 1962 – 1978), and Doctor Who (BBC, 1963- present). A versatile actor, Whitehead seamlessly moved between genres, each time showcasing his wide-ranging acting abilities.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Whitehead continued to appear in popular British television series such as Rising Damp (ITV, 1974-1978), The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (BBC, 1976-1979), and Terry and June (BBC, 1979-1987). He was cast in both dramatic and comedic roles, as well as in detective shows like I, Claudius, and Shoestring (BBC, 1979-1980) proving his adaptability as an actor.
Gillian Lind, playing Aunt Edith, started her career in the 1930s on the London West End and later went on to work extensively in television and film. She previously worked on the Hammer thriller Fear in the Night (UK, Jimmy Sangster, 1972) before playing the part of Aunt Edith in And Now the Screaming Starts. She passed away in 1983 at the age of 79.
Parallel to his stage accomplishments, Patrick Magee ventured into the realm of cinema. His exceptional acting credentials on stage effortlessly transitioned onto the silver screen, earning him well-deserved recognition. His first film role surfaced in 1958 as a supporting actor in Waves of the Danube (1959), followed by a significant part in the spy thriller The Criminal (UK, Joseph Losey, 1960).
The film that sealed his fate as an exceptional film actor was King Lear (UK, Peter Brook, 1971). His portrayal of the character Cornwall under the direction of Peter Brook earned him widespread acclaim. Additionally, he worked with director Stanley Kubrick in A Clockwork Orange (1971), where his portrayal of Mr. Alexander garnered significant attention and displayed his ability to embrace challenging roles.
Magee’s filmography includes successful movies such as Zulu (UK, Cy Endfield, 1964), The Skull (UK, Freddie Francis, 1965), The Masque of the Red Death (UK, Roger Corman, 1964), Barry Lyndon (UK, Stanley Kubrick, 1975), Waterloo (UK, Sergei Bondarchuk, 1970), and Chariots of Fire (UK, Hugh Hudson, 1981). While some of these films allowed him a fuller exploration of his acting abilities, he was frequently typecast into menacing or dark roles due to his innate capacity to encapsulate an eerie on-screen persona, evoking an unsettling presence.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Rosalie Crutchley guest-starred in several well-known television series, including popular British programmes such as Dr. Finlay’s Casebook (BBC, 1962-1971), Dixon of Dock Green (BBC, 1955-1976), and The Avengers (ITV, 1961-1969). Her rich and engaging acting prowess allowed her to ease into different genres, such as crime, drama, and even comedy. With an uncanny capability for bringing out diverse emotions required for each role, Crutchley excelled in myriad film, television, and theatre projects. The passionate intensity that Crutchley brought to her performances resonated well with audiences, casting an indelible mark on their hearts and minds. Mrs Luke (in the film adaptation) meets a terrible end whilst attempting to help Catherine Fengriffin. Her replacement, Brigit is played by Janet Key.
Key began her transition from stage to screen when she was cast in the British film Life at the Top (UK, Ted Kotcheff, 1965). This marked the onset of her foray into film and television. Her acting career in television took off in earnest during the 1960s when she started making appearances in TV series such as Softly, Softly (BBC, 1966-1976) and Public Eye (1965-1975). Her breakthrough role came in Two Left Feet (UK, 1963) directed by Roy Ward Baker, where she demonstrated her unique charisma and knack for comedy.
Within a decade, Key had established herself as a mainstay on British television. She continued with appearances in popular series such as Jason King, the sci-fi series UFO (ITV, 1970-1971), and Doctor Who.
Of her many roles, Key’s role in the television series Bouquet of Barbed Wire (ITV, 1976) made her a significant household name becoming a high point of her career. As Prue Sorensen, the confused and troubled daughter, Key delivered a performance marked by vulnerability, tenderness, and emotional complexity, earning her widespread acclaim.
Key’s career in film may not have been as extensive as her work in television, but she did leave her mark in this realm as well. In addition to her film debut, she starred in the comedy Baxter! (UK/US, Lionel Jeffries, 1973) alongside Patricia Neal and Britt Ekland, delivering an empathetic portrayal of a bewildered young woman coping with a troubled past and a complicated love life.
‘Silas knelt there, his head resting on the block now and his right arm in the bucket. The cold liquid numbed the bloody stumps and kept the fire from rushing up his arm. He did not move; did not dare withdraw his hand from the icy anaesthetic. The gentlemen stood around him, silent. They were abruptly stricken by the awareness of their fiendish crime. Fengriffen was pale and perspiring as he slid his coat back on. Suddenly they all wished nothing more than to flee that terrible scene’. ***
At the heart of its narrative, Fengriffen is the story of power-wielding debauchery over the vulnerable. Told from Dr. Pope’s perspective, the novel very much follows his unravelling of the mystery surrounding the family curse. The story is penned by New York-born writer, David Case.
Beginning with characterisation, a noticeable difference between Fengriffen and And Now the Screaming Starts is the nature and portrayal of the protagonist, Catherine. The novel focuses on Catherine’s life, chronicling her experiences from her youth to her eventual marriage. She is depicted as strong-willed and opinionated, always attempting to hold onto her convictions. The film adaptation, on the other hand, begins with Catherine’s marriage to Charles Fengriffen and does not explore her past in great detail. Her character suffers in this transition as her complexity is reduced to merely being a victim of the haunting events that plague the manor and its residents. This transformation reduces the depth provided to Catherine’s character and, with it, an integral part of the story’s thematic nuances.
Moreover, the tangible fear that lingers throughout the novel is less subtle and abstract in the film. In Fengriffen, a significant portion of the horror stems from the intrusive nature of the supernatural, as ghostly entities interact with daily life and even geography. The novel’s various locales serve to heighten the terror, contributing to a sense of dread that closely follows Catherine and the others.
‘I could feel it, a physical thing, being drawn from me towards the window. The cocoon of cold slipped from my flesh, the curtains quivered, and then I was left trembling, gazing out across the bleak moors. They were – they are – beautiful. Stark and hard and lonely, but tranquil and peaceful as well. A sense of eternity is engraved in the rugged contours. Some of this peace reached out to me, and I determined that I would grow to love this land as much as did my husband – hung suspended between this desire, and the fear of – of whatever caused my fear’. ***
As for themes, the issue of inheritance and the burden of parental guilt is more thoroughly explored in the book than in the film adaptation. Fengriffen is particularly concerned with the implications of the past and the generational curse, that haunts the manor. The novel revolves around a tragic episode in the family’s history and the resultant persistent implications for the line of descent. In contrast, the film focuses almost exclusively on the consequences for the present generation, with little emphasis on exploring the historical event central to the novel.
Another theme that differentiates the novel from the film adaptation is the former’s portrayal of psychosexual relationships and mental decline. Fengriffen is filled with lurid descriptions of intimacy, raw emotion, and a graphic portrayal of the relationships between its characters. Catherine’s rape by a supernatural entity is described in metaphorical detail. ‘It gathered above my bed. It descended upon me… a touch of air so heavy and so cold it had substance. It wrapped itself about my body like a living thing, holding my limbs motionless and piercing my breast until my heart itself was impaled. I could not move. I could not cry out. My eyes were open wide, I was fully awake, but totally helpless in this supernatural grip. And then finally it seeped from me, the rushing sound abate gradually until it was gone, and I screamed…’ ***
The book’s explicit and oftentimes unsettling portrayal of desire is noticeably ameliorated in And Now the Screaming Starts, where dramatisation replaces explicit description, and subtle implications substitute for overt declarations. The desire to conform to the film industry’s standards likely resulted in these revisions to the original narrative, but in doing so, the adaptation arguably demotes the story’s portrayal of deep-seated psychological fears.
The film also opts to exclude certain characters and narrative elements found in the novel, largely for the sake of streamlining the story. For instance, the character of Mrs. Lune, a housekeeper in Fengriffen, becomes a more prominent figure in the film (Mrs. Luke) as the narrative’s central focus is narrowed. The transformation can be seen as beneficial in the context of a cinematic adaptation, as a more concentrated storyline with fewer extraneous characters often leads to a more engaging film experience. Nevertheless, this trimming of plot lines results in a loss of richness and complexity integral to the novel.
Lastly, the film adaptation shifts the emphasis on how the supernatural interacts with the characters through the story, and very much targets Dr. Pope with Catherine While the novel allows for a more prolonged engagement with the bizarre and terrifying, it also intersperses reflective sections that add depth to the portrayal of its characters. In contrast, And Now the Screaming Starts opts for a more cursory portrayal of the supernatural, interspersing jump scares to play into a horror film genre but overall losing some of the unnerving tone and subtlety found in the novel’s original progression.
And Now the Screaming Starts opened on the 27 April 1973 to a mixed reception with critics describing a disjointed film that never quite reaches its peak. The New York Times describes Subotsky and Rosenberg as ‘wholesalers’ of the horror genre and the film as their ‘latest consignment’ **** in a rather derogatory manner but perhaps understandable when compared to the work of modern horror from the same year.
Whilst the film isn’t perfect, its pacing and structure slightly disjointed, it remains an effective eerie gothic horror running with some truly grim thematics that showcased the ability of Amicus to carry off gothic horror as well as their contemporaries.
‘The Peter Cushing Companion’, Miller, David, 2002, Reynolds and Hearn Ltd *
‘Amicus – House of Horrors’, dir David Pykett, edited by Brian Holland, 2012, Alpha House Entertainment **
‘Fengriffen’ 1971 Case, David – pub. as ‘And Now the Screaming Starts!’ 1973, Pan
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The New York Times, 28 April 1973, Screen: A Creepy Legend