THE HOUSE OF SCREAMING DEATH ** UK 2017 Dir: Alex Bourne, Troy Dennison, Rebecca Harris-Smith, David Hastings, Kaushy Patel. 122 mins
Dedicated to Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and with a title font mimicking HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR, this warmly intentioned portmanteau was shot for a few grand around the Midlands and is steeped in nostalgia for the vintage Brit horrors unleashed by Amicus and Hammer. Ian McNeice is well cast in the framing story, regaling a series of macabre stories from different time periods, all connected by the imposing 13th century Bray Manor.
The 1943-set “The Lady In Grey” is a bold, sombre attempt at a first-person cinematic ghost story, following a war veteran tasked with the job of caretaker at the mansion. It establishes the power of the property (“The house is a vampire…”) and draws parallels between the protagonist’s personal ghosts and those that may lurk at the property in an impressively quiet, dialogue-free and ponderous fashion.
“The Witch In The Mirror” has a 70’s hippy couple bequeathed the house forty years after a witch was trapped in a netherworld on-site. The house is clearly haunted because it has perpetually locked rooms and MASSIVE KEYS, and the backstory unfolds in a heavy handed fashion courtesy of pedestrian gate-keeper characters, lines like “It was just Uncle John’s way!” and dire-warnings (“You must never be caught between two mirrors!”). There’s an “I see dead people” cultural reference that’s about 25 years too early.
“The Vampire” has a young sceptic arriving at Bray Manor in 1888 – amidst a series of unexplained murders – and stopping off at a charming parody of typical Hammer village pubs, where there is much nervous talk of “the clawed man” and warm hospitality like “We don’t need no strangers staying in these parts”. It takes too long to get to where it’s going but there’s fun to be had with its torch-wielding villagers and an articulate, disfigured beast in the cellar that’s closer to John Merrick than a typical Hammer monster.
“The Diabolique” is a modern-set story of a young waiter working for his obnoxious aunt as she prepares to open a new restaurant on the premises; a Jerry Goldsmith-lite score highlights the occult elements as the narrative unfurls an ancient evil feeding on the manor’s negative energy, seeking out fresh souls.
The wraparound and final twist, drawing inspiration from “the classics” are well done, with a straight-to-camera address at the very end in the nudge-nudge spirit of Amicus. As a whole, however, despite moments of atmosphere, the movie is a little laborious and a tad too well behaved: both Hammer and Amicus would have covered the same territory with (respectively) more wilfully risqué content and a playful sense of fun. Plus, they would have done so in about half-an-hour less running time.
Review by Steven West