Friday, September 21, 2012

Screaming Skull (1958)

Who's in it?: John Hudson (Gunfight at the O.K. Corral); Peggy Webber (Orson Welles' Macbeth); Alex Nicol (The Man from Laramie; he also directed Screaming Skull)

What's it about?: A newlywed couple (Hudson and Webber) moves into the ancestral home of the husband's deceased, first wife, but ghosts from both of their pasts make it difficult to settle in.

How is it?: First of all, I love the guarantee on the poster, and it's repeated at the beginning of the film. It actually is a pretty effective horror movie. It eases into the scares with sophistication I don't usually associate with '50s horror. Hudson and Webber's characters seem happy and normal at first, but at least one of those adjectives is being faked for each of them. There are some unanswered questions about the death of Hudson's first wife (though hardly anyone but the audience is asking them) and we slowly learn that Webber has some serious skeletons in her own closet. Complicating the situation is the presence of the first wife's developmentally challenged, childhood friend (Nicol) who also serves as gardner to the grounds of her estate. He misses his friend dearly and doesn't exactly welcome Webber.

In the midst of this, Webber starts hearing noises and seeing a skull in various places: a cabinet that won't stay closed, the ground outside her window, chasing her across the floor. Is she crazy? Is the gardner up to something? Is her husband trying to make her insane Nightmare Castle style?

The mystery probably won't fool you, but the movie is very effective at portraying the feeling of being alone in a house where every noise sends the imagination racing. The skull is also super creepy as long as it's just appearing various places, but loses some power once it starts moving. Like all horror movies, Screaming Skull is best when it lets the audience's imagination do the work.  Fortunately, that's most of the time, and even when the film uses effects, they're astonishingly good.

Rating: Good. Almost a Classic.

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