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  Screaming Skull, The Head GirlBuy this film here.
Year: 1958
Director: Alex Nicol
Stars: John Hudson, Peggy Webber, Russ Conway, Tony Johnson, Alex Nicol
Genre: Horror
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Some time ago Eric Whitlock (John Hudson) lost his wife in slightly mysterious circumstances, but now he has returned to the mansion house they shared with a new wife, Jenni (Peggy Webber), and hopes they will be able to settle down happily together. Of course, they both have a history they have to get over, he with his late wife and she with the mental health problems that saw her admitted to a hospital not so long ago, but now they can put those events behind them and move forward. Their neighbours the Reverend Snow (Russ Conway) and his spouse (Tony Johnson) pop over to welcome the couple, and Jenni feels at home - but what of the gardener and resident handyman Mickey (Alex Nicol)?

The legend of the screaming skull can be traced back to an actual haunting, or what purported to be an actual haunting where the skull of a slave was supposed to cause terrible shrieks in the old dark house where it was kept against his will (or his will when he was alive at any rate), but has proven enduring, possibly because the words "screaming" and "skull" go together and really trip off the tongue. Thus many instances of a screaming skull pop up in pop culture, Scooby-Doo must have encountered one, surely, but here was a movie based around the concept of what remained of the head of a vengeful wife, and her endeavours to scare her target to death with her shenanigans.

If you have seen enough movies where the husband brings his newlywed partner back to the old home and attempts to get her to settle down, no matter that the presence of the previous wife is rather overbearing, Rebecca and its followers basically, then you will have good reason to suspect something is up. Is the seemingly simple Mickey, who patently doted over the deceased lady, as innocent as he seems? Well, let's hope not because he doesn't seem innocent at all, in fact we are led to believe he is the one behind the placing of the skull around the place to put the wind up Jenni - does he want to get rid of her out of a twisted jealousy? How far could he go in his oppressive mindset?

Equally, if you genuinely have seen a few of these then you'll be judging the monosyllabic Mickey as something of the red herring, and director and actor Nicol revelled in the possibilities, or as far as his budget would allow at least with the screams Jenni hears in the night explained away as an overexcited peacock and his mate for example. Cue much offscreen manipulation of the bony bonce as it appears in all sorts of places, then seems to move around of its own accord, though nothing that the hapless Jenni couldn't be imagining or that some outside force was orchestrating. Through all this, Eric is a rock in her life as he plays the understanding ear to a fault, that fault being that there really could be something terrible going on and Jenni has everything but concrete proof to illustrate her sanity.

Nicol evidently didn't have much of a budget to work with, though he was able to select a nice location with the country house and its surrounding gardens, and though The Screaming Skull began in rather pedestrian manner stick with it since it only lasted barely over an hour, and in that time it built up a neat amount of mayhem within its meagre means. The best idea it had was to take what was clearly hokum deadly seriously, which made for titters in the early stages, but as this was one of those movies which at the time of its release scared a generation of schoolchildren (and not only them) it must have been doing something right. As a gimmick, before the plot was even underway there was a disclaimer that the producers were liable for your death of fright watching their film, which was a cheek but also indication there was a sense of glee to this, and so it was as the finale included a full skeleton lady and that darn skull flying around and tearing out a throat with its teeth. In those parameters, it rewarded the patient and the sympathetic to its style and resources. Music by Ernest Gold.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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