Movie Review: Scream of Fear (1961)
"Scream of Fear" ("Taste of Fear," UK) was arguably the best thriller produced by Hammer Films. With Halloween just around the corner, we wanted to revisit this classic movie.
Founded in 1934, Hammer Films was known for horror franchises such as, "Dracula," "Frankenstein," and "The Mummy." After the success of Diabolique (1955) and Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), Hammer released a number of thrillers cut from the same cloth. Scream of Fear was the first in that series.
(Even though it's over 50 years old, we've tried to stay a bit vague in this "review" as not to spoil it for anyone!)
Scream of Fear
The Story: Penny Appleby arrives in France to visit her estranged father and stepmother Jane, whom she's never met. Despite being told her father was away on business, Penny grows suspicious after having terrifying encounters on the estate.
What We Love: Some will grumble at how derivative the story may be to some of its predecessors ("Psycho"), but the execution of "Scream of Fear" silences any of those criticisms for us.
First off, the elements of the story are perfectly set. Beautiful woman? Check. A beautiful location? Check. A lineup of creepy villains? Check. Add to the fact that our fragile protagonist sits in a wheelchair, and we feel a visceral sense of danger at every turn.
Secondly, the black and white photography is beautifully shot, whether through a moving car, or on the cliffs of the Riviera. The contrast is calculated and inescapable: black glasses against Penny's pale face, the tuxedo of Dr. Gerrard. We appreciated shots such as the wheelchair slowly rolling next to an ungated pool in the dark courtyard. Or a jarring closeup of Penny's eyes as she expresses fear. Tactics that may have been used from Hammer's horror flicks were used to great effect in Scream of Fear.
Most importantly, the performances were stellar. The movie rested on the shoulders of actress Susan Strasberg, daughter of legendary Actor's Studio founder and Michael Corleone nemesis, Lee Strasberg. Her fear, desperation, and fragility are fully present in every scene. Ann Todd plays a seemingly caring stepmother – who, in the back of our minds at least – might just be hiding something. The same could be said of the slithery Ronald Lewis or Hammer veteran Sir Christopher Lee (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings).
Overall: Having rewatched the film recently, we were delighted at how well it held up over time. It's worth a gander after you're done binge watching Stranger Things.
Director: Seth Holt
Starring: Susan Strasberg, Ann Todd, Ronald Lewis, Christopher Lee
Released: April 4, 1961
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