At the opening of today’s film, 1958’s “The Screaming Skull,” there is a narration that informs us that the producers of the film will provide free burial services for anyone who dies of fright while watching the film. Fifty-four years have passed…that offer is still good, right? So, you have been warned. Watch today’s movie at your own risk!
The film concerns a newlywed couple Eric (John Hudson) and Jenni Whitlock (Peggy Webber). They are just arriving at their new home, but the large estate is not exactly new. It’s actually where Eric had lived with his previous wife Marion. It’s also where Marion died, having slipped on some wet stairs, tumbling to the ground, and hitting her head on the stone wall of a coy pond. As gruesome as her death was, Eric seems to be completely over it. The same can’t be said for Mickey (Alex Nicol, who also directed the film), a mentally challenged childhood friend of Marion’s who still works on the grounds as a gardener.
Jenni hasn’t exactly had a rosy past herself. She seems to have spent quite a bit of time in an asylum after the deaths of her parents. It doesn’t help that the large painting of Marion that Eric keeps in the house resembles Jenny’s mother. Well, surprise surprise, it doesn’t take long for Eric to notice that Jenni is having a hard time adjusting to her new home.
Things get worse one night when Jenni is awakened by a strange screaming noise. As she starts looking around the house, she finds a skull in a cabinet. Somehow, she works up the courage to toss the skull out the second story window. Rather than shattering, it rolls into an upright position, staring right up at Jenni. Moments later, a strange banging on the front door begins. When she goes to answer it, what does she find? It’s the skull, sitting right at her feet. As she walks backward in horror, the skull actually rolls toward her all on it’s own.
Though Jenni has tried to reach out to Mickey, Eric is sure that the simple-minded gardener is behind all this. He tells Mickey to leave and proceeds to burn the painting of his deceased wife, figuring that it is contributing to the problem. But as Eric and Jenni spread out the ashes left by the fire what do they find? You guessed it…a skull. Only this time, Eric pretends he doesn’t see it, insisting that it’s all in his wife’s mind. He grabs the skull once she goes into the house and hides it in the pond. So…perhaps it is not Mickey who is to blame, after all. But wait, might it all actually be real? The bizarre ending leaves us wondering as we get ghosts in white gowns and skulls floating around the garden.
“The Screaming Skull” is low-budget and a bit cheesy, it was even featured on an episode of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” It is pretty sloppily made. The photography is rough and the editing is choppy, at best. The filmmakers also had absolutely no concept of pacing. The movie is little over an hour long, yet half of that time seems to be taken up with long sequence of Jenni walking around the house.
Still, the movie isn’t a total loss. There are some moments where the use of light and shadows in this big empty house does succeed in creating a fun creepy atmosphere. I guess how creepy it becomes for you depends on how seriously you can take a skull rolling towards our heroine like a kickball. Even crazier is the ending of the film. It makes no sense, but so help me, it’s fun in a strange sort of way.
When “The Screaming Skull” drags, it really drags. But when it gets going, it’s goofy creepy fun. As bad movies go, it’s worth the effort. And hey, you could get your funeral paid for by the producers…so whatcha got to lose?!